Vincent Pacheco‘s Smile Now, Cry Later is an immersive installation of sound, color, and piñatas that needs to be experienced in person. We had a chat with the artist to talk about what it’s like to be an artist, the symbolism behind his piñatas and how living in the suburbs influenced the show.

Tell us a little about yourself. 
I’m an artist, designer, and educator living in the Tahoe National Forest of California. I used to work in Corporate America making things like websites for big-time corporations. That got old real quick, and working 12-hour days for rich men in suits became emotionally and spiritually draining. While my bank account benefitted from that line of work, my inner development waned, and I soon realized I was on a long path to nowhere. I quit back in 2012, after facing myself, and facing my fears. I have since shifted my focus towards personal work, work without logos, and work that adds to my knowledge of self and my understanding of place.

It seems that you work in collage, found object and sculpture work, do you think that these relate to each other? It’s true, my work is all over the place… but so is my life. The great thing about art is that it moves with you— it adapts as you adapt. It grows as you grow. An old professor of mine introduced me to the concept of “experience as medium” and I think that sums up what I’m doing.  I’m processing the events of my life and I use whatever resources I have in front of me to get to the heart of the matter. Sometimes collage tells the story better than any other mediums. Sometimes sculpture does the trick, or painting. I have to admit that I’ve felt a little self-conscious about having so many varying bodies of work… as artists, especially in the age of social media, having a signature or consistent style is something they say will get you noticed by the big galleries and art collectors.  I suppose I’m not interested in having a cohesive portfolio with a singular aesthetic and being known for one thing.  I have to do what’s best for the work (at the risk of living in Instagram obscurity). 

Tell us about Smile Now, Cry Later. What was the thought process that led you to this concept? How did using piñatas come about?  How did you decide on the music that accompanied the show? Smile Now, Cry Later is an immersive installation comprised of 18 piñatas, and I see the work as a series of portraits and memories. I am a 3rd generation Mexican-American, born into a family of criminals and drug dealers in San Francisco’s Mission District. I was lucky to escape the life at a young age— my father moved me and my brothers out of SF to escape that life of crime, and we cut ties with the family. We settled in the suburbs, in a predominantly white neighborhood with good schools, and me and my brothers were allowed to thrive. Still, the family stayed behind in the Mission and continued with that life of crime. Its been a rough life for them with a lot of violence and heartbreak. It’s still going on today.
Growing up in the suburbs and being physically separated from my family at a young age gave me a distinct awareness of my familial unit. Smile Now, Cry Later activates the oral history I was exposed to from afar— stories I heard in the comfort of my suburban home, and at arms length. I wrestle with the ideas of safety and danger. Cops and robbers. Connection and displacement. The construct of family, and the feelings of being an outcast.
I chose to use piñatas because I needed an entry point into my culture, plain and simple. I lost my ancestral knowledge when I was removed from my family, and I have been working for years to regain it. Piñatas were low-hanging fruit so to speak, something iconically Mexican, and a way for me to reconnect to something I felt was lost. In some ways, I feel I am culturally appropriating from my own culture to understand my place within it. The piñatas are just a vehicle though, just like the music that accompanies the installation, and the combination of these elements have helped reveal certain realities about my life, the lives of my family members, and where our paths as ethnic minorities intersect.

We heard that each of the piñatas represent someone close to you. Is this true and if so can you speak more about it? Yes, that’s true. Each piñata is embedded with a memory of a family member.  I made one piñata of my older brother’s Glock 9mm. He was jumped in the Mission by some teenage gangbangers, Sureños most likely, and they stabbed him 10 times with a Phillips-head screwdriver. He survived, fought his way out of it, but he still has the scars on his face and his head. So now he carries a gun with him everywhere he goes. On his way to the grocery store? Gun. Meeting someone off of Craigslist? Gun. Clocking in for another shift as an Uber Driver? Gun. He will never let that happen to him again / he is really scared / he has PTSD.  It’s things like this that have shaped my understanding of the world, and these are the types of stories that make up the installation. 

What will you do with the piñatas once the show is over? I honestly have no idea what to do with them. Lots of people want me to hit ‘em with baseball bats. Some have offered to buy them off me. I may just toss ’em in a dumpster. They take up a lot of space, so i’m not sure I want to bring them back to my studio. Also, I would’t say they’re necessarily fun to look at…. there’s a lot of dark memories in these piñatas, and after a year and a half immersed in this body of work, I’d be ok never seeing them again.

What is it like putting on a show in a Covid environment? It’s bittersweet. I worked with the fine people at TGTG to ensure that we followed safety protocols  (facemasks, social distancing, etc), and we found a way to put on a show in a responsible way. I was really proud of our efforts, and I felt like we did it the right way. We had a great turnout, so that was a pleasant surprise. It turns out people are really itching to see work again. It was strange not being able to give someone a hug or shake someone’s hand for coming though. And because of the facemasks, I couldn’t read peoples’ reactions to the show, and felt really distant at times. But I was really excited to be there, and happy I could breathe some life back into the art community. 

What is a piece of advice you can give to other artists? Make friends with other artists, and try to build a community. We need each other.

What’s next for you? Lots on my plate. I was just hired as an Assistant Professor at Sierra College and will be trying to figure out how to teach graphic design in a Covid environment. Interesting time to be a teacher. On the art front, I just joined Axis Gallery in Sacramento, and will be working on a collaborative exhibit in December at their artist-run space. I also have a group show at Verge Center for the Arts in Sacramento this December through the Ali Youseffi Project. 

Smile Now, Cry Later opened on September 12th and is currently on view at The Garage On The Grove, until October 10th, with a closing reception from 7-10pm. TGTG is located at 2287 Grove Ave in Sacramento CA.

Words and photography by Melissa Uroff

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