Ricardo Paniagua is characteristically blunt when describing his place in Dallas’ art scene. “I’m problematic to a lot of people because I don’t fit into this system,” says the self-taught, Dallas-dwelling artist. Given that, it raised more than a few eyebrows when he recently completed a vibrant, neo-op art mural in West Village, an unlikely partnership between one of Dallas’ most stridently anti-establishment artists and a large development group in an upscale area of town.
The educational and socio-economic barriers to entering the art world are well known, but Paniagua has overcome more than most. An unstable home life forced him to drop out of school in the 10th grade. He sold drugs and was falsely accused and arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Paniagua started painting almost accidentally in vocational school, then managed to become a professional artist in a city that can be unforgiving to outsiders.
These days, Ricardo Paniagua describes himself as the “Lindsay Lohan of the local art scene.” He can be brash, irreverent, and has a flair for flamboyance. At gallery openings, he stands out from the crowd with his paint-splattered pants and long dreadlocks tucked under a ball cap emblazoned with his self-claimed “Art God” moniker (his Instagram handle: @therealartgod). When Paniagua was invited to do a solo show at the Latino Cultural Center in 2014, he gave it the rather grandiose title of a “retrospective” despite having only made work for 10 years at the time.
Yet his art speaks for itself, as does his résumé. He’s shown with Dia Galleria at Material Art Fair in Mexico City; Box43 in Zurich; and at Central Booking in New York, in a group show with one of his “art heroes,” Judy Pfaff. His work was also featured in the New York Post’s highlights of PULSE Contemporary Art Fair during the renowned Miami Art Week.
“It is a travesty that I’ve still never shown at the Dallas Art Fair,” Paniagua says. “Houston is a lot more open to outsider artists and has a strong history for geometrically oriented art, while Dallas expresses almost zero interest in it.”
Last year, however, one of the more prestigious Dallas galleries, Talley Dunn, took a chance on Paniagua and included him in a group show. He regularly sells to influential collectors through Anya Tish Gallery in Houston.
“People have seen my work and seen it go places, and they’re forced to respect me,” he says. “I’m going to buck the system even though I’m operating within the system. I have a Joan Jett perspective: ‘I don’t give a damn about my reputation.’ ”