Now Featuring Xochi Solis

Austin-based Xochi Solis makes works that contains multitudes, which seems fitting for an artist who also is an arts administrator, thinking creatively for herself and others.  Her paintings are full of wandering routes for the eye to take, retracing the gentle motion of a gesture before being brought up short by a section of collage, or a zing of neon color.

Print 1, Poor love that feeds on thought

Print 1, Poor love that feeds on thought

Print 2, When I see the future, I open my eyes

Print 2, When I see the future, I open my eyes

Print 3, She turned ten thousand when she touched the moon

Print 3, She turned ten thousand when she touched the moon

Print 4, Passion passed in neon lights

Print 4, Passion passed in neon lights

Print 5, I have a feeling only for shadows

Print 5, I have a feeling only for shadows

MH: My first impression looking at your work leads me to wonder about your process and how it relates to the final image… Are these images made by stacking… and do they represent stacks?

XS: My final works do look like little sandwiches of considered information, but I do not set out to create a completely dimensional stack per se. The process of construction is very organic and meditative beginning with a cut shape of material and then allowing each layer of paint, paper, or plastic to inform the next. I stop when I feel satisfied by the color combination or gestural marks and sometimes at the end of the layering the result is less than desirable and other times it’s a wonderful surprise. I think what spurs me to keep repeating these assemblages of material are that each construction is a puzzle where color, form and texture are constantly in rotation with different results.


MH: Can you talk about other potential inspirations for and reads of your work?  Your images, overall, feel super biological, like the growth of mold or lichen, or a mole or birthmark.  Then the details of your brushwork and the images you select for collaging twist that initial impression, prompting me to consider sharp juxtapositions rather those incremental changes.

XS: Oh yes, from an early stage I have been completely fascinated by biomorphic forms found in nature, both on a micro and macro scale. I often look at flora and fauna as a prompt when considering shapes and lines in my studio. It is not a surprise that I am surrounded by National Geographics and outdated Time Life science books, nor is it surprising to find snippets of these book’s pages within the layers of my paintings.


When thinking about how to marry these naturally occurring forms to my painting practice, I let the gestures and positioning of my brush strokes direct the viewer’s eye into the nooks and crannies of the collaged elements of paper and found images.  I aspire to keep the viewer’s eye moving through my compositions by rewarding curiosity with unexpected juxtapositions and discoveries amongst the gestural and collaged elements in my work.

MH: Can you talk about the scale of your work, and color inspirations?  Your paintings feel small and gestural, and maybe microscopic, but they’re actually much bigger, aren’t they?

I can say that early on I was drawn to making works that challenged the flat plane of the canvas. While experimenting with layered works mounted directly to walls or ceilings, I was further drawn to making work that uses an architectural scale as its foundation.  Regardless, I still continue to create smaller works on museum board since that is what can easily be produced in my studio.   For both constructions, the same compositional questions exist but every jump in scale brings a new challenge and serendipitous effect.


The scale of these works varies and I love being able to create works that are 60 x 50 inches just as much as creating smaller 5 x 7 inch works. I like your read of seeing them as microscopic, but maybe that is the science nerd in me.  Regardless of scale, I hope that my work invites that sort of close reading and exploration.

Color wise, so many things inspire me. My first color loves would be found in naturally occurring objects like tangerines, hibiscus flowers, succulents, metamorphic rocks, sea life, desert sand, etc. From there, I get excited about colors found within the pages of glossy magazines full of images of fur and leather and high fashion makeup. Looking at other artist’s work is also informative, especially those that focus primarily on color and shape like Ellsworth Kelly or Monique Prieto.  I am continuously thinking of color, both in my work, my home and ornament, it is such a constant that I have developed a real intuitive sense of what sort of combinations will work.  The real undertaking is to push the limits beyond that trained sense of color and being open to chance occurrences and experimentation.


MH: That question about scale makes me wonder if you ever do site-specific or installation work when the opportunity comes up… I know what it’s like to sometimes need to make “studio scale” works but do you branch out when there’s a special project?

XS: Yes, I consider all my larger paintings to be site-specific installations. Since I am working on walls and ceilings (in order for me to consider the works successful) I feel they need to be in conversation to the architectural and environmental characteristics of the spaces they inhabit.  The layers of the paintings spread out over and cling to the walls, much like the lichen or moss you were describing before.

I have had the opportunity to create these large works for gallery and museum exhibits, as well as for client’s private homes. I love the physicality involved in making these works and I jump at the opportunity to do work on this scale every time I am invited to do so. I am currently working on the components of two site works that will be installed in a group show in San Antonio, TX this July.


MH: Besides your studio practice, you’ve got a busy professional life in the arts where you live in Austin. What’s the creative balance like for you as an artist and arts organizer/administrator?

XS: Most of the time the creative balance, between studio and office, feels very natural and rhythmic. Making artwork, creating programming or collaborating with artists for my job are very similar practices.  They both begin with a tiny spark of an idea and a vision for something to be experienced by another person.

I absolutely love being a leader in the visual arts.  My practice as an arts administrator gives me access to the back end of making creative projects happen. This view informs my art practice in unexpected ways and the creative flow between the two worlds feels very natural.  If anything, the necessity for problem solving is where both roles overlap and inspire each other.  I also enjoy sharing the lessons gleaned from my unique position, both in a mentoring capacity and in creating programming which hopefully impacts and challenges one’s current practice.


MH: What’s your favorite kind of project to program as an administrator?  Anything you’re recently proud of, or dying to do?

XS: I love inviting artists to create projects with me that come from radically different training than my own. The artists I engage with often work in mediums, that in a parallel universe, I would have built my own practice around.

As of late I have had the distinct pleasure to work with many talented filmmakers, musicians, sound and performance artists and dancers.  My role at a University puts me in proximity to not only contemporaries in these fields but also amazing pioneering figures. You know the ones that make you giddy to think you shook their hand, much less worked alongside! I feel fortunate that my job affords me this sort of opportunity.


A few years ago I read Yvonne Rainer’s memoir “Feelings are Facts: A Life” which sparked a desire to learn more about contemporary dance and its current conversation with the visual arts.

Through my research, I came across the contemporary dance group the Modern Garage Movement (MGM).  They were touring around the country performing at small galleries like LA’s Human Resources, as well as more typical black box spaces like The Kitchen. They also had a history of performing in unusual settings such as open fields, house parties and, well, garages.  I was struck by MGM’s dancers mutable nature in assigning choreography to a variety of venues, and how their work carried a real sense of playing the spaces in which they performed.

Solis_Studio2Curious to start a conversation, I emailed one of MGM’s members, the dancer/choreographer Biba Bell. Biba is currently a PhD candidate in Performance Studies at NYU and shares her time between Detroit and New York City. She had friends in Austin and was really into coming down to Texas, so we invited her to do a one-week residency at UT’s Visual Arts Center (VAC) this past November. Here she worked with a core of undergraduate Transmedia students in the Department of Art and Art History, as well as Austin-based dancers and a sound artist to create a final performance that was magic.

Her method consisted of several open rehearsals in different homes in the Austin metro, during which Biba and the crew developed the movements for the final piece at the VAC.  We had a ton of fun and the project was a success for all parties included.  Of course it didn’t hurt that Biba is incredibly generous and playful and taught us all how to do the Detroit Hustle and to wear a wig properly. Here’s a little video we did to document the project.

MH: Who are some artists who’ve always inspired you, and been with you as references for a long time?  And how about new influences?

XS: Longtime loves have been: Hans Arp and his wife Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Cy Twombly, Henri Matisse, Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, Joan Jonas, Yvonne Rainer, Bas Jan Ader, Imi Knoebel, Eva Hesse, Robert Motherwell, Lynda Benglis, Helen Frankenthaler.

New and recent loves: Elena Damiani, Johanna Tagada, Lydia Hardwick, Stacy Fisher, Fiona Curran, Kaarina Haka, Cyprien Gaillard, Christine Sun Kim.

Recently, I have also been enraptured by ceramics and have been taking a few classes, but as I told my friend the other day, “In my mind clay is WOW, in my hands it’s BLEGH!” I’ve got a lot to learn, that’s for sure, but I am having fun and making strange little sculptures in the meantime.


1 comment

1 Joanna SimsNo Gravatar { 03.17.15 at 2:50 pm }

We bought “Loneliness of the Volcanoes” from Affordable Art Fair, New York and love it. Could look at Xochi’s work for hours, quite entranced.

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