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(Image: Christie Tirado)
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Artist of the Week: Christie Tirado

Christie Tirado is a Latina artist, printmaker and art teacher in Yakima, Washington.

Seattle Refined: How long have you been creating? What mediums do you work with?
Christie Tirado: So, the medium that I work with is printmaking. So printing, woodblock printing and also painting and mixed media. And I think I've been creating for as long as I can remember. Maybe I started about second grade as a kid. But professionally, it had to be my junior year of college at the University of Washington.

Can you tell us about your artistic process and how the different stages work into it?
I always start off by saying that printmaking is a form of communication. It's a way of disseminating information. And printmaking is a process that typically allows artists to make multiples, instead of one art piece, like a painting. And in most cases, the artist uses a matrix. It could be like a wood block or like a Lionel block or a surface that they carve away or etch into. And then, with a brayer that has ink on it, you can add them [I've created little vinyl block prints].

The way I work with relief printmaking is you have your image—which is the positive space, the black—and then you carve away all of the negative space. So you use a brayer. With ink, you ink up the surface, and then you put it like on a printing press. You put paper on top, and you run it through the press, applying pressure, and then you lift it and you have your mirror image. That's essentially like printmaking relief printing in a nutshell. And that's the kind of work that I do. And it can get really complex when you start adding color. Then you have to print color on multiple sheets of paper before you carve on the next layer. And it's just like you have to plan backwards. Like, I have a final image already finished in my head, and then now as I'm creating, I'm working from the final image to the beginning, so a lot of planning backwards.

Tell us about where your inspiration for your art comes from.
I get a lot of my inspiration from a lot of different realities that I encounter and experience on a daily basis, whether it's personal experiences or my family's experiences, or even community members here, especially being a teacher and teaching in Yakima, where it's predominantly Latinos. I gain my inspiration from my surroundings. And there's a really wonderful quote that I appreciate and that I feel like when I look at my work, I really try to live by, and it's by Nina Simone. There's this beautiful video out there where she's being questioned on, like, why she does what she does; why she creates what she creates, and she says you can't help it. And this is the quote: "An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times," and I feel that this quote really resonates for me because being the daughter of two immigrant parents from Mexico, I have firsthand experience [with] the blatant discrimination and racism that this nation has towards people who don't speak English as their first language and people of color. And a lot of that, like in this nation, the foundation was created and continues to be, you know, worked and created by these people. So I feel like a lot of the work that I create is inspired by those realities and, and living here in Yakima, specifically an agricultural town, I really want to highlight and recognize the work that these people do for this whole nation. A lot of these jobs, like agricultural work, or work that my parents did—everything was behind the scenes, and I felt that they were always kind of in the shadows, and they weren't appreciated, they weren't recognized. And I really just wanted to humanize these people in these prints and really celebrate and honor with they do so that everybody else can see that as well. So it's just essentially creating these portraits of the things that people do, but very important work that has always been in the shadows. So a lot of my inspiration in that, and right now I'm, like I said, living here in Yakima, it's important to be able to highlight these workers and these communities that have been marginalized and underrepresented. And to have them also go into these different spaces, like these images and gallery spaces, I feel that I'm really doing the work that I should be doing. Like, I'm in a good place with that. I'm happy that they're even being exhibited, especially as being like a Latina and then creating these images with these narratives. I feel it has been very empowering.

And that's why I really love her quote, because I'm just like, we, as artists, we should be able to reflect the times that we live in, and this is where I'm living in now. And this is what's important to me. So I really love that quote.

Do you have a specific "beat" you like best – nature, food, profiles, etc.?
[In addition to printmaking], there are also the portraits. I've noticed I'm creating these pieces; that I lean towards creating portraits of people. And I guess the reason for that is, I mean, we can go throughout our day and see people on like a daily basis, but like, how often do we really see these people for who they are? I did an artist residency last year at the Sun Valley Museum of Art, and a portrait that really comes to mind is Johnny's portrait, the high school janitor. And when I exhibited that portrait, he was like the first person at the art show. He was there. He was dressed up, like in his white guayabera. And, you know, the superintendent came, and his wife and his whole family was there. And he was in tears when he was telling me how this portrait changed his life. I mean, I know [he's] such an amazing person. And I when I posted on Instagram, all of his students were commenting. They were sharing. I mean, he's a high school janitor, but he was also a coach. And he told me how this portrait—just a simple portrait—changed his life, that he's been receiving attention from the media, the superintendent, from the staff, the school. I feel like portraits allow for us to be able to see people in a different light. Or capture, slow down and really see people for who they are and really appreciate what they do in our community. And Johnny's far more than just a janitor. In our schools, like they're not just janitors, they're like nurses, they're like the first responders. They're just there in case anything goes wrong. And this print was just so powerful. And like I said, it just allows for us to be able to see people and capture and see them in a different light. But yeah, that's a little bit of portraits.

