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For athlete-artist Mango Peeler, the beauty’s in the journey

Nov 26, 2017

Viewed from the street, the squat beige building off the West Toronto Railpath looks like one of the many auto shops or storage units that populate the area. But take a peek inside, and you’ll be transported straight to California’s Muscle Beach.

Kaleidoscopic prints and neon palm trees line the walls of the small studio, while free weights, treadmills, and mats cover the floor. Sure, the decor might be eclectic, but it suits the space’s clientele — here, you’re equally likely to find groups of contemporary artists working on a collaborative project as marathon athletes training for their next race.

Running the studio and uniting these disparate subcultures is Jepoy Garcia — aka “Mango Peeler” — an artist and marathon runner whose vibrant collages, photographs, and screen prints have drawn admirers as diverse as Drake and Anthony Bourdain. He’s also a major car fan and the subject of Driving Creativity, where he swapped creative visions with digital artist Eli Schwanz as they cruised around in the Toyota Corolla iM.

Garcia’s dressed in workout gear when we met him in his studio/gym on a muggy Tuesday afternoon. He’s just run over (literally) from his part-time job at a North York printing shop, which Google Maps tells us is at least a 90-minute foot commute. But hey, no sweat for a guy who recently ran 91 kilometers through the desert without sleeping.

After he’d caught his breath, Garcia talked us through his passion for collaboration, his love of the driver’s seat, and how movement can become the launching point for art and creativity.

Your passion for running seems to deeply influence your artistic work. How would you describe this relationship?

Art is so natural to me, it’s my passion, and it feels like an extension of my body. And running really provides the discipline that fuels my creative work. The structure and routine of it counters the abstract, asymmetrical world of the art I’m making. They feed each other.

So now you’ve combined these passions into this studio. What’s the significance of this for you?

There’s the running aspect, sure, but then there’s the art element that propels it into another world. The people who come here, we all get to look at these activities differently. We’re making them contemporary and fresh, while respecting their history. That’s what keeps me excited about something. Knowing the history, getting to the root of it, and breaking it down. Showing people something different, and having the confidence to do it competently. 

How do you know when you’ve succeeded in creating something unique?

The beauty is in the journey of it. I don’t even care when a piece of art is finished. I’m kind of over it by that point. The beauty of the work is in the actual process, when it’s not fully developed. I like unfinished pieces in the same way I like training, because when you’re building up for the marathon or the race, it’s the real guts of it. It’s where the blood, sweat, and tears happen. The race or the gallery show, they’re just the party. But no one sees what goes on behind the scenes to get you there.

That’s what happiness is to me, being completely present in the moment, getting into a state of flow. I achieve that on a daily basis through running and through my art. If I don’t go for a run, or don’t make art, I’m just not a pleasant person. I don’t like living in a state of “what could have been.” That’s where my sense of urgency comes from.

It’s funny, your creative philosophy seems to be so driven by human-powered movement. How would you explain your connection to cars?

I have this thing with cars. For some reason, I keep ending up having studios in garages. But I also just think cars are really sexy. And I come from Mississauga. A car is the only way to get out of the city. My friends and I would always drive around late at night and put some music on.

I’m also inspired by the speed of cars. Taking in visual information like that is a lot like running. It’s more of a blur, more of a gesture of colour and of energy, instead of just walking around and being a pedestrian. It’s like my relationship with painting. I’m not really into still life. I like more gestural work, stuff that involves body movement, my entire body, a whole action.

You know, there’s actually a 1973 Toyota Corolla called Mango, and it’s so beautiful. I just want to cruise around Venice Beach driving that.

What was it like shooting Driving Creativity?

I thought it was awesome. It’s not too often you get to shut down Lakeshore Boulevard and drive around. There were these incredible camera rigs around me, and I even had a police escort.

Mango Peeler and Corolla iM Hatchback in Blue

I was talking to the crew through my walkie-talkie, so I was sort of both a stunt driver and a car model. It was something I’ve never done before, which is always really fun. I felt like a race car driver, even though we were going pretty slow.

And how'd you like the car?

Oh man, if the Corolla iM was in orange, I would have totally just been like, “How do I get to keep this car? That I just drive away with it right now?” I was picturing it, I could totally live out of this car, and have my running gear and go from training camp to training camp. Nowadays, especially if you’re in a city, having access to a car is amazing. There’s so many times when you just want to take off. As a creative person, and as an adventurer, I kept thinking “I could ditch this shoot and just go camping.” Really, it’s freedom if you have a car. And if I had that car, I would go everywhere.