Mexican-American artist Monica Curiel on what inspires her

Monica Curiel is more than an artist. She’s a proud Mexican-American woman. She’s a daughter of immigrants. She’s overcome many obstacles that make her who she is now and that inspire her to create the works of art she does. Today her work has been showcased at the Kansas Union Gallery, as well as being featured as an exclusive collection for the online store Shop Jitana. In this Pitch Questionnaire, Curiel talks about the journey she’s on and her creative process.

Monica Curiel with her art

Photo by Mallorie McBride

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Hometown: Dallas, Texas

Current neighborhood: Hyde Park, KCMO

Your favorite dessert is… Crème Brule

What does Kansas City need more of? Diversity

What’s your hidden talent? Hmm…not sure but I used to design and sew clothes.

What would you tell your younger self? Honor and be proud of where you come from, your adversities will help further you. Trust the journey you are on.

Your art style has changed a lot throughout the years. Now you mainly create works of art with non-traditional materials. How do you choose what to do next? Yes, I think as a person who likes more than one thing, I believe I have always been in search for the “one thing” I am “suppose to be good at” or commit to doing. During the pandemic, I really took the time to honor the many things I like to do and find a way to merge them. Organically, abstract painting came about. I was not outwardly seeking it, but it felt natural to get back into painting. My works reflect my love for the arts, design, architecture, but also are reflective of my experiences and what conversations I want to facilitate.

You’ve talked a lot about how your background—being the daughter of immigrants and also a cancer survivor—affects your art today. How do you feel your background inspires your work? As the daughter of immigrants whose parents are part of the U.S. labor force, I feel that by using non-traditional materials, is the way I choose to stay connected to my cultural roots. I grew up mowing lawns with my father in upwards of 100-degree heat waves and cleaning homes with my mother. I use the same construction tools my parents used to create a livelihood, one used to support me. I use these materials to serve as a translation tool. They serve to translate my story and the conversations I want to initiate through my works. It is also the way I can unite myself with my culture and honor all that my parents have sacrificed so that I may have an opportunity to have what they did not. I am a product of hard work and determination. The core of my work aims to pave a path for women of color like myself, who did not think that the opportunity to be an artist, let alone a painter, was a valid one.

You’ve been able to create over 60 pieces of art since the start of the pandemic, and it feels like you’re constantly creating new paintings. How do you deal with artist’s block when it hits? This is a great question. The creator’s block is a hard thing to get over, the way in which I go about it is by paying attention to what I feel and listening to my body. For example, if I am having a mental block and am already physically exhausted, I will watch documentaries of artists who inspire me, listen to a podcast, or hop on Pinterest and Instagram. Other times, I may just feel I need to continue to create and paint without hesitance, and from those times have come some of my best works. Somedays, I may just call up a fellow artist and friend to receive creative energy, we all go through it, so I think it’s most important to build yourself habits and a community you can rely on when the block happens.

Photo by Ryan Verbenec

Recently, you’ve had your work featured quite a bit. How would explain what the process of getting your work in a showcase or sold in an exclusive collection looks like to someone who is unfamiliar? I would say the first step is to know why you create. What are you trying to say through your art? Why should it matter to people? Who are those people? What is the value you are bringing to their lives through your art? Once you’ve answered that through what you’ve created, you can find others who share that passion and initiative. This means sending emails, calling, IG messaging people you’d like to work with or collaborate with. Listen, if you’re waiting for someone to discover you – a gallery, a brand, or a business, you’re doing a disservice to yourself. You have to let others know you exist, why you create, and when you reach out to like-minded people, those connections should develop organically. That doesn’t mean if you reach out to someone they will say “yes, I want to work with you” it means that you have to make the opportunity for yourself and the “right” one will feel right.

What does the creative process look like to you? For me, it starts with emotion. How I feel about something, and how deeply I have thought about that subject. It soon translates into doing. Much of my creative process is visceral. I figure it out as I go. I may have an idea or reference when working but I often don’t know what the final composition will look like or even feel like at its completion. Texture is at the core of my work. I often work quickly and work on multiple works at a time. I have to remind myself to take breaks or rest. Again, is this burning desire to let something out, to tell a story, start a conversation, and for me, it begins with an emotion.

What is your favorite part about being an artist? Hands down. Meeting other creatives who are passionate about the work they do.

What fun stuff (art-related or not) do you have planned in the future? I want to build and design my own furniture; I’ve wanted to do this for over two years now. Non-art related, I am getting married, which I am so excited about! Oh, and traveling! There is so much of the world I’d like to meet.

Categories: Questionnaire