Join us in the studio of Austin-based artist Xochi Solis, for a look behind the scenes at what inspires her layered, colorful work.
Photos by Katie Jameson
Can you share more about yourself + your background?
I was born and raised in Austin, TX. In addition to my studio practice, I am the Director of Public Programming at the Visual Arts Center at The University of Texas and a member of a collectively run art space in East Austin called MASS Gallery. As the daughter of an artist and an educator, I feel like my current art making and arts administration roles harmoniously dovetail to incorporate all of my interests and skills. I feel like I landed in these parallel positions organically and by just saying yes to opportunities that crossed my path.
How do you describe your work?
As an artist that works in abstraction, I invite my viewers to take what they see and make it their own. Some folks see energetic splashes of color and respond to that, others see bright, almost edible shapes and forms. I'm happy with the range of responses and I am pleased that people linger with the compositions long enough to make up their own narrative.
We're super intrigued by your process and what goes into creating one of your collages…what starts a piece?
Early on in my assemblage making, I began messing around with shaped paintings, slowly moving myself away from the constraints of a rectangular canvas. At that time, I was really excited about Dadaist painters like Jean Arp and his wife Sophie Taeuber-Arp, who were mixing a lot of other materials into their painting process. I was also really drawn to the colors and forms of LA-based contemporary artist Monique Prieto. From these inspiration points, I began 'painting' with shaped wood panels and paper. From there my style has developed into incorporating found images and all kinds of paper sources and eventually I stopped working with wood and focused on only light two dimensional materials.
Whether working small on illustration board or large scale with site specific installations, each work is a construction beginning with paint. Paint is either directly applied on my work surface or on clear plastic. This is followed by a collection of materials including: hand-dyed paper, vinyl, plastic, cork and images from books and magazines.
First, I recall observations made of organic forms found in the everyday, an unusual pebble, plant leaves outside of my studio or found on a walk, funny clouds or even curves of my own body. In reference to these observations I begin pulling materials together that fit that shape or forms a mood and vibration.
Once a healthy stack of paper and painted plastic swatches are gathered I establish a stacking method where each layer is contingent on the previous and additional layers of information. Found images enter this conversation gradually as I find great satisfaction in exploring how photographic images can substitute surfaces and objects within the two-dimensional plane. Through my technique, I am able to provide a textural experience beyond the painted surface and as my work develops.
Can you speak a little about living in Austin and how the city plays a part in your work?
I am a native Austinite, second generation with my maternal grandfather immigrating here from Guanajuato, Mexico when he was only four years old. I have seen many changes during my 35 years and through family members I have learned even further how the city has taken shape into the metropolis that we recognize today. As I grow and I am nurtured by this city artistically, I recognize that its identity is more than the outside perspective of the “Live Music Capital” or home of SXSW.
As the seat of government, for an intimidatingly huge and conservative state, Austin has the potential to direct its infamous “weirdness” into activating change and progress. It is being here in this governmental seat that has lit a fire under me to be more productive and be more aware of my choices and life decisions. Now more than ever I feel the importance of being present and dynamic as a female artist of color and as a visual arts leader in my community. I am fortunate that my town has a robust community of strong willed, hard working, and compassionate women, with whom I have the pleasure of sharing ideas and dreams with on a regular basis.
Describe a dream project.
Recently, I have been offered more and more potential projects in new cities around the country and the world. Each time I create artwork for a different place or share my work with a new audience I am introduced to a fresh environment with imaginative colors, inspiring shapes, and novel sounds and smells. Ideally I would like to be able to take advantage of even more of these opportunities on to broaden my visual vocabulary and my perceptions of the world at large. My dream project as of late has been to travel to Jaipur India to participate in a residency learning papermaking from families that have been making fine paper goods for generations.
What are some of your favorite color combinations?
Currently I am digging:
avocado green + peachy coral
deer fawn brown + caution yellow
tangerine + sailor blue
speckled carpet grey + neon sign fuchsia
What are 5 other things you’ve been interested in lately?
-Getting back into the gestural and physical nature of painting by studying images of Helen Frankenthaler in her studio
-Learning how to DJ LP’s as a new member of the all-girl all-vinyl Chulita Vinyl Club
-Mastering the art of JOMO or the Joy Of Missing Out
-Becoming multilingual: first up fluency in Spanish and proficient grasp of American Sign Language (ASL)
-Committing to making a plan to leave the country every other year to grow my practice in some way
What’s next for you?
I’m about to jump on a plane for a short printmaking artist residency in St. Louis, MO with Pele Prints. There I will create a whole new suite of work alongside master printers utilizing a variety of printmaking methods and bringing a few back home to show in an upcoming April exhibition at Austin’s MASS Gallery alongside New York-based artist David X. Levine, whose work I really admire. I’m also currently taking suggestions for an appropriate DJ name for my newest adventure with the Chulita Vinyl Club. I am so pumped about joining an all girl DJ group! Long term goals: polish my Spanish speaking skills so I can visit all the places in Latin America and Spain that inspire me from afar.