LARISSA DE JESÚS NEGRÓN x CAROLINA SALAZAR
LARISSA DE JESÚS NEGRÓN x CAROLINA SALAZAR
Painter Larissa de Jesús Negrón and photographer Carolina Salazar have met before. Longtime admirers of one another's art, the now friends crossed paths in person a few years ago, and in the short time since then, they've seen their work take them around the world. The two artists (along with Platform's own Director of Marketing, Richard Thayer) sat down for an in-depth conversation on the advancement of Black and Brown artists, how lockdown helped their practices and the importance of rest.
Como estas, Larissa? I love the tooth gems, by the way.
I love yours! Where did you get them?
I got mine in Hollywood. How about you?
I got mine in Mexico. Some lady was doing them in her apartment! It was kind of scary but it worked out [laughs].
Oh, cool, Mexico's on it! I mean, live life to the fullest. Well, anyway, I really love this painting (Sound of water, 2022) and everything that you have coming up. What inspired you to do this type of work?
For this one in particular, I was mostly inspired by the form of the body and the movement. I wanted to suggest movement with the materials. That's why, when you get close to it, you see a lot of the texture of the resin mixed in with varnish. I didn't know that if you put varnish and then resin on top, it will create this wet effect. I learned something with this piece. That's why it's meaningful to me.
It's absolutely gorgeous. The fact that you're bringing that realistic water effect is incredible. You literally feel like [the subject] is submerged, and yet doing that in a framed painting is just phenomenal. You’ve got me wowed on this one.
Thank you! Water is one of the main points I like to start at in a lot of my works. It could be someone submerged in water; it could be steam; it could be rain; it could be bodies of water and nature—anything relating to water. It suggests fluidity. That's what I really want to achieve in life: to have a fluidity of thought, not to be rigid, and to be a river, not a rock. That's something that I remind myself of a lot: to flow with things.
Definitely, and you've been flowing so well. I admire the fact that you can put out so much work and create on that level. And every time you do it, it's always the next step, just leveling up and up. How do you keep up with that type of workflow and that fluidity?
Firstly, it's openness to accepting whatever I create. What I was saying about not being rigid, sometimes artists can get wrapped up in having a style or feeling like, "I have to stick with this theme; I have to stick with this way of painting because this is who I am.” And then their whole identity revolves around this style.
I've always been very against that, even when I was a kid creating all types of work that maybe had nothing to do with each other. But I was like, “This will make sense someday.” And that's the mentality I have right now. Even when I create solo shows, the paintings don't all look like one another, but you can still see that I'm telling a story, and there is cohesiveness in how versatile the styles are. I enjoy that.
I really love that you say that because, even in my current work, I'm kind of in the same place. I’m like, “How do I flow and do the commercial work but still have fun and do something editorial and do something that has to do with my heritage? And not feel like because I am going in all of these different spaces, it doesn't define me as one thing." I was thinking about that on the plane coming over last night.
Yeah, because I was just so tired of being like, “Ah, but I want to do this, and I want to do that, but is it going to pull me out of this? Is it going to hurt me?” And then, at the same time, it doesn't really matter. It's our voice and what we want to do.
Exactly. And honestly, it's a lot about what we think people expect from us, too. As artists, we really just put a lot of pressure on ourselves. I do that a lot. As if, “Oh, they're expecting me to do this type of work.” And then that is when I get blocked.
As an artist, that's the worst space I can be in because things don't flow in that space. You're searching for perfection, but there is no such thing. You really have to enjoy the process. You have to focus on the how of things. And that's really the space that I am in when I'm the most productive. I enjoy this the most when I immerse myself in the process and not in the result of the piece.
Hectic. It was just lovely to show pieces at Untitled (Art Fair) and interact with people there. I think art fairs are incredible for exposure and for a lot of people to see your work. But it's not as intimate as I would love it to be. I love talking about art. I love sitting with people and having a conversation, understanding each other and having deep conversations. In those spaces, it's rare.
