Knowing & Understanding with Gabriella Sanchez
What captivates us about Gabriella Sanchez’s work is its blend of fine art, graphic design, and the unique qualities that come from her Latinx culture.
It calls to mind distinct art movements, but in a completely new context. We believe Gabriela’s voice is one to stop and pay attention to. Her works tell a story of knowing and understanding.
We had the recent pleasure of interviewing her in her kick-ass studio space in Downtown Los Angeles.
Gabriella wants her artwork to speak to her Latinx culture, while not being pigeonholed as solely a Latinx artist. It is important for her to be a participant in her community and a creative voice, while still being free to fully express herself as an artist. She is the first of her family to attend college, and it was during this time she explored Graphic Design.
“I went to college thinking I would study child development. The only work experience I had, at the time, was being a nanny. Then, I started taking a lot of art electives. It got to the point where my advisor sat me down and said, ‘You either need to take more of your classes for your major or you need to switch to art.’”
She changed her major to Graphic Design, knowing it would allow her to continue on a path toward art while having a skill she could be paid for. Even so, it was hard to find work after graduation. She went back to nannying, a job she knew, meanwhile a dream was brewing of living abroad.
“I felt if I was going to be a nanny, I might as well do this somewhere else. I decided to be an Au Pair in Paris. It was a great experience for me!”
She ended up being an au pair for a family in Paris and living in the city for over a year. The mother of that family was a magazine Art Director who, as she got to know Gabriella, learned she wanted to get into Graphic Design. She would give her her first illustration spot in that magazine.
“This is how I could make money with what I have learned in school.”
It opened her eyes again to the possibility of making a living doing what she loves, art and design. It was her first commercial job. Shortly afterward she returned to the U.S. She started working in illustration and design, where she landed a job at ban.do.
Designer to Artist
“My goal was always to be a full-time artist.”
She had been doing commercial work and creating for other brands, but wanted to spend time developing her own creative voice. While doing freelance illustration work she fell in love again with painting.
“I started to paint again. Shortly afterward, I created these large paintings. I treated them with a fine art perspective while developing conceptual ideas and letting my design eye work through them. I have always loved compositions and this is what I enjoy the most.”
The majority of Gabriella’s work starts on paper, even her larger paintings. She enjoys the extreme flatness working on paper offers. Being recognized as a painter always seemed like a lofty idea because in her mind, painters were untouchable, as if on a pedestal as a supreme version of an artist. She recalls a time in art school where one of her professors saw her painting skills in class and encouraged her that she was in fact a painter.
“I had this one professor who saw that I was really enjoying painting. That I was able to break out of the restrictions that a formal training in painting has. He told me that he thought I was a painter.”
In her series a lot of works were drawn from family photos. The figures in one piece had her grandpa and his brothers. The photo she selected for the painting she was able to use as a study. From there she decides what she wants the text to say.
“I do not sketch all my works out. I only sketch the main staple elements. This is how I start concepting each work. I map out pieces of it in my head. Once it’s mapped out, the picture is formed, then I mix different styles together. The rest of the figures are extreme cropping taken from my family photos.”
“I wouldn’t be upset if people identified me as a Latinx artist. However, my work will grow in whatever ideas and themes I’m interested in. Sometimes that may align with people's idea of a Latinx artist and sometimes it won’t.”
She wishes to be a voice for her community but also not be pinned down to one thing, whether that is being a Latinx or female artist. Those are two important elements to who she is, but there are more layers to her as well. She wants people to be able to enjoy her work without having to make a judgment call based on her being one part or another.
Gabriella is inspired by other contemporary artist’s. Leon Golub, in particular. She loves the massive paintings Golub does on raw canvas, where he predominantly paints figures from war. He himself is a vet, and for his practice he paints massive flat figures and will then scrape off paint and physically hack at the canvas to add texture.
“I like that his figures are stiff… they are frozen captured moments. I like the irreverence for the canvas and the large sweeps of color. When I paint my works and it feels like it's finished, everything clicks into place. That is when I decide to stop. Usually when I work past that point, I regret it.”
She is also inspired by John Baldessari. She has loved his work for years and especially how he renders faces. She has pulled inspiration from his stylized noses and ears.
“I like when he would put price stickers over the faces of his figures making them more of a universal man.”
Color vs. Composition
“The two leading aspects in my work are color and composition. Color breaks up composition. This is how I handle color. It is where I find the most enjoyment from painting. To me, it is about dividing into fields.”
One of the strongest parts of her work is the use of color. The colors are happy, bright and draw you in, then these really interesting forms and words continue to animate the dialogue it begins. It is as if the viewer is allowed to be captured by the color and intrigued by the composition.
“I want my paintings to be very visually pleasing and make you stay and, as you look at them longer, little pieces and threads start to reveal themselves. It is very important to me for the work to be very visually engaging.”
Gabriella’s speaks of her color palette and explains that she has been drawn to these colors. Even pink, although this is usually read as a highly feminine color. With the figures she wants both a feminine and masculine side to be shown. She for many years worked in darker, grunge colors but has embraced these more playful colors.
“I was very into color growing up. I was very girly and as I became older I became less so. I think everyone has very feminine and masculine sides. I like to be able to do both. I can be a very assertive person, which people read as being more masculine.”
Gabriella made her dream a reality by keeping her side hustle alive. She has been designing on the side and using her studio space as an event spot. Her works have become very therapeutic for her, although they carry so much personal emotion and growth as an individual. She is attached to them to a certain extent.
“This work is continuous for me. The happiness, pains, and struggles will always be there. Even if I work through it, that does not mean it will not be there, and painting is part of my process of working through it all.”
Her painting is a process of learning and letting go. Although her works are personal, with many speaking of her family identity, culture and her role in life, she is ready to bring it to the world. Nothing is too personal for Gabriella; she eloquently speaks of her works as a way of navigating her life and existence.
“I hope that everyone really thinks on how they read these signifiers. Even something as simple as a type change or a flower affects the identity within each person. These are essentially a portraiture. It is not the physical features that are forming the identity in the frame, but it is the symbols and iconography around them. That makes you develop how you think the portrait is about them.”
Gabriella’s work makes us ask of ourselves what informs our reality, and how can we confront our view on the world.