Review Me: Maria Ruenes: Whimsical Recycles
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Thursday, July 15, 2021

Maria Ruenes: Whimsical Recycles

Maria, we appreciate you give us the chance to talk about your art career and artworks through this interview. Tell us about your artistic background story and if there was a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as a visual artist?
I grew up watching my mom and one of my sisters do a lot of arts and crafts and took an interest in it early on in life as a result of watching them. I didn’t pursue my love for art until college and got into graphic design. Throughout the years I have tried many outlets for my creativity, aside from my college major, including drawing, creating flower arrangements, and metal embossing. It wasn’t until years later, when I moved to Dallas, I went back to college to study art and ceramics, and fell in love with creating three-dimensional things and sculptures. This ultimately led me to take a class on how to make Alebrijes and I then combined my Mexican heritage with my love for art and I began to create my very own Alebrijes.

As you said, your mind has been involved with art and crafts since you were a child, and when you entered college, you really felt the love of art. Was there ever a moment of doubt to question your art career entirely?
I was born and raised in Mexico, and though I always knew the culture there is very different from the one here in the United States, I didn’t know how much different it was until I moved here. Mexico is often associated with bright colors, not only in its architecture but also in its art, and after having lived in Dallas for almost a decade, I knew that my Alebrijes would be very out there, a deviation from the norm. It took a while to even decide if I wanted to share my art with the world and my community and I truly began doubting if I was doing the right thing or if I should stop and do something else. The support and curiosity for my art came in slow, but steady, and though I had some doubts remain, I decided to follow my interest and passion for Alebrijes and continued to pursue those dreams. I decided it was better to do it scared and with doubt than to not do it at all.

Yes, that's right. Doing something worthwhile with hesitation is better than leaving it. What is your daily routine when working in your studio?
I don’t have a set schedule, but I do have an established process that helps me achieve the best quality and overall results. I gravitate more towards working in the morning to allow each step to dry throughout the day and have it ready to go the next morning when I get back into my studio. As a creative, I allow myself to work when I feel the most creative and inspired, as opposed to forcing myself to work every day. This allows for a better ending result, at least in my experience. I do make sure my area is clean and has enough space to move around and place things that I will be using through my process. I prep the tools that I need each day before I start working, which allows for a better flow of the process and makes things more efficient.

In fact, creating art is not a daily task. Every time an artist is influenced and inspired, a masterpiece is formed.Take us through your process of making your artworks. How do you move from an idea to an artwork? Where does an artwork begin for you?
I always start with finding some inspiration online, after I have an idea of what Alebrijes I want to create, and use this to convey a clear idea to people. I then begin to create the shell of the Alebrijes with recycled materials like plastic bags, until the entire body looks the way I want. I then begin to cover the shell with a special mixture and newspaper in order to solidify the body and give it some protection. After this is done and the mixture has dried and hardened, I begin to paint it and draw all the different patterns to bring each individual Alebrijes to life and create a unique story for each. In the end, I seal the entire Alebrijes to ensure the color will last and won’t fade. This can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on the size and complexity of the individual Alebrije.

Many thanks for your full explanation of how an Alebrije is formed. Our readers will definitely enjoy it. Is there a central concept connecting all your works together or each series or artwork is unique?
Each Alebrije is unique. Even if I were to choose the same animal, the result would be different. I usually create each one with a a different story in mind, but there have been instances where I create a form of series. For example, I have created a few bugs and insects that would look good together, but they can also stand on their own. The one thing they all have in common, aside from the process I follow, is that they are all rooted in Mexican culture and portray and convey an important part of Mexican art through my perspective and interpretation.

Some artists prefer to provide detailed descriptions for their artworks to guide the viewers to receive the message via their art. Would you like to give a particular interpretation of your work to your viewers or you prefer to leave the whole interpretation to your audience?
I like creating stories for each of my Alebrijes, setting up the stage for how they came to be. Some come from far away lands; others are more rooted in reality. But these stories I tell are a small part of the whole, intended to be used as a good starting point for creativity. The rest of the storytelling is up to each individual user, each person having their own point of view and perspective. I always enjoy talking to people about how they perceive the art, and if they have a story, the art is telling them.