How do you decide which type of medium to do for different things?
So, in the past, when I originally started doing some of these "Hop Series," or these pieces of our workers in the valley, I was painting them. But it was because I didn't have access to a printing press. And since I feel at heart like a printmaker, I tried to create these (especially these pieces that are more socially and politically charged). I feel that I do them in the style of relief printmaking—for me being Mexican, Mexican-American, the roots of printmaking within the Mexican Revolution, the turn of the 19th century, and how, in Mexico, prints were used as a tool to like disseminate news about what was happening at that moment in time. And it was also a way to educate people about what was happening in the government, in their country, like with war and whatnot. I just think it's an important way for me to really kind of take that cultural side and make it more contemporary. Like, what's important for me, and what's important during these times. But also really kind of paying homage and respect to the traditional printmaking methods that have been used for many years, especially, like socially and politically in Mexico. I just really, I like to keep that like black and white boldness to them, but also add that like a pop of color to it. It just really gets your attention and just makes you gravitate towards them, which is what I kind of want as an artist; I want people to just kind of be captured by these pieces. And [if] they don't see themselves in these pieces to ask questions and wonder about who these people are.

Do you have one piece of art that means more to you or is extremely special to you?
"Mariposas y Memorias." I have received so many messages from people about that piece on just the idea of loss and how, during this pandemic, a lot of us have lost something or someone along the way. And it's just been a difficult past couple of years. Both of my grandparents passed away that year within a couple months of one another, and they were in their 90s. And I created that piece to really honor their memories. And in Mexico, there's Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead), and it's celebrated around the beginning of November, November first and second, but it's like during that time, you essentially celebrate those that have passed, and there are all these different traditions that go with that, but the symbol of the monarch butterfly, and the butterfly itself, stems is a little bit more—you know, I use it a lot in my work with migration, but also with transcendence and memory. So the monarch butterfly in a lot of indigenous communities has been used as a symbol for those who have passed away. So when Día de Muertos is celebrated, it coincides with the migration of the monarch butterflies coming from North America down to Mexico, and the arrival of those butterflies are believed to be the souls of those that have passed away coming back to visit us in the land of living during that time. The monarch butterflies symbolize all of those memories, all of those people that, you know, we've lost, but yet they still live with us in our memory because that's what Día de Muertos is for. We don't really lose our ancestors because as long as we can remember them and their memories, and they're with us, they live with us. So that's what a lot of the butterflies do. I have the four cardinal directions on there. And I also have the really faint butterflies, like those very light, faint memories. And then I have the bold and vivid ones that are forever going to be there, and you're going to forever pass those memories and stories along to your children or your siblings or the people around you. So that's, that's a really for me. I cried so much creating that piece.

The piece also has those embossed butterflies in the back. So it's like those memories that are just very lucid, or just they're very close to just being gone. It's a very beautiful piece that I really want to exhibit, maybe in a space. I've only exhibited that particular piece twice, but I really want it to be in a larger space. So more people can have access to it.

So that one there, and then a lot of it with my prints that I create, I mean, everybody always gets to see the final product. But for me, what's the most meaningful is the process of creating, which not everybody gets to see. I mean, now with the time-lapse videos, you can definitely capture the process that way—but it's just like a minute of like, months and months of work. And the nights that I'm just, like, awake. What if I do this? Or what if I do that? It's all the behind-the-scenes—all of the errors, all the mistakes, that's what it's like for me, what I have that nobody else is ever going to see or experience. So that's the real art for me—the process.

What experiences in your life have affected your art the most?

