At first glance it is not obvious that Diego Armando Juarez Viveros is a crocheting artist. Not many men are known to crochet. His buzz cut and the scorpion tattoo on his upper right arm don’t necessarily give off a crafty vibe either, but the 28-year-old is changing things up in the weaving community with garment pieces that pay tribute to his cultural roots — something refreshing to see at a time when major retailers regularly rip the native aesthetics of their contextual significance.
Viveros was only four-years-old when he made his trek to the United States. His family moved from Michoacán, Mexico to Oxnard, California- a city northwest of Los Angeles- once his grandfather received legal documentation to work as a bracero.
“I didn’t grow up [in Mexico] but my family is very Mexican”, he says. “But I feel like parts of [my culture] gets lost in the process of moving and the process of growing up in a different environment”.
His desire to stay connected to his background grew strong after taking Ethnic Studies classes in college. He also began learning Mexican indigenous and folk dances as a way of practicing his culture. It was only after his mother taught him the basics of crocheting in 2010, however, that the weaving hobby he developed in middle school became another way to pay homage to his culture.
Wanting to display images on his pieces, Viveros developed his own way of duplicating images when existing techniques did not give him the results he wanted. Through the use of his brain power- he does hold a degree in bio-chemistry and in another in pharmacology after all- he came up with a process that resizes his images on photoshop to a perfect dimension.
Now the artist creates giant brightly colored, intricate works of art that demand attention. His garments showcase Mexican culture via dance, architecture, and indigenous imagery. His pieces are wearable and include a poncho called “Chichén Itzá” which displays the Mayan pyramids of Yucatan and represents indigenous ingenuity, and a shawl that depicts an eagle in flight and projects his love for the nahuatl language. For Viveros’ crocheting these images is his way of showing the beauty of his culture and how proud he is of it.
I sat down with the DIY artist to talk to about his art, his culture, his interesting personal background and what is next for him.
On how he became interested in his cultural roots
I came [to the United States] when I was young, so obviously I didn’t grow up [in Mexico] but my family is very Mexican. I also took a lot of ethnic studies courses at UCSD and I learned a lot. There’s a lot of stuff I didn’t even know about that I learned in history classes… a lot of that changed my opinion about things and kinda made me realize who I am.
I actually crochet backwards so I have to envision it in my mind in 3D.
I have friends, they didn’t go to school; they didn’t have my same experience. They didn’t understand things the same way, and I want to find a way to express [these experiences] to them so they understand.
On his artistic name
Atlachinocoltl was the name given to me by my aztec dance group. The word breaks down into two parts: atlachinolli and colotl. Atlachinolli means agua quemada or burnt water. Colotl means scorpion so the whole name means burnt water scorpion.
The reason they gave me that name was because when I dance danza azteca…I have a lot of energy. Atlachinolli, it means strong, intense energy at once and colotl [Scorpion] because that’s the animal I told them that I feel represents me. Paquiliztli was a name that was not given to me, it was a name that I chose. The word means happiness. The reason I chose that word is because I want my art to be colorful, bright and happy.
On why his culture reflects in his art
A lot of that comes from my dancing experience and a lot of it comes from wanting to…reconnect. Most of my art focuses on that because I’ve reconnected to my identity a lot, but I feel like a lot of people haven’t or they could become more reconnected — and if I show them what I see and feel they can reconnect too.
On how he became interested in crocheting
Ever since I was young, I was always into crafty things. I would go to the library and read books about weaving, knitting, crocheting- I was like 10? 12? Maybe in middle school? I was always interested in it. But I never really actively tried any of it until I was in pharmacy school.
On how he incorporates technology into his art
Most people when they crochet, they generally use a pattern and generally they use a square graph. They’ll choose a picture, then they’ll put it on a square graph and then they can remake it.
The reason I don’t use a square graph is because it doesn’t model a picture very well. Crochet works are not really square, but most people use squares so their pictures don’t come out right.
Most of my art focuses on reconnect[ing] to my identity.
I’m pretty good with technology and one day I was like, ‘I know that I clearly can’t use square graphs ’cause it doesn’t really work.’ A hexagon graph worked better for what I was trying to accomplish.
I spent a whole day trying to figure out how to take a picture and put a chart over it. So the chart that I use is a chart that I made. I go on Photoshop and take a picture- it could be any picture- and I have to paste it on Photoshop, then place a chart over the picture and scale down the colors. Most pictures have millions or thousands of colors so I have to use Photoshop first to [reduce it to] 3 or 4 colors].
I started recently learning Adobe Illustrator, because a lot of things I like to make, I like to draw them out first. Not everything. Some are based on actual photographs; other things are based on drawings that I’ve made. The eagle that I crocheted is an eagle that I drew. The scorpion and the serpent are things that I drew myself. The Aztec dancer is a photograph of me that I took in 2006.
On his crocheting influences and how his technique differs from others
I started going online and started searching as much as I could about crocheting…I ran into videos by Carol Ventura, an author who specializes in tapestry crochet techniques.
I realized that what she was doing was very similar to what I wanted to do so I looked into her videos, analyzed how she was doing it, and took parts of her technique. There were still other things that were missing, so I took it upon myself to experiment until I could find out ways to get all of my lines neat, clean, with no bleeding colors.
I actually crochet backwards, so I have to envision it in my mind in 3D. So I look at the chart forwards, but I have to imagine it backwards.
On the more traditional aspects of his garments
Aside from the technology I use to create the art, the only thing that is required for crocheting is a hook and yarn. That’s one of the things I like about it, its portable. The tools are not very complicated. I get all my yarn imported from Mexico because the colors are nice and bright and the yarn isn’t as expensive as the yarn you buy in the United States.
The colors are better, I think it’s thinner, I think it’s more affordable.
How long does it take you to crochet a piece?
Sometimes I blast it about 8 or 9 hours straight. I get obsessed with it. A lot of people think that it’s patience, but it’s not patience — it’s passion and obsessions.
My two most recent tapestry crochet projects took about 3 months to create. The first one is, Totlahtol Techpatlantiz Quen in Cuauhtli (2014), which is a shawl that depicts an eagle in flight. In the center it says “Totlahtol Techpatlantiz”, which means “our word will make us fly.” It was created to promote the use of nahuatl by native speakers because some people feel stigma when they speak native languages. My most recent piece is Chichén Itzá (2014), which is a poncho that depicts the famous pyramid in Yucatán on the front and a flowering cactus in the back. It is supposed to convey the beauty of Mesoamerican culture.
On the piece that means the most to him
The eagle one means the most to me right now because it’s a fusion of almost everything that I am. I love languages.
A lot of people think it [takes] patience, but it’s not patience — it’s passion and obsessions.
I’m for native people languages, I’m for bright colors, I’m for art so that’s the one that I like the most right now and I think it is the most intricate.
On why he has yet to sell his art
The biggest problem I have with selling them is not that people don’t want them — ’cause people definitely wanna buy them. I haven’t sold them because a lot of the things I make are time consuming and it’s hard for me to price them.
On what is next for him
Right now I’m making a bag. It’s gonna be the first thing I’m gonna sell…so I’m gonna start selling bags because they don’t take as much time.
Eventually I plan to start my own website and making little things and [sell] them there.
Viveros also shared that he hopes to write an e-book sometime in the future with all his crocheting techniques.