“Maria Lourdes’ unapologetic depiction of bodies is a feast for the eyes. Her powerful images of personhood and stunning layers of color and concept are arresting, simultaneously daring and defying viewer objectification. It’s an honor to select her for the ILYSM4ARTISTS grant.” - Team ILYSM
♡: Hi Ria! So stoked to be able to connect with you. Congratulations on being on youngest ILYSM grant recipient!
ML: Thank you so much, Jenna.
♡: I know! It blows my mind on a lot of levels. Something I've been interested in from all of our artists is the process of building confidence - you have such a distinctive point of view that's so impressive to me - what got you into the arts as a way to express yourself?
ML: To be honest, it just came naturally to me. As a kid I would always draw and keep sketchbooks. I was a really quiet kid, so all i would do is draw and paint. It really set my imagination and thoughts free, and that's why I love art so much.
♡: I think right now so many kids could lean into creativity as an outlet.
ML: As i got older, it became imperative to me to express myself through art because of the impact i saw I was having.
♡: You're seventeen years old - I'm curious how art was introduced in your education? Did you find support on that end at all or did you have to seek it out
ML: Thoroughout grade school i really delved into every art class and received support from teachers who saw my potential. I really owe a lot to them!
In high school i find my art teacher, Devan Picard, the best teacher I ever had because
♡: That makes me happy to hear - my mom is a teacher and she also studied dance therapy in relation to education. She was always big on finding ways for kids to express themselves
ML: Of her dedication to thr process rather than what we consider "good art". She didregards standards and encourages me to be myself in artmaking which I love.
ML: That's amazing! I'm sure that's an enjoyable job. I've thought about teaching myself!
♡: Yeah I think that mindset is a tricky trap to fall in - going back to the point about confidence - it's so much more restricting to think in binary extremes of good or bad versus continuing to ask questions in one's work. It's such a personal evolution
That's amazing you got that perspective introduced so early on
ML: For real! It took a lot for me to get past standards for my art and just let it go.
♡: What is school like for you now? Are you still in high school or applying for college?
ML: I'm going to be a senior next year, but this past school year as a junior I've been looking at colleges and attending precollege events. SAIC is my dream school!
I could have graduated early but I wanted to stick it out and learn more, also i have mural projects to finish at my school!
♡: That's exciting. It's a weird time to be a student. How have you been coping with COVID restraints?
ML: Oh, man. Covid really hit me weird. At first, it was a pain because of my murals, but i realized with more time at home I can focus on broadening skill and smaller pieces with my ideas. I've grown a lot thanks to covid.
I wish i had taken pics! I'll definitely share with you next year when i can work on it again.
♡: I think covid has offered a moment of reflection for people to recalibrate - it's been a very intense period of reflecting on what needs to change both personally and as a nation - I think it's highlighted a lot of disparities that need to be addressed
That's great you were able to use this period for growth
Despite the circumstances
♡: What does art mean to you as both a creator and viewer?
ML: As a creator, art is my voice and also my means of self-preservation. My art means a lot to me because I have created my pieces in different periods of my life where i faced difficulty with accepting myself.
As a viewer, art for me is a way of seeing the world through others' eyes and learning about their personal experience. Art is vulnerability which is why I encourage it for young POC women especially because of all the emotional repression we've faced.
Art is vulnerability - powerful
I’ve noticed a lot of your figures have a dominant distinctive presence that challenge the viewer. But there’s a lot of fluidity of feelings, words, layers of color, dimension - How has your style evolved?
I believe that ever since figuring out my love for color and the human figure I've been experimenting with different ways of expressing different messages. I focus on my purpose whenever working on a piece - before, it would be just me carbon copying a face or drawing flowers. But now, my work has evolved to become more vocal and I give thanks to poetry for that.
It took a lot for me to learn color theory. Once again, Devan Picard is my hero for that.
♡: That reminds me of this quote - one moment will find it
"Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find yourself."
ML: Yes!!! That quote is good, thank you. I think copying helped me develop the skill to branch out and find my own style.
♡: Your color, layers distinctive style - how you approach color with your work - it’s very commanding, and I find it daring in a way unapologetic in the sense you’re calling out look at this. Are there any color patterns you've discovered about yourself as you look back at your work
ML: Always. When i underpaint, I always start with ultramarine or phthalo blue mixed with white to put shadows and highlights in, and then layer in whichever star color I want the figure to be down to blue as the deepest shade or even black. My highlight colors are usually reds, pinks, oranges and yellows- you know, the warmer colors, followed by cooler shadows and backgrounds. Sometimes I invert it, which gives a different effect.
♡: Thanks for being so specific with that, it's super interesting to look at. I see different things every time I re-examine your work
ML: One consistent thing is my love for red, it's such an intense color. I always employ red in my art because of its powerful presence
♡: You know how to pack a punch with color - intensity is really hypnotic
What do you find beautiful?
Or what's been beautiful to you lately? Anything particularly inspiring to you
ML: I find beauty in imperfection. The plasticization of female bodies is toxic, along with conventional beauty standards. I love body rolls, uneven breasts, stretch marks, all the spoils of being a human. No body is perfect and i love to emphasize that in my work.
Lately I've been staring a lot at trees and finding so much complexity in their age and structure-- so enticing!
♡: The spoils of being of human - new title of my memoir ;)
You're good with the lines!
How do you approach portraits? As much as I love your work with color I’m equally obsessed with your black and white ball point sketches.