So I took this question more as like, inspiration. And I'm going to talk a little bit about being in second grade and seeing art for the first time, and that really inspired me and just grabbed me. So I had to be about in second grade when I experienced the artwork of Rene Julio, and he's an artist out in the west side. He's from Mexico. Mexico City. And he's also a longtime family friend. And I remember going into his house when I was in second grade. And he's one of those artists that he draws you realistically, but he has his own style of creating. And I just remember walking into his house, and his walls reminded me of Mexico: the color on the walls, the paint and just like the aesthetics is just like very... almost like if you went to Frida Kahlo's house. But at that time, in second grade, I had no comparisons, you know. I just remember walking in there just mesmerized by all of his work. And the colors reflected his heritage, his history, his culture, and his paintings told stories, like the iconic work of the three grand muralistas in Mexico, like Diego Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros. I remember just standing before his work, and I just had this immediate connection with his Calavera pieces with like skulls for Día de Muertos, and there were these surrealist paintings where there was fruit on top of a table, but the fruit was floating. And then the tablecloth was kind of twisted inwards. Like it was just this movement. I was just so confused. But yet, I wanted to learn more about art and why he created these pieces, and that's when it kind of like struck me, and it inspired me to connect with myself and my culture. Also express it in my own way, being in the second grade going into third grade. And I think 23, 24 years later, thanks to him that's, that's what I'm doing. That's amazing. So yeah, I mean, his work is phenomenal. So Rene Julio.

If we want to see more of your work, where should we go to find it?
So normally, I'll put it on my Instagram or my website. But if you happen to be around here in Yakima, I have quite a bit of pieces that were acquired by the Washington State Arts Commission, and they're permanently installed. I think I have about 10 pieces at Ridgeview Elementary here in Yakima. So people here in Yakima can go to the elementary school and can see it there. And there's Foothills Elementary in Buckley, Washington—they acquired two of my pieces about two years ago. And there's one piece at the Capitol Campus Child Care Center in Olympia. And it has the large self-portrait of me, like with the heart, and the nopales, like the cactus around. It's a really big piece. So they picked that one up, and it's permanently installed. And these are all like, for public view, for the community. So yeah, it just makes me really happy to know that these pieces, you know, are not going to like a private collection. It's for the community; it's there for the public to be able to enjoy. So that's where you can find some of my work. I did have pieces at Oak Hollow Framing, and that exhibition went until the end of the month. And this is kind of in the works still, but I'm probably going to have about seven or eight pieces at Sonoma State University. The curator there is going to be doing an exhibition with historical photographs from the United Farmworkers Union movement from the 1970s. And they're going to pair those photographs with contemporary works. So they're inviting me to participate in that. So as soon as I get more information on that, I always post it on my Instagram or on my website. I might have some pieces out in Denver, too, later this fall.

What is next for you? Anything you're working on right now that you're really excited about?
Yeah, so I have three really big projects that I'm working on at the moment that I had to put off everything else and, like, put everything on pause. I have two large—and they're all public art installations—I have two of them that I'm creating with Tieton Arts & Humanities and Catholic Charities. I'm designing two large-scale mosaic murals. I've been [working] with the community to figure out what it is that they want to see in these murals. Because I mean, they're the ones that are going to be experiencing it and being around them, living with them moving forward. So I'm helping design those, and those are going to be in Tieton. And then I have another project here that I'm doing with the new farmworkers clinic that's opening up here in Yakima. I'll be doing either a large mural or a three-panel kind of mural for their new facility. So that's another one. And then I have this big one with WSU Spokane. They're remodeling their new medical science building. And this is through the Washington State Arts Commission; the committee selected my portfolio, so I'm going to help design that really big installation for their new building. So that's a really big project. So that should hopefully be done by May of next year, but it's in the works right now. So those are three big projects that I'm currently working on. Everything else is kind of on pause, or I put them, you know, on a waitlist because I can't take on any more. And then I teach!

Lastly, how do you take your coffee?
I like my double shot of espresso. But if I have extra time, maybe I'll make a double shot cortado with just like, you know, a little bit of like milk on it. That's the way I take my coffee—so no time! Gotta just take it; gotta go.

About 'Artist of the Week': Seattle might be notorious for niche coffee shops and scenic waterways, but locals know it's also home to an array of people who love to create. This city is chock-full of artists who we love to feature weekly on Seattle Refined! If you have a local artist in mind that you would like to see featured, let us know at hello@seattlerefined.com. And if you're wondering just what constitutes art, that's the beauty of it; it's up to you! See all of our past Artists of the Week in our dedicated section.

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