I Have a Feeling Only For Shadows, 9x7in, Mixed Media, 2014
Fifth grade was a surprisingly significant juncture in my development. Those last days of primary school were not marked by the amount of friends I had or by triumphant academic achievements. Rather it was the first time I realized that creatively I was different than other people. I am not the kind of maker that always knew she was going to grow up and be an artist. There are no overflowing binders of childhood drawings or mountains of classroom art projects to provide evidence that young Xochi was destined to be an artist decades later. Despite the lack of telltale signs of creative innovation it was in this year that I first began to see the outlines of myself against the backdrop of the universe.
Despite the lack of telltale signs of creative innovation it was in this year that I first began to see the outlines of myself against the backdrop of the universe.
The world that was blurred and indistinct from my parents and sibling had begun to shed. It was actually outright terrifying. Always a sensitive child, I had grown accustomed to the acute awareness I had of my surroundings. But this was something else. At the age of 10, it became clear that perhaps the things I thought, I heard and the way I saw and felt were different than others. If only in the simplest terms that these were my thoughts and mine alone, but it was at this age that I became aware of this difference.
While all my childhood peers began wearing their pants backwards and donning Hypercolor T-shirts as offerings to MTV pop stars, I grew up somewhat unconventionally and of more modest means. From the age of 4 onwards my parents decided that they no longer wanted to live in the city with close neighbors—who were only an outstretched arm away. They sold our house, moved us to a duplex and bought a piece of land in a largely rural part of Austin, TX. Each following weekend we all piled into my father’s cerulean blue VW van and drove to the outskirts of town to move rocks and re-bar around as they determined the footprint of our new home. It was only a year or so later that the house was completed and there we were. We were a little family, my two parents, my younger sister and me, living in the last house on a dead-end street with little influence from the outside world. The nearest children were 5 years our senior. Sometimes they let us ride their horses or drive around with them in their golf carts, but for the most part we had our parents’ land to explore and the animals that my mother collected over the years to keep us company.
I Searched for Sunshine But Found Only Rain, 8x6in, Mixed Media, 2014 Only an Ocean of Energy, 10x8in, Mixed Media, 2015
What we lacked in people and things, we more than made up for with our imagination and ingenuity. To counter the solitude, I chose to create a world for myself that revolved around an unlikely pair of mentors—nature and rock ‘n roll. Listening to music became a reprieve from my own moody, mercurial thoughts and created a barrier between the fiendish world and myself. I loved listening to all kinds of tunes from the moment I could put a needle on a record or a tape in a deck. In fact, there is early documentation of me lovingly feeding my father’s tape deck yogurt as a toddler. I was amenable to everything I heard.
Without too many peers my own age imposing their preferences on me, I consumed everything with an equal attention and intensity: Mozart, Beethoven, The Texas Tornados with Doug Sahm & Freddy Fender, The Monkees, Michael Jackson and Chrissie Hynde. They were all my friends. My favorite radio station was Froggy 94.7, an all-oldies-all-the-time kind of station. I was especially fond of 70s easy listening ballads. I couldn’t get enough of them. By 5 grade I could recite to you the lyrics of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as easily as the multiplication table. I assumed that these kinds of songbooks were committed to every person’s collective consciousness. I believed that the poetics that filled the radio waves were on the tip of every child’s tongue. But no, I was wrong.
The melody still hanging in the air, my teacher began a peal of thunderous laughter that changed my perspective completely.
I Wasn’t Born to Follow
One afternoon in social studies, we were all working on a crossword puzzle with my teacher, freely calling out the answers as she read off the numbered prompts. When it came to, “24 down, beginning with the letter F, an emotional state of being.” I imagined the whole classroom would sing with me in unison, and I began to belt out the lyrics—“Feelings, nothing more than feelings!” The melody still hanging in the air, my teacher began a peal of thunderous laughter that changed my perspective completely. I can’t remember which version of the song I was referencing—the original 1974 recording by Albert Morris, The O’Jays’ more soulful 1977 version, or the saccharine duet by Julio Iglesias and Barbara Streisand. That didn’t really matter but it was at that moment two things dawned on me. One: that not everyone knew the same songs I did, and two: perhaps others were differently impacted by music in their life. Even further, maybe they were impacted by everything a little differently.
It may seem like a silly anecdote, even as I type this out today, but I return to the memory of that moment often. In the 20-plus years that have followed, I have taken on many roles including that of an artist. Without my deep relationship to music, I would have certainly turned out completely different. The sound of Brian Eno’s voice on Before and After Science makes me weak in the knees every time I hear it. Laurie Anderson’s voice in the opening verse of Oh! Superman never fails to give me goose bumps. I could drown in Lee Hazlewood’s drawl, and be carried away in the breeziness of The Everly Brother’s harmonies. Harry Nilsson’s operatic love songs manifest an actual ache in my chest.
It is for this reason that I never make anything without my music on. In my own way, I try to evoke these sensations with each work I construct. Many of the titles to my artworks are lines extracted from the songs that fill my studio. Some of the verses make up the melodies of my favorite songs and others are collections of words that I find particularly evocative and I just want an excuse to let them roll around on my tongue for little longer. By extracting the words from their intended melody and preserving them with color and form, I give them a new meaning, a true turn of a phrase.
Reflections on mood and emotional states, integrated with an exploration of material and color, are central to my artistic practice. Each work I create is a construction from a myriad of materials including: hand-dyed paper, vinyl, plastic, cork and images from books and magazines. For me, the repeated act of layering, combined with the acoustic environment of endless playlists, is a meditation on shape, form, and lyrical prose. The combination of these elements provides me the ability to publicly remark on a private-personal narrative and navigate various emotional states. As the cliché goes: the most successful pop song is only 180 seconds long, I am conscious of creating the most effective image with only the most integral amount of aesthetic elements. This is how popular music has taught me to communicate a shared expression of emotion with only essential ingredients.
Make Me a Queen Happy Again, 10x8in, Mixed Media, 2014 When the Winter Weds the Northern Wind, 10x8in, Mixed Media, 2015 Your Breath Is Chemical, 12x9in, Mixed Media, 2013