"My name is Monica Perez ... and I'm an artist."
Those are the words that painter Monica Perez speaks, alongside four fellow female artists, as part of Saatchi Art's Refuse to Be the Muse campaign, a celebration of women who are the creators — and not just the subjects — of great art. The artists, from different disciplines, all convened at Hunker House, just off Abbott Kinney in Venice, California — where Perez has a studio — to kick off a celebration of Women's History month, and Saatchi's first all-female catalog.
"It was a coincidence that my work was already there," says Perez.
Indeed, several of Perez's paintings currently hang in the Hunker House. The bold, abstract, large-scale works fit in with the modern, design-forward aesthetic, helming the open living room on the second floor and providing subtle color and balance to a lounge area upstairs.
Here, Perez discusses her work, shares her creative process and talks about the power of connecting with people through art.
Hunker: Your current work consists of really bold, large strokes, almost solely in black and white. Is that something new for you?
Monica Perez: It's not new by any means. I tend to work really monochromatically, and I'm most comfortable working in black and white. For me, color brings in a lot of emotion. Black and white is a direct transfer of energy to the canvas from what I'm feeling, through paint. I don't have to negotiate what the color is bringing in.
Hunker: What about the black and white pieces in the Hunker House — from the Mercury series?
Monica Perez: Interestingly enough, those were not done in a studio. Those pieces came together on my kitchen table. I was in the middle of moving studios, and I felt really detached from my daily practice. I have to paint every day. My husband said, "You should really try out these pens that are like brushes. You can just paint on a pad and they transfer digitally."
I'm comfortable working in the digital world. I was a creative director before I started painting full-time, about five years ago. I purposely wouldn't bring my digital muscle into my work. I wanted to stay in the organic, wet paint world. But he said, "try this." The only way I could do these pieces is with my eyes closed. All those pieces are a direct transfer of what I was feeling onto the pad, because I couldn't see what I was doing.
I didn't plan on making them large scale. But they are vector [images], so you can make them as big as a house.
Hunker: Can you tell me a little bit about your process? It looks very physical.
Monica Perez: That's actually a really important aspect of it. It's so much like going to the gym. You know you're going to feel amazing after you go, but sometimes, if you think about it too much, we naturally just say, "Oh, maybe I'll go later." If you don't think about it, you just do it. It becomes less labored. You focus on other things.
Painting, in that way, is similar. There is a little bit of planning. There's a kind of meditation. I staple everything onto the wall. Then I usually have music in my ears, and I kind of play off of that. I use my extension to project the energy I feel coming through. Most of the time, if it's work on a wall like that, it's very physical. I make sure that I'm releasing and transferring what happens with me internally onto the canvas. It's a real surge of energy that comes through. And it's kind of addicting because you can't stop.
Hunker: What are you listening to?
Monica Perez: I've been listening to this DJ that I love — Sabo. I see him once a year, when I go to Burning Man. He's an Israeli DJ and he uses all kinds of backgrounds when he mixes. He has a lot of drums and his baselines are really deep and guttural. They drop me into the space I need to navigate in.
Hunker: In your studio, there's what looks like a mantra: Stay Present. Is that part of a piece? Can you tell me more about what that means to you?
Monica Perez: That's definitely a mantra for me, for sure. It's about being honest in my work. Sometimes — most of the time — the emotion is really abstract. I don't use words in my work. It's this transfer. Some people really feel it and perceive and understand it. That's what I strive for — honesty in the work I'm making.
It's right by my slop slink. I see it every day. My husband gave it to me.
Hunker: Seems like he really understands you as a painter — and your work.
Monica Perez: He really does. We talk about the intimate aspects of it. He's right there with me, he definitely gets it. We both have a real interest in all of the arts. He's really interested in fashion, and a lot of my work dips its toe into that.
Hunker: In the Hunker House, there are several pieces — two from the Mercury series, and then another set with harder lines, but a softer palette. Can you tell me a little bit more about those?
Monica Perez: That series, there's a lot of yellow in it. I did that about four years ago. It was one of the biggest pieces I've done. It's part of a larger series.
That was me being, OK, let's just use color and see what I feel. I took out all the colors I never use. I did this flush of color. A lot of people really want me to work in color — they say, Do what you do in color. Every so often I try, just to see what it feels like. Then I retreat.
Hunker: You're based out of Venice, correct? Did you know the neighborhood and the space?
Monica Perez: I'm blocks away. It's really funny. I just drove up with my truck and dropped everything off. That's what's crazy about Venice. I never leave. Everything is right here.
Hunker: What's next for you?
You know, every time I show at one of these fairs, there will be a handful of people who really receive it. They can feel everything that is happening in the painting.
There was a collector at the last show. I had started to paint with my daughter, and this one piece was inspired by a really beautiful poem. She wrote on the canvas — you can see just a glimmer of the poem, it started with "She." The collector came over and said, There's something about this piece, I'm really drawn to it. I told her why it was really special to me, and I read her the poem. She looked at me, flooded with emotion, and tears in her eyes and says, "I'm pregnant and I'm expecting a little girl." It's beautiful moments like that to me, when you can create this honest dialog, and it reaches people and it somehow creates a ripple.