Reprinted by permission courtesy of Inteligencia.io.  

By Eva Recinos 

Gabriella Sanchez is a Mexican-American artist creating large-scale, bold paintings that explore the duality of her cultural identity.

The clues are there for those who might recognize them—the references to cultural symbols, the nods to Latinx fashion. Sanchez peppers her work with symbols and meaning known to those who need to know. Or, as she puts it, “If you know, then you know.”

We stopped by the artist’s studio to talk about her background, artistic journey, and current goals. Sanchez recently displayed her work at the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles and will have a solo exhibit at Charlie James Gallery through August 18th. 

The following delves into the artist’s work and history in her words as told to Eva Recinos. 

On Looking Deeper 

There are always hidden meanings and deeper layers [in painting]. But, usually, art talks a lot about art history and art itself, which is very alienating if you don’t have a certain level of education or don’t engage with art regularly. 

Even though my paintings have a deeper, conceptual meaning behind them, they are still very visually pleasing and very colorful. At first, I was making stuff that was black and white and red, very serious art colors. Then I started getting away from that and letting myself enjoy making art.

In my artwork, I balance the visual pleasure and the conceptual weight. Before, I found I was making work that I felt wasn’t for my community; it wasn’t for my family to enjoy, it was talking to the community that I wasn’t a part of. And that can be really alienating. As a whole, the art world is very alienating to specific groups of people: people of color and people who, maybe, don’t have certain levels of education. So, I like that the layered meaning [in my art] is for people who are from my own community who aren’t necessarily the art world community.

On Education and Segregation 

I don’t have early memories of interacting with fine art. The only art I really remember seeing is things in church. I remember drawing a lot as a kid. There was a year when [my mom] tried to homeschool me, and I remember drawing a lot that year. She would just get tracing paper and tear out editorials from magazines or little pictures and tell me to trace something; that would be my assignment. And I really loved doing that. That’s probably my earliest memory. I always enjoyed art, I just really had no idea that it could be a career, that “artist” was a real thing that people did. 

We moved around the L.A. area, but I went to school in Pasadena. And the system over there ends up being very segregated. Anyone who has a little bit of money sends their kids to private schools, so the public schools are underfunded. I ended up going to a private school because my mom got us scholarships; she got a job at one of the schools as a receptionist to try to get us in there. She really wanted us to go to what she thought were good, Christian schools because she was a single mom. If she was going to have to work multiple jobs and wasn’t going to be around, she wanted what she thought would be a good influence on our lives.That’s the school system I was a part of, and it was not great. It was very alienating, and it made me feel very separated from my own community and culture.

Growing up in L.A. other than that was great; I liked it. And I still love it! I went to a small school in San Diego for college, and that was also a weird experience because San Diego’s really weird. I actually lived abroad after that because I graduated and I was, like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do!” I had a degree, but couldn’t get a job except for babysitting. I was a live-in nanny at the time, for a family in Paris.

That was actually a great experience. I was doing illustration. The mom of the family that I was nannying for was the art director for this French magazine. She gave me my first commercial illustration job and, at that moment, I realized, oh, okay, this is how I can earn money. So, when I came back to L.A., I started trying to do more of that work. I ended up getting an in-house job as a designer and illustrator, but the main goal was always to do fine art. I had been doing that in school, and was trying to still do that as I worked. But I had no safety net or anything. My family couldn’t help me out, even though they were very supportive. So I thought if I fail, I just fail. I first needed to make money to fund my life.

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