Juan Perdiguero, professor of art and coordinator of drawing in the studio art program, frequently travels between the United States and his native Spain, bringing multicultural influences, his classical training, and his unique and contemporary media and techniques to his students at SUNY Oswego.

When did you realize you wanted a career as an artist?
When I was very young, I realized I liked drawing. My parents encouraged me to continue. When I was 14, I wanted to be a cartoon artist, so I took some classes with a very well known cartoonist from Madrid, who was doing animation for Spanish national TV. He encouraged me to go to art school. When I was 16, I thought this could be a career. But I knew at a very early age that I maybe could not make a living full time as an artist, that I had to have some other kind of income. When I was in college, I noticed that I also liked teaching. 

Can you take us through your schooling?
I got my bachelor of fine arts in Madrid at the University de la Complutense -- the largest public university in Madrid. The art department there was a very classical type of program. The San Fernando art school -- where Picasso, Dali, all the major Spanish artists studied in Madrid -- became part of the Complutense while I was there. I did a double major in painting and art restoration and conservation. I also received the equivalent of a master's degree in Spain. I was invited to study for a second graduate degree at University at Buffalo, and I decided to go there because they offered me a full scholarship and the possibility of some teaching.

What is your work background?
While I was in Spain, I was working as an art conservator and taught in different private art schools and at my own studio in Madrid. I got my first solo exhibition when I was 23 years old. After I graduated in Buffalo, I decided to move to New York City. When I was there, I was selling some of my art and I was running my own art conservation studio. I worked for museums all over the country, for top collectors and art dealers in New York City, Los Angeles and the Midwest. I also did work for the art auction houses, Sotheby's and Christie's. I taught commercial art restoration in a private studio and exhibited nationally and internationally.

Why did you leave this successful business?
The art conservation business was really growing and it was taking over my life. It was taking time away from my art practice. I was not very happy about dealing with all these characters -- art dealers who are very much about making money, more than about the quality of what they sell. I had ethical issues with the art market. I decided it was time to pursue that other passion in my life … and that was teaching.

When and why did you come to SUNY Oswego?
In 2002, I interviewed (for the Oswego job) at a College Art Association conference in Philadelphia. I noticed that I could be the right match because of the things they were expecting me to teach, which I felt very passionate about. They were looking for somebody to teach drawing and to coordinate the drawing area and to create somehow a new drawing program. I feel very passionate about drawing -- it's my medium. I wasn't sure about what the school had to offer, but I felt that what they needed is what I have.

And has Oswego turned out to be a good match?
I think so. It has been a growing process. The school, the department, the program are in a much better place now than when I came. There were many challenges, but I always felt the administration was willing to work with me. … The renovation of Tyler Hall has been very crucial -- painful but crucial. (Laughs.) It’s nice to be back in up-to-date facilities. I travel around a lot -- I’m a visiting artist, I go to Spain, Latin America -- and I’m quite pleased with what we have here. For the size of the program, we are in a very good place.

What do you think of SUNY Oswego students?
I like their work ethic. I like their commitment. I really admire them, because many of them are working while they’re studying. They work hard to keep that balance. I understand where they come from. They make no excuses -- they try to do their best. A lot of them grow a lot here. They are not aware of their potential to grow and to be better and to be successful until the second or third year. I think there are many hidden treasures among the students.

Have you had major influences in developing your own artistic style?
I’m very influenced by the classical school of painting, the Baroque school, the 16th-, 17th-century Spanish school. Also I come from a culture that’s very visual. When I was a little kid and I used to go to the (world-famous) Prado, and later on as an art student I always felt engaged by the theatrical quality, the drama, the darkness in which I saw a straight connection with Spanish culture. The main problem I had going on was I wanted to do things that were connected to the classical tradition but at the same time were very contemporary. I wanted to embrace the tradition but somehow move forward, and I thought that I could only do that by moving to a country with a different culture. When I came to the U.S., I took it as a personal exploration. The materials that I use (are) nontraditional, unorthodox, while the imagery remains very classical. 

Why does your art depict a growing variety of animals?
I always say that the animals are a metaphor to talk about the human condition, about people. I’m very interested in how people interact in many different ways emotionally. There was a moment in the past where I realized I couldn’t convey what I wanted to express by using human figures. I switched to animals -- to animals that had some connection with the human being. I think it’s very psychologically charged, the work that I do.

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions?
I’m really excited about an exhibition I’m having in Mexico called "Animal Mythology." I’m going to be combining animals from Aztec mythology with animals from Christian mythology. I'm going to be speaking about the synergies and also the clashing of the two cultures. 

What can you tell us about your family?
My family is mostly in Spain, in different parts of the country. I also have family in Paris. My parents are still alive, still in Madrid. I like to go back there, to have the time with them.

We noticed your personal email says Juan Perdiguero Dominguez.
Dominguez is my mother's name. In Spain, we keep the father’s name and the mother’s name. In fact on my Spanish ID, my passport, the two names are there. I was born in Madrid, and I lived there up to the age of 25, when I came to the U.S. to do a second master's degree. I spent time in the UK for five summers when I was a teenager.

What do you like to do in your down time?
I like going to the movies. I love going to exhibitions, theater -- anything culturally related. I like anything to do with exercising. I like running, I like biking. That takes a big chunk of my free time. For many years, I was a long-distance runner. I ran 20 marathons -- Boston, New York City, Chicago, Madrid 10 times. There was a time in New York City when I really thought about giving up art and just running! (Laughs.) But I started too late to be a really elite runner. I think my running has to do with my intense personality.