By Karelys Beltran
Photos by Thayne Jongeward
Solely existing as humans is very time and energy consuming. Ensuring food and shelter is a very expensive endeavor. Still, we as people are always pushing the boundaries that humanity contains us in. It’s a fight against nature to try to transcend our condition that demands most of our energy just to subsist. Through the entirety of human history people are always trying to step outside flesh and bones and reach for the spiritual, the intangible, the eternal.
What is the purpose and role of the artist in our lives and our communities?
Christie Tirado tells us about her experience of culture shock, finding her reason for being and her identity. She shares the challenges of bucking the societal expectation of living life in a certain mold in the personal and career aspect.
I am so very thankful to Christie for her time and vulnerability. We spoke with practical and delicate subjects. And she offered generously.
I had no idea what to expect when I walked in to meet her for the first time. But she was petite with a very strong spirit and soft voice. Her art speaks loudly. It dares you to not look and not feel, not question, and continue to live on auto pilot.
On moving from a metro area to a rural community and finding your tribe.
You were talking about moving from Seattle/Tacoma area after grad school, and within two months you wanted to be gone because the difference was too much for you to handle. And suddenly you discovered the printing press studio. Did you think “I found my people! I found my place!”
Well yes! It was very different moving from Seattle. Traffic to not traffic. Art and diversity. Different food. Everything was a culture shock.
I found this place during the 10x10 show. I kind of wandered in here. A friend had told me about it. I wandered through, and I peeked through the little curtains and I saw it! I thought, "Oh my gosh, there is a printing community here." It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere. I had no idea where Tieton and Cowiche were on the map. My friend was from here so she knew about this area. She just didn’t know what happened in the studio. She described it as a bunch of interesting people walking around but she just didn’t know what all they did in here.
She has always considered me a little bit odd since she met me, so she said to me, “Maybe you’ll like it in there.". She had no idea about what I did, really.
I met Fae Jones and Karin Quint, the owners in here, and they got me on board shortly after. I had just moved from Seattle, and I was trying to stabilize myself trying to find a job. There is a fee that goes with printing and I told them, “I can’t afford it right now; I just moved and have to find a full time job.”.
So they got me a scholarship to print for one year. It was truly a blessing..
I came in here and started printing like I hadn’t had an opportunity for before. I used up all the time that I could creating quite a bit of pieces. And I am still here. I think that if it wasn’t for this space I would have moved back.
You know what? I talked to other people that have said similar things “It’s very hard to adjust to the cultural change when coming to Yakima.” But suddenly they discovered meditation labyrinths in town, or the art community, or social activism. That influenced them to stay. I think Yakima has a reputation for high crime and very negative things, so you come here and you don’t realize that there is actually a lot of your kind of people here.
There is so much that this place has to offer! I mean, I grew up in Tacoma surrounded by all kinds of different people. But a group of people that I didn’t come across were Hispanics. Mexican people. You know? Both of my parents are from Mexico. I grew up in a household that was pretty traditional; we spoke Spanish all the time. I spoke Spanish around my family but I couldn’t around my friends. Most of them were Pacific Islander, Korean, Asian. So I never got to interact much with my heritage aside from my family. So when I moved out here I thought “This is like little Mexico!”
And that is one thing that I truly love and appreciate. There’s Panaderias! Carnicerias! And that’s one thing that I really incorporate in my art work: my heritage and the pride that I take in it. I just want to show it through my work. Being Mexican and American. Just putting that out there. I’m not afraid to take pride in that. Especially with everything that is going on in the political climate. That is one thing I am embrace.
I remember walking into Essencia (the french cafe on 2nd Street) I saw at this art hanging. And all of a sudden the strangest things start to happen. My mouth starts to water! You know that smell of Chile Tajin?
YES! On fruit!
