Thumbnail: Meet Xochi Solis

Where are you from and where you do you currently reside?

I was born and raised in Austin, TX and continue to make Austin my home.

Austin is the ultimate creative hub. How does your environment lend to the work you create? As an artist, what are the best parts of living in Austin? The worst?

As a second generation Austinite, I sincerely love my city and the network of innovators that make up this creative metropolis. It’s true that Austin is home to many like-minded creatives and certainly possesses an air of innovation around every corner, but it is also right smack in the center of Texas and can be a little isolated and conservative—much to the chagrin of other artists living and working here.

Austin for me has been a perfect incubator and I have had the pleasure of working in a variety of roles within the arts. I am a maker in so many ways, whether it be constructing a painting in my studio, creating programming for my gallery job, or collaborating with my fellow members in the collectively run East Austin project space I am a part of. I don’t think I would be able to do so many of these things if Austin didn’t support the go-getter pioneer-type of individual. The only downside nowadays is whether or not our little city’s infrastructure can support us all. When giant festivals come to town, like SXSW, us regulars have to get out of dodge otherwise we’ll be trampled!

Not only are you an accomplished artist, but you also work as the Director of Public Programming at Visual Arts Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Does your day job influence the work you make?

I am fortunate to get the pleasure of working alongside so many terrific artists, many of which work in a variety of media outside my practice, like dance, film, and sound. I think as artists we are forever looking and questioning what we see, like voracious caterpillars we live our whole lives devouring what lies in front of us.

How have your studies abroad in Florence, Italy, and Mexico City influenced the work you create?

Immensely. Going back to the idea of isolation, a whole spectrum opened up to me when I began travelling around the world at the age of 21. I began to absorb a whole new visual language and colors, smells, and unexpected cultural signifiers made all kinds of synapses go off in my head. An artist is a problem-solver at heart, vying for the perfect composition through a puzzle of brushstrokes. What better way to become adept at problem solving than dealing with the mesh of cobblestone roads, train schedules, metro tickets, and the blur of multiple languages ringing in your ears? Not to mention being laid flat by the sight of a Botticelli in person, or the magnitude and breadth of the oldest mercado in Mexico! I feel incredibly fortunate and firmly believe that even a small shift in your physical routine can bring new insight and wonderful surprises.

For me, the repeated act of layering becomes a meditation on shape and causes a shift in my awareness.

Xochi Solis

We love the unique color palettes, use of organic shapes and textured collage elements in your paintings. Can you describe your creative process?

Each work is a construction of sorts, sometimes beginning with paint, sometimes with cut paper, but with each work there is always paint involved. I still think of my works primarily as paintings, but there is an inherent sculptural quality to them as materials continually build upon one another. I begin my process of assembly by observing organic forms found in the everyday, such as pebbles, plant leaves, cloud shapes, and the curves of the human body. I then begin cutting paper into these shapes and slowly incorporate pieces of painted clear plastic overlapping different materials as I go along. Found images from books, hand-dyed paper, plastics, vinyl, and wax are current materials in rotation these days. I am increasingly interested in the correlations among formulas of color, texture, and shape and the feelings they evoke in the viewer.

Where do you get the inspiration for your signature organic, layered paintings? Were there specific trials or errors you encountered while finding what works?

Aesthetically, the layering helps me create a range of depth and shadow that allows each composition to increase in complexity as the stack of visual information grows. It is less a trial and error and more a contemplation of form. For me, the repeated act of layering becomes a meditation on shape and causes a shift in my awareness. Through this practice I have become more keen in my observations of these same repeated shapes and forms in nature.

Where do you acquire your found materials that you use in your paintings?

My favorite source for found images come from vintage National Geographic magazines, Time, Life, science books, and glossy fashion magazines. I find great satisfaction in exploring how collaged photographic images can substitute surfaces and objects within the two-dimensional plane. There is something sumptuous about images of jewelry and pleather layered on top of photos of furry herds of Andean llamas!

What necessities do you require when making your art?

Music and sunlight. I can’t seem to get into the zone without either, but especially music. Like Mr. Rogers coming onto the set and putting his tennis shoes on, I have to put something mood appropriate on the stereo before I can begin making anything. Currently on the stereoIndian raga, Donna Summer, and The Velvet Underground.

If you could sit down with any historical figure, who would it be and why?

It’s hard to choose just one, so instead I would love to host a soiree with several admired and extraordinary female artists that have in some way inspired me to be a better artist. Could you imagine having mezcal and tea with Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, and Lygia Clark? Their approach to the senses ran from the scientific to the mystical, and have inspired my own methods significantly. As women, they did not accept their role as already written, but rather experimented with their identity as much as they did in their art practice. I would love to sit with them and bask in their storytelling, while expressing my gratitude for offering such fine examples of how a female artist can test and break boundaries.

Is there something people would be surprised to discover about you?

I am terrified of sloths. I went to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles and nobody told me that it basically was one GIANT homage to the ground sloth. I immediately started crying, no joke. Did you know they have an animatronic one? Terrifying.