Artist Profile: Illustrating a moment in history with Andres Guzman

Self portrait by Andres Guzman

What began with yet another horrifying act of police violence against an unarmed black man has grown into an international social revolution. And with that came an explosion of public art. 

Starting at the corner of 38th and Chicago in South Minneapolis, murals memorializing George Floyd have spread as far as Berlin, Nairobi, and a bombed-out building in Syria. 

At the heart of the creative movement are artists like Andres Guzman, a Minneapolis-based illustrator whose work has spread across social media like wildfire since Memorial Day. In the immediate aftermath of Floyd’s death, Guzman made a transparent file of his George Floyd drawing available to download for anyone who wanted to use it. “People have been remixing it, and just appropriating it in their own way,” he says. “It’s taking on its own life, even in just a few days.” Despite its sudden notoriety, he’s a person of few words—he’d rather let the art speak for itself.

“For me, visuals are my communication language,” he says. “I think the whole goal is always to triangulate messages, and try to be like a megaphone for something.”

Born in Lima, Peru, but having spent most of his youth in Denver, Guzman says he naturally began communicating through art from an early age. “It’s more of my language I guess,” he says. “You don’t really get into English—you just kind of [use it] as a tool for communication.” 

He moved to Minneapolis in 2006 to attend MCAD, with a focus in graphic design and illustration. Though his recent work has been largely created using India ink, he says he’s never been interested in limiting himself to any one visual style or process, rather letting the subject matter dictate the medium best suited to it. 

“Text is often viewed as the king of communication,” he says. “When you paint something, you have to explain it. When you make a song, you have to explain it. Everything has to be explained in an essay. And I don’t think that’s right—I don’t think kids should be forced to convert everything to words. I don’t expect people to paint me everything, you know? I don’t expect you to be like, ‘Paint me your feelings, so that I can better explain them.’ It’d be nice if people could. I would want people to draw more, paint more. But I don’t expect them to, so I shouldn’t always be expected to convert everything into text.”

Illustration courtesy Andres Guzman

Though the global movement for racial equality and police reform sparked by Floyd’s death has picked up exponential speed over the last month, Guzman’s work and efforts have always been rooted in pursuing social justice. “I’ve been protesting for years in the city,” he says. “I wouldn’t say that the last two weeks [since George Floyd’s death] is anything different. The communities that I’ve been in are the communities I’ve been giving to. I think for a lot of people, it is the first time that they are switching or redirecting their energy, but for me, I think it’s always been more or less towards the same kind of trajectory.”

Illustration courtesy Andres Guzman

When asked whether he’s thought about the staying power of his art, especially in such a historically monumental moment as this, he takes a thoughtful pause. “As long as I’ve been making, I think that’s always been a thought,” he says. “I don’t use India ink for nothing. Some artists use Sharpies, but that tends to fade over time, and they know that. But I like India ink for its permanence. So I think I’m always thinking about time. […] I know that, because of the internet, things have a different type of life, so that’s kind of interesting. You don’t really know what kind of life things will have.” 

In a city that’s at the center of unprecedented cultural upheaval, Andres is eager to stick around Minneapolis to witness what comes next. “There are plenty of places to always go, but I like it here so far,” he says. “It seems like the city’s going through a type of evolutionary, Pokémon stage. It’s outgrowing its skin, sort of. It’s kind of interesting, and it makes me want to stay here longer.” 

Currently resides: Minneapolis, MN
Medium: Ink, acrylics, digital