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How They See - Issue #10: Monica Perez about introversion as a fuel, decoding difficult subjects through art and showing your work at art fairs

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Monica Perez is an artist based in California, USA. She creates expressive, large-scale abstract pain
 

How They See

September 5 · Issue #10 · View online
How They See will help you to meet artists from all over the globe and understand their perception of art. Published weekly on Saturday.

Monica Perez is an artist based in California, USA. She creates expressive, large-scale abstract paintings full of bold, emotional brush strokes. You would rarely see colors on her canvas, usually, they’re black & white or monochromatic works. Recently I was struck by her powerful painting dedicated to Black Lives Matter movement and as a result learned, that she also supported “Refuse to be a muse”. The campaign, which celebrates women as creators. In my opinion, If you see her paintings once, then I bet you won’t mistake them for any other artist.
You can find more about Monica Perez on her website or Instagram.

As far as I remember, I came across your art back in 2019 when I was browsing through a review of SaatchiArt’s “The Other Art Fair”. I think it was the LA edition. From your perspective, what kind of experience such event has given to you?
Affordable art fairs like The Other Art Fair are incredibly valuable when you are just starting out, have work to show, but don’t have a real audience or customer base yet. For the cost of admission, you can ensure thousands of people see your work. I had worked on my own for years before I felt I was happy enough with the work to show it to the world. I didn’t have many IG followers or other ways to get beyond my own social network, so I decided to try out my local show in LA. It was pretty scary, and I felt very vulnerable standing there in front of my work. After all, I want to make art - not sell art.  
My first show in LA was a big hit - I basically sold out and left the show with an enormous amount of energy and determination to move forward. It feels great when it works. But it can be painful when it doesn’t. I remember a show in London that was pretty hard for me. I only spoke to a handful of potential customers a day and only sold one or two pieces, which meant thousands of people just walked by without saying a thing. I lost money on that trip and spent months processing what that experience meant.
But no matter what the result of the show, each one created a spike in IG followers that enabled me to show new work continually to a wider audience. And some sales happened months later based on a connection I made at a show. I see each and every show as a major stepping stone and highly recommend new artists take advantage of them - especially The Other Art Fair which is run by beautiful people who really care about helping us artists connect to our audience.
How different is the SaatchiArt event from a regular exhibition in a gallery?
The Other Art Fair is a globally curated fair with over 100 artists participating. The curation is varied and marketed to a wide audience — especially to new art collectors who are normally intimidated by the gallery experience (and prices). They provide a platform for emerging artists that are not represented by a gallery to show work. I feel like galleries really start to play an important role after you’ve come into your own, with mature work and a global audience. Before that happens, you have to start somewhere. That’s where the SaatchiArt events come in.
Personally I liked using the fairs as a way to give myself deadlines to create new collections. There are so many now, you really have to be strategic in choosing and designing your schedule. I made a decision to do 3 or 4 a year, roughly aligned to calendar quarters. That kept me working at a nice pace, and broke up the time I spent focusing on my work vs sales and marketing.
Monica Perez, Milan,  Acrylic on canvas
Monica Perez, Milan, Acrylic on canvas
You are saying: “I’m an introvert and have had social anxiety my whole life”. I am introvert too, and it has required a lot of work to use this trait as my superpower, the modern world is rather than promoting extroverts, self exhibitionism etc. How are you using introversion for your advantage?
My life’s mission is to bring joy to people through my art. Although I love painting for the work itself and could go on for weeks and months on my own, keeping it to myself would not deliver on that goal. So I’ve worked on the right balance between inward and outward focus.
My studio is the perfect place for an introvert. I look inward, lock into an emotion, and then get it out onto the canvas over as long a period as I need. I’ve had to nurture my voice, fears, anxieties, and vulnerabilities in peace. When complete, the work itself represents what I feel and what I want to say to the world. I need that time to prepare those statements. And when I’m ready, I show it. This part has felt incredibly natural. My “superpower” as you say.
But being successful means I need to engage with the world. For a long time, that was often terrifying. The shows, in particular, have been pretty intense in this way. But facing that fear has led to some important growth. I suppose I just decided I needed to go for it and do the work at getting out there. Deep connections with my audience and collectors have been some of the brightest moments of my life. And over time, that got easier. Now, I often show work in progress, at my most vulnerable, but have come to rely on the reactions with my audience as fuel to keep going.
