Nicole Mouriño (b. 1987) is a Cuban-American artist from Miami, Florida. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Interview by Maria Owen.
Published July 13, 2020
MO: Hi Nicole, can you tell me a bit about yourself and your background? Where are you based and when did you start painting?
NM: I’m originally from Miami, but have lived in NYC for 15 years. My parents are Cuban, and I was raised by a tribe of hard working immigrants/first gens. My Abuelo Julio is a self-proclaimed genius, who has written short books on botany, plant-splicing, and oddly – children’s narratives. My grandparents have a small apiary near the everglades, and a mom n’ pop house painting business in the city. Occasionally painting gigs also entail clearing out apartments/homes of the recently deceased. Though I had drawn with crayons for years, I started painting and taking figuration classes at 7, whether at school or with my abuelo’s friends. My first box of paints came from a deceased woman’s house when I was 11. It was clear from the amount of crust developed on the tube caps that they’d been loved for decades. My abuelo delivered the orange-brown paintbox to me with a can of mineral spirits and said “pintame algo.” I found out that day that I am deathly allergic to Mineral Spirits, and obsessed with oil paint.
MO: You’ve described the spaces within your paintings as “landscapes of pride.” Can you tell me a bit more about what makes up these landscapes and what they mean for you?
NM: I painted a series of windows from Lower Manhattan/Chinatown in 2010. When I presented them, my BFA professor asked where my fascination came from- why these windows? The underlying question was – you’re Latina, why are you depicting Chinese culture and not your own? VALID! At the time, there were few POC in my class, and I often felt defined by my Latina-ness and not seen for the quality/subjectivity of my work. But the question moved me to consider that my admiration stemmed from immigrant pride. It wasn’t until grad school, when I lived in Queens, that I became fixated on windows specific to Latinx/brown communities. I call my paintings landscapes because bodegas are landmark’s unique to NYC. I can take a 2-hour walk in Bushwick and photograph 100 entirely different bodegas. Sometimes the digital compositions haunt me, like one I discovered a year ago of a Kebab platter & Arroz con Frijoles over a yellowed map. Upon closer examination the map was from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Bodega graphics can be wacky and riddled with that kind of geographic fantasy/insanity. The humor and perverseness make painting them all the more enjoyable.
MO: I love this idea of the fantastical and absurd hidden landscapes of NYC. This question of identity is very interesting as well – I’m sure many artists can relate to your experience of being defined by others’ labels and not by your work. Labels born from heritage, gender, etc. can lead to much-needed recognition, but they also put the artist in a box. If you were in your professor’s position now, how might you suggest that young artists approach this issue? What are people not getting here?
NM: Totally, and it all comes down to choice and projection. What are we as artists choosing to dissect/communicate versus what viewers bring to the table with their own identities and set of experiences. While I find Identity to be an important tool in giving representation to historically invisible communities (WPOC), in an educational environment these questions should be left to the student to initiate and propose. Art is not always directly about identity- it can be about aesthetics, unquantifiable/discernible feelings, a perfect marriage of color, materiality, research etc. Minorities have the right to make beautiful things for beauty’s sake – big period. Suggesting otherwise just reinforces that aesthetic/cultural labor is an act of privilege. For more info on identity and it’s particular effect on U.S. Latinx artists, I leave the words to my coworker Dr. Arlene Dávila, whose forthcoming book “Latinx Art: Artists, Markets, and Politics’’ still has my mouth agape.
MO: Can you tell me about your current practice and what you’re working on? And do you find your practice inhibited or enabled by the current lockdown?
NM: Till recently I was working on a series of large (7 x 15 ft) Botánica drawings and paintings. These NYC window alters became a pointed fascination of mine pre/post baby. I’m now WFM full-time which has 100% inhibited my practice, but I find comfort in the downtime, taking a step back from the studio to focus on research & regrouping. I’m considering what materials/processes need to be utilized to maximize my time. Aside from that, lots of fam hangs, experimenting in the kitchen, “Vida” on Starz, and producing some exciting exhibitions with The Latinx Project at NYU.
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