In 2012, a man in a suit entered the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. That man was Uriel Landeros, a self proclaimed artist and a student at the University of Houston. A cell phone video captured his visit to the prestigious musuem and was posted on YouTube the same day. The video quickly went viral and set the "Art World" on fire. That's because Mr. Landeros brazenly walked up to Pablo Picasso's 1929 painting, "Woman in a Red Armchair" and spray painted directly onto the priceless piece of art. In just a few seconds, the Picasso was altered, hanging there with a mysterious image of a bull and the word "Conquista" spray painted across the surface. "Conquista" is a Spanish word that means "conquest" or "to conquer". But why? What did it mean? The incident pissed off plenty of people worldwide and started heated debates about the true value of "art". I had the opportunity to catch up with the artist.. vandal.. visionary.. terrorist. or whatever it is you choose to call him.
CT: Who are you, where are you from?
UL: I am CONQUISTA, the kid who conquered Picasso, but the name my father gave me is Uriel Landeros. I was born in South Texas in the city of Edinburg, located in the Rio Grande Valley, but I consider Houston my second home because I went to art school there. I am a Native/Mexican American.
CT: As an artist, can you describe the work that you create?
UL: The Majority of my work comes from my dreams and the subconscious, that other spiritual realm that most people don’t pay attention to. I try to write down all of my dreams and create images from them. I also use all forms of meditation to influence my work, from fasting, sun gazing, prayer and psychedelic rituals. This is the spiritual side of my work but I also spend a lot of time watching news and current events, not only on TV & newspapers but also the Internet. I compare articles from different countries, independent and mainstream newspapers and bring about a conclusion of closer truth, and then I create political art from this. I try to create a voice that is a little rawer with truth trough my images; I stopped making art years ago though all I make now is art history. But both my spiritual and political work is intertwined. The world is one, everything is connected.
CT: How did the concept to "destroy" a Picasso piece come about? Was it carefully planned or was it spontaneous?
UL: The year 2012 was very chaotic for America and for the world, Like I said my work is influenced from all this mayhem, I meditated for so long trying to come up with an image of power and symbology. The image of the Conquista in particular came directly from a lucid dream. Once I obtained the image of the bullfighter slaying the golden bull with the all Seeing Eye, I began to plan the heist. It took about 2 months to completely plan everything; I drew blueprints, counted guards, created exit strategies, etc. It was like a hacker stealing classified information. My plan was never to destroy the Picasso painting, if I wanted to destroy it I would have slashed it with a knife or poured acid on it. The whole point was to leave a message to create a voice and spark another fire against this NEW WORLD ORDER. Believe me I know about paint, I am a professional; I knew that the painting would be easily restored.
CT: Obviously you pissed off a lot of people. At the same time you suddenly had lots of attention on you & your work. Was that the idea from the beginning or did it accidentally happen that way?
UL: Not everyone was pissed off, some people were very happy with what I did, many strangers clapped @ my actions & and continue to do so. Most of the people who were hating on me where so called “artists” who have never been able to break the veil of success. I did not know the future, I did not know that galleries would take interest in my art, especially not the world renown museum “The Palace of Fine Arts, MACG” in Mexico city. When those things began to happen, I was skeptical because I thought that the museum and galleries were working with the F.B.I. and U.S. Marshalls. But after some research I found out those opportunities were legit, so I welcomed them. This helped me spread the message further.
CT: What's the deal with your solo art show in Houston following the incident? Apparently you were on a live video feed from Mexico. Can you tell me about that? Also, I heard some of your own artwork was destroyed.
UL: James Art Gallery gave me a solo show in Houston; James Perez has been a friend of mine for several years. Ironically the title of the show was “ Houston, we have a problem”. We promoted the event saying that I was going to show up at the event, I had been a fugitive for several months & already there was a $15,000 reward for me, so I knew that the cops were going to show up, but we tricked those pigs. As you know I was there but through live video feed “Skype”. I was logged in from an ice cream shop in Monterrey, Mexico. I gave several interviews and said hello to all the people that attended the show. My work was not destroyed, James and me invited all the local graffiti writers we could find and let them tag whatever they wanted on several of my paintings. The whole point of this was to show the art community that art is not about paintings but rather the message. Fuck the paintings, this is what Picasso would say “Art is a lie that enables us to see truth” For example The Guernica was not about making a pretty painting but rather transmitting the message of the horrors of genocide and war. Art is a weapon, painting and drawing is secondary to the true purpose of the art tool. So I don’t care if people tag or graffiti my work, what matters is the message I convey.
