You can almost bite into the paintings of San Antonio native Eva Marengo Sanchez and taste the flavors of salty beer, sweet candy and tangy fruit covered in Tajín. Sticky watermelon juice wrapped in plastic nearly drips off the canvas onto her studio floor. Sanchez is a hyperrealistic painter who investigates cultural identity through the fusion of manmade and organic materials. Her color, precision, and larger than life canvases create a sensory explosion for the viewer.
WB: How, when and why did you start making your work?
EMS: I have been doing art for as long as I can remember and was always encouraged and supported to do that by my parents. I remember sitting in my room as a kid just mixing paints, letting it dry and then trying to find that color again. I wasn’t naturally good at drawing or painting but was always drawn to playing with paint. I don’t think it was even about getting an idea or feeling out as much as just feeling good doing the actual activity. I was always interested in a lot of different mediums and dabbled in ceramics, photography, sewing etc.. I started painting in oil in high school around 2007 at Southwest School of Art with Rainy Rodrigez but creating was always a part of my life. Finally in 2016 several things came together for me to really take a serious stab at doing it more professionally. Maybe the most important factor was my sister suggesting that it be my 2017 resolution to have a show that year. Having a career as an artist was always what I wanted but that never felt realistic and it was around that time that I realized I hadn’t really tried to make it happen because I was so afraid of how devastated I might feel if I really gave it my all and failed. At some point I realized I didn’t have anything to lose because this thing would never stop pulling at me and it would be easier to move on from failure than live with regret over never trying. I could at least walk away from that dream knowing that I gave it my best shot. That culminated in a show at the end of 2017, which ended up giving me more momentum than I could have ever imagined and the career I have now.
WB: What is the meaning of the food, the plastic, and the color in your pieces?
EMS: My work is a celebration of cultural identity. I paint food because it’s so closely tied to how I experience and think about my culture. There’s also an intimate association to the people I have shared food with which makes it a really rich symbol of personal experience and identity. I have also always been drawn to still life as a genre and I like the idea that I am representing my culture in a medium and genre with such deep and long roots in art history. Color and composition are really important to me because my goal is to elevate the mundane into a beautiful celebration of a shared cultural experience. Because of the importance of scale (larger than life) and attention to detail, something that’s become unavoidably obvious to me is the amount of single-use plastic I use. I don’t talk about environmental issues in my artist statements but it’s definitely something on my mind and I hope when you look at my work as whole, it might cross other people’s minds. I have recently instituted much stricter and more extreme rules in my life to try and lower the amount of trash I create and lower my carbon footprint and the self-examination required in my work has definitely been a factor in those shifts.
WB: Why do you choose to paint objects in photorealism instead of abstracting them?
EMS: It’s important to me that my work is as straight forward as possible. I want the viewer to have an emotional response that requires minimal interpretation and only a common cultural experience. I also love challenges where there is a clear right and wrong product. I love math for that reason. Having the objective: does it look like a photo of a thing that you’d like to eat? It helps quiet that clutter in my head and focus on mastering a technical skill.
WB: How do you balance concept and process/technique in your work? Would you say one is more important than the other? Describe a bit about your concepts and process.
EMS: I’m usually too much in my head, so I try and paint myself into the smallest box possible so that I can focus on getting to the tightest possible product. The box I’ve confined myself to is food as a symbol of cultural identity and by limiting the conceptual ideas, I allow myself to focus more fully on polishing that idea and the aesthetic part of my work. I think execution is a big part of what makes my work compelling, so the fact that I have simplified my process as much as I have really gives me the freedom to obsess about technique.
WB: What struggles have you faced as an artist?
EMS: I struggle a lot with anxiety and imposter syndrome. I think the biggest barrier to me even starting down this career path was paralyzing anxiety and while I’ve developed tricks to not let it paralyze me anymore, the anxiety has not gone away. I think about my first mural at North St. Mary’s and the voices in my head saying there was clearly a mistake for me to be part of that mural project to begin with, and that this project would be the moment I would be discovered to be a lucky fraud. Truly insane thoughts but that obsessive attitude also pushed me to wake up before sunrise those mornings so that I could be totally set up and ready to paint by the time the sun was up. I would paint 10 or 12 hours, drive home in a daze, cry/panic in my car for a few minutes, shower, crash and start again the next morning. That mural ended up being huge for my career and as intense as it was, I look back on that experience as one of the most satisfying things I’ve done because of the crazy intensity and ultimate success. I think my biggest challenge for me in my work is working from a place of love and presence in the process and not fear and negative self-talk. I am still not totally there, but I have definitely made huge strides towards that. I don’t think the imposter syndrome will ever go away, but also think feeling under qualified keeps me from ever feeling too comfortable, which is a good thing.
WB: When do you feel the happiest and most powerful?
EMS: This question is the hardest to answer.
There is a shift in my vision that happens sometimes when I’m working and I see things in terms of exact color, angle and proportion. It doesn’t happen always, but when it does, I feel like I’m channelling something and that means I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. There’s huge satisfaction and a feeling of power when that happens.
When a piece touches a nerve for someone else, that makes me so so happy. There have been quite a few Instagram messages and acts of kindness (like a stranger bringing me snacks and Gatorade when I was doing my mural on N St. Mary’s) that make me feel connected to people in a really special way and knowing that what I’m doing brings joy to another person makes me feel so happy.
WB: How do you feel your work relates to your surroundings—your city, your origins etc.?
EMS: It wasn’t until I left Texas that I could see what was distinctly culturally mine. I found that my family culture is one that gathered around food. Both of my parents came from strong food cultures—Tejano and Cajun food was how I express my identity. I paint what I see in my life so my surroundings are crucial to my work.
WB: What is your advice to other aspiring artists?
EMS: If I could talk to myself as an aspiring artist I would have said,
- Read “The War Of Art” by Steven Pressfield. And then read it again.
- Treat your work like a job where you have specific hours. You don’t have to feel inspired to start because inspiration will strike when you’re working.
- If you don’t know where to start, start with what you know then find your audience (people that can relate to what you’re talking about).
- If the idea of starting something sends you into a panic and you think you might die, you’re not alone, and you’re probably on the right track.
- There are two pieces of advice I’ve been given that have stuck with me the most. They contradict each other but somehow they have both guided me in how I approach my work. The first was from Louis Vega Treviño who told me to think of my work as my product. When you put something into the world, you put your name on it and that should mean something. Know what your standards are (they should be high) and never compromise that. The second bit came from Nik Soupé who’s point was about giving yourself permission to fail and move on from that failure. Screwups happen and it’s ok.
About Wendy Bowman:
Wendy Bowman (b. 1987) is an American artist who lives and works in San Antonio, Texas as a photographer, videographer, and painter. Bowman began the In The Studio project after a long time of documenting artist Sarah Morris while working in her New York City studio for nearly a decade as a painter and production photographer on her film shoots. She was searching for a way to combine that experience with her formal degree in English / writing. “My goal for In The Studio is to share the stories of artists of all types—emerging, established, local, international and give them a platform to have real discussions from the point of view of being an artist myself. I want to capture the experience of actually being an artist—of finding your process, struggling, succeeding, struggling again, all the while trying to block out the noise and remain true to oneself and the work.” -Wendy Bowman