My name is Antonio Beniquez, I am a Humboldt Park resident. I am an artist, designer, engineer, and don’t like to conform to titles.
When did you first start getting involved with art?
It all started with my older sister. She used to draw all the time. My parents said that from the moment she was able to pick up a pencil, she was drawing. In an attempt to build a relationship, anyone who has older siblings, or people they look up to, knows that you always try to emulate them and show interest in things they consider to be interesting. So naturally, I picked up a pencil and started drawing. That’s when I realized art was a thing.
As a kid, you ended up winning a scholarship to the Art Institute, but the fear of being a starving artist came to mind, so you ended up switching career choices. As you look back, are you still glad you made that decision?
100%. Visual arts is not an easy profession to be successful in, I realized that as a kid. I use the term successful loosely, by success I mean being able to take care of yourself financially, essentially. To be able to buy the canvas, buy the paint to put on the canvas and just all the materials required to make art, it can get expensive. Honestly, I didn’t want to struggle. We grew up poor early on because my parents came to Chicago from Puerto Rico when I was just a baby. I wanted to actively try and improve my situation, where I could provide for myself, comfortably, and not have to worry about paying bills or feeding myself. I wanted to make sure that if I went into a profession, in my case I studied Mechanical Engineering at U of I, that I could make the money I needed to be able to do whatever I wanted later. That was the goal from the beginning.
When did you make your way back into the art world?
I got back heavy into the art a few years after I finished college just because I was able to do it comfortably at that point. While I was in college I didn’t necessarily stop making art, but I kind of had to put it to the side to really focus on studying. You know, people get into different things at various stages of their life.
You did your upbringing in Humboldt Park, how much of an influence has this neighborhood have on you and your artwork?
I firmly believe that you are who you are because of where you come from. I grew up in a neighborhood where shootings and gang violence were prevalent and, unfortunately, the norm, it seemed like someone I knew or knew was getting shot or doing the shooting in some cases. People shouldn’t have to grow up that way, you know what I mean? but it was my reality. I am who I am because of it, some people take the wrong paths and get consumed by the streets but I was fortunate to have hardworking parents that I respected and listened to. I’m grateful, not necessarily for what happened and the things I saw as a kid, but because it roughed me up and I feel like you need to be roughed up to be able to live in Chicago.
How did you link up with David to then start 1688lbs?
David and I met in high school. Since high school up until now, we’ve been in and out of each other’s life. Life happens and people get busy but eventually, our lives converged again and it was a seamless transition from growing up as friends in high school to becoming brothers as Adults. In our early 20’s we would link up sporadically, but eventually linked back up again a few years ago and we’ve stayed close since then. David is definitely someone you’d want in your corner if nothing else.
Anyway, one day David saw a pair of Jordans that I customized for someone and he thought they were dope. He said he’d be interested in investing in me doing more of them, but I wasn’t really interested in doing that type of work at a high-production capacity. Its extremely time-consuming and the market wasn’t ripe at the time, in my opinion. So I pitched him an idea to start a lifestyle brand, which I had considered doing many years before but didn’t have the right network for it. So since my sister went to fashion design school and I was able to put the graphics together we launched 1688Lbs and that was really it.
Recently you just put out a very dope collection called The Youth Will Prevail
So a lot of times older heads, in whatever medium, gravitate to hating on the younger generation and, for lack of a better term, are constantly shitting on their ideas. My thought was, at the onset, If you empower the youth, you can move together symbiotically with them. Whereas if you’re just constantly being negative and dissing their styles the essence of the culture doesn’t progress. At some point, the very same ‘Old Heads’ were being hated on when they were younger and rebellious, by those who came before them so it’s about being able to work with people regardless of age. The youth will always be the youth and they will always prevail. They have more time and energy to do more. The older you become, the more responsibilities are on your plate and the less you look to take risks. The youth is our future, they are our next presidents, next CEO’s, and the people that will run the world so learning to listen is important. This collection was a way for me to say I’m going to empower my youth.
One of my favorite pieces of yours and one that means a lot to you is Loyalty. Talk about this piece
‘Loyalty’ was actually where ‘The Youth Will Prevail’ collection emerged. This piece is about reminiscing about being a kid and having your friends back. As a kid, hopefully, you didn’t have much to worry about besides knowing you friends considered you in the same capacity and staying fed, for the most part. That was the beauty of it. The innocence. This piece specifically was my attempt to immortalize that concept. I think as humans its inherent in us to love and to care for the people that are in our lives. It’s more than just a picture or a drawing to me instead it’s a reminder to strive to be loyal to those that are loyal to me. We don’t live forever, the sand in the hourglass eventually runs out and I don’t wanna look back and feel like I could’ve done more for someone I cared about.
I don’t know if I have a favorite artist, but I can tell you people who have been extremely influential to me recently, not necessarily in my style, but inspirational as a creative. One person I’m a big fan of is Russ Karablin. He’s a fantastic oil painter and I love that his work is so politically driven. Some of the classics like Ken Kelly, Frank Frazetta, Chaz Bojorquez, Niels shoe, which is the founder of the calligraffiti movement. I’ve always been extremely attracted to word art. Being completely surrounded by gang art, I was heavy into the Old English script and calligraphy writing from a young age.
Favorite thing about being an artist?
Not being confined to titles or any convention. Not being subjected to a single medium by which to execute any specific ideas but to work on the execution itself so that that idea can live as it should. I like being able to make things out of nothing. Who’s knows where the road travels right? but that’s the beauty of it all. The appeal is in the unknown. People tend to tell me to focus on one thing or another… usually, it’s the one trick ponies saying it or people with their own agendas in mind. I don’t listen to those people, honestly, I placate by nodding and smiling, but shit goes in one ear and out the other. But essentially creating things that people can actually engage with, hopefully, understand and appreciate.
Favorite lesson you’ve learned throughout your career?
That a lot of people don’t know shit, sometimes myself included. I’ve accepted being a student of life and embracing change where it’s merited. Some of the most vital metrics I use to keep myself humble but hungry is really paying attention to feedback from people I deem to have a valuable opinion. People who feel as if they’ve got it all figured out and can’t be constructively criticized are people that I distance myself from because there can never be growth. Surround yourself with positive, forward-thinking, creative and ambitious people and lastly, you can’t do it all by yourself and you shouldn’t want to.
One thing you want people to take away from your art?
That it’s meaningful and that there’s a purpose for its existence.
When it’s all said and done how would you like to be remembered?
I just hope that people are able to take something away from what I’ve created. At the end of the day, I want people to appreciate the effort and the energy Artists put into creating their work. The human component is what’s important to me. That people appreciate why art exists in whatever form it exists in.