Yes that smell. All of a sudden my body is shooting endorphins left and right. And I am wondering “What is happening to me?” I am looking at art and my body is responding. So I had to hunt you down and figure out who you are, and talk a little bit more about those prints of Loteria that you have. I was in Mexico a couple years back and in this gallery there was a whole wall of 8x10 prints, of the entire loteria set. And I thought, "There is no way I can afford this. But I want it with every bone in my body. I want this hanging in my house."
All of a sudden I was at Essencia and I thought this is what I’ve been wanting for years. Do you want to tell me a little bit about your series on Loteria?
Like I said, I incorporate my background in all of my artwork. It’s key to my identity. One thing that I’ve always struggled with was figuring out my place, as an artist. Am I Mexican? Am I Hispanic? Am I Mexican American? My primos in Mexico don’t consider me Mexican. They call me gringa and guera. And it’s like “No! You don’t understand; I take a lot of pride in my culture!”
I identify with that. I was born and raised in Mexico. I came here when I was sixteen. I spent a lot of time finding my footing. A lot people said “You don’t have the Mexican accent but you do have an accent.” It has been through art that I have found what I needed. There is no tension anymore in regards to the Mexican or American aspect. Art has been the one that has reintegrated all the parts of me. And I really love my life. It started when I started to notice a lot of Latino artists here in the valley. I interviewed Daniel Desiga when I was in high school and it was the start of everything.
I struggled for a while with my identity as an artist. Growing up my parents were like, “Oh mi doctora!". Coming from a family that wasn’t wealthy they wanted to see me well off. And they hoped I would go into a profession that would make me well off. So I did want to go to med school and pursue all that. But when I got to school I realized that’s not what I wanted to do. When I was in University of Washington I kept going back to the art department, and back to the art department, until I finally found my niche. And finally I realized “Okay this is who I am.”
I’ve been doing art since I was very young, but it finally dawned on me “This is who I am and this is what I want to do. I don’t care if it doesn’t make me any money. That’s not what I am looking for. That’s not what I am after. I am looking to be happy with what I do.”
I kind of stuck with the ceramics and printmaking department. And it was through my art I was able to identify myself as an artist. And the Loteria card over there, I created in school. And I think that was the piece that finally made me feel comfortable with myself. Like this is who I am as an artist. I don’t care if I don’t make any money. Because, this is who I am. And I just came to terms with it.
And you know, Loteria has so much cultural significance. The symbols in them? I just wanted to branch off from that and start incorporating motifs that were important to me. Like La Artista. So many people say “Oh my gosh that looks like Frida Khalo.” And she is one of my favorite artists. I finally created that one, started with 55. Took a break. Moved to Yakima. And then started creating again.
El Salmon. You know, living in the Pacific Northwest, with how much fishing there is in the Native American community, the symbolism behind the salmon and the roots of this place. Then I moved on to 57, Los Cuernos. A lot of hunting here! There is also a pun that goes with that one.
Yes. Which is??
Pues que te pongan los cuernos! (laughs).
This is going to be published in English so we have to explain what this means for those who don’t know Spanish.
Que te pongan los cuernos is to be cheated on. So there's that. It’s used kind of loosely around friends in our culture. So I ended up combining both of those together.
And then I branched off to La Catrina. That image has a lot of history and meaning. Not to mention when you go to mexico and you see las artesanías, during Dia de los Muertos. It’s just beautiful.
And then El Colibri! One of my favorite. This is my spirit animal. (Colibri is hummingbird in Spanish.)
Why is that? I can see that!
Well, in my life they show up in places, randomly. Then disappear. Then show up again. And they are just one of the only species that can fly in place. They would come across our backyard growing up. My sister also, she attracts a lot of colibris. There is this connection that I have with them. I have three siblings. And she is definitely the one that has been there for me, and she feeds the colibris. She has to keep the window shut. Otherwise the dogs will come get them. I love colibris. The colors. The symbolism.
So those are my loteria cards.
I don’t know if I want to continue making more or not. They just kind of come to me and then I print them. There is no rush for me to start and make a new one. I make them as they come to me.
