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In The Studio With Gabriella Sanchez: Exploring Abstract Vibrancy

The vibrant paintings of Los Angeles-based Latinx artist Gabriella Sanchez explore visual signaling, markers, and language. In her work, she references several iconic texts and visual works by artists such as Ed Ruscha and Oscar Wilde, abstracting and remixing them with more mundane objects such as flowers, street lamps, and traffic arrows. Through these references, Sanchez makes a point about the ways in which her identity as a person of color and a woman are not seen as separable from her artwork, unlike Ruscha or Wilde. What results are her own self-proclamations that are both playful and derisive—they exist as psychographics that also reveal inner truths about the viewers themselves. Her work ultimately becomes an abstract form of portraiture, in which signs and symbols are used to tell the story of the artist, while also highlighting the ways in which the viewer plays a part in forming the meaning of these pieces.

Milk visited Sanchez in her studio to learn more about her experience navigating the art world as a Latinx female, as well as the symbolism in her paintings.

What was growing up in Los Angeles like? Have you ever thought about moving someplace else? If so, where?

It was a lot of different experiences piled up on top of each other. Growing up, my mom got an office job at a local private school so that my brother and I could attend. That was a really formidable experience for me in how to navigate through different spaces.

Every life has moments of joys and trials unknown to others so speaking from an outside view only, most of the kids I was going to school with were the kids that were living life with the Los Angeles background people imagine: sun bleached hair, palm trees, growing up in their childhood home, parents with established careers and surfing on the weekends. My experience of growing up in LA outside of school was: barbecues every weekend at grandma’s house, struggling to make ends meet, swap meets with my dad, long drives, lots of family, moving often, small apartments and back houses, mickey d’s apple pie, lots of heart ache but also lots of healing, bars on our windows and roses along our chain link fences.

There was also lots of religion sprinkled in there too from white tent revivals and home garage churches to crisp polo shirt congregations and everything in between. In a sentence, for me, growing up in LA was a duality of experiences.

I lived abroad in Paris, France for a little over a year and really loved it. I think about moving to new places outside of the US to experience different cultures and ways of living. Ultimately though LA is home. I’ll always end up back here.

In terms of technique, will you walk us through your process for creating the paintings from inspiration to execution?

I always start with writing and reading. Sometimes my writing takes the form of one line notes that later work their way into my paintings or full essays. Sometimes that writing will lead to even more reading and researching and the cycle will repeat itself until I feel like I’ve exhausted that avenue and have filled myself to the brim with my internal dialogue. Then with all of that in mind I go through my visual references from my past work and personal photo archives and pull these images from inspiration. When it comes time to paint, I’ve had my concepts so tightly wound in my mind that I like to let it flow naturally. Some elements of my pieces I might plan out like having a certain word in a certain font or choosing a specific cropping of a figure but as a whole I like to improvise as I go along — painting and re-painting, adding or pulling back layer by layer. I try to allow a level of intuition in my painting process because I think that’s what gives it more of a resonating life. The planned out conceptual part of the work is the foundation that the instinctive visual choices can build upon.

What themes do you attempt to address in your paintings?

If you were to really boil it down to the core, my work is about how meaning is created and received and how aesthetic preferences can change a meaning for each individual.

How does your identity as a Latinx individual play a part in these artworks? Who are some of the artists you reference in these works?

I often make work from my own frame of reference so that will naturally come with an added layer of context which can bring into play a cultural element for viewers.

I reference Oscar Wilde often in my work as a symbol of an aestheticism philosophy (art for art’s sake). I’m very interested, as an artist of color, whether it is possible to make ‘art for art’s sake’ or if my aesthetic choices will always be read through a socio-ethnic-political lens. I know the answer to be the latter so I play with the assumptions that will be made to reflect back to the viewer their own psychographics. For example, I often position san serif fonts in opposition to gothic scripts displaying the same word like in my pieces ‘Homes’ and ‘Wilde Flowers’. In those two pieces I take the words “homes” and “Oscar” and display them in the same context but in varying font styles to play with the associations that come forward. In the case of “Oscar” the image of the person you imagine the name being tied to may change and in the case of “homes” the actually meaning of the word my change.

This is where my interest in the work of Ed Ruscha comes into play as I see similarities in our interests with the meaning that is created when text is paired with imagery but am also interested in how our own personal contexts influence the meaning that is created. For example, I took san serif and gothic script text (the words “CO” and “Rebel”) from two of Ruscha’s paintings and wove them into my pieces ‘Rebel Rebel’ and ‘Homes’. I use the same words, same font style but placed in the context of my work to see the new associations that arise and how my perceived identity influences how a viewer now reads the text and the meaning associated with it.

What do you hope viewers will take away from seeing these artworks?

My paintings aren’t a closed system of meaning directed towards an answer, but it’s more a series of connected signifiers pointing to a place in between. There’s not really one specific meaning I want viewers to take away other than to get visual pleasure out of each piece and to experience their own system of creating meaning through their own assumptions and associations brought to the forefront. From a more personal standpoint, I want other artists of color (specifically latinx) to perhaps see connections to their own experiences as well while still maintaining a conceptual rigor. While I was first learning about art I was really drawn to conceptually heavy work but for the most part didn’t see myself reflected in anyway so I don’t want to make work that strips me of any signifiers or experiences that would be seen as “other” but to instead find a way for it to all come together.

How did your previous work as a graphic designer and then as an illustrator inform the art you create now?

My background in graphic design heavily influences my work now as an artist. Strictly visually speaking, my top concern is composition while creating my paintings. The intermingling of text and imagery along with a concern for how the viewer will interpret a work is all directly born from my past experience as a designer.

What do you like most about the art scene in Los Angeles?

In the past all eyes were very much on New York in terms of the art world and I think LA still holds some of that renegade or outsider mentality which I really like. You can go to LA galleries and museums to see some interesting work but there are also lots of DIY spaces and non-four wall spaces where some really innovative stuff is happening too.

What do you like to listen to while you’re painting?

I tend to get in a loop with music where I’ll listen to the same album or couple of albums over and over again and can go on for months until I’ve drained them. Right now, Sudan Archives’ Sink and Pete Rock’s Lost Sessions are probably those albums for me right now. I also listen to alot of audiobooks while I paint but it has to be something that is a little generic because if it’s too enthralling or thought provoking I’ll end up just sitting down and listening to it without actually working. I have a secret love for fantasy, sci fi, all epic adventure stuff and those generally make good listens to paint to.

What are your favorite places to go and get inspired in LA?

I really enjoy Vincent Price and the Hammer but I get inspiration from anywhere: the internet, books, old street signs, dinner with friends…anywhere. I recently just bought an art book called German Pop by Max Hollein and Martina Weinhart that I’m finding really inspiring.

What does a day in the life for you look like?

I try to keep a pretty regular schedule because I’m not actually a very habitual person but I’ve found a consistent schedule helps me produce strong work more regularly. So, I wake up around 8am and make tea, maybe answer some emails, and then I put my headphones on and paint or write or sketch and mix in some breaks with lunch meetings or a quick visit with a friend and then I get back to work until lik 6 or 7pm and then call it day work wise.

Images courtesy of Alix Luntz

Stay tuned to Milk for more studio visits. 

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