Studio Visit, Baltimore, May 2019
Conversation between Gina Gwen Palacios and Amy Boone-McCreesh
Where did you grow up? How did you end up in Baltimore?
I was born in Taft, Texas but when I was about 8 we moved a few miles over to Portland, Texas. Most people don’t know where that is so I usually just say South Texas, or “outside of Corpus Christi”. I’m in Baltimore because I graduated with an MFA in Painting from RISD last year and was nominated to apply as a AICAD Teaching Fellow. I was lucky to get an interview and a call back from MICA! So I am here teaching full time in the Painting department for a two year term.
Can you talk about how your surroundings in any given place affects your work?
Since I was born and raised in South Texas, the super flat horizon line, open sky, and fields of cotton were always around me. When I lived in Austin, I would drive back and it’s so flat, and I would race to get home. Then I started to realize how beautiful the landscape was… but also tough and resilient.
It’s so flat and it feels like you can see forever. All the trees are shorter and there’s nothing to protect you from the blazing sun. I wanted my paintings to reflect the feelings you have being in that environment. When I moved to Providence for grad school, there’s big buildings and hills, it’s not open, I was actually surprised how much it affected me. It’s beautiful but I felt so out of place. I’d have to go to an ocean to see the horizon line.
At RISD, I was around these super talented artists and that had a different effect on me – it was super inspiring but it also made me really insecure about what I was making. I questioned how I even got there in the first place. Then moving to Baltimore, it kind of shook me. The overall feeling is so different than Texas or Rhode Island. It felt like I was stepping into something much deeper and heartrending. The city is so segregated, I started to question what I am doing and who I am doing it for. I’m still learning about this place and people. Even MICA and it’s students are changing my views, I don’t know how it’s all affecting my work yet. Being here has been educational and has also made me think about the materials I am using and my material based work. I feel like my understanding of a lot of things has been shaken up and I’m not sure how I want to move forward.
How do you think about audience or viewers?
I guess I want everybody to be able to see my stuff of course, but really, one reason I make the work I do is because I didn’t really see myself or where I’m from represented in art or media. I make what I wish I could see, and maybe hoping for Hispanic or Latino recognition of familiarity, like, “Oh that looks like me” or “Oh, I’ve been there.” I want the whole place and history of South Texas, cotton pickers, migrant farm workers, family histories, Tejanas and the land to be seen and to feel seen.
There is such a deep and difficult history there and a mishmash of Mexican and American cultures. I come from such fertile soil, how can I not want to explore it in painting or making? I do waste a lot of energy in worrying about what other artists think, which is important, but for me can be pretty paralyzing.
Describe most simply what you think your work is about – what do you get from it vs what others might see
I guess I kind of answered that, to make a place and land seen and to say, “I see you, you matter!” I always wanted to paint. For years I struggled with what that meant or what that can even look like. I started with a focus on painting the fields that I passed daily. Those were the same cotton fields my parents had to pick and I felt their history embedded in that soil that belonged to someone else. This idea of land and people led me to Mexican American representation and the need to show a geographic and cultural narrative that I don’t think people know.
I made the piece “Hermana – Hermano” based on a picture of my dad and his sister when they were little, using charcoal, cardboard, and cotton. There’s so much history, and I’m still learning. My grandmother was also a migrant worker and would go around Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma to pick. We grew up with them telling us stories of picking, the way they were treated in school, the racism they faced. I want to highlight these things and I am still trying to figure out the best way to do that. I’m not really sure what others see, maybe it’s the same feelings as looking at the Regionalist painters. I really don’t know yet, I need to ask.
Do you structure your studio time in any specific way? Are there times you feel most productive? How do you make it work as an artist?
At the beginning of this year when I started at MICA, I had just moved, started teaching, everything was new and I was not in studio mode at all. I was doing these little rough paintings and I never felt like I had time. As the year went on I tried to make a schedule to stick to. On a great day I get up, write, eat breakfast, then go to the studio. I try and take a break during the day and exercise too. When you’re teaching and prepping that schedule gets all messed up, so sometimes I’m on it, sometimes not. I try to do the studio first above other things, to make it a priority. If I do it the other way, my day gets sucked up before I know it. I’m still trying to figure out how to make it all work.
