This is the third of three conversations between exhibition curator Jennifer Dasal and artists in Estampas de la raza. Previously, Dasal interviewed printmakers Vincent Valdez and Oscar Magallanes. Today we’re hearing from Sonia Romero.
Sonia Romero in studio. Photo courtesy of Sonia Romero.
Jennifer Dasal: This exhibition zeroes in on contemporary prints created by Latino and Hispanic artists. How do you define your own unique cultural heritage?
Sonia Romero: I am half Spanish/Mexican American and half German/Russian American.
JD: What makes a work of art specifically Chicano, Latino, Hispanic, etc.? Is it simply the cultural makeup of the artist who created it, or is it something more?
SR: I think it could be the cultural makeup of the artist or the subject matter pertaining to Chicano/Latino/Hispanic issues. My piece in the exhibition, Bee Pile, is an appreciation of honey bees in light of the recent environmental phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder. The disappearance of our pollinators is a national disaster and does not pertain solely to the Latino community. Therefore, I can assume that the [McNay Museum’s] curator chose my work because of my heritage.
JD: What is it about printmaking that makes it so conducive to portraying the larger issues of struggle, traditions, identity, and so forth?
SR: Printmaking was developed so that messages, be they religious, political, or informative, could be spread among the largest amount of people for the least amount of cost. The main asset of printmaking is that it makes multiples.
JD: How did you begin your career as a printmaker? What drew you (or still draws you) toward printmaking?
SR: I began my career as a printmaker at Rhode Island School of Design. I was drawn to it because I wanted to learn a traditional craft, and the definition of painting has been blown apart so much that the craft of painting is no longer highlighted as the core of [some] painting departments. I like the history of printmaking, the precision, the ability to make multiples and the graphic quality of the imagery.
JD: What artistic traditions or histories are you pulling from in your works, if any?
Sonia Romero, Bee Pile (Found ‘Em), 2010, screen print, 37 x 26 in., Collection of the McNay Art Museum, Gift of Harriett and Ricardo Romo, 2011.3, © 2013 Sonia Romero
SR: By creating work at Self-Help Graphics and Modern Multiples [printing houses in Los Angeles], my work has become part of the serigraph tradition. The process of the technique, collaborating with the print shop to create layers of color that translate into an image, has an influence on the finished piece. For instance, the blend or “split fountain” I have in the background of Bee Pile is a traditional silkscreen/serigraph effect. The bees were created with a block printing technique, and then translated into the silkscreen medium.
JD: Can you reflect upon the role of icons in Latino/Chicano art? Who do you consider to be an icon? Are you yourself an icon of Latino or Chicano art?
SR: Popular cultural icons bring people together, creating a feeling of community and commonality. By using a popular icon is one’s artwork, you have automatic access to a wealth of emotion and history. On the negative side, these commonly used images can flatten or create caricatures out of the culture. I think it’s important to assess the origins and meanings that are associated with the images before you decide to use them in your artwork.
JD: What are the biggest challenges facing artists today? What do you feel is the best way to meet such challenges?
SR: I think the biggest challenge to being an artist is facing your own fears and carving out your own artistic path and career. There is no one way to live as an artist.
JD: What was the most fulfilling or unexpected aspect of your experience as a part of Estampas de la raza?
SR: Being part of Estampas de la raza opened the door for me to both the Latino community and the art community in San Antonio (I’m based in Los Angeles). The artists from the show have created follow-up exhibitions between Los Angeles and San Antonio, creating a cultural interchange. I hope to do the same in North Carolina.