On handling the tensions of daily life, financial provision, and making art.
How do you handle manufacturing space for creativity and inspiration while the rest of life demands so much attention and energy?
Just from talking to you I get the sense that you are very calm and you’re not in a rush to get to the next point. You notice the cultural differences between Mexico and the US. Here, the culture is very fast paced. It’s counter-cultural to just go with the flow. We are pushed and encouraged to produce more and more. More is better. And if there is money attached to it, then you are successful.
But does having money coming in from your art mean success to you?
That’s a thing I’ve been grappling with lately. That’s something I’ve been very overwhelmed with this past year. Doing my art work and finding that people are responding to it and want to buy it. That was a shocker. I create my art, and this is going to sound very selfish, but I create my art because I want to create it for myself. I never really started creating with intentions to show it in public and getting recognition for it. So when I am asked to put on art shows, or people ask me to put my pieces in their gallery or display them in certain areas, it’s a huge stressor for me believe it or not. It puts a lot of pressure on me. I am very critical of myself. I am very critical with my work and presentation of it.
But when people want to purchase it and want it for themselves. I am kind of shocked. I am glad that my pieces moved you to the point that you want to keep it. You want to purchase. And create a new meaning for it. For me it’s been difficult to balance work with my art. Especially as people are noticing in me in the community, because my art is so bright, they say “I’ve seen this before!”
So, I am starting to build a name for myself I guess, but it’s been what is private and introducing it to the public. And you have people interpret it however, which I have no control of. But like I said, it’s taking something very personal and putting it out there. And then keeping up with the demands. Some people want different color variations and I get an email when I am in the middle of lesson plans. I think I've been doing okay handling that. But in the end of the day it can get quite stressful. Especially since I didn’t create my art to be mass produced.
So, if your art resonates with people, that seems like it’s a mark of success to you but not the money part.
Yes, not at all for the money. I’ve had friends say to me, “Why is your art so cheap?” I don’t really like to price something that was made from me. And I just don’t know how to handle that. I’ve had people come talk to me about it; other artists that know how to price their work. I haven’t really dabbled too much with the business aspect. It’s kind of weird. I made it for myself but if it resonates with you take it. If the price is well, take it. I’ll make more. It gives me more opportunity to make more stuff and crank my art out. In the beginning I didn’t know how I felt about putting my art out there.
This is common among artists. Many of them hit a point where they realize that to produce consistently and be prolifically they have to produce at a level that is not as personal and not as raw and sensitive. However, this is what people are attracted to. The very raw, open, vulnerable part of it. This is why I am looking at these prints at Essencia and my body is responding, and my mind cannot catch up. All I know is that I have to find you and find out more about this!
That’s what people respond to. Because we are so detached from our bodies and our spirituality that it takes artists to bring us back to that center of the divine spark in us. It takes artists that are willing to put themselves on the line and are willing to say let me show you the way back to yourself. That would be very stressful and scary.
That’s one thing that I do. I am a teacher. I teach art to young people. One thing that I really do push towards is building a safe space for them to create. That is one thing that is extremely important to me. Building a safe space to take risks and break rules.
I teach K-12 and middle-schoolers are really at a point in their lives where they are learning that it’s not worth to take risks. When I produce a piece and put it out there I cannot control how people will interpret it. So I am showing a way to be courageous. And I want to encourage them as well to be courageous and face the discomfort of not knowing how people will react and respond to them.
On becoming a part of the community.
How do you feel in Yakima? Do you feel like you have found a community? Are you still working on it? How are you doing in the socio-emotional aspect? What are your favorite things you’ve discovered about this space?
People here have been extremely inviting. When I first moved here I did a few little shows here and there. I put up little fliers here and there. I figured that if I found work here might as well do art and see what happens.
My artwork is very different to what people are used to here. The motifs tie very well with the culture here. And people responded so well.