What do you like to do outside of making art?
I’m learning to play the Old Time fiddle music. It was pushed to the back burner while I was in school but now I have a little more time to play. There’s a couple people at MICA who play, so I’ve been talking to them. I have it in my studio so when I need a break from painting I can just play and look at my work while I do.
I have also been helping in a Farmer’s Market–my boyfriend’s a farmer and cheesemaker. We travel a lot, lately to Ecuador and Puerto Rico. My life has just been prepping, teaching, studio, some travel, and a little fiddle.
What is on your mind right now in terms of influence or research?
I was just getting into this artist named Robyn O’Neil, she makes big graphite drawings. Super cool. She’s interesting and funny and I like the way she makes her work. So that’s made me want to draw more. I’ve also been looking a lot at Aimé Mpane, Laura Aguilar, and Ana Fernandez in San Antonio. And folks like Arthur Dove and van der Weyden.
I’ve been reading The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas, about the lynchings and mob violence in South Texas and the whitewashing of these crimes that still reverberate generations later. And because that’s pretty dark I thought I’d read something lighter…I picked The Handmaid’s Tale! Um, that was pretty dark too, but an easy read.
I’m listening to a lot of Bob Dylan, early stuff, which is always kind of there. I was also listening to a Jason Molina station on Pandora and heard Damien Jurado. I Am Still Here was stuck on repeat forevs. Looking him up I realized he’s married to Robyn O’Neil. That’s how I found her work (which I had seen before but never knew her name).
What else are you listening to?
I’m always listening to Podcasts: The Organist, Latinos Who Lunch, Cabronas y Chingonas. The Organist is probably the most interesting one, it’s by KCRW and Andrew Leland. I also just listened to a James Baldwin book, The Fire Next Time on YouTube. Otherwise, I listen to old time music and the same music over and over–I need people to send me playlists because I’m kind of stuck!
Your work doesn’t always seem to be media-specific. How do you make decisions about materials or how did you make the switch from painting to mixed media?
While at the Brandeis studio art post-bacc program, I was painting but it wasn’t enough. I began playing with other materials, especially cardboard. I just looked at it and thought it was almost the color of my skin, it was free or cheap, and had interesting properties that I could dig in to. I just did a little bit of experimentation and then moved on. I wanted to just paint.
Then when I was at RISD, I was surrounded by all these awesome artists–I would make a painting and think it wasn’t strong enough. It’s just going to sit on the wall and not give that feeling I wanted. So I started thinking–what is it that I wanted to change? That’s when I went back to cardboard and I started to include materials like Mylar or objects like lace and sandpaper. My undergrad is in TV/Film and I started bringing that into the mix. I think I move between all these mediums because sometimes content dictates the medium. I want to be flexible and at times it means making a painting, making an object, or both.
I love painting and painters and I will always paint, but I also like to explore. When I went to Puerto Rico, a lot of local artists use the materials they have around them. After Hurricane Maria, there was so much devastation, I saw one of the artists who had a farm and lost everything. Rosaura Rodríguez Muñoz started making pigments from the plants around her to make paintings. They’re really beautiful and felt more poignant because of those materials. With oil paint, you don’t always have that feeling. It’s too far away. I go back and forth about this though, so many artists I love just paint, they don’t need anything else. But I also think that sometimes paint just isn’t enough.
Do you have any shows coming up or anything you’d like to promote?
I have a residency at Santa Fe Art Institute in June. While there, I’ll be giving a talk about my work and process, come by if you’re in town! I’m also a finalist in the Bethesda Painting Awards. Sadly, I won’t be able to attend the ceremony because I’ll be at the residency. I’m a semi-finalist in The Trawick Prize, so we’ll see what happens there. And I’m in a group show at the Towson University ArtScape in July.