Coming to you in a glitter-covered portrait of low riders and the big-haired ladies who ride ‘em, Elrod and the Femme Cartel present “VaVa Vroom!” at the Betti Ono gallery in Oakland, CA, opening on Friday, July 4th from 6:00 – 9:00 PM. The exhibit, which will be open until August 9th 2014, displays Elrod’s newest creations that place a feminist lens on this subculture, presenting lowrider women holistically with their deep gazes and bold personalities.
While doing research for this interview, I was really excited to learn more about the women who are a part of the lowrider scene (watch the trailer for “The Unique Ladies,” a documentary about the first all-woman Low Rider club, here) and who create remarkable works of art and machinery while unsurprisingly facing down a subculture that can be rampant with sexism and misogyny. While listening to these women describe having to defend their work’s validity because of their gender, it wasn’t too hard to make the connection to the art world in general. Which is why I was so excited to speak to Elrod about her involvement with the Femme Cartel, an organization that seeks to promote emerging female artists and put on, in their words, “bad ass contemporary art shows.”
In short, you should check out VaVa Vroom! if you’re in the Bay Area, visit the Femme Cartel’s site to learn more, and keep on reading for Elrod’s tips on how to live a creative and glitterful life! Here is some of her work to get a taste!
Now, without further ado, the Feministing Five with Elrod!
Suzanna Bobadilla: Your upcoming show, “VaVa Vroom!” explores the female experience and gives space to the intersection of Mexican Americanness, lowrider culture, big hair, and as enthusiastically promised, glitter. How did you come across such a vivid source of inspiration?
Elrod: It happened naturally. It was based on the fact that I’ve been, not tacky, but a crafter for my whole life as a lot of us are. It’s so accessible — you go to the craft store, you pick up glitter and weird things, and I’ve been doing that for a really long time. I moved to San Francisco about six years ago and when I made the move up here, it was a big environmental change from being down in Southern California (that’s where I was born and raised). I went from doing nothing significant with my art to all the sudden being surrounded by artists, working for artists, managing a studio building for master paintings. It was like I have to start taking this seriously if I’m going to do it, and if I’m going to do it, San Francisco is the place!
I started taking myself seriously and I never let go of that craftiness. I held onto it and used those materials and what I currently learning, which was academic style. I was around this very academic, very traditional stuff, which I definitely appreciate, but for my personal taste, it was too bland for me. I held onto it because I believed in it, or I believed in the sparkle as I like to say. So I held onto it, and I kept using it. All of the sudden, it became very natural for use these elements of luster and shine that I found attractive myself and I found that other people were also attracted to it. The more I did it, I realized that I was bridging this gap between arts and crafts and fine art, because there definitely is a big gap between the two. It became interesting for me to play with that a little more and to show people that you can come from this self-taught arts and crafts way of life which so many of us do and bring it to a gallery wall where people can take it seriously.
People can easily still look at my work and think, “Okay, well what is she doing?” And that’s cool too! I’m not trying to be serious artist about it, I’m just trying to not hold back personally. I realized that I’m a really out there person — I’m not afraid of fear or rejection or people looking down at my art. The more I put it out there, the more positive response I got. I thought I would have to convince people to like my stuff, but it seems effortless for people to be attracted to it. I blame it partly on the glitter. [laughs] I’m like a moth to that stuff. I see something bright and shiny and I float on over to it. I think that’s common to a lot of people, especially women because we like shiny things. It worked and I kept pushing it more and more. I found a really cool niche with the things that I love and it fit in with a scene like the lowrider scene.
Suzanna Bobadilla: Doing my research prep for our conversation, I did some research on low rider culture and I noticed that women’s representation within the scene appears to be pretty limited. I was really curious about how your work, as you put it, seeks to “balance out femininity and power” in this subculture. Could you share more?
Elrod: In this natural progression of my style and being totally enamored by lowrider culture and by that I mean, I became purely attracted to the aesthetics of it. The cars are like my art work, they are very bold and loud, it’s shiny, it wants attention. A big part of the culture are the women involved in it — the girls who are commonly in the culture are what me and my friends call “hood ornaments.” I would never want to take away from them or say, “You shouldn’t be doing that.” It’s not so much about changing what they are doing, or how men look at those women. It’s totally fine, it’s been there before I came along, it will be there afterwards. My take on it is that there are women who are equally invested and dedicated to the culture and lifestyle as the men. They have their own cars, they work on them, they go cruising, they’ll get dolled up, and they’ll go to car show by themselves where they will feel like they will have put under on a test by men like they are proving themselves. And it’s true because guys will come up and say things like, “Is that your boyfriend’s car or your husband’s car” and things like that.
For me it’s about giving a dialogue for these women who are really in it for the love of it. It’s to show their dedication to lowrider culture and to celebrate it because if you are a woman in this industry you are a woman on your own. You go to a car show and maybe there will be one female car driver there. You stick out regardless, sometime people take you seriously and sometimes they don’t. It’s hit or miss from what I hear from these girls. I want to give them a hit and put them up on a wall and show them how beautiful they are.
