If you read my Tell Me More! interview with Isabel Ann Castro, you know how I first heard about Kayla Matta.
If you haven’t read it yet, why not?!
Please go do that, and come back with a nice cup of cafecito and maybe a perfect piece of pan dulce. I wish I could point you to Sunshine Bakery, Kayla’s family panaderia, but they are taking a hiatus due to the pandemic.
Pan dulce >>>> Pan demic.
Years back, I heeded Isabel's advice and got to know Kayla Matta through her infamous Instagram @mamachiflada, where her bio sums her up succinctly: Mami on a Mission. Artist. Scratch Baker. Amateur Cake Decorator. Mami of Lola and Max.
When I finally met Kayla in person, it was around the time Denise Hernández, Rebel Mariposa, Cristina Martinez, and I were organizing the first Chingona Fest at La Botánica in 2016. Kayla worked on a design for the festival, and I felt an instant connection with her.
Yes, she was beautiful and stylish and cool, with those nopal-colored eyes and deadpan way of telling it like it is, but more than that she reminded me of many of my former Hawthorne Academy students, las favoritas, so bright and talented, but who maybe never had it completely…easy.
That Kayla and I are both first daughters of teenage mothers sort of sealed the deal for me. We are members of a special little club of m’ijas who grew up alongside their young mothers as they themselves grew up. We know how to hustle because we learned from the best: Angela and Ilza.
Kayla has done so much in her young life; I remember when she turned 21! From opening Pan Dulce Gallery adjacent to her family’s Eastside bakery, to curating art shows and music nights showcasing up-and-coming talent, to coordinating multiple fundraisers and cute af community events, Kayla's world revolves around making and promoting art.
When I was in grad school with a baby at home, I had to hustle extra hard to keep our boat afloat, and the Pan Dulce Pulgas Kayla organized at the gallery were ways for many thrifty vintage sellers, myself included, to sell their goods. She always made me feel welcome and included.
Kayla's flyer work is amongst the flyest in town, so when Diana Lopez of Southwest Workers Union commissioned me to curate a Spotify playlist for the SWU community, I saw that little empty square in my “Songs in the Key of SWU” draft and thought: Kayla Matta.
She listened to my ideas, worked hard to incorporate my requests, and even found a way to include my “long ass” title.
I really love what she came up with. It looks like what I want the playlist to sound like: handmade, urban, organic, healing, intergenerational, inspiring, and totally San Anto.
When she asked me if I wanted the DJ in the drawing to look like me, I said, umm yes, please. She added a pretty floral mask and my green cat-eye frames, adding to the overall vibe of superhero mama DJ on a mission of her own.
Kayla was kind enough to answer some questions for me on notebook paper in turquoise marker. As I was typing up her responses I could hear her talking. I could also almost here Lola asking her a million questions and Max gurgling in the background. Two young children keep you busy, as I know firsthand, but you keep hustling and creating and making the world better.
Just like your mama taught you.
Questions and responses edited ever-so-lightly for maximum reading pleasure.
Q: A lot of us struggle with imposter syndrome. Working class backgrounds and capitalism in general don’t necessarily encourage artistic expression, much less pursuing art as a way of life that can actually pay the bills. Do you remember when you knew art was your calling? Can you tell us about your path from private to public artist?
A: I come from a family of creatives, though in my younger years I didn’t realize it. My mom and grandma were both cake decorators, my grandpa is a baker (which is a form of art), but the most artistic influence I’ve gotten is from my dad.
He has always been a visual artist and during his time in and out of jail, I specifically remember him drawing things for me, and I would send him drawings back. It was our way of bonding and communicating while he was away.
I feel like my breakthrough with art happened in middle school. Graffiti was popular at the time so I dabbled with that, and kids at school noticed I was good so I would charge one or two bucks to do their names with real colorful letters.
We went to public school so everyone has see-through backpacks and they’d display their names I drew in the front pocket for everyone to see. Kinda like a license plate, but on a backpack.
Q: You’re consistently booked and busy, aka blessed, with paid artistic opportunities. How do you navigate your energy between commercial and personal work? Can you tell us about any dream projects for the future?
A: During COVID-19, as well as some other setbacks I’ve recently faced, I’ve kinda been backed into a wall where the only way to pay bills is with my art. It doesn’t leave me with much time for personal projects, but during this time, ALL work is good work for me. I would like like to eventually be in a solo or group show soon, but only time will tell.
Q: Your style is unmistakably your own. Can you tell us about your influences and maybe tell us about the line between admiring and studying art, being influenced by particular artists or movements, but then forging your own path/style/aesthetic? How can artists cite their sources while still making something their own?
A: I love this question because I never get to talk about my style. I feel like a lot of my influences come from growing up in the hood and growing up in a panaderia. Cartoons like Sailor Moon, The Powerpuff Girls, and The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, are also a big influence on my style.
I’m not sure what the textbook term would be for my style, but I would describe it as Chicana-Lisa-Frank. It’s very cartoon-y, bright, colorful, maybe even kitschy with an urban twist.
I feel like everyone is capable of making something their own by mashing up their personal taste with their upbringing and experiences and putting it on a platform for others to view and relate to.
Q: I’m so happy with your design for "Songs in the Key of SWU." Can you describe the process of how you came up with the image? Lots of us wonder how an artist goes from commission to idea to brainstorm/inspiration to creation. What was your process like?
A: I honestly have the hardest time collaborating on ideas for commissions, but this one fell in my lap. I’m familiar with SWU and what they offer to the community as far as a theme was concerned. I looked to the greenery of their Roots of Change garden as the main inspo for the artwork.
Q: You come from a family with deep roots in the Eastside of San Antonio. Can you tell us how your work at Sunshine Bakery, Pan Dulce Gallery, and as a working artist serves to uplift and preserve the culture and spirit of your neighborhood?
A: I feel like the work I’ve done with Pan Dulce Gallery and Sunshine Bakery has always been about preserving the culture and community within my neighborhood through art and food. At the gallery, I hosted many art shows that gave a platform to artists and makers from all economic backgrounds. It was a safe space where no one felt out of place and where the elitist attitude of San Anto’s “boy’s club” artists was never tolerated. Sunshine Bakery was a place where old customers who are like family and new customers can both enjoy quality pan dulce and good-ass lattes.
Kayla Matta continues her multiple missions with her babies by her side in the rapidly, frighteningly gentrifying Eastside of San Antonio, Texas.
You can follow along on her adventures, art, and style @mamachiflada on Instagram.
SpottieOttieDopalicious Angel in her "Betty Virgen" design. Photo cred: @thegirlwiththeboyname_
I'm usually not into t-shirts, but I have one of these in pink, green, and black!
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