Skyway Installation On View Now!

With his installation It’s Okay to Laugh, Twin Cities-based artist Jose Dominguez fills the windows of the skyway above Robert Street with lively and colorful vinyl designs of imagined creatures. These characters capture the dynamism of the skyway system—a space people move through repeatedly, but where they  always encounter new faces.

Dominguez aims to interrupt the daily ebb and flow of traffic through the skyway and on the streets below by influencing the space with a sense of play, as his exaggerated characters play hide-and-seek with the public. Taking their inspiration from classic children’s illustrations such asThe Pink Panther, these joyful and unexpected creatures highlight the absurdity and humor of daily human interactions. 

Dominguez developed the concept for It’s Okay to Laugh before the pandemic, and it was scheduled to be installed at the end of May, days after the muder of George Floyd. The community needed time to grieve and reflect, and the installation was postponed while Dominguez participated in efforts to create murals honoring George Floyd and demanding justice. In thinking about It’s Okay to Laugh in the context of our complicated moment, Dominguez has shared these thoughts:

I believe this bright and playful installation still holds purpose in bringing joy and healing to viewers. Although this tragedy has reminded us of the important work we need to do, and the pandemic has created uncertain times, it’s natural to have moments where you laugh out loud, even if it seems out of place.

The M and Dominguez would like to thank the City of St. Paul’s Department of Public Works and Department of Safety and Inspections, Ward 2 Councilmember Rebecca Noecker, the CapitolRiver Council and its Skyway Governance Advisory Committee, and the Pioneer Endicott and First National Bank building owners for their support of this installation.

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Curatorial Assistant Mia Laufer got in touch with Jose Dominguez and asked some questions about this installation, his artistic process, and how he sees his art interacting with those who view it.

ML: One of the things I love about your work is that it’s so colorful and lighthearted, yet it always feels grounded in real life experiences. It’s relatable, especially as an introvert (The Art of Avoiding PPL is one of my favorite exhibition titles of all time).  How do you strike that balance?

JD: First of all, thank you, that means a lot. I draw regularly, and I treat my drawing practice like therapy sessions where I decompress and unload all of the worry and excitement in my life. I’m as absurd as I am honest in these drawings and I find myself always bringing humor into it. When an opportunity for an exhibition comes around, I’ll gather my favorite drawings and make new paintings inspired by these works.

ML: The title of your installation is “It’s Okay to Laugh” and it’s going to fill the Skyway bridge with these delightful, unexpected characters. From the beginning, I liked the idea of bringing some levity to the Skyway system, which is predominately frequented by nine-to-five workers, but I think your theme takes on even greater importance given the current global crisis. Can you talk a little about the use of humor in your work and in this installation (and this crazy time) in particular?

JD: It’s easy to get worked up about things and I’ve often looked back and thought about how ridiculous I probably looked. So, I’ve learned to laugh at myself and not take myself too seriously. Also, I love to laugh. I find myself coming up with scenarios or characters that would appear in a comedy sketch. For some, I think it’s in our nature to crack a joke when things seem too heavy to deal with and it really does help put you at ease.

ML: There’s a reoccurring face that appears in your work (often in a gumdrop shape) that looks like a cross between a classic cartoon and Shepard Fairey’s Andre the Giant…what was the inspiration for that element?

JD: Early on I was a fan of Shepard Fairey’s work and once I arrived at this character I noticed the similarity as well, but the gumdrop shadow face wasn’t inspired by his Andre the Giant. For a long time I drew a face with a blank expression. I drew the same blank expression so often that the goal became to simplify the face. Eventually I arrived at a face composed of a handful of shapes, the shadow face.

ML: The design for this installation has changed a few times since we first met up last fall and you showed me your drawings. How has your thinking about the project and the Skyway as a space changed over the last eight months or so?

JD: Initially I wanted to create a sort of hide-and-seek approach, where my characters would peek out from the edges of the glass. After spending some time thinking about the movement of foot traffic through the skyway I decided to change direction. I’ve always been interested in creating movement in my work, so this new direction seemed familiar and natural to me. I wanted to create a constant flow of energy moving in both directions, weaving in and out.

ML: In one of our early meetings you said that drawing is like a form of therapy for you, can you tell me a bit about how that works (the when, where, and what of your normal drawing practice)?

JD: These drawings sessions usually take place in a coffee shop after work or at my kitchen table on the weekends. There’s this awesome balance of being isolated but not feeling alone when you’re drawing in a coffee shop. There’s great people-watching, inspiration from overhearing bits of conversation, and this all happening after a day’s work allows me to decompress any pent-up feelings or thoughts from the day.

ML: How has that practice evolved during the current crisis? What have you been working on recently or using as a creative outlet? Are there specific folks who you’ve seen responding to the isolation in interesting ways?

JD: I’m still drawing, just not as often. It’s been hard to keep a consistent routine during this whole crisis. I find myself getting distracted by the news, or wanting to snack and watch tv. Although, whenever I finish a body of work, I generally go through a kind of relaxed experimental phase, where I try to branch off into some new directions – no pressure, just seeing what happens naturally.

ML: Can you tell me a little about the work in your most recent show at CO Exhibitions, I Can’t See You Smiling From Here?

JD: I was trying to make larger work that still felt as personal and natural as the coffee shop drawings. I’m also exploring ways to incorporate a wider range of expressions and emotions in my characters and cartoons are the perfect way of implementing that. So a lot of my recent work consists of cartoon like characters.

Jose Dominguez Draws A Sneaker

Here’s a short peek into the artist’s process!