I also want to show they customize themselves — what does kustom kulture mean– it’s about making it your own, just you unique, yourself. I wanted to show how us women, we do our own custom culture with our hair, our makeup, how we accessorize, how we dress. I want to encourage other women to be bold and fearless, to put themselves out there more. It’s okay to put yourself out for other people’s criticism, it’s not a big deal what people say, it’s more about doing what makes you happy. I hear back from girls that my work inspires them to be fearless and to not give a shit, especially about men because they can be so harsh. Particularly in the car world, because it is just purely male dominated.
In the car world, women have always been just body and the looks and I’m trying to flip it by doing these portraits of these women. But when someone has a portrait painted of them it signifies class or status, it’s not about her female figure, it’s about her as a woman. Portraiture was a big thing for me. I used to do pin-ups but I thought it focused too much on their sexuality, I pulled back a little bit and just focused on the portraits and it felt right so I stuck with it. Now I have this collection of cars and portraits that I’m really proud of.
SB: I’ve always been really fascinated by artist’s processes. Could you describe yours for us?
Elrod: Generally speaking I already have a concept in my head or a concept that I am going to depict in a painting. I will go into my collection of shiny things. I don’t know if you remember from the Little Mermaid with her treasure trove, I have one like that! I’m mixed media and I try to find elements that help me make this artwork just beyond a flat image. I build depth with layers of resin and then I put things in the resin. It gives it a deeper feeling than a flat painting.
My process is hard to explain because it’s very rare that two paintings are made alike. I know I have a distinctive style, but I try to switch it up each time for two reasons. One – I love to challenge myself and I like to figure out new techniques. It’s uncharted territory since there are no books that have instructions. It’s always experimental and I’m always shitting my pants because once you pour the resin — that’s it. You cross your fingers and pray. I tell people a lot of what I do is just one big happy accident.
Two – I don’t want to confine myself to just one thing or one type of process. I hope to make my audience really happy when they see myself or feel like when they are seeing something for the first time. As soon as I settle on one style, I’m going to just shoot myself in the foot. I always try to make it different, so it’s a hard question for me to answer. But it’s a lot of arts and crafts, there is a lot of resin, there is a lot of shine.
SB: How can we support other bad-ass feminist artists?
Elrod: It’s a tough one to answer — I don’t want to represent anyone else other than myself. It’s a lot of responsibility, I don’t want to be an example of someone else. [laughs] I’m a horrible example, I’m lazy, I don’t research things as much as I should. I tend to be really cautious about what I say. For my advice as an artist, regardless or whether you are a male or female, I tell my audience, “Don’t be afraid of pushing it as far as it can go.” It’s the unknown and that’s terrifying for some people, but without it, you’re not going to grow. And if you’re not going to grow as an artist, what’s the point of doing it?
We were given these two hands and this amazing mind, and what are you going to do with it? Are you going to push papers for the rest of your life or are you going to create something? And I tell people, what’s the point of being here? We have the ability to create things and so do it. Life is too short to let those opportunities go and to be afraid of what other people are going to say, life is just too short. Especially as an artist, they say you’re not a master until you do something a thousand times, I’ve only done this 200 or 300 times. You have to do it every single day.
SB: Anyone else you’d want give a shout out to?
Elrod: I definitely want to touch base on Femme Cartel because they are such a huge part of what I’m doing and how I have gotten to where I am in the Bay Area Art World. Being a part of a group of women who are so passionate about the arts and supporting women in the arts is so awesome for me because I really cherish their solidarity. It was cool to be around a group of women who are educated and make the smartest moves in media and the art world and to grow with them and to learn about myself. I’ve learned about what it means to be a feminist in the art world. Before I met them, I would say, “No I’m not a feminist” or “No, I’m not a Chicana artist” because I didn’t see myself fitting in with those folks. But to find people who are educated on the topic and who have taken my under their wing is a huge deal.
It brought light to my art that was a huge deal for me. It was like “Oh it is feminist art!” It was a huge eye opener — the stuff that they teach artists you don’t teach in art school. It’s so valuable and it’s a honor to work alongside me and to have them represent me. I was super honored for them to ask me to be their first. I’m doing my art for myself of course, but also for them because I don’t want to let them down. I want them to be on the map as much as I am because I wouldn’t be here without them.
Supporting female artists is so important especially when I go all these shows, especially in San Francisco, and it’s like the token female ticket. It’s so bizarre to me, I can’t sit here and say that men are the better artists but it comes out that way because they are so overrepresented. I love being a part of these group, this cartel. I love the name cartel, I’ve always wanted to be a cartel or organized female crime, I’ve helped named it, that name alone is super empowering. You feel more fearless because you know that you have a team backing you up. It would be a great to have more girls form their own collective. Being a part of this group has made me want promote this message even more.
SB: You are stranded on a desert island, you get to take with you one drink, one food, and one feminist. What do you pick?
Elrod: I would take some Modelo beer, a bag of flaming hot Cheetos, and my mom.
Suzanna Bobadilla is the proud granddaughter of a bad-ass feminist artist.