Dancing on the fine line between the harrowing and the beautiful, Cristi López’ drawings capture women with prepossessing looks amidst various stages of bodily distress. One image shows a goddess-like creature as her stomach is being cut into two halves, a row of perfectly white teeth sticking out from the crimson flesh. Another zooms in on a self-mutilation scene of sorts, with a young girl in the middle of chopping off her gorgeously thick, luminous tresses. Lopez has a trained eye for sneaking bizarre details into seemingly pleasant scenes, using a style influenced by children’s drawings as much as by the work of Gustav Klimt.
Despite her young age, López has already featured in exhibitions across the globe, most notably the Culture Traffic at Art Basel Miami and the Glimpse at PhotoVogue at the Corso Como in Milan. Her next group show, Bad Babes of blnk, is due to open on the 23rd of March at the Blnk Haus in Chicago.
Leila Kozma: You recently finished a year-long residency at the Lillstreet Galleries in Chicago. How was it? What were you working on during this time?
Cristi López: During my residency at Lillstreet, I was provided a studio space, education, and teaching opportunities. I took as many figure painting classes as I could manage in an effort to hone my technical skills. The residency culminated in an exhibition featuring the 2017–2018 Resident Artists across all departments. For the exhibition, I decided to put my improved skills to the test and create a series of large-scale oil paintings. They portrayed scenes from my own short stories.
LK: Quite a few of your drawings take inspiration from folklore myths and fables. One piece depicts a Ciguapa, a mermaid-like creature who can kill with just one glance, whilst another shows a Yokai, a deathly spirit that often features in Japanese legends. Could you tell us about how did you discover these, and which ones are your favourites?
CL: Stories have always been essential to my creative expression. Throughout my life, I have had the privilege of being exposed to myths and folktales across cultures, as well as biblical stories from my Catholic upbringing. I am a first-generation American of Dominican, Spanish, and Cuban descent. La Ciguapa is a creature of Dominican folklore. She intrigued me because of her peculiar backwards-facing feet; I have always had an affinity for the bizarre. I grew up on manga and anime, as did many artists of my generation, so the Japanese influence, both aesthetic and in content, was formative early on.
LK: You recently participated in a fundraiser for the Head to Head documentary. Could you tell us about the drawings you created for this occasion?
CL: Amelia Street Studio is creating a film chronicling the lives of women dealing with hair loss. I chose to portray these women as I saw them: strong, radiant, and beautiful. I drew them with and without their wigs. One of my favourite aspects of creating portraits is the opportunity to show people how I see them. I was able to share the portraits with some of the women from the film, and it was an unforgettable and moving experience. The film is still in production and the readers are welcome to find out more about the project and how they can contribute to it on their website.
LK: How did you get involved with Women Who Draw, and could you tell us a bit about the organisation? How do you see the role of women in illustration?
CL: Women Who Draw describe themselves as “an open directory of female* professional illustrators, artists and cartoonists.” I stumbled upon the organisation online and was captured by the incredible variety of work.
As for the role of women in illustration, I can only speak for myself. My work is feminine because I am, but it does not aim to comment on femininity and womanhood as a whole. No two women are the same; we will all draw from different experiences.
LK: You tend to switch back and forth between various mediums, drawing, oil painting, ink. Do you have a favourite, how do you decide which form would suit which subject best?
CL: In college, I made an effort to try out all the mediums I could get my hands on. I was determined to find a media application that suited my needs. I currently use coloured pencil, ink, gouache, acrylic, and oil. I expect to switch things up again in the future, but for now, it feels good to have pared down my tools. Unlimited options are overwhelming.
LK: Who are your favourite artists, whose work do you look up to?
CL: Just a few of artists whose work I adore include Gustav Klimt, Odilon Redon, Shel Silverstein, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Kymia Nawabi, Joao Ruas, and my mentor George Pratt.
LK: Seeing that you began your career about six years ago, have you set yourself goals, artistically? Where do you see yourself in 50 years’ time?
CL: I’m a goal-oriented person by nature. My ability to set goals has been very useful in this field, where self-motivation and persistence are key. However, I entered this year with a new mindset. I’m still oriented towards my north star, but I’m making a conscious effort to be open to all the different shapes my journey can take. Adaptability is a skill that may not come easily for me, but nothing worthwhile ever does. At 75 years of age, I see myself drawing. Always.
Words: Leila Kozma
Artworks: Cristi López