Yeah, everything's so quick. So many people come and seem a little more superficial, I can imagine. It's so funny. I went to an event, and [a friend] was like, "Yo, Art Basel was exhausting. I'm so happy to be back home." I can only imagine how you felt presenting your work to everybody and whatnot. But congrats. That's huge!
Thank you. Thank you [laughs].
I've seen that your work's been all over the world. Where have your latest shows been?
I just shipped a body of work to London for my solo show. I've never been to London. I don't know anything about it. Honestly, I'm just going to get there and experience everything. I'm just really excited to meet a lot of people that I've met online. A lot of people from London reach out to artists in the US, so I'm just excited to sit down with them and have a conversation.
How do you deal when you get blocked as an artist?
I rest. Sometimes I'll have very low points because I feel like there is this expectation that you have to constantly be putting something out, especially in my realm of photography. I feel like painting is a little different. I feel like when I get blocked, I just rest and go hang out with my friends, do something I like, or take care of myself—do my nails, take care of my skin, take a second to breathe and live. Because I feel like there is no inspiration; there are no experiences for me to supply the creativity I need.
There are only so many times I can fully push out. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I did four creative shoots, and then I did two or three commercial client shoots. The week after, because I'm starting to direct, I tried to push it, but I was like, “Yo, I don't even have it in my spirit; I don't have the fire to want to do it because I literally just worked so much and pushed so much that I just need a moment to breathe, hang out with my boyfriend, and go eat burritos.” That blockage means you’ve got to rest.
At the same time, thinking and putting things together and prepping the work takes a lot of energy and brain space–and to consistently keep pushing mood boards and then contacting five different people. There was a period where I did two days of just sleeping. I didn't do anything but sleep. I was like, “Sorry, I'm out of commission. I'm not answering my phone. I'm just going to stay in bed and watch cartoons.” I love cartoons.
What about you? How do you deal with that?
I struggle with that. That's why I ask you because I'm a workaholic. Let's call it by its name.
Same. We come from that, our heritage, our people. 1,000%.
Now I'm taking more time for nature, going out, walking the dog—the simplest things. And a lot of the time, my partner is the one who pulls me out of the studio and is like, “We're going out. I'm not having it. I see you. You're stressed. You're not in the space you want to be in.” I wish I had more of those moments because creativity flows in those moments. You get ideas. I can get an idea just by walking down the street.
1,000%. Going to an event and having a conversation with a couple of people sparks inspiration. And sometimes, when you deplete yourself, where do you fill your tank? You can only take from yourself so much. And that's what I'm saying experience is.
It's like we have so many periods in our life, our childhood and then our teens and then our early twenties, and then this is all we do. This is literally our work. We eat, we breathe, we shit this. But where do we take more from that? I feel like it's necessary to go to this pop-up shop and put on some clothes or go have a drink. Let me go listen to some music and stay out all night.
I get inspired by artists. When I have conversations with artists, and I fear what they're struggling with, I'm like, “OK, I can help.” I feel this urge to help and to define that for myself. That's why I do a lot of videos online, sharing tips and whatnot with artists because I know that a lot of artists suffer in silence by themselves and they don't have support.
I also get inspired by people who are trying to push forward in the spaces that we are, seeing how they're inspired to want to grow. The last time we were here, I was super inspired to hear your side of the story and how your family feels. And then being able to relate to that at the same time.
What do your families think of your creative endeavors?
I cannot complain. My parents have been extremely supportive of me being an artist since I was a child.
They must be proud.
They are proud, and they are surprised because nobody thought this could be a career—that I could be a full-time artist. That became a reality for me in 2020. When I was able to actually make sales, I was like: “OK, this is a business.” My dad took it very seriously. Without their support, I wouldn't be here. I would be working, but I wouldn't be in the position that I am now.
