By DeAngelo Murillo of The GeekLyfe.com, Special for CraftyChica.com
I can still recall the first time I met Pamela Enriquez with such clarity, that it might even trump my recollection of this morning! My father and I were setting up our booth for an art event set just before Dia De Los Muertos and a number of vendors surrounded us, including Pamela. She and her friend asked us a few questions about where to set up, and a bit of advice, and explained that they were from the Texas chapter of the “Fridas” (Pamela co-founded The Borderland Fridas, inspired by The Phoenix Fridas) and invited me to come and see her wares.
It would be an understatement to say that I was blown away by the quality and talent of her work! I blacked out shortly after (jk!) and came to find my money spent and I brought a few of her pieces that now hang on the walls of my home where I can cherish and admire them!
But talent isn’t what makes Pamela unique, there are plenty of wonderful artists out there. What makes her incredible is how down to earth and kind she is. Although I’m just a humble admirer of art, she goes out of her way to answer any questions I have and asks if I’ll be at events so we can meet up and chat. It’s a breathe of fresh air to know such awesome people exist!
So when we heard of her More Than Sugar Skulls show was happening, we jumped at the chance to interview her about her art and the exhibit.
Without further ado, here is my interview with Pamela Enriquez!
Question from DeAngelo: Although I am a fan of yours, there may be a few readers who have not seen your work before, would you be alright introducing yourself?
Pamela: My name is Pamela Enriquez-Courts. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA but moved to Las Cruces, NM ten years ago. I am a self-taught, full-time working artist.
I’ve followed you for sometime yet never learned the origin story! Could you tell us how you got into art and what led you to where you are now?
I was very young, maybe about 7-years-old when my tia gave me a big bag of sketch books. This is where I first came upon Walter Foster “how to” sketch books. I was absolutely fascinated with them! I would trace the images until I memorized the lines and became comfortable with freehand drawing. My mother always encouraged my creativity and she would often take me to the local art warehouse for supplies and that was better than a candy store to me. My artwork had to be put aside when I got married and had kids. My life became complicated and difficult living in a marriage that had turned abusive. Art was something that I no longer had time to do. After going through a traumatic divorce, I had even less time for art because I worked full time and was raising my kids alone.
When I met my second husband my life changed. We both decided that life in California was too fast and too expensive and we were more than ready for a change. A job opportunity arose in New Mexico and when my husband mentioned “Las Cruces” it felt like coming full circle because my ancestors had lived in Las Cruces for several generations before moving to Los Angeles.
When we moved to Las Cruces, I took a break from the full time work circuit and started dabbling with paint. I took some postcards and decoupaged them on to wood plaques and started selling them at the local farmer’s market. The sales were small, but they were consistent so I started to create more elaborately painted decoupage pieces. But I was becoming bored with using pre-printed images and photos and thought that I should start creating my own images to use. I never thought my small amateurish paintings would sell and I was terrified to put them up for sale on my table. I’d start with just one small painting and I’d almost hide it behind my decoupage plaques because I was so afraid that somebody would say something negative. But to my surprise I found that people actually liked my paintings!
My little original pieces sold easily and I started to acquire a following that encouraged me to continue creating more original works. One day at farmers market I met an artist who was visiting from Albuquerque. He came to my table and purchased some items and then told me that I should go up North to sell my work. He told me that my work would be very well received and that I would do well and then he gave me the name of two shows to apply for and told me that I should go for it. In later days I would find out that the man I met was a very famous old time New Mexico Santero by the name of Adan Carriaga. I will always be grateful to Mr. Carriaga for giving me the advice and the push to move out of my comfort zone because this was the start of my exposure into the Hispanic/Latino art world.
You recently had a show called ‘More Than Sugar Skulls’, what was this event was about?
The exhibit More Than Sugar Skulls: Dia de Los Muertos in the Borderlands is a personal journey. A collaboration of artists and their expressions about what Day of the Dead means to each of us. We are Borderland artists. The border that separates our country from Mexico is a distinct and ugly one. Prosperity is only a few feet away from poverty. We have seen the good and the bad that comes from living on the border, but the culture of Mexico is instilled in all of us. We have grown up immersed within the Mexican culture and her people and we have been inspired to create something that is uniquely “ours.” Not quite Mexican but not quite American. Our roots run right through that border and into the heart of Mexico.