Great. You dedicate part of the understanding of your artwork to your own descriptions to convey the message or culture you present, and you leave the other part to the viewers. How do you seek and use inspiration for your works?
I get a lot of inspiration online, but that is strictly used to create a more accurate depiction of a specific animal’s body. I have found a lot of inspiration in books, nature, from my travels, and my daily life. For example, my husband and I love cows, and so I took a lot of inspiration from them and the spotted pattern many of them have. I also have many hen decorations around my kitchen and I used them and their bright colors for inspiration too. My daughter has inspired me too. Often times I ask her for animal ideas and what I can add to them to make them more diverse and unique. I have also always liked jewelry with insect themes, I find it fun and very unique, and I take a lot of inspiration from those pieces.

You are marvelous, Maria. And it's good that your daughter is already getting acquainted with a deep understanding of your art and combining different elements and subjects to present a complete artwork. Now, tell us about your subjects, please. How do you select your artworks subjects? Where they come from?
Alebrijes are mystical and fantastical creatures usually made up of two or more animals put together. I could deviate from that and make up my own rules, but the idea of working with animal subjects fascinated me, as it was different from anything else I had ever done, and so I stuck to it. I have no determined set for my work, they are mostly individuals, or a very small series of three Alebrijes but the process remains the same. Shape the body with plastic bags and cardboard. Cover it with my mixture and newspaper, and wait until it is dry and hard. Then let your creativity flow for painting and pattern drawing. Seal it to maintain the brightness of the color and overall durability. Inspiration comes from anywhere I can see animals, the zoo, a park, my travels, a book, television, or photography. Inspiration is never missing from my life.

How interesting! Yes, you’ve already said that your goal was to recycle materials and transform them into beautiful pieces of art. Are there an artwork or series that you would like to be remembered for? And if yes, what is it?
One of my favorite series I have done is the one with the little insects and bugs. It is a set of 3 and I find them to be some of my most fulfilling and unique work. I have always been drawn to those kinds of animals and creating them in Alebrije form allowed me to deepen that connection. Because they are smaller than most of my other Alebrijes I am challenged to create the same strong storytelling and aesthetic, but in a smaller form, which isn’t easy. I also love all the details I add, like the wings. These are my favorite part because wings remind me of freedom and I believe these insects are truly free, which is a good reminder of my life. They are small but very beautiful, and that keeps me focused on the small beauties in life.

Exactly. Your Butterfly, Firefly, and Dragonfly are fabulous displays of small beauties. What are your art influences? Who are your favorite contemporary or historical artists and why?
My art influences are mostly Spanish and Mexican. Going to different places throughout my life and seeing the bright colors, the intricate paintings, the fun patterns, and the diverse subject matters always got my attention. As such, Pedro Linares, the first person to bring Alebrijes to life, is a big source of inspiration. His Alebrijes were big and colorful, made from wood or papier-mâché, and they were used as a sort of float for festivals and parades. His work is unique, bold, and draws upon many sources of inspiration, like mythology and Mexican culture, which is why he is one of my favorites. When I began making my Alebrijes I took a lot of queues from him, but I also modified my process to fit my wants and needs, replacing wood and papier-mâché with recycled materials.

It may have occurred to you that you wish to meet art masters and talk to them closely. If you could meet one of your ideal artists from the past, who would it be and what will you ask about?
I would greatly enjoy meeting Antoni Gaudí the Spanish architect known for his modernist style that contrasted greatly with its surroundings. I can think of many things to ask, from how he got started in architecture, to where his ideas came from and if he ever felt like a failure, but my number one question would be how did he translate his feelings and perceptions of the world into his buildings and art. As an artist, I believe that the real life can, and does, inspire fiction, but a lot of it can also come strictly from the imagination and what the artist wishes to see in the world. So I would really enjoy learning his stance on this matter and tell me what it was like to combine his ideas and perceptions with the finished result.

Maria, our readers are very into your artworks and also curious to know about your future works. Any upcoming works or future projects that you would like to share with our readers?
I have many new Alebrije ideas I will be working on, so many new pieces are in the near future. I am also looking to expand my reach by participating in more art fairs and festivals and hopefully some galleries and art shows as well. I am currently working on my own website so that people from anywhere in the world can see my art, learn more about me and my process, and learn more about Mexican art and heritage and how it has helped me become the artist I am today. In-person events are my favorite as I get to interact with people face-to-face but I want to grow my online presence too and have a far-reaching impact.

We are enthusiastically waiting for your new works. I would like to thank you very much for your thoughtful answers and sharing your artistic mind with our readers. I hope to hear more about your achievements in the future art festivals globally. Good luck with your progress!

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