It’s been great. It’s been really good. It’s been really easy to meet artists and meet people. Everyone is interconnected.
I love Seattle, there's a huge artist community. The printing community is a little bit more narrowed down. But it's really competitive. I mean, it’s great. It’s good. You get to meet different artists with different skill sets. But it’s very competitive.
But here I feel like I got a lot of attention rather quickly and it caught me off guard. I feel like in Seattle I was just another artist, whereas here I feel more special.
I was in the art fest yesterday and I met people who have purchased my art that I had never met. We were at the wineries and people would come up to me and say “Oh I have this piece of yours, it’s so great to finally meet you!” And they wanted another piece. It’s kind of like building a clientele. I see it as people who appreciate the work for what it is.
One thing I don’t respond too well to is commissioned pieces. People will ask me “do you think you can do this piece of my dog or so and so?” I don’t like to say no. It’s been a thing I’ve struggled with my whole life. I say "sure!" And then I regret it because I have a lot going on but I am now committed. But that’s one thing that is not something that I don’t have a personal connection with it.
This is so interesting. We live in a culture where as long as you have the money to pay, whatever you want is going to materialize for you. Someone is going to be willing to make it for you. And then art really brings you back to the fact that if the artist is not up for it then you can’t do it. Because inspiration is not a thing you can wrangle with money. Art is this very wild card in terms of things you cannot force to materialize with money. Not if you want a truly inspiration piece.
On how to honor your full humanity, while also honoring and growing your art.
How do you handle that the tension of being a full human that is constantly tapping into a source of inspiration to create pieces that speak beyond our constrains of being flesh and bone?
In the beginning I was discovering who I am. My identity. My purpose, I guess, here in this world. Once I figured out this is who I am, I just grabbed onto that. And now I just want to ride the wave. Kind of enjoy that for now. I did grow up in a Mexican household. My family and my extended family are all in Mexico, and they have those beliefs, you now, that women are at home. Sure she can work but they want that push you to have and create a family.
Do you want that?
I think I would.
I want that.
There’s that desire to feel wanted, to love, form a family and share your life with those around, and create something beautiful.
But I think for now for me, and this might sound naive, but I just want to discover and fully embrace myself. I just want to keep doing what makes me happy right now and continue to create my work. I know that sounds really selfish. But, you know, also, thinking back, I became a teacher so I could really show my kids how powerful art can be and how you can use it communicate and express yourself. I recently had a breakthrough. I think that if more people were inclined to take risks, and be a part of it, and create work, and express that, then they could also, have that breakthrough and really appreciate everything around them, and the art around you in general. How powerful and moving it can be. Especially like I said, in this day and time. Everyone needs that.
Something that very recently that has been playing around in my mind is that we all have this desire to create life. Biologically, women have that physical desire, for the most part, to make babies. I am in that point in time when my body is saying “I want you to make a baby!” and I think “I don’t need to do that. There are many different ways to mother. Everybody needs mothers mothering.” One of my friends coined the phrase “Moms are gonna mom.” She refers to everywhere she goes somebody wants to mother her. I am trying to shift away from creating a child. Because it’s so time consuming and energy consuming. I adore my children. But I have decided to share that desire to create life and that impetus to pour my life into putting life into people, into mothering people spiritually. There are many different ways to do that, not just creating a flesh baby.
Right right. I am not a mother and I don't plan on having kids anytime soon. And that’s one thing that gets touchy with me sometimes with my family. But my mother has been extremely supportive. She’ll say “It's okay. You don’t need to have babies right away. You have time.” She tries to not bring it up too much. My sister recently got married and they want to have kids so that is sweet. But I am so focused on what I am doing right now, and I feel like I finally am enjoying it and living life. It's a commitment to have and raise a child. My whole family comes from big families. My mom comes from a family of ten and my dad has a family of fourteen. Fourteen aunts and uncles. They all have kids and it's like kids everywhere. If I really wanted the love and support, there are many kids, nieces and nephews I can be around.
