René Garcia repurposes iconic logos for queer empowerment.
words and photographs: Joshua Michael Jenkins (@callmefag)
featured artist: René Jesus Garcia (@hfpe)
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The permanence of advertising is as daunting as it is enticing. As much as I hate being bombarded with targeted ads soon after Googling a term (or sometimes after mentioning a brand out loud…), brands also offer comfort and a sense of community. Mcdonalds, for example, is where my drunk friends and I go for a 3am snack. Apple, one of my favorite brands, is in one way or another touching my skin or my clothes most of my waking hours. Luxury brands, such as Audi and Prada, offer the a feeling of (material) success and class. Despite the social, political, and financial inequities offered by capitalism and the guilt I feel every time I order groceries from Amazon Fresh, I value the FUCK out of convenience. And companies know this. Why would I go to the store once a month to buy eye cream when I can pay a monthly subscription and have it delivered to my doorstep? This addiction to convenience all begins with a company's branding - how are they going to capture consumers' attention? Hell, to create their logo alone, industries pay graphic designers and analysts a six+ figure salary to find out which colors and letters and shapes and angles entice customers and will be memorable for life.
For René (@hfpe on instagram), recognizable logos and taglines are the perfect templates to empower queer people, while also poking fun at the sometimes silly and/or toxic politics within our communities (think “masc4masc”, “no fats/femmes/blacks”.) Consider, for a moment, "callout culture" - or the concept of using social media to make viral moments where a company, brand, or someone you went to high school with makes an ignorant/racist/queerphobic/etc. claim or is extremely insensitive (offensive) toward another marginalized community. We see it all the time - your old friend from high school who posts "All Lives Matter" gifs and shares a photo of their newborn baby wearing a "MAGA" hat (one contributing factor to me skipping my high-school reunion in Indiana this year was when I saw this person in the "attending" list). Companies like H&M and Forever 21 each have their share of missing the mark, as well. The virality of callout culture forces brands and people to remove hate speech from their pages, sure, but outing someone for their racist/homophobic/etc. behavior doesn’t cure them of their inherent ignorance. If anything, it stews inside them, seeping over the edge, just waiting to explode. Getting beat up and sent to the hospital? Losing your fucking life, all for being a faggot? As seen by a lot of us, the lids on these boiling pots of white supremacy and queer-phobic stew were opened by Donald Trump.
In René's work, every day objects, corporations, and political systems (which we know are rooted in oppression and classism) become a visual megaphone for queer equality and remind anyone whose thoughts and ideas are rooted in oppression to mind their own fucking business. More delicately, René's designs bring to light the quirks that make queers queers, and remind us that sex and sexuality is communal, fun, and more enjoyable with a side of weed.
René and I met on Instagram in late 2017. What began as me fan-girling over his designs blossomed into a friendship and mutual respect for each other’s hard work, passion for human rights, and dedication to being ourselves (all while getting our bag). Keep reading to learn more about René, his life in Denver, his creative process, and why he doesn’t post ANY pictures of himself on his feed (like, at all).
JJ: What are your pronouns?
René: HUMAN FROM PLANET EARTH.
JJ: When did your fascination with design begin? What about logos and signage interests you?
René: I would have to say MySpace. It was my first exposure to customizable layouts and code. This was also my introduction to the internet in general and that's when I started researching some of my favorite artists, models, and photographers. Good times.
JJ: What about logos and signage interests you?
René: They're universal. I'm a big fan of Pop Art; I love the colors and shapes of road signs along with their simplicity. Popular logos that have been around for years and years are nostalgic for me as I often relate them with memorable events in my life. I'm sorta creating my version of the world I've seen and the experiences I've had.
JJ: Explain your creative process.
René: Living life is the creative process...the best ideas always come to me when I least expect it.
JJ: Do you have an intimate connection with any of the logos you repurpose, or is it random?
René: With some. I think it depends on the subject matter..some have a purpose, others are for fun. Some bring awareness to HIV like with "Prep Boys" mocking the auto service chain "Pep Boys" or whether it be with racism saying "Goodbye" to bigotry with the infamous typeface of the tv show "Roseanne".
What hardware/software do you use to create your designs?
René: Primarily Illustrator with some InDesign and Photoshop intertwined.
JJ: What is the gay (queer) scene like in Denver?
René: It can be quite cliquey. You're either really known or hardly known at all. It's beautiful, drugged and damaged all at the same time. It's definitely grown since I moved here in 2014. It's a great place to be yourself. Shit, even our governor is gay. There is a scene for everyone though which makes it fun for all. I recommend bringing your shades though.
JJ: You’re from California. Do you miss living there?
René: I do; I have so many amazing memories from California. Denver has allowed me to become comfortable in my own skin, but California will always be home to me.
JJ: What are some of your favorite memories growing up?
René: Beach days, playing basketball, watching cartoons...oh! And my dad did this cool thing where he would get us Burger King breakfast every Thursday morning. That shit was tight.
JJ: What is your cultural background…papi?
JJ: You and I communicated on instagram for quite some time before I knew what you looked like. I’m interested in hearing more about your anonymity. I’m out here shooting you damn near naked, and you don’t have a single photo of yourself on social media! What drives this new flex?
René: I think my hate for photos starts with my insecurities and which started when I was young. I never know what to do when there's a camera in front of me. I'm working on loving myself a whole lot more, but it's also me caring less.
JJ: Are you vers, vers, or vers?
René: Come find out.
JJ: As of this writing, you have yet to come out as gay to your mother. What are you feeling in preparation?
René: Nervous af. She's a wild card, but it's overdue. ***Rene came out to his mother just before this article was published. It was emotional, but she took it well.***
JJ: Some folks look at queer and/or brown people being ourselves and say shit like, “Where’s straight pride?? All lives matter!” What are your thoughts on that?
René: Someone's jealousssss.... In all seriousness, straight people didn't grow up living in fear because of who they loved. I'm not aware of a story similar to Matthew Shepard's happening to a young man simply because he liked girls.
JJ: Do you follow drag race? Who are your favorite queens?
René: I've actually never seen an episode. Rihanna is my queen.
JJ: Regarding the queer community as a whole, what is your biggest worry?
René: It not progressing; people are still uncomfortable coming out as gay and suicides are still significantly higher among gay youth. Let's focus on love; loving both ourselves and each other.
JJ: Who is your favorite musician currently?
René: Frank Ocean. He's broken the layers of homophobia especially in black music with songs starting like "My guy pretty like a girl". People don't pay attention to his sexual orientation but more so his art, and that's what's most important. Also, he's really cute.
JJ: What or who is the most important thing in the world to you, right now?
René: It's always family. They're what keeps me going.
JJ: What should we expect next from René, now that he has a face?
René: More awesome shit.