I love how you interpret faces
I also emphasize imperfection in portraiture, as well as the fact that portraits do not have to be exact. For example, Sharon was a closed eye sketch that I ended up really loving because it was my image of her without worrying about proportions or shading. I like portraiture in its rawest forms because often we sexualize or beautify portraiture which can be toxic.
Beautification as an inverse
It’s been reinvigorating to see so many young artists combine their art with activism. Your Juneteenth image "WE MATTER" is so dynamic. Can you talk me through that aspect of your work, as a means to instigate change
ML: When it came to WE MATTER, I really wanted people to see the face of America if it were a woman of color. After all, our country was built upon the exploitation of people of color and native peoples. As Americans, POC people deserve to be forefathers and mothers of this country and to be included in our gratitude for freedom.
♡: Included in our gratitude 🙏
Do you write poetry? You're gifted with words
I noticed you play the guitar- curious about your song writing
ML: I do! I plan on publishing my first poetry collection this year.
ML: And I am currently working on my first studio album, scheduled to drop this year!
ML: I love guitar and songwriting. It's another means of expression for me
♡: What has been valuable advice to you as you’ve approached working - it’s easy to feel let down or failed by the system- even just applying for this grant I know there's hesitation for some young people to feel like they have a shot. What keeps you going? What helps you overcome any feelings of doubt?
ML: Everybody is going to fail at some point. But it takes someone who keeps trying to really bring it on home! As young people we are often discredited as unprofessional or not dedicated. I'm adamant about showing the world the opposite!
Feelings of doubt are always there when you're putting yourself out there. You just gotta let it go, everyone has an impact and you'll never know until you try
♡: I was taken aback by your candor in your artist statement about surviving abuse- for young people trapped in unhealthy living situations right now art is such a form of therapy... Can you talk about that healing process - I want to be respectful to your experience, and whatever your are comfortable sharing with is fine with me.
ML: Once again, i wanna say that art is vulnerability and vulnerability includes being honest with yourself and your experience. Once you're able to do that, you can finally practice self-compassion in expressing yourself through art. My abuse made it hard for me to feel like I was even worthy of expressing myself, but I realize it gives me a story to tell. To anyone reading this who has ever experienced abuse, you made it through! Your mind and body and spirit brought you through the abuse which means that your art is valuable, your art is you and your vulnerability is key to healing.
♡: Thank you for that Ria
ML: My sexual abuse in particular made me view beauty inversely and focus on growth that comes from pain. I reconcile my struggle with sexuality by showing nude figures in their strength and unapologetic vulnerability .
♡: I love your quote on IG “ life not survival” - how did you manage that transition, I’m sure it’s an ongoing process but I’m curious how you were able to graduate from those two mindsets and combat any feelings of victimization
ML: It is a process but my thing is, we all have life given to us and we all deserve to live it indiscriminately. No matter who you are, what color, gender, identity, you deserve life. Not to survive, but to live.
♡: I like to ask artists about their sense of community. Have their been any communities in Chicago that have been helpful and supportive to other young creatives?
ML: Oh yes! Loving all of your questions by the way. Community is so important especially in a place like Chicago where we face violence, segregation, racism and classism. The youth come together so beautifully in places like YouMedia Chicago, Young Chicago Authors, Good Kids Mad City, Hated Youth Collective, and more.
♡: Thanks for those resources! So important for people to know they have a place to feel welcome and bounce ideas in a safe place
What are your goals? And how can the ILYSM community continue to support you? I saw you have an online store!
ML: My goals are to become a tattoo artist once I hit 18, get into SAIC, become a better musician, artist, poet, skater, just a better me! I have so many endeavors and I just really appreciate all of the support I have already from ILYSM. I would love to continue sharing and networking with the ILYSM community through shows, talks like this one we're having now, and promoting each other! My online store is always open, by the way. Soon I'm going to start producing and selling more custom merch on my own!
Super excited to continue working with you all.
♡: I'm genuinely excited to see your future creations
♡: Are there any organizations, justice groups, or charities that you would like to shine a light on? We like to promote all forms of activism
ML: I would like to plug Art hoe collective, girl gaze, TACO Chicago, Line Break Chicago, Youth for Black Lives, Social Works Chi, RAGE Englewood, The Free Root Operation, BLCK RISING, the Unapologetic Street Series, and yours truly, ILYSM!
♡: Last question- what are 3 things you would recommend to our viewers at home - open to interpretation could be a work of art to look up, a film, recipe, a link etc
ML: 1) Look up artist @ayabrown.tiff on instagram! Her work focuses on varieties of women of color at work, living their everyday lives, and being their powerful selves.
2) Toshio Saeki is an artist featuring works of Japanese erotica, which I find powerful and interesting. I recommend him as well!
3) I am scheduled to give a TEDxYouth Talk this coming September on women in art. Please stay tuned for it!
♡: I'm so jealous you can say, "welcome to my TED Talk"
♡: Ria, I'm rooting so hard for you! Thanking for taking the time and sharing your truth with us today
ML: Thank you so much for this opportunity to share, Jenna. I appreciate the work you and ILYSM are doing for people like me all around the world.
Maria Lourdes is a young brown woman from Chicago who has been a professional artist since the age of 13. She uses her art for the purpose of liberation and works to dismantle the systemic disadvantages placed upon herself and fellow youth, replacing feelings of loss and inferiority with self-love and actualization. Follow her @gangsterrprincess