First Friday Artist Interview // Fingers and Paint

Interview and Photography by Britt Goh

Veronica Rojas is a surrealist and multi-medium artist, with her “main squeeze” being painting.  Once, she went to Leon Trotsky’s house and was given a secret tour by his nephew. I asked her if she had to pay, she said it was tip-based.

We met on a Monday afternoon, and I was still rest-weary from my #sundayfunday of drinking mimosas and doing nothing. I asked her,

What does your typical Sunday look like…do you ever deviate from routine?

“My Sunday…”

The possessive is attached to Sunday, like moss to wet sidewalk, or like fog to land in San Francisco. It’s attached, unlike any other day. You never hear anyone say “My Wednesday” like they own it. It’s because Sundays are days to suffer small breakdowns, break your lemon cayenne cleanse, take Tylenol for your “headache,” and sit in a silence or a motion that’s governed by you, not by BART schedules, not by your boss, not by your clients, not by your friends.

Sundays are selfish and muted-reckless. 

She continued, “…I sleep until late. I do some painting. I take a nap. Then, I paint some more and I eat, and maybe we go out somewhere, and then I come back and take another nap and then paint some more, and say, “I don’t want to go to work tomorrow. It’s so late.” Then I paint some more.”

You eventually go to work, though. What do you do?

“I work at Creative Growth in Oakland, it’s like Creativity Explored in the city. The same people run both of them. It’s an art center for adults with disabilities. It’s pretty great.” “We have two artists Danny Miller and William Scott that are part of the New York MOMA art collection.”

“It’s amazing.”

What’s your technical background?

“I came to the U.S. to study art. I originally studied photography in New York, but I became extremely allergic to the photo chemicals. I was playing a lot. I would put bleach into the developer to see the grain break.”

“At one point I couldn’t go to the lab any more because I would just shake…so I decided to do ceramics, not knowing that was more poisonous than photography. After NYU, I went to CCA masters program for ceramics. I got sick from that too, that’s when I started to paint, after NYU, after CCA. So, I’m self taught in painting, you could say.”

What piece, that you can identify, started your style?

“I have it right here actually, funny that you ask. I hadn’t explored with amate paper yet, but I explored with this microcosm-cellular-muscle-tissue-symbols-codex-thing. In Mexico there is this tree that only grows in Puebla Estado. The flowers have all these hand shapes coming out of it. This is the first time I drew it. This painting was 2000, actually 1999. It was the only time I drew it, but now I’m going back to it, because I’m actually having hands coming out.”

“This painting just has so much connection with what I’m doing. I wasn’t very good with color back then, it was basically directly from the tube, but the symbols are starting to emerge.”

What’s your process?

“Everything keeps changing and going organically, and I rely a lot on mistakes. I do have the idea beforehand, but some things that work in my head don’t work in reality.”

“I modify…like I don’t plan everything to the tiniest detail, but when I obsess about things, like the tree-hands, I’ll work on it for a long time in sketches, pieces...I even made a little necklace.”

“One art piece takes me to the other. It’s like dominoes.”

“For example, I started reading this book about alchemy, I thought it would be cool to try to make gold.” “They talk about lunar seed, sun seed, celestial water, the virgin earth, and liberating the souls out of the metal. They talk about this heat…not really from fire, not from a fire that people know of.”

In your artist statement on the web, you say that “insects, plants, hands, organs and cells become the main characters.” Why do you choose to personify fragmented form, instead of drawing human form?

“So for example, one of the first paintings I did was after I took a trip to Mexico and the violence I saw was so bad, so horrible, I couldn’t believe everything humans could do to each other. I wanted to do a piece about it, but I didn’t want to be literal. I didn’t want to draw guns, the war, blood, I decided to use plants and hands to show that kind of conflict.”

“Another thing, I hate being literal. The surrealist quality is very important.” “I don’t like people to have the same idea about my art work, I like it to be very open. If I use more symbols than literal imagery, I think it gives people freedom to read it as they want…create a dialogue with the viewer, I don’t want to tell them.”

Do you envision yourself living there again?

“I went back last June and I found it so inspiring. People creating art outside of gallery spaces. It makes me think art is more alive when people start doing that.”

“But I also found that there weren’t many spaces for emerging artists to exist. I thought it would be nice to open an art center for emerging artists. The front would be a gallery and the studios would be in the back. Open studios like Oakland’s First Fridays.” “Yeah…but one of the reasons why I came to the U.S. was because I felt like I wouldn’t be able to separate myself and become a producing artist. I have a big family, I love them, I see them once a year at least, but I felt like I wouldn’t grow if I stayed there.”

Veronica’s Berkeley studio was like one of her paintings.

There was this chair,

kind of like these chairs.

There was this cactus that looked like tiny things built a gate on it.

I felt like I was getting a secret tour of her mind (not run by Trotsky’s nephew).

It wasn’t Sunday. I wasn’t in church. It was only Monday, but I still felt changed.