“Vulgarity is a very important ingredient in life. I’m a great believer in vulgarity—if it’s got vitality. A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. We all need a splash of bad taste—it’s hearty, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against.”
Diana Vreeland, Costume Jewelry in Vogue, 1988
Like many of my favorite people in San Anto and online, I met Linda Monsivais through Cristina Martinez, years back at the Mujeres Mercado she helped organize in San Antonio. From that point on, I’d look forward to shopping her El Puño y La Mano booth at the yearly Esperanza Center Peace Markets and other pop ups around town.
I admired her ingenious illustrations and ogled her handmade jewelry made out from empty aluminum cans. As the years passed, my own handmade earring collection popped with Linda’s ¡Que Viva Tejas! corazónes, her Lone Star cans turned Loner, and hand-cut envelopes with Bad Bunny lyrics stamped on little metal stationary.
Linda has “the eye” as they say, but she also has the heart. One of my favorite memories with her is when I DJ-ed one of many Very That showcases at Brick, and Linda’s set up was adjacent to mine. I was flipping records and chatting up guests, and she was attending clambering customers, but between the beautiful chaos, she would seamlessly bless my ears with lightning quick commentary and witty remarks, almost under her breath, and I’d bloom with laughter and be taken back to middle or high school when the smart, pretty, tough girls with the infallible eyeliner and impossible (for me) bangs would linger between classes and talk that talk. And I’d mostly listen.
Linda is effing funny, and that makes her one of my favorite kinds of people.
Recently, she graced our Altar-ing Memoir Workshop at the San Antonio Public Library Latino Collection and Resource Center. Our third session had been pushed back months due to the pandemic, but we reimagined it as a Zoom meeting. Linda’s presentation, along with the polaroid frame earrings she made for workshop participants to hold their sacred family photos, added another layer of inspiration and spark of innovation for the group. We talked about the idea of rasquachismo, and how we were adapting and evolving at home during quarantine.
When I conceived the poster art commission component for Siempre Verde DJ residency at Evergreen Garden, Linda was the first artist who came to mind. Her flyer work over the years for Southwest Workers Union especially tugs at my heart.
I created the Tell Me More! series to ask artists questions about their path and their process, and Linda has responded in her one-of-a-kind voice. Her stories are worth preserving, and I’m honored to have carved out this little corner of digital space for her to speak.
But before I do, here's a quote from Dr. Tomás Ybarra-Frausto to prime us for the interview:
“To be rasquache is to posit a bawdy, spunky consciousness, to seek to subvert and turn ruling paradigms upside down. It is a witty, irreverent and impertinent posture that recodes and moves outside established boundaries…It is a way of putting yourself together or creating an environment replete with color, texture and pattern; a rampant decorative sense whose basic axiom might be ‘too much is not enough.’ Rasquachismo draws its essence within the world of the tattered, shattered, and broken: lo remendado (stitched together). To be rasquache is to be down, but not out, fregado pero no jodido. Responding to a direct relationship with the material level of existence or subsistence is what engenders a rasquache attitude of survival and inventiveness. Pulling through and making do are no guarantee of security, so things that are rasquache possess an ephemeral quality…while things might be created al troche y moche, slapdash, using whatever is at hand, attention is always given to nuances and details.”
---Puro Border: Dispatches, Snapshots, and Graffiti from La Frontera, 2003.
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: Although my parents are creative, I don't remember having art supplies myself until school asked for them. I was one of those kids who cried the first day of kindergarten and refused to stay until I saw the craft section of the classroom. I remember the macaroni, waterpaint, and construction paper chains. I remember the eagerness and curiosity I still feel today when coming across new materials. I didn't like school aside from that. I knew I enjoyed making things and remember a few teachers and friends taking notice of my skills. By the end of elementary I knew I was good at drawing and had learned to use MS Paint on school computers.
When I told my aunt I wanted to be a graphic designer she told me there wasn't too many jobs like that and that I should have a back up plan. I had showed my mom some of my poems which she didn't seem too impressed by but that was my back up plan, being a poet.
It was in the MacroPlaza in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, where I saw my first exhibit while eating a corn in a cup. I had admired Norman Rockwell's work in my grandmas RX calendars but never seen a real life exhibit! A man had created beautiful paintings of women in front of nature scenes. I think they were oil on wood and what really impressed me was his use of real tree bark to add texture to the bodies. It was the best thing I had ever seen. That moment really inspired me but when I told my father what my plans were, to be an artist, he laughed at me.
I took Art 1 my senior year and my teacher was impressed with my work but also accused me of tracing. He bought a painting from me years later. Art school was never an option and I never felt I could gain much from it based on my one art class experience. I was able to help my mother take care of my younger siblings after I graduated high schoool. My father and her divorced and he went back to prison for a few years. We do not have a relationship but I do preserve good memories of him and recognize the huge influence he has had on me and my art.
My mother always told my siblings and I to just do what makes us happy and has always supported us the best she could.
I moved to San Antonio with my partner when I was 22. It was then when I finally had the time to paint and started making jewelry to sell. I also illustrated flyers for community events and punk shows and eventually started getting paid for that.
When I was fired over a year ago, I had already opened my online store and decided to fully dedicate myself to that instead of looking for another job I would hate.
I am very lucky, especially in these times, to be able to survive doing this, but it isn't just luck. I have always used art as therapy and even if it wasn't my job, I have a need to express myself in as many ways possible. I have worked hard and clearly inspired others. Nobody was making jewelry from cans before and you can find plenty of makers using my technique today. That is all I ever aspired to do really. I am aware of my impact and I try to never doubt myself. I think I did enough of that when I was younger.