When have you realised that you would like to become a full-time artist and how did you make that happen?
I became an artist in my junior year of high school. It felt like home to me, but I had to figure out a way to make a living. My art teacher suggested I look into “commercial art”, so I did. It took me a while to find my way back to that pure calling. It was a winding path (this may get winded)- My first art job was as an art director at Y&R, an advertising agency in New York City. Later I left advertising and became a creative director at an art publishing company. After getting traction in my career, I freelanced as a design director at various design firms in NY, then moved to California. As Creative Director at production companies, I directed commercials and film title sequences I sort of felt like I could apply my calling here. I made storyboards that felt very personal, like little art pieces, but it still wasn’t right. Until it became too painful to stay, I left. I left my career and started over. I craved to look inward and have a deeper understanding of what was happening inside. I wanted to paint my way through it and share that, offer the journey through art. I focused on expressing that every day. Marketing/galleries all came much much later. It’s a journey to see that North Star, I’ve landed again but with much appreciation for the meandering. 
Monica Perez, Between This and that, Acrylic on Yupo paper
Monica Perez, Between This and that, Acrylic on Yupo paper
We have Coronavirus pandemic exposing social inequalities. Not so long ago, we have observed people fighting for their rights: Black Lives Matter in the US, and recently LGBT & women in Poland. Do you think artists should engage or keep the distance and observe?
I think it’s beautiful and powerful when an artist decodes powerful and difficult subjects through their art. A connection to an artist’s work can be potent, memorable. So, yes I think it’s important to engage. Sometimes words are just hard to get right. We all need lots of beauty right now.
I am particularly asking this question cause I was struck by your massive painting dedicated to “Black Lives Matter”. Apart from its political or social voice, it is marvellous painting. It consists of 18 pieces on which you can look separately or as a whole. No matter what point of view you will choose, it still makes sense. How did you come up with this composition?
I was in the middle of my Quarantine Series but had to stop and pay attention, but I could not stop painting. It’s through paint that I work through emotions and seek clarity. So I dropped in and worked my way through. It was an intense and heartbreaking space to live in for a week. I worked through an enormous range of emotions from shock, fear, guilt, sadness, and anger, but ended with notes of hope. I believe real, lasting change is possible, and I want to be a part of it.
I wanted to create a piece that was powerful but also nodded to collective unity and a stronger together theme. Each collector owns a letter/s as part of the message that ties the whole piece together. 
The “Black Lives Matter” series, made up of 18 pieces, is on my website. 100% of the proceeds will be donated to organizations focused on combating systemic racism, ending police violence, and providing opportunities for black youth to thrive.
In each of your paintings, I see plenty of emotions, gestures. Sometimes I feel that paint is leading a battle with canvas. How would you describe your process and what is the most challenging part of it?
My process changes often but it’s always grounded in heart and spirit. My expression, my work is driven by that connection and my relationship with it. The canvas, paper, fabric is a place for the paint to land, rest and wrestle. I don’t usually plan what I’m going to paint, I don’t do sketches but rather tune to my internal landscape and find the right tools to express that feeling. The challenge is staying present in this practice, listening, making space for and honoring it.
Monica Perez, Fly, Acrylic on Yupo paper
Monica Perez, Fly, Acrylic on Yupo paper
You have taken part in the movement Refuse to be a muse, which celebrates women as creators in opposition to the subject of inspiration. Is it still needed in the art world to speak out loud for women artists?
Yes! Always. Many things are changing but not enough.
What advice would you give to any self-taught artist?
Get inspired by your mentors and peers but stay true to your personal journey, it’s unique. Express authentically, hone your craft, be humble, honor your practice and create a ritual around it. And most important be kind to your self in the process. It’s intimate and personal work and it matters.
You are mostly working in white and black, monochromatically, but there are paintings on which you use bright colours: yellow, green. If you would have to choose, what is your favourite colour?
Black for me is the purest expression it doesn’t come with emotional presets attached. That said it’s been fun to explore color with complete abandon during my Quarantine Collection. I feel most at home in black.

Thank you for reading my newsletter! In case you have any feedback, questions or you are an artist willing to show up in How They See, you can connect with me on Instagram or just hit a reply back button in case you are a subscriber reading this text as an e-mail.
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