‘Love addict’ Robert Diago uses his iPhone to explore his art
RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
Cell phone attachment is hardly uncommon among gay men.
Whether on the treadmill, during happy hour or in the middle of a date, that lifeline to the ether is always at hand, ready to be texted, dialed or simply held for reassurance.
But when one local artist takes a call, it’s not his date or his workout but his art that likely is being interrupted. For him, a smartphone is as important as a brush.
“It was never a conscious thing to make art from it,” says Robert Diago, “but it’s become something I’m using to create art while feeding some of the art I’m dealing with.”
In his new show Every Then… And Now at Ro2 gallery, Diago (who writes his name professionally as r. mateo diago) exhibits work that peers deeply into his inner conflicts and addictions thanks to his iPhone. Simply by taking pictures with his phone of other photographs, Diago discovered and honed certain degradations that resonated with his messages.
“There were these strange patterns what would occur and even with those old photos, this gave them a very modern, contemporary touch,” he says.
But there was also an underlying theme emerging. While examining his past and his love addictions with old photos, he was using the very tool that made his addiction harder to handle.
Using a hookup app as inspiration, he created a piece called “Findr Night Lights.” Diago freely talks about his codependence, which has manifested into a love addiction. While he may act out on that in some sexual fashion, he’s discovered it’s rooted in a lack of love and nurturing not met in childhood.
At least, that’s what his therapist told him.
“I had a very good therapist,” Diago chuckles. “As a love addict, I’m looking for that missing piece. I’ve learned that I need to treat the codependent in me, not the addict.”
In turn, his artwork has become therapeutic, and he’s been able to address childhood issues such as his father’s abandonment and an abusive grandmother. He even turned the ending of his last relationship into a four-piece narrative. Unlike his last show, Diago’s intention here is to leave more to the imagination and allow viewers not just to see him, but also themselves.
“I felt like I spoonfed a little too much with [my show] Junk Drawer,” he says. “I thought to give less this time and start on some middle ground. The purpose of this show is to examine the buzzing in my head when it ingrained into my subconscious. I want everyone to take away from this that if you truly examine your thoughts, you can change the direction of your life.”
The Jersey-born Diago followed his then-partner to Dallas 16 years ago from Fort Lauderdale. Back then, art was a part-time gig, but when he was laid off from his job as a graphic designer almost four years, his partner encouraged him to focus on his art.
Fast-forward to today, and the reality of being a full-time artist is arresting. Diago is still on the hunt for employment and his own money goes more into his art and booking shows than coming in as a result of it.
“I think it was a good decision, but it’s very tough,” he admits. I will just continue to do this, but with no income to speak of, I don’t know what’s next. I’ll definitely go where the money is but I do hope this show could be great for me.”
If there’s one thing his art has given back to him, it is a sense of forgiveness. He can accept he won’t have a relationship with his father but he can use him for art. And he’s also forgiven himself.
“I love my journey. I chose all these unfortunate things and learned from them to create my work,” he says. “I came up against a lot of old demons in this work and was able to let go of them. It was one of the hardest things to do.”
There may not be an app for that, but Diago’s the man to ask how self-discovery can be found in an iPhone.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 13, 2012.