What inspired the show?
The most recognizable visual image in most Day of the Dead events held north of the border is the sugar skull. The molded skull, once a reverent symbol of transition has now become a colorful and fun image that is used on everything from clothing to household items. Sugar skull make up has become an art form and is more about setting the level for beauty rather than representing the original and ancient beliefs of death and rebirth. I wanted to bring an exhibit to the public that would allow them to see beyond those sugar skull images and to see that there is something deeper and more personal to the meaning of Day of the Dead. This is our culture and our ancient history. This is our legacy. This is a way to mourn, honor and celebrate the lives of our loved ones and ancestors who have passed. And this tradition deserves and demands respect!
What was the response?
The response was overwhelmingly positive. I really had no idea what to expect. Of course I knew the artwork was unique, creative and personal and unlike anything else you would see anywhere else. But would the public see what I saw? And they did. Nearly one thousand people came to our exhibit opener and walked the gallery looking closely at the incredible artwork while reading the artists’ statements about the pieces they had created. There were people of all ages and all ethnicities who attended the opener. I had so many people walk up to me just to say “thank you” for creating such a wonderful and informative exhibit. The artists in this exhibit not only stepped up to the plate but they hit that ball straight out of the park!
When you aren’t creating wonderful pieces of art, what do you do in your spare time?
There is no spare time for a working artist. If I’m not in my studio painting, then I’m always working on the next thing. Workshops, exhibits, art shows, community projects. The only spare time I have is when I’m out of town for an art show and then I get to rest a bit. But as soon as I return home I am right back at it; painting, planning, preparing for the next thing.
Dia De Los Muertos is right around the corner and I think our readers would love to know, what does this holiday mean to you?
El Dia de Los Muertos is a celebration unlike any other. It is a time of reflection and often sadness. It is also a time of joy to know that someday I will be reunited with those I love and miss so much. My grandmother. All three of my brothers. And even my beloved dog, Cochise. It is a time for candles and prayer, but also a time for food and drink. I will feel my own mortality and know that although death is inevitable, for now I am here and I will live my life to the fullest. It is my favorite time of the year.
What moment in your art career would you say is one of your favorites and why?
I would have to say that my favorite moment came with the opening of the More Than Sugar Skulls exhibit. I consider myself a successful artist. Not because I am rich (I’m not) nor because my work is featured in prestigious galleries (it isn’t), but because I am able to make a living doing what I love the most. And with the exhibit, I have gone even further than being an artist. I have actually curated a successful exhibit! It is humbling to know that the artists that I respect and admire have put their trust in me and that they have given me their work trusting that I will do right by them and keep the integrity of their work is intact. What an honor that is; to garner respect and trust from the people I most respect and trust. Damn! It’s both terrifying and exhilarating!
Do you have any projects in the near future we should be excited to see?
Yes! In conjunction with the opening of the More Than Sugar Skulls exhibit, we (The Borderland Fridas) also had our first inaugural La Llorona Festival. It was very well received and attended. Many people may think that La Llorona is nothing more than a spooky fairy tale, but every culture seems to have a “Weeping Woman” story from the Aztec La Malinche to the Irish Banshee to the many “Lady in White” ghost stories. We are working on bringing this festival to other parts of the country where we can share her many stories, explore the ideas behind her iconic image and her parallel with Latina/Chicana women in current times. The possibilities are endless!
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
The best advice I can give for an aspiring artist is to work past your fears. Never allow yourself to become complacent in your artwork. Push yourself towards proficiency by working on your skill every single day. Don’t confine yourself to one art market, one gallery or one venue. Take a leap of faith, invest some money and go out to exhibit in different cities and different states. Meet people who will become future collectors. Make friends with artists that you like and respect because someday they may trust you enough to participate in your exhibit.
A huge thank you to Pamela for taking time to answer some of our questions and we highly recommend that you check out her and her incredible artwork!