At first, my mom wasn't really sure. She was like, “Are you sure this is what you want to do? It doesn't seem like this is going to make you any money.” But I just kept pushing forward. Now, it's been a couple of years. When things really started to pick up around the same time in 2020 and 2021, she got it. Now she fully supports me. She's like, “Go to New York, Caro. Go do your work and go do this.” She understands the runaround of what I'm doing and how I make it work.
Do you explain the business to her?
I have to. I'm like, “Look mama, I've got to put in this work and do these free internships and then this is going to turn into this.”
They don't really understand the gig economy. They don't understand what it is to be a freelancer. That really didn't exist for them as it does for us right now. They see this as a very unstable thing to do. I get that, at least.
You both said that 2020 was when you started doing art full-time. That's when Covid started. Was that change in your practice related to the pandemic?
It was related to having time for me.
It was low-key a blessing to be able to dive into our work. It was about thinking that we're never going to have another moment to fully immerse ourselves like that. And we did. Then things kind of manifested into what needed to be.
I think the movement that was happening as well at the time during the pandemic really helped us Brown and Black people to be able to have the space to also create and be nourished and be able to have the exposure. I feel like it was really, really difficult before. And we're still kind of fighting to be...
Has interest in your work increased because of that, do you think?
From my experience, I feel like it did because the conversation was being had. And I feel like because there are only so many of us in our communities doing it, it kind of started to accelerate and push us into those spaces.
Before, it wasn't a reality to see a Latina woman doing paintings at this level—or a Latina photographer. There's only a small number I can really count who I know are doing it at the same capacity I am. I feel like it really did help push it forward. It just started the conversation, and then people started to see, “OK, we really need to start being inclusive and be diverse and understand that there are many other voices that should be included in campaign work or fine art.
What do you feel, Larissa?
I always think of 2020 as the first time I had time to explore whatever I wanted to explore. That's when I started with an airbrush, and I was like, “You know what? I'm going to try this new tool, and if it doesn't work out, it's fine. Because who cares? I have all the time in the world to just practice.”
And those first few drawings that I made were so raw. You could tell that there was a lot of freedom in them because I was just trying this for the hell of it. Then, when I started posting them online, people were like, “Oh my God, yes, I want to commission something.” It really started the business from there. After that, I worked for a little bit, and then I was able to quit my job. The rest is history.
How great did that feel?
I was manifesting. From the day that I interviewed at MoMA, I told the managers, “Listen, I'm an artist and I'm here because I love this museum. I love art, but my practice is my priority. I love this job and I would love to have this job, but I'm going to keep working.” I would get off work, I would come here [to the studio] and continue working. The next day, the same thing. Until it started to pay off.
Dude, same. When I was photo assisting, I would tell photographers, “Look, I'm not here to be your first assistant for years to come. I'm shooting on my own. Just know I'm going to stop at some point.” I was there to make the money and learn, but shooting my work was my first priority.
It's a form of manifesting, too, because we don’t know the future. We don't know what's going to happen. But if you're set and like, “This is what I want to do and I want to make it happen. If I have to do this gig and I have to do this other thing that I don't like, I'm going to do it because I have my eyes set on what I want.”
I think that's something that we can relate to. We're very determined to want to be in that place.
It seems like sometimes you have to turn down opportunities to commit to what you really want to do. In your case, maybe you needed the money from a photo assistant job, but knowing that’s not what you wanted to do anymore.
Exactly. And even going through the trenches of being really broke or having things be really slow and still believing in it. Saying, “No, even though it's slow, I’ve got to keep pushing forward.” That's what happened this January and February. I was like, “That's cool. I'm going to get a studio, and I'm going to just keep working and keep learning and developing while things aren't happening. It'll happen when it needs to happen.”
It's a continuous process of working, learning and creating your vision. It doesn't really stop. And that's something I tell other photographers who are starting out. I tell them that you have to continue to work. You have to continue to love what you do. Even though you might get blocked at some point, it's understanding you still have to do the work no matter what level you're at. It's an art; it's your practice; it's your passion.