Artist Dougie Padilla creates loud pieces through meditation

Editor’s Note: This piece by Nikki Tundel is part of a series called Minnesota Mix. Minnesota Mix is a project Minnesota Public Radio News that examines the way youth and ethnic diversity are influencing Minnesota arts. Enjoy…


Iowa native Dougie Padilla scrutinizes an angel figurine and ponders whether he should attach it to a sculpture he’s making on January 12, 2012, in his Minneapolis, Minn., art studio. MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

St. Paul, Minn. — Artist Dougie Padilla is known for his loud and raucous paintings. He’s exhibited his work at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and in museums from Fargo, North Dakota, to Paris, France.

But Padilla himself is attracted to the calm and quiet.

The Minneapolis painter is as passionate about meditation as he is about art. A visit to his studio shows what happens when these two disciplines collide.


Artist Dougie Padilla’s studio showcases a number of alters. The one is titled “Ofrenda for the Neglected Goddess.” MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

Beef bones hang from the ceiling like beaded curtains and plastic dolls’ heads peek out from a potted plant. There’s a faded picture of Jesus on the table and a mound of seashells on the floor. In the middle of it all is artist Dougie Padilla. He’s meditating, but in his own special way. When Padilla quiets his mind, it can get pretty noisy. Today he’s pounding nails into a four-foot-long section of a downed pine tree.

“Every time I pound a nail, I say a mantra,” he explains. “I’ll do it for like 40 minutes, however long my arm can handle, and try to get into a place where there is nothing happening except for the pounding of the nails and prayer.”

Eventually, all that meditating will produce a sculpture called a Prayer Tree. Thousands of nails will sprout from its trunk like metal fungi.

“I’ve been meditating for 45 years and these sculptures are my attempt to overtly combine my spiritual discipline and my art practice,” he said.


Dougie Padilla works on a painting entitled “63 Self-portrait at 63.75: Luminosity Anfractuosity Squad.” The Minneapolis artist has a Christian cross tattoo on one hand and an Om tattoo on the other. MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

To Padilla, meditation is the experience you have after your conscious thoughts stop and before they begin again. It’s not a time to think; it’s a time to be. And it’s not much different from the way he approaches painting.

“Thinking is vastly overrated,” he said. “Most art does not come from thinking. I do things that I have no idea why I do them. I’m working from a place of intuition. What I’m interested in is, ‘Does that color orange feel correct?’ When I was younger, I was trying to arrange things so I could get good art, now I just do art.”

The studio, or Dougieland as it’s better known, echoes with music sung in Spanish. The room explodes with color – bright yellows, metallic purples and blues that can’t possibly exist anywhere but here.

While Padilla’s process may be shaped by Buddhist teachings, his style screams “south of the border.” This self-taught artist is part Norwegian, part Mexican. But it’s clearly his Latino side that comes out on the canvas.

“When I go to Mexico and come back to Minneapolis, I paint with pinks and turquoises and lime greens for like six, eight months because the colors in Mexico make me go nuts,” he said.


Artist Dougie Padilla’s take on this well-known religious painting hangs in his studio in Minneapolis, Minn. MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

That mixing of Minnesotan and Mexico can produce some startling pieces. He points to a piece on the studio wall.

“Everybody loves that painting” he said.” It’s the classic Lutheran church basement reproduction of the old man with the white hair praying over his food and I’ve got this sort of Day of the Dead, bright colored fish with huge teeth coming out of the painting about to eat him.”

Padilla begins working on a new piece. Across from a collection of clay skulls and next to some rice cakes he’s covered with day-glow paint, Padilla’s creating a sculpture from wooden saltshakers and angel figurines. He doesn’t have a plan for the piece. He’ll just go where the art takes him.

“It’s more like sailing and trying to catch a certain wind, to get some good wind in your sails and head off over there,” he said with a grin.

And in Dougieland, an artistic journey can lead just about anywhere.