I also have my 600 kids at school. So when people ask me “Do you have kids? How many? And I say “Well 600.” And their mouths drop! So I tell them “Well I teach. I see them morning and afternoon and then I go home and see them again the next day.” I kind of get my fix there, from kindergarten all the way to 8th grade. I get to interact with them at all different levels and I get to communicate with them through art. I love my job. I think it’s something that has brought me back to life even more.
I used to create on my own and now I am sharing it with others. It makes me feel really happy. Just really, really happy. And I know that there are times, a lot of artists go through this, when you fight artist block. You want to create something and there’s a wall, you don't know what to make. I am still working through that quite a bit. There are days I can’t relax because I feel like there's this need for me to create. And when I can't’ because mentally I am not up for it. I fall into this state of “what is my purpose in this world again?” and I just get really sad if I am not creating.
Are you familiar with Clarissa Pinkola Estes? She wrote Women Who Run with the Wolves. She talks about injured intuition and how women go back to life, spiritually, when women create something with their hands. It helps heal from trauma.
It makes sense to me in an unconscious level, and I am still working at verbalizing what I think happens in that process. She talks about women falling into depression from a lack of creating, from a lack of that fire that you talk about. Creating is having a constantly exposed nerve, you are raw when you are creating. In the end, if you are not creating, you fall into that depressive state because there is life in that openness.
Ennui, is what she calls it.
Yes! That happens to me. It used to happen to me often. Right now I stay pretty busy with what’s going on with work. Which creates another level of stress. Meeting the demands of everything I have to do for work. But when I am not doing that, and I am not working on a piece of art, when I don't’ have access to that I just shut down. And I shut everyone away from me. I don't’ want to talk to anybody. I just want to be alone.
I know it’s not great. Sometimes I just need to be alone. And it’s all internal. When I am not creating something I just feel depressed. So when I have that spark of “Oh I have an idea!” I just work through it. I stay in the studio day through night until I get my vision materialized. It’s almost like a drug.
It is. Endorphins!
And that is the thing, I create a piece and oh my gosh, I am so happy. I created like ten different colors, I couldn’t settle on one! So I get ten different colors and I mixed them to get all these gradations.
Christie continued to open up in conversation, off the record, with so much valuable insight. She is incredibly wise and swims in soulful depths that very few people brave.
Women continue to receive, and accept, the message that their main value is in their service to their society through creating families. If they choose to use their talents and energy in pursuits that makes them happy and build the community in different ways than creating a baby, they are labeled as selfish. Being a woman, femininity, is conflated with birthing and raising children. But that is only, perhaps, a third of a woman's life. The biological need to create a babies appears and extinguishes in a very definitive period of time. Therefore we can see that being a woman is much more than a womb to perpetuate the human race.
Selfish is a label that hurts and minimizes. It is a word used to manipulate and coerce others to agree to demands they aren’t volunteering for.
Artists create because they can’t help it. There is an impulse to materialize the intangible in a way that communicates across cultural and language barriers, unifying but sometimes also dividing, and making a mark for eternity in our very finite and vapor-like existence.
Artists call us to reach past the commonly accepted answers and call us to creatively approach life from many different angles, to be brave and face opposition with courage. There is strength in vulnerability, there is healing in creating art. And that might be the most powerful secret of being human; divinity is within reach even in our most humble state. When we are broken and shattered, we are raw and open, creating something new heals and nourishes, giving life to ourselves and others. There is no gatekeeper for humans to touch the divine. We already are the divine, and artists reminds us of that.
We are May flies but art stands through time, ripples through time zones, and changes lives far beyond the reach that our physical bodies allow us to do.
If you are lucky enough to stumble on Christie Tirado's art in the wild, make sure to snatch one up before they are gone. You don't know when inspiration will move her to create more. You can also find her work in her website at www.christietirado.com.