CT: I definitely feel like you have a message that you're trying to convey. What are you all about, what's all this about?
UL: First of all fuck the NEW WORLD ORDER, once more; I did this for the people who are tired of being treated like slaves. The Conquista was an artistic metaphor with much symbology. A lot of the art community successfully digested the message although the reactions were diverse. I stenciled a bullfighter killing a bull with the word Conquista below it with spray paint in color gold on a 1929 Picasso painting. It was a lot of work to pull the heist but all the details are another story. This graffiti was a form of protest/activism against the government and the corrupt church, who continue to abuse their power of imperial rape. A way to tell the people conquer your fear and stand up for injustice. There was much civil unrest all around the globe in the year 2012, the year of the conquista. Remember the Occupy movement? The anonymous organization, the immigrant protests in Arizona, and Wikileaks? And even after I turned myself in to the authorities, it continued with Edward Snowden and the unraveling of the N.S.A. surveillance, abusing their power to infringe in our privacy. The word Conquista is my artist name, it is also the Spanish word for conquer, in reference to the conquistadores and the Spanish inquisition, the biggest unrecognized genocide in the world, because of gold and greed, “Capitalism in its cradle”. Those who converted the natives into Christianity through murder and rape, those same characters who are now looked upon like heroes such as Christopher Columbus. The word Conquista is also in reference to so many innocent kids who got raped by priest who went unpunished because pope Benedict XVI protected them by sending them to the Vatican and granting them political asylum. This was so controversial that the pope had to resign. Conquista is also in reference to the immigration reform and the dream act that president Obama promised and never fulfilled. My people my culture and my family is bullied around society because of the color of our skin because of racism and discrimination. Just look at the laws in Arizona, its as if its still the 1960s in that state. Discriminating against immigrants when in fact the only non-immigrants are the natives/Hispanics, my people. Nobody ever asked any conquistador for a passport or green card, how was this fucking hypocrisy born? What the fuck is going on? All this seems like a big joke, nobody in power cares to make a positive difference; they are worried about policing the world and selling guns. This is the history that I have begun to convert into my story. The majority of native culture/archeology is now displayed in museums throughout Europe as trophies of genocide, and thus disables the Hispanic community to truly understand their history & culture, because that art is not in its native land. I cannot bring back all the art that was stolen by the conquistadors but I can create new history. New art, so that is what I did for my people. The golden bull represents the stock market, wall street, gold, money being idolized, The federal reserve, the biggest deceiving ponzi scheme that enslaves us all, and the president & government working for wall street banksters instead of the people. The golden bull also represents Picasso “ the Art Beast”, he who understood that art is not a painting or a drawing but rather a political tool to educate and influence the form of thinking of the masses. I am the bullfighter inspired by Picasso to use the art tool, doing the daring move to kill the golden beast. Conquering Picasso in his own game. Fighting against this whole corrupt system. The bullfighting culture and Picasso are both originally from Spain and this is the irony of a Native Mexican American conquering a Spaniard.
CT: Whoa, thats heavy. You were just released from jail for what you did, that's fucking crazy. How long were you locked up?
UL: I was in prison for 21 months, almost 2 years.
CT: What were you thinking about while in prison? Any new concepts or artwork created during that time?
UL: I was a prisoner before I went to prison, but it was in that dark cold place, in that cage, when I was hungry, when I meditated, that I understood what freedom was. If your mind is free they can never imprison you. The power of the third eye is limitless, the universe is born from it. I created over 100 paintings and thousands of drawings. I will soon publish all these works online and I will exhibit them in a prison series for my next Art show. My force of creation has only gotten stronger.
CT: What's next for you?
UL: I am organizing my next event. I will soon publish the date and details. I am also in the process of publishing a book about the entire story, all the things I could not say because of lawful repercussions, how I pulled the heist (it was some oceans 11 shit) and also my life as a fugitive.
CT: How can we follow you and see how this evolves?
UL: I’m always accessible through Facebook that is the social media of my choice, but I also have twitter, instagram, pinterest, photobucket, vine, we heart it and email of course. Or just watch the news or Google me.
CT: Best of luck to you! Anything else you want to add?
UL: Yea I just want to give a shout out to everyone out there trying to provoke and stimulate a positive change in the world, all those free hugs people, all the honest police and every activist who has put their life in danger for the benefit of the community, especially Edward Snowden, thank you.