I was more than slightly overwhelmed by the sight of Maria’s basement gallery space. She …
With the use of monochromatic color and intricate lines, the characters in V. Rivera’s works seem to come to life with select splashes of stunning color. The very hands that worked meticulously on each drawing are pictured in her latest series and allow the viewer to get a sense of the touch that could emanate from the fingertips. In the following interview, Rivera discusses her journey navigating the local art scene and how she has managed to make art her full-time endeavor. Her fearless utilization of several mediums showcases the range in her talent. Her work spans oil painting, drawing, comics and tattooing. Check out her Instagram showcasing some of her latest work under the alias Winterteeth.
Eleven: What do you do for work?
V. Rivera: I manage an art store in North Portland that we just opened up about 6-7 months ago, called Artists & Craftsman Supply. We have two locations open in town, one is in the Southeast, and the one I work at is on Lombard. It’s a super fun job and a really great place. They do a lot to support the local community. They help by donating to local causes, schools and neighborhood associations, and we always give discounts to teachers for art supplies and try to donate to any events that we can help with. Recently, we donated a bunch of washable paint for a car-painting fundraiser for a local school’s football team.
11: Is this a craft store that you came up with the concept for, or collaborated with other people to create?
VR: It’s actually a small chain, and there are a few around the country. They are all employee-owned and run, so in this situation someone in town wanted to open one. I was working at another art store in town and was kind of ready to move on, so when I heard about this store opening I jumped on the opportunity to work there, and it has been really fantastic.
11: What got you into working on the art that you make?
VR: I went to art school for three years and dropped out because it was too expensive. I also started working on illustrations and got interested in making comics. After getting a taste of what the industry was like and doing some fine art painting, I realized I don’t have to have a degree in all that in order to do it. I had been drawing and painting since I was a little kid. It was the only thing I did all throughout high school, and I liked the freedom of painting whatever I wanted outside of school.
11: Do you have a preferred medium?
VR: I do a little bit of everything just because I feel like all art forms are fun in their own ways, but I am most drawn to oil painting right now.
11: How did you become acquainted with other artists in Portland and the art scene?
VR: It was mostly with the art store that I worked at. I became acquainted with all the regulars that would come into the store, and after a while we would exchange ideas and look at each other’s art. Instagram helped me to get connected to a lot of people as well. Slowly, through these two avenues, I began meeting a ton of people in the artist community and before long, the more people I would meet the more I would see them going to the same events and the same shows.
11: How do you feel about the influence that social media has had on the art scene?
VR: I think it is both good and bad, but it has helped me a lot. Earlier this year I released a bunch of stickers and sold over a hundred packs of them just through Instagram. I sent them to people all over the country and outside of it. I sent some to Australia [and] Bulgaria and I was blown out of the water by the response I was able to get just through the internet. I like social media in the art respect because I think it makes it way easier for people to access your art vs. just being in a gallery, or only available through a website.
11: How do you think it has affected the art scene to make art available beyond the gallery setting?
VR: Some of my friends are able to do art professionally through Instagram only and don’t even have a website or do gallery shows. I think that is very impressive. I also think it helps a lot of artists with social anxiety to get their art out to people without having to publicize themselves in person. On the other hand, the online community demands a faster turnover and wants artists to be posting all the time. This phenomenon fosters art that is made quicker and [is] therefore simpler content-wise. I think people who are making bigger and more complicated stuff still have to do gallery shows for that reason.
11: Do you have any specific theme or message that seems to be most apparent throughout your work?
VR: I don’t really feel like I have any particular message or any particular theme I am trying to convey right now. My stuff tends to be pretty straightforward rather than metaphorical. I do have that comic background that tends to make some of my work more fun, and I have recently began incorporating more colors as well.
11: I noticed a more recent theme where you started making several images involving hands. Where did that one come from?
VR: I always liked drawing hands and have somehow become really good at them, maybe from drawing them so much. When I was a kid, I would just draw whatever was in front of me, so oftentimes it would be like the place setting, my hands and my sketchbook. I feel like hands are really fun and expressive and you can do so much with them. I also really like playing with color variations with those pieces and have generally received really positive feedback from people with that theme. The packs of stickers I was referring to were my hand prints and mini versions of my paintings of hands, and people have loved them.
11: What are you working on now?
VR: I have a couple bigger oil paintings I am working on. I am trying to work a little larger these days. Whenever I do ink drawings, I make them pretty small. My oil paintings are pretty small too, just because it is so time consuming, but I am looking forward to taking more time with these newer pieces and incorporating more colors. I am also trying to incorporate more surrealism into them as well.
11: Do you still make comics?
VR: I have a comic in the works, but I have been planning it out for like a year, and since I am doing it all myself it is a very long process. It is about a world entirely made of wizards, and each wizard has [his] own particular power. I have characters like a water wizard, a fire wizard and even cat and couch wizards, and so on. There are all sorts of silly ones too, and it is about the interactions of all of them in this mythological world. I have a good chunk of it planned out and dozens of the wizards drawn, but actually making the comic is the hardest part for me now. It is something I can only work on very slowly, but I want to release some of it online, maybe page by page as it gets done.
11: Do you feel like the recent political upheaval in this country will influence your art in any way?
VR: Normally I tend to stay away from any political themes in my art, but with some recent events I do feel inspired to touch on some of those topics, just because there are so many big things happening. I do think that art is a major factor in helping culture tackle those issues and to express them. I do want to try to incorporate a little of that into my work.
My friend passed away recently; he committed suicide after suffering from PTSD following his service in the military. I did feel inspired to make some art surrounding that topic, since I feel the military is something that has such an important pull in our country.
11: What usually motivates you to continue making new art and stay productive?
VR: Art has always been a very strong stress reliever for me, and when I am sad it is always the first thing that I turn to to help me feel better. It’s kept me going in that regard for sure. Painting and drawing [have] always helped me get through anything, so I think it will always be something that I feel the need to do every day.
11: Are there any artists who you look up to, or whose work has inspired you?
VR: There are so many amazing ones I could name right now, a lot of bigger names that I feel like are really transforming the art scene too. James Jean is one; he is one of the top illustrators in the world right now. He is actually designing the outside of a building in Portland right now … called the “Fair-Haired Dumbbell.” He plans to paint a huge mural on the outside of the building. He is such an amazing, amazing artist. He has such a wide range of stuff that he does, which I think is also very influential for me, because he does comics, fine art paintings and even some sculpture stuff. I would love to emulate some of his style and imagery.»
– Lucia Ondruskova