Sebastian Pérez, a compassionate, curious, intelligent being.

Minneapolis Community and Technical College hosted the 2016 MCTC Design Portfolio show on May 3-4, on campus. Sebastian Pérez, a LatinoLEAD member and graduate of the MCTC Print+Web program invited me to attend along with many other creatives in the community. Sebastian was also awarded the Best of Show Peer-to-Peer Portfolio contest by his classmates.

The theme for this year’s program was “Menagerie — An unforgettable collection of multifaceted designers and developers unique in taste and talent”.

Sebastian was born in the municipality of Tenancingo de Degollado, in the State of Mexico, MX, to Fernando and Marta Garces. His father was a practicing architect, while his mother was the enterprising owner of Caffé Latte, a coffee shop in downtown Tenancingo. Fernando died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) while Sebastian was still attending High School. Marta continued to grow her business and eventually hired Sebastian to design the identity.

Sebastian and I spoke a few days after the portfolio show.

Q: You were quite young when your father passed away, what do you remember about him?
He had a strong sense of aesthetics. Everything needed to align with the architectural style he decided on. If he designed a home influenced by Luis Barragán then the swimming pool couldn’t be a round shape, and he had a way of helping his clients understand what his vision was. I think it’s one reason he mostly designed residential homes, it was easier for him to work with smaller clients. He and his workers also made adobe bricks, used local stones, and even local trees for any wood they needed for many of the homes he designed and built.

He also had a lot of text books, and my mom chooses a few at a time that she thinks I would like and brings them to me when she visits. I also have some How to Draw in Pencil books my dad used. Otherwise we have his architectural sketches, blueprints and photographs to remember his work by at least.

Q: Do you have siblings?
A: Yes, a brother Fernando and a sister, Monica.

Q: How did you land on graphic design?
My cousin was a graphic designer, she studied at the Universidad Iberoamericana, or Ibero in Mexico City. She used to ask for my opinion on her projects, like what color should she use, and I guess I wanted to try and do the same thing, be creative.

Q: What is your cousin doing now?
 She’s collaborating with indigenous artists in Chiapas to produce handmade accessories inspired by flowers. She’s trying to build ethical trade opportunities for the artists there in Chiapas.

Q: Is sustainability and responsible design a topic discussed at school?
 Yes, and it’s something we’re free to explore more if we’re interested. The instructors stress that we are responsible for everything, not only waste like in print material, but also the impact that the design could have on people.

Q: How do you determine what is wasteful design and what isn’t?
 It’s important to evaluate the purpose of the project, and to choose resources in a responsible way. If you only design online, then you’re not producing any physical materials, but you’re still using energy to power the computer. It’s hard to get away from creating some waste.

Q: Any favorite projects?
Yes, we had to come up with a fictional exhibit for a museum and create all the branding for it. I wanted the exhibit to be about James Victore, and so my exhibition concept examined his work and how he used design and art to generate positive changes in the world. I named the exhibition Creative RevelatiON, Master the Art of Social Change. James runs his own independent design studio in Brooklyn. He’s very bold and I follow him like a lot of my friends at school. He taught at the School of Visual Arts in NYC for over 20 years.

Q: He said things like, “In order to teach you how to be a designer, we have to first ensure that you’re a compassionate, curious, intelligent being”.
We have to be humane. Sometimes we forget that in order to meet business needs. It seems like some companies put profit over people and even our planet. I believe companies can still make money without sacrificing people or the planet. 

Q: What values inform your work?
A: Personally I want to be happy, I want to contribute to society and I want to give back to the earth. As a graphic designer I want to learn, create, collaborate, have fun and grow. I want to be authentic and help people solve problems and contribute positively to the world.

Q: Anything else?
I like to draw, paint, look at new and cool stuff. I also need to make money to pay the bills and go to Coachella every year. In one class I created “MahGoats” a take off on “Mis Chivas” and through the MahGoats website which I am designing, I am going to sell tee-shirts and other merchandise that promote empathy towards other cultures.

Q: I like your take on Claes Oldenburg and his wife Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry at the Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden, how did that poster come about?
I was working on the Day of the Dead poster for El Colegio and I wanted to include the skyline of Minneapolis and then I thought of the Spoonbridge and Cherry, so I replaced the sweet cherry with a red sugar skull.

Q: When you cross-pollinate the iconography of distinct cultures or societies, what do you hope to achieve?
Cultural empathy. With the cherry, I’m injecting a little Latino culture into a recognized symbol of Minneapolis, and maybe it’ll get people to think about all the different people that live in Minneapolis — maybe even get familiar and more comfortable with our Mexican community and some of our traditions. It works the other way around too.

Q: So maybe you’re a akin to a good will design ambassador?
 Maybe the word ambassador feels too big for me. I mean I feel proud to say that I’m Mexican, and so I do represent my country in that sense, but I’m not “official”. Lately there’s been so much talk around building walls — walls to keep people inside safe and secure and walls to keep other people out. I don’t believe in walls or borders. Wouldn’t it be great if we all had empathy and respect for other cultures?

I like what Carl Sagan said about our planet… “The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand”.

Q: You have been sketching off and on during our entire conversation, may I snap a photo?

Q: Do you think you can have fun as a young designer for now and not worry too much about saving the world just yet?
I think so, I just want people to know I care about what I do, and every decision I make during the design process is thoughtful.

Q: What’s next for you?
I need to finish my B.A., so I need to transfer to another school. I’m looking at options for that. I can take on smaller design projects as freelance too. My school work is posted on my website