100 Creatives

Phoenix Artist La Muñeca: 100 Creatives

Phoenix is brimming with creativity. And every other year, we put the spotlight on 100 of the city's creative forces. Leading up to the release of this year's Best of Phoenix issue, we're profiling 100 more. Welcome to the 2014 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today: 62. La Muñeca.

Mystery and La Muñeca go hand in hand.

The 27-year-old Phoenix artist prefers not to use her real name. Her nom de guerre translates to "the doll," and she says she likes using it because it's not too serious. She'd rather let her art speak for itself.

See also: Tempe Designer Jeremy Hamman: 100 Creatives

The 2013 Contemporary Forum grant winner, who typically displays her works on public walls, is working on her first solo show, which opens at Coe House in August. "I'm excited to show work that is new and more personal, although many of the same themes that are in my early work will be addressed," she says. "I've been laying low in Phoenix the past year, and I feel it's time to create something new. This body of work will be completely different, as far as visually as conceptually, than what I've done in the past."

Jackalope Ranch caught up with the elusive creative, who shared the sources of her inspiration, the philosophy behind the work that she creates, and why she rejects the "street artist" label.

I came to Phoenix with $200 in my pocket and two friends. We were all 17 and excited to move to the big city and be adults, coming from a small border town in southern Arizona. I arrived in Phoenix 10 years ago naive and with my head in the clouds, eager and hungry to experience the world and find my place and purpose in it. I'd like to think I'm a little wiser now, my head's still sometimes in the clouds... But Phoenix gave me what I needed... Lots of lessons on life, some much needed growing pains, and my mission in life: to never stop creating.

I make art because if I didn't I would go crazy and feel empty (as happens when I am unproductive). Although much of my art is or was in public spaces, I reject the label "street artist"... Hell, I even feel uncomfortable being called an "artist." I feel those words are too one-dimensional and don't really begin to describe most of the people who make "art." I make art because first, I became socially conscious, then frustration set in and the need to find meaning in life... What good was it having this profoundly changed view of the world and humanity if I wasn't going to share and communicate it to others? I'm not trying to be a scholar, activist, or appear in the pages of a glossy magazine. I just wanted to reach out to people, after spending most of my life painfully shy and introverted. One day the lightbulb just went off and something told me I was supposed to start painting and never stop.

I'm most productive when I hear stories about real people's experiences. When I can travel a little and leave the bubble that is Phoenix or this country. When I have a stimulating conversation with a good friend over coffee or mezcal. And most recently, when I have the chance to do art anonymously outside of Phoenix. There is nothing more fulfilling or liberating then simply creating something with the hope that maybe one or five people will notice it one day on their way to work or school, and do a double take or start to ask questions... That maybe you can trigger an emotion in another human being, be it sorrow, anger, or joy. Creating art not so people will remember my name, but somebody else's who shouldn't be forgotten.

My inspiration wall is full of notes from people I love. A portrait of my nana and tata taken when they lived in Mexico and before they had children. Images of the desert and Mexico. Words by poets, revolutionaries, artists, and great thinkers that perfectly describe ideas or beautiful/ugly truths that I could never begin to put words to, but long to describe visually.

I've learned most from making a lot of mistakes. Reading and a thirst for knowledge. The people I've encountered in life. Traveling. Love. Other artists. Making more mistakes. Learning my family's history. Growing up close to the border. Learning to just be quiet sometimes and keep my ear/eyes/heart open.

Good work should always be honest and humble. Critical and questioning. Non-conformist. Fearless. When it comes to my work, if there's no genuine message or truth behind a piece, it feels forced. Somehow my work always unintentionally is a reflection of myself, my emotions, and what I'm going through at the time.... Although art is universal and crosses borders and language barriers, it is also something highly personal and sacred. Good work should always be evolving and changing. I see being an artist as the journey of a lifetime. If my work always stays the same, what's the point? As a self taught artist, I can't wait to learn new mediums and techniques. To express new ideas. To be better. Never compromise your integrity as a person or artist for exposure. I learned that early as an artist... I will never make typical "Latino/Chicano/street" art and I'm more than okay with that. F*ck being categorized by some gallery who doesn't care about you. Art should be for the people first, not some privileged few who have the luxury of going to galleries and museums. That being said, there's nothing wrong with trying to make a living off your art, but the intention behind the work should be pure. Don't let yourself be sucked into the wheels of the institutionalized-art machine. They will use you up and toss you out when they find someone new to sell. Your talents are precious and come from something bigger than any one person. You create for a reason, and the world needs you!

The Phoenix creative scene could use more critical visual dialogue about what the hell is really going on in Phoenix, in Arizona, in the world. We live in a hotspot for discrimination, human rights violations and migrant issues... It's just the beginning. The whole world is watching Arizona right now. So why aren't more people talking about it? Every major social movement in the world had art, poetry, and music come out of it... Because that's what real people connect to. That's how new ideas form. It is absolutely necessary. Phoenix needs art for the sake of art, not art in designated areas only. Having an "arts district" is great, but not when low income and people of color are getting slowly pushed out of the neighborhood. Not when real artists can't afford to live there anymore. Not when historic buildings are torn down to build shiny new condos and there's a Starbucks on the corner. Not when anything other than commissioned murals or stuffed animals is buffed before first Friday so the folks walking around say "gee honey, isn't in nice and clean in downtown? Boy do I feel safe!" That's not real. Phoenix has some rad artists doing original shit on their own terms... So why are we trying to homogenize the downtown arts scene? Because money talks, that's why. Artist shouldn't get used and not paid just to push someone else's pr agenda so they can get funding for some bullshit project that isn't going to help any of the actual artists or locals. The good news is it doesn't matter in the end when downtown gets fully gentrified, because real artists won't stop creating when the money and attention runs out. Phoenix is a big place with plenty of bare walls.

See the 2014 edition of 100 Creatives:

100. Bill Dambrova 99. Niki Blaker 98. Jeff Slim 97. Beth May 96. Doug Bell 95. Daniel Langhans 94. Nanibaa Beck 93. Nicole Royse 92. Ib Andersen 91. Casandra Hernandez 90. Chris Reed 89. Shelby Maticic 88. Olivia Timmons 87. Courtney Price 86. Travis Mills 85. Catrina Kahler 84. Angel Castro 83. Cole Reed 82. Lisa Albinger 81. Larry Madrigal 80. Julieta Felix 79. Lauren Strohacker 78. Levi Christiansen 77. Thomas Porter 76. Carrie Leigh Hobson 75. Cody Carpenter 74. Jon Jenkins 73. Aurelie Flores 72. Michelle Ponce 71. Devin Fleenor 70. Noelle Martinez 69. Bucky Miller 68. Liliana Gomez 67. Jake Friedman 66. Clarita Lulić 65. Randy Murray 64. Mo Neuharth 63. Jeremy Hamman

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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski