When I first came across Paloma Villarreal’s (Paloma Kua) artwork, the first thing I noticed was the antique-looking books she often portrays in her work – lying on a table next to a cup of coffee or held by someone deeply immersed in reading – and I knew I’d found a fellow book lover. Her colourful and familiar home scenes bring not only a sense of the coziness and comfort we find in the quotidian but also, for me, a sense of nostalgia for my homeland, Mexico, where she currently resides. Interestingly enough, feelings of comfort, coziness and nostalgia are what the Texas-born mixed media artist is aiming to transmit with her work.
1) When and why did you decide to become a professional artist?
I have been attracted to visual art since I was very young, constantly finding some comic or illustration to copy on my limitless supply of notebooks. In their efforts to raise an accomplished and talented little girl, my parents signed me up to ballet, piano, and painting classes when I was 8. Out of my very busy schedule, I remember painting being my absolute favorite class. Since then, I have been experimenting with it on and off, learning about different techniques like collage, watercolor, gouache, pencil, oil pastels, and acrylics.
I actually don’t remember deciding to become an artist, because art and painting have always been such a constant, a means to channel the inner workings of my head and to explore my walk through my experiences and challenges. In a way, I guess I have always known I would be creating something or other throughout my life.
Professionally, I took the leap and launched my shop last year, in the midst of the Covid crisis and during a time where I was recuperating from a difficult and emotionally exhausting 2019. My art had taken a dramatic turn, focusing now on nostalgic and comforting images, and I started receiving inquiries from interested clients through Instagram and Facebook. After a few commissions and support from my family and my partner, I opened my store in June 2020 with a small amount of original artwork and limited-edition prints. Although I am not focused on it full time, I am pleased with its growth and progress, and hope to one day dedicate all my time to creating and making.
2) What is the meaning behind the word “Kua” in your brand?
Kua is actually my name in Quenya, one of the languages developed by J.R.R. Tolkien for elves in the Middle Earth universe (you might recognize Tolkien as the author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit books). I have always been a huge Tolkien fan since watching The Hobbit 1970s cartoon when I was a little girl. It both terrified and fascinated me, and this eventually led me to buying a Quenyan–Spanish dictionary at a book fair in Mexico years ago (I still have it to this day, hidden away in one of my overflowing bookshelves) and finding my name in it. The symbol for Kua is also how I sign all my work, and I even have a small tattoo of it on my wrist!
3) Has anyone or anything in particular inspired your creativity and artistic passion?
My work is mostly introspective, but there have definitely been other artists that have inspired me and taught me how to channel my feelings into a blank canvas. Frida Kahlo is one, as well as Marc Chagall, Hope Gangloff, Lee Price, Phoebe Wahl, and Diego Rivera, to name a few. I also draw inspiration from everyday objects and places, like a beautiful piece of bread, a cup of coffee, a cozy room, a good book, etc.
4) What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
I am passionate about human rights and women’s rights, which is actually my 9-to-5 job at the moment, so I would definitely be focused on that. Either that or a cook, or a fiction writer; a ceramic artist also sounds nice.
5) Do you have a particular style or medium you prefer to work with?
I have settled on mixed media, usually including acrylics, pencils, charcoal, oil pastels, and sometimes collage.
6) What does your work aim to say?
Right now, my work aims to be comforting, cozy, and nostalgic.
7) Where do you find inspiration?
Anywhere! I love exploring Pinterest and food photography blogs, as well as my own childhood memories, my travels, art and fashion magazines, my favorite books, cozy neighborhoods near me, and even my own pantry.
8) I noticed that your work sometimes captures a subject with their face buried in a book. I can see you have a fascination for books (so do I!); can you tell us more about that?
You are correct, I am absolutely fascinated with books and have been since I can remember. When I am not working or painting, you can usually find me curled up with a good book and my cat sleeping on my legs. In my art, aside from painting people (especially women) reading in cozy corners, you can almost always find a book or books hidden somewhere. I try not to paint faces since I want the image to connect with almost anyone who loves reading. It adds an air of mystery to my characters as well.
9) How is your work a reflection of you and your Mexican heritage?
My heritage, both from the US and from Mexico, is also something I try to bring to my work, sometimes as the central theme (especially when it comes to food) and sometimes as a small detail like an object, a doll, a Day of the Dead calavera or skeleton, a Whataburger burger and fries, etc. I was born in the US but have spent my life often back and forth between Texas and Mexico, so my Mexican roots are incredibly important to me. Most of my time has actually been spent in Mexico, so trying to portray that in my work reflects not only my personal experiences but also my family, my social and political environment, my passions, and my upbringing.
10) Any advice you would like to share with aspiring artists?
Never stop creating what you see and what you know! Once you fully connect with what you are and what you portray, the people will follow.
BONUS: We’ve started a new tradition where we ask every featured artist to do a shoutout to any contemporary fellow artist that inspires them, so we can feature them in the future, as a way of #artistssupportingartists. Please nominate a fellow artist and tell us why you admire their work.
Oh dear, there are so many! Here are a few: Phoebe Wahl – her diverse and detailed-oriented work is amazing. Daria Solak – I love her portraits and colorful characters! And Kinda Khalidy. Her recent work is more abstract, full of blobs and shapes and bright colors that just lift my mood every time I see them.
To learn more about Paloma’s work, visit her website or her Instagram page.