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: I make most of my income through jewelry sales on my Big Cartel site. I hand make everything I sell and take care of all aspects of my small business. Even though this has become my job, there is still plenty of play and room for self expression. As far as illustration goes, I only do work for people and organizations that I am familar and align myself with. Right now I am enjoying just drawing for myself until I come up with a few good designs to turn into block prints and stickers.
Not having a nine to five gives me so much more flexibility and time to work on personal projects. I like music, poetry, street art, and photography. I'm not good enough to make money from any of that [Bonnie's note: yet!] but I like to learn as many mediums possible and they all influence the other.
One of my dreams is turning into a collective for those who already do can collection. It is a tedious undervalued task and I wonder what collectors would do with options and tools to turn their cans into art or conventional items worth more than just their weight. So many things can be done from cans and other waste. One of the reasons I enjoy cutting and reconstructing is the feeling of being in control. I would like to share that feeling.
Q: Your style is unmistakably yours. Can you tell us about your influences and maybe talk to 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 learned to steal before I learned to draw and I think you can see it all over my work. I like to take from brands and well recognized works because that is what people like. I am only adding my own message in an also familiar comic-like style. I usually freehand and focus on detail to take attention away from my unproportionate lines. That's pretty much all I got. I do not feel the need to source anything and do not sign most of my work either. I figure most people recognize what I'm referencing because it is part of mainstream pop culture.
Sometimes I might reference something not everyone gets and that is also intentional.
My mom was my biggest influence growing up. She is a hair stylist and just all around crafty. Decor and fashion was all aquired at thrift stores and yard sales or side of the road. I had a dollhouse made from a flipped over wooden desk furnished with cardboard sofas and art cut outs from home interior catalogs. My mother is a natural sculptor and can shape freehand with scissors. That's where I got my love for all cutting tools. All women and most men in my family are artists, poets, and makers. I think I am just the first one to call myself that and try making a living of it.
All my friends inspire me too and any artist I know of is because of a friend who is probably an artist of some sort as well. I only know how to study art by admiring it and the opportunities are everywhere because I really mean all art on everything and everywhere. A box of cereal, a building, and a painting are all the same to me. They are all things to look at and I would much rather them be pleasant and interesting. If they aren't I have to think about what would make them so.
I love music and grew up listening to all kinds of stuff but mostly in Spanish. I got into punk when I was a teen and that really got me into DIY ethics which still influence how I work today. I often reference popular songs for jewelry to sell and use my favorite lyrics for illustrations or other personal projects. I do not make more than a few pairs with the same lyrics and each is one of a kind.
Musicians inspire me the most and I hope nobody ever gets upset over me using their lyrics in my work. I would just stop (crying if I was someone like Taylor Swift).
Q: I’m so happy with your design for Siempre Verde. 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 drafting to creation. What was your process like?
A: Thank you. You were so easy to work with because you already had an idea of what you wanted. I used to draw flyers by hand and use Gimp (a free photo editing program) to add color to them but this was the first one done digitally in Procreate using an Ipad pen.
It was hard for me to abandon my previous technique because I was afraid to lose my style. I had to push myself to learn and use all tools available to me.
When I sent you the draft you liked it but didn't want a gallo, just hens like you had specefied. I sometimes forget details like that when I brainstorm too much until I get an image in my head to reproduce. I was focused on the words healing and feeling included in the sub text.
The fire cone pair of earrings you bought from me came to mind and I wanted to draw a bouquet with plants and flowers in fire shades to subtly resemble flames. You asked me to include earrings and I took this opportunity to draw a [sol y luna] pair made by artist Regina Román. She is one of my favorite artists in San Antonio. She only made a few pairs and everyone who has a pair also happens to have great taste, you included.
I have seen you DJ plenty of times but also went through your Instagram to try and capture you well. It is one of my favorite flyers I have created so far and I am so proud to be in this series amongst other artists I admire.
Q: You come from Eagle Pass, right on the border, and I’ve always believed that San Anto is the unofficial capital of South Texas. How does your upbringing and your homeland influence your art? If you could travel anywhere for you art in the world, where would you go first? What would you hope to learn there?
A: I was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila but raised in Eagle Pass. I would often go across the border with my family and later by myself when I was a teen. I learned to drive to go visit my boyfriend over there. His mom would have loterias every Sunday in her backyard and would sell pozole, tacos and snacks out of her kitchen. She had a small but cute kitchen and bathroom with loteria decor. I had played loteria many times before with my family or in my neighborhood when someone needed to raise money for an emergency but this was her lifestyle.
A bunch of ladies would show up and play for money or groceries every week. Dating this person and making friends in Mexico helped me get to know and love my birth town. I learned about Mexican muralists and to appreciate mariachi music and artesania. I loved going to real mercados where you buy straight from the makers. I would love to be able to go back to Mexico but it is a long story why I can't and I need some money first.
I would love to travel to Colombia, because fashion. My favorite artists come from Colombia including writer Gabriel García Márquez and the rock band Aterciopelados. I would like to paint or help paint some murals since I hear street art is more common there. I hope to learn how to build relationships with people who don't share my same background or culture so that we can create work not based solely on that.
I think I have much to learn and have so much room to evolve before getting there. I guess this is also answers the dream question again because everything seem so uncertain right now.
Linda Monsivais ($he/her) is an “illustrator, trash artist, aluminum can collector, and habitual line stepper,” who lives and creates in San Antonio, Texas.
You can follow along her adventures on Instagram @elpunoylamano and @saobrero and buy her ingenious and gorgeous jewelry at her online shop.
"Antes muerta que sencilla."
April 7, 2020.
Copyright © 2020 Bonnie Ilza Cisneros - All Rights Reserved.