“Don’t take anything/one for granted. Slow down to breathe, be present but don’t waste time — especially not on the bullshit.”

Harley Cortez is a multidisciplinary artist, musician, and filmmaker.  Born in Los Angeles, California. He grew up in Los Angeles and NYC. His family is from Guatemala. His childhood was very unique. They were latchkey kids with no real parents around most of the time. His brother and Harley are close but very different. Harley was the creative one, always writing stories, drawing, etc.  They didn’t know their father. Yet met him at a lecture of his at the Los Angeles Central Library - he as an established writer of Mayan culture, Martin Prechtel. They visited Guatemala a lot.  Harley had a stepfather for a time who was Brazilian— his little brothers are half Brazilian. They moved to NYC after his mom’s divorce and he went to high school in Queens.

NYC was Harley's education. In the late 90’s it still had semblances of what it was like in the 70’s. He won a lot of poetry awards and would read at colleges. He met Jim Carrol at one of these readings. He was the featured poet. Harley was a bit of a loner so he was academic and worked two jobs— but every weekend he would visit the MET or MoMA or the Lincoln center. They were poor so Harley tried to fulfill his own cultural voids that he was denied. Fortunately, he had NYC as his playground.  He eventually joined bands and that led him to become a career musician. Always painting in his spare time.  A few years ago, Harley began to take art and painting as serious as music, until eventually, it became what he wanted to do with most of his time and life.

Harley’s artwork shows us tiny moments that encompass a huge world.  Your world.  It is finding the right words to describe a silent scream.   His art describes life in a poem-like manner.  Where too much is never enough and nothingness only fills the spaces to its complete capacity.  Harley’s art depicts those scattered thoughts and illusions that gracefully meet at the intersection of consciousness. When it all comes together and stares at you -and all you can do is acknowledge that little spark that has been ignited within. 

The basis of this interview is his focus on art and painting, but it would be a shame not to give the same importance to his music. Harley, through his music, his style, his voice, his lyrics, he transports us to other dimensions where we question our own nature, our own existence, our own reality.  His soothing voice simply brings you face to face with a past, a present, and that constant future before you.  And just like that, what lies beneath comes to the surface…and you realize that cosmic interconnectedness we are all a part of.


Q. What role does the Artist/ Painter have in society?  

A. We are stenographers of our surroundings. 

Q. Tell us about your particular style and how you came to it. 

A. My style has an immediacy to it but in the chaos, there is some calculation to it. People sometimes compare it to artists I don’t necessarily relate to (Moro, DeKooning, Kandinsky) and sometimes with artists that have heavily influenced me (Twombly, Dubuffet, Antoni Tapies).

Q. What’s your best childhood memory?  

A. I have too many. I used to have reoccurring dreams with Elvis.  in the dream he would hide in my closet and try to get me to hide him. I think it was because my aunt was obsessed with him and would have tabloids around with his picture saying he was still alive but in hiding.

Q. As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?

A. Many things. It changed here and there. A cartoonist, an actor, a park ranger, a novelist.

Q. Do you remember the first art you made? What was it and how old were you?

A. I was definitely around 5 or 6. It was probably a scare crow. At least that was the one I was most proud of.

Q. How and when did you first become seriously interested in art?

A. All my life l. But as something I could do professionally— only a few years ago.

Q. What does your art aim to express?  

A. Duality. Poetry. Visceral narratives.

Q. What personality trait has gotten you in the most trouble?

A. Impulsion and impatience.

Q. What have you had to sacrifice for this career?

A. Everything. Almost everything the average person craves or looks for in a normal life.

Q. Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?

A. Yes. I try to find time for socializing. I sometimes keep a film on when I paint. That often helps keeping characters around. I often meet friends for music or film projects, that kind of creative collaboration is a good way to counteract. I have cut down on my wine drinking.

Q. Apart from art, what do you love doing?

A. Traveling is a big part of my life. I’m currently finishing my short film I wrote and directed called “The Sick Oyster” about African twins separated in childhood. 

Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?

A. By any means necessary, by necessary means.

Q. What does 'success' mean to you?

A. It’s loaded with contradictions— mainly because it changes over the years, with every passing day.  These days I feel successful just cherishing family, nature and waking up getting to do my passion everyday.  But as an artist, accomplishments present themselves in so many ways.

Q. What are the biggest things you've learned in life thus far?

A. Don’t take anything/one for granted. Slow down to breathe, be present but don’t waste time — especially not on the bullshit.

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and by who?

A. So much. I’ve had so many teachers. But one thing that I always go back to is: “You only need three things in life: someone to love, something to do, something to look forward to” 

Q. What advice would you give to the next generation?

A. Be Kind. Stay Kind.