We are in dialogue with LA based Artist, Nihura Montiel. With a keen focus on themes of domesticity, privacy, and the feminine, Montiel's captivating paintings delve into the intricate details of everyday, seemingly insignificant objects. Through her work, she skillfully navigates the fine line between the uncanny and the fetishistic, drawing viewers into a world of thought-provoking symbolism and contemplation. In this dialogue we learn more about Montiel’s creative process, what informs her work, and what keeps her energy levels up.
Did you grow up in Los Angeles?
No, I grew up in Tijuana and later moved to San Diego. Much of my life has been spent commuting between the two cities. To me it's really like one territory, which feels like home, but looks and feels slightly different when you cross the border.
Tell us about a notable memory from your upbringing that continues to shape the way you think today?
As a kid I learned about art from my grandmother. She was a surrealist painter, kind of a mysterious woman who painted in the privacy of her home, rarely exhibiting and never explaining what any of them meant. Her dreamlike paintings were filled with angels, animals, and waifs. I longed to know what her paintings meant and from that I developed an obsession with symbols. I realized symbols could be used to communicate greater ideas and by manipulating them, I could create my own narratives and new realities, as a result.
The medium and subjects for your work result in a striking impact and a unique finished work that you have come to master as your own voice. How did you arrive here?
I have painted mostly in oil for the greater part of my life. When I started making work exclusively in charcoal, I was frustrated by how the slow process of oil painting was. I was looking for immediacy to express all of my ideas. I was also thinking about how there are so many styles of painting right now, many of which are inspired by surrealism. These styles of painting seem to do all of the work for the viewer. I wanted my work to transcend that and make the viewer think and access memories. To communicate beneath surface level. I worked briefly as a product photographer at a few places so I borrowed from that style. I think about how we consume images and products in an isolated format, which allows you to really focus on what's in front of you. In my case, I render objects inspired by feelings which are complex and uncomfortable. Recurring objects I explore stand for greater ideas. For example, the cat figurines represent a darker side of femininity, which can be aggressive and territorial. Perpetual dissatisfaction, the strive towards physical perfection and the delicacy of interpersonal relationships are some of the ideas behind my work.
Is there a work you’ve created that was particularly special to you? How come?
I made an empty champagne flute titled “True Anorexia”, for a show with Carlye Packer in Los Angeles. This work is special to me because I made it on the year anniversary of my sobriety. I was also struggling with an eating disorder around the time so all in all this work represents a tumultuous time for me which I managed to overcome.
What is your next project about? What is your process for piecing a show together? In terms of inspiration, is there a central theme?
I’m currently working towards a solo exhibition at Sebastian Gladstone which will open next February in Los Angeles. I draw on personal experiences for inspiration and look for objects from which I can extract a mood that relates to that experience. My hope with solo exhibitions is that the variety of objects presented together feel more like a poem where the viewer can invent the lines and metaphors as they experience it. I've been wanting to make a show about weddings and Sebastian's gallery is ideal for this next presentation.
Working as an artist in this current digital age can come with varying weights of impact, expectations and emotions. What do you do to stay focused and inspired?
We’re in this place where having a phone and access to social media can be really toxic and time consuming. As an artist, entrepreneur or creative you need these platforms to disseminate your work. So it’s a love-hate relationship with my phone which I’m sure many of us feel these days. My work is very technical so I do have to put the phone down and focus. Working on my art has become a sort of meditation practice because it keeps my mind focused on what’s in front of me. Exercise keeps my energy levels up and I love to travel to get inspiration. Pretty basic stuff! I’ve grown more to respect my rest days as a time to recharge so I can show up the next day and give it my all in the studio.
What music or podcasts are playing in the studio while you work?
I usually start the day in silence so I can figure out a game plan for how to tackle a drawing. I’ll put on a podcast once I’m in a groove, usually The Daily and some kind of self-help book. I love all of the Napoleon Hill classics. I also like to indulge in girl stuff so I’ll put on The Blonde Files or High Low with Emrata. If I’m going too slow I’ll pick up the pace by playing some reggaetón. It’s the best when I’m dancing and drawing at the same time.
What is something you have loved for a long time?
I grew up playing lots of sports but my favorite was always golf. It’s a sport my dad and my brother play and I love everything about it. I love being out on the green and I love the fashion and etiquette around it. It’s a peaceful sport that requires a lot of mental energy and self-control.
Who are some of your artist peers making work that excites you?
I’m truly blessed to be working in Los Angeles alongside so many amazing women making incredible work. Some peers who’s work I’m really excited about: Athena Lemaska, Liz Lee, Lauren Quin, Sara Mayako Gernsbacher, Erin Calla Watson, and Elana Bowsher, to name a few.