I recently had the opportunity to connect with Paola Lagunas a.k.a. Arteporlola and dive deep into how her Mexican culture influences her work today. I hope you find inspiration to go after your dreams and embrace your heritage with everything you do.
We appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Take us back a little, where does your story begin?
My story begins in Mexico. Some of my first memories involve saving my lunch money to stop by the arts and craft store or the “papeleria” to buy more art supplies. When I was little, I was obsessed with drawing galaxies on black pieces of paper with white and glitter crayons. My mom had a small shop where she sold party favors, pillows that she painted, jackets, and clothes. I remember she had about 100 magazines that were patterns for crafts or ideas. We brought them from Mexico when we came to the states, and I still think she has them to this day.
I always loved taking the opportunity of any art-focused class I could get in. I tried to take them as electives and as summer programs. I found the art world very inaccessible for the low-income community, so I just worked with electives in my public school. I feel lucky that I have always been drawn to art and could benefit from those classes. The only real break from art I took was in college, where I was focused on other stuff and had no access to supplies.
I love that you continued to find a way to express yourself through art no matter the circumstances. What moment made you realize you were in divine alignment with your passion?
I think about this every day. I felt so blessed when I first started painting. I had been drawing and into graffiti art for a long time, but when I began to paint, nothing quite felt like that. The way I was able to get my ideas in full color. I was obsessed. I have Aphantasia, which is when you don’t see images in your brain, rarely is there color. The way that paintings came about for me always lets me know I’m on my divine path.
My paintings are a form of expression, and through color is my favorite way to do it. With Aphantasia, I don't get to see the final idea of my painting until after the painting is completed, which is why I hold so much emotional attachment to the pieces. One of the paintings that revealed the most to me was"Regresare a mi Tierra.” It came to me after I had done a plant study from a Clarinervium sourced from Chiapas, Mexico. I was in San Diego at the beach when my friend pointed out to me and said,"see all those lights over there, that's Mexico." I bursted into tears.
I’m undocumented and haven't been able to return to Mexico. When I came home the rest of the painting came easy to me. Honestly, before I was able to process it, I painted three little flowers in a puddle, a cloud raining over them. Besides this little detail, the painting was almost just a study of one of my plants.
The realizations came quickly after I saw the painting for the first time. The three flowers were my sister, my mom, and myself. The cloud was this man made idea that stood in the way of us being able to return home, and the Clarinervium that had called to me the second I saw the store post it on Instagram was representing Mexico. When I follow my intuition and allow creativity to flow through-me, my paintings reveal the deepest parts of me. Through this painting, I was able to let go of a lot of my limitations.
Latina Still Standing
Grateful for the fascinating insight on your creative process. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I focus a lot on Nature, the divine feminine, and myself. I’ve always felt my paintings reveal things to me that maybe I struggled to put into words; most of the time they have me sitting there realizing parts of myself.
I work with air elements a lot too, with my dreams and with a lot of my real life. Most of the plants in my paintings tend to be inspired by flowers I see, or my houseplants. A lot of my spiritual awakening is through my paintings, so I’m showing that as well, and I think it’s so cool to see how it’s evolving in these last couple of years. I can’t wait to continue expressing myself in this way.
The ability to show vulnerability and allow your work to transform you is powerful. We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth journey?
Not at all, when I had just moved to Mexico, art became pretty inaccessible to my family financially, so as much as I wanted to take my time to learn it, it felt like there wasn’t enough space to make a mess or enough money to buy supplies.
When I started working, my art supplies were one of the first things I started investing in. I always started by buying only three of whatever medium I was trying, to test it out but not splurge buying a whole pack of something. I was also so shy when I first started making art. I was afraid to post it and stay consistent. I’m learning from everything though all the bumps and mistakes are so many lessons for me.
Investing in yourself is the key to fulfilling your dreams. What advice would you give to an artist who wants to become a business owner? Any major lessons learned?
I think just go for it, start making the products and learning, and order one thing at a time. I honestly think there’s so much value in just fully going for it. It’s scary, but you just have to get the things done one at a time.
Unmask The Truth
Trial and error is all a part of the journey of becoming and finding your voice. What drew you to your current art style and art medium?
I don’t know why I felt like this but with painting, it felt like I could put down my ideas much faster than with a pencil. Also since I started painting, I just kept wanting to come back to it again and again. I always loved Frida and so I started playing with surreal concepts because that’s what I liked. I love to paint this way.
The paintings of Fridas that come to mind the most are "Frida between the two borders" and "Girl with Death Mask". "Girl with Death Mask," I think was one of the first paintings that I wanted to recreate with my twist to it. I loved that it was dark and gloomy and art has helped me exit some of the darkest times of my life. I think for a long time I felt like I didn't know where my life was headed and I kind of had this mask on that everything was okay.
Frida’s reflections helped me dig deep into myself for my artwork and that's something that inspires me. I do want to also state that I'm aware Frida contributed to colonization and the erasure of Tehuana culture. I want to do my part in always uplifting indigenous voices and stories. I want to know more about my family's stories and my culture altogether. However Frida being a Mexican Female artist, I was very inspired, but other Mexican Surrealists you should look into are Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo.
It is beautiful you embrace your Mexican culture and integrate it into your work with a surreal twist. Where we are on our path is often partly because of the individuals and communities in our lives. Who/what else deserves recognition for how your story is metamorphosing?
Honestly, all of it is because of the community. I used to always draw on my sketchbook on my lunch break, and my coworkers encouraged me to start an Instagram before I even got into painting! They wanted to see what I was doing, so I started posting on Instagram. Eventually, a different coworker said he wanted to buy an art piece from me for his girlfriend. It was a digital piece I made on my sister’s iPad; once it was complete, I emailed my pdf to a local print shop next to my job. I sold my first print for $20.
I met a lot of my friends through my art, in classes, events, and those first few times I went out. To this day, I’m constantly working on building relationships with the people in my life. My friends help me every day. A lot of my success is due to people sending me links, events, and opportunities. My main form of learning is through free YouTube videos. I’m grateful for that community as well.
Art transcends cultural boundaries and acts as a powerful binding force that unites people no matter where they are from. As a Latina paving her way in the art community, what long-standing legacy do you hope to create with your art?
I’m going to bring people together. I want to use art to bridge community help, events, and food. There's so much we can do in the community, and so much of our story is told through food and art; so I want to make it part of everything that I do. I hope to bring the Latines together in a space where they can learn and express themselves.
I recently did a Mural for the La Cocina Municipal Marketplace, a non-profit focusing on creating more equal opportunities for entrepreneurs entering the food industry. Since La Cocina works primarily with immigrant women, I wanted to paint migration through food on the painting I did. I hope to one day have my own space where I can host community events, display some of my favorite artists' work, host paint and sips, and serve food. I have a lot of plans. It seems like a lot, but it would be a dream to have this be a business for me. I want to do big things with my art and for my people.
Comment Below: What impact do you hope to make with your art?
If you are interested in following along on Arteporlola’s journey, you can connect with her here:
SHOP SURREAL ART: https://arteporlola.com/
Click to read “Sincerely Art: Latina Surrealist Artist Transcending Boundaries” Interview HERE