Can you talk about the piece, “Chiquita” in particular and how this still life touches on themes of exotification and sexualization?
At first glance, Chiquita, seems like a classical European style still life with fruits and a decorative floral pattern. However, considered alongside “Not exotic (not your forbidden fruit)” it begins to take on a deeper meaning. I use the three fruits native to the tropical island of Puerto Rico: plantains, mangos and papayas. Similar to how these fruits are seen as “exotic”, “foreign”, and “unusual” within the eyes of a white Eurocentric society, so am I. The shapes of these fruits can also be seen as sexual organs. Further commanding the viewer to recognize the hyper-sexualization bodies of color. Also reading into the title the viewer can consider the history and advertising of the company, Chiquita, which originally depicted a sexualized banana figure with legs wearing a flamenco dress and having a bowl of fruit on her head. Even today’s depiction remains similar, but instead of a banana it is an actual woman. In addition, the actual word chiquita translates to “little girl” and is often used as a term of endearment similar to “honey” or “sweetie”.
Your work is about your Latina mixed race identity. Can you expand on this a little bit more? How does your work reflect your daily life?
A lot of my paintings are influenced by the culture of Puerto Rico, which is where my mom’s family is from. My paintings often use vibrant colors and tropical fruit, alluding to the visual aesthetics of island life in the Caribbean. Some of the works also touch on themes of exoticization of my body as a woman of color. My work reflects experiences or themes that have recurred in my daily life. Most of my paintings are self portraits, which also automatically connects them to me.
When did you begin working with oil paint? How long have you been painting?
I have been interested in art since I was a child. As an only child I was often alone, which forced me to be imaginative and led me to choose activities I could do by myself. This is how I started drawing and making crafts. It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that I started painting. One of my dad’s ex-girlfriends was a painter so she introduced me to acrylic paints. Then about a year later I started experimenting with oil paints and I fell in love. I’ve used oil paints almost exclusively since then.
Can you take us through a typical day in your studio?
Technically I don’t have a studio, I either just work in a classroom, my bed, or my kitchen table. Really anywhere in my house that I have room. When I do create at school I’m usually in the painting department at SAIC which is located in the back of the Art Institute. The classrooms there have huge open spaces, with easels and bright lighting. When I come in, in the morning I set up my palette and the painting I’m working on. I typically work from photographs but add a bit of my own imagination. I’ll usually have a photo reference on my laptop next to the canvas. Then I paint for about 6 hours. Sometimes if I need a break, I’ll sketch for a while, or look through an art book. I follow this routine about once or twice a week. I would probably spend more time here if I could. However, I have to prioritize my time with other classes and work.
You’re in school at The Art Institute of Chicago. How has this community guided your practice? Has it changed at all while in school?
I think since coming to SAIC my work has become much more conceptual. I think this is something SAIC pushes its students towards, to understand and find a purpose for creating. I’ve also find it beneficial to be surround by other artist because they can give me important feedback and spark ideas for new work. Overall it’s just refreshing to be surrounded by creative energy.
You also work with fiber. How does this medium guide your practice?
Fibers is something I’ve recently explored since coming SAIC. I typically use techniques such as felting, sewing and dyeing of fabrics. The themes and concepts I explore in painting differs from those I express with fibers. I think with fibers I tend to focus on themes of mental health, such as anxiety and depression. My goal is to obviously create works but also I think I focus much more on the process, which relaxes me because of its repetitive nature and is sort of therapeutic in a way.
Do you have any upcoming projects, plans, or events including your work?
One of my next paintings will be a nude self portrait, with mangos. So more women and fruit. I currently have work in a show called “Compassion” in my school’s wellness center. This summer I’m going to try to get more work into galleries outside of school. Possibly some in my neighborhood of Pilsen. I’d like to specifically show work here because it is where I reside, where a lot of other up and coming artist are flourishing, and is a space primarily of other artist of color.
Simone Quiles is a Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist. Her work is primarily influenced by her mixed race identity as a Puerto Rican, African-American and white woman and how this affects her in her daily life. Most of her work explores the negative side affects of being a mixed race woman such as the societal exploitation and fetishization of her body. She often portrays these themes through the medium of oil paint, in which she primarily paints self portraits. These paintings often use vibrant colors and tropical fruit, alluding to the visual aesthetics of island life in the Caribbean. Simone also looks into themes of mental health, which she portrays not only through paint but fibers materials as well. She uses materials and techniques such as felting, sewing and dyeing of fabrics. She currently attends the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.