April Garcia and 'The Root of It All'

Number Five is Alive!  Soft sculpture and found wood

Number Five is Alive! Soft sculpture and found wood

By Carly Dennis

April Garcia is an Austin-based artist who has exhibited in art spaces such as Mexic-Arte Museum, Pump Project, La Peña Gallery, Museum of Human Achievement, and Women and Their Work. Her solo exhibition The Root of It All was first shown last year at Ben Bailey Art Gallery at Texas A&M Kingsville. Now a selection of works from the show are back in Austin, exhibited at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, on view from April 13 to June 17. A few days after the opening, we had the opportunity to discuss the show with her.

Garcia works in soft sculpture, installation, and wearable art, and does so in an undeniably exploratory manner. Describing her process, she talks about “traveling down a vein” of ideas, finding possibilities, and obsessing over shapes. Garcia’s knotting and stitching harken back to her childhood experiences with fiber arts, such as crafting macrame bracelets. “I used to make as many as possible,” Garcia recalls, “I loved the repetition, and playing with color and pattern.”

Despite these ties to the past, her process is primarily in-the-moment, her sculptures evolving from her response to the materials on hand. Her “Bizaarbies,” for instance, a sculpture series of Barbie doll legs with a range of whimsical soft-sculptural top-halves, emerged from Barbie remnants she had in her studio after completing another doll-related piece. Allowing odd materials to gather around her sparks experimentation that grows into her final pieces. “It can be a conduit sensation,” she laughs.

Cosmonaut , Barbie soft sculpture and plexiglas

Cosmonaut, Barbie soft sculpture and plexiglas

Cosmonauts , Barbie soft sculpture and plexiglas

Cosmonauts, Barbie soft sculpture and plexiglas

For Garcia, this show at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center feels similarly magical. With her longtime connection to the center, attending exhibitions, performances, and other events, she hoped to someday exhibit there. “It feels like a surreal leap to see these pieces completed, and finally here,” Garcia confesses.

In addition to her practice of experimentation and her longtime love for fiber arts, the Mexican folklore she grew up with is another influence in her art. She says the piece in this show most directly tied to such stories is “El Cucuy.” El cucuy (also called el coco), if you don’t know, is the version in many Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries of the creepy child-punishing monster called the boogeyman in English. Garcia describes how her aunt used to deploy the figure in classic fashion: “El cucuy is in the back room—don’t go in there or he’ll get you.” And its effectiveness: “Oh crap, I don’t want to go back there!”

El Cucuy , Soft sculpture and textile

El Cucuy, Soft sculpture and textile

Garcia describes the piece as root-like, and characterizes it as an exploration of “personal monsters—emotions like doubt and jealousy” or the “fear to put the personal out in public.” It’s as if she’s capturing these doubts in her many meticulous knots, and then putting the resulting form on display unabashedly. “El cucuy—what is it, you know? We don’t even really know what it is, but we’re scared,” Garcia says. She had planned to explore the notion of personal demons more for this show, but found herself taking a different turn. She ended up working with a series of gracefully weathered and twisted stumps, which she altered with succulent-like forms sprouting from cracks.

Pink & White Symbiote ,   Soft sculpture and found wood

Pink & White Symbiote, Soft sculpture and found wood

The Root of It All includes several of these stumps peppered with small fabric shapes. “I don’t want to call it mold, but… maybe ‘fabric growths’ fits?” she laughs. These pieces exhibit clearly what Garcia describes as her approach to color palette: “I play around, eventually striking a balance,” she says. For instance, a vibrant hot pink, orange, and yellow log sprouts pale blue velvety fabric plant forms, as well as white ones textured with rubber bumps. An unpainted stump that is a faded grey-brown gets fabric appendages in bright greens and graphic black and white dot patterns. Garcia explains her sizable fabric collection has been built up over the years—friends give her things, she repurposes old clothes, and she occasionally gets something new at the fabric store.

Green & Polka Dot Symbiote ,   Soft sculpture and found wood

Green & Polka Dot Symbiote, Soft sculpture and found wood

Green & Polka Dot Symbiote ,   detail, Soft sculpture and found wood

Green & Polka Dot Symbiote, detail, Soft sculpture and found wood

Where is she headed next in her work? Garcia says she wants to focus more on her wearable art. Throughout our interview she mentioned her interest in viewer responses to her pieces, sharing anecdotes about their interpretations, and how those affected her thoughts on her own work. It makes sense she’d be interested in exploring work that interacts so closely with viewers, extending into daily life. “The attendees at Women & Their Work’s Red Dot Show were really into the soft sculpture rings I exhibited; that was one experience that launched me further into thinking about art people could wear.” And it’s otherworldly to see these bright plant-like extensions on people; it’s very much in keeping with Garcia’s aesthetic.

Pop Art ,   wearable soft sculpture

Pop Art, wearable soft sculpture

Red Candy Stripe ,   wearable soft sculpture

Red Candy Stripe, wearable soft sculpture

As a part of her residency at the Mexican American Cultural Center, Garcia will get to engage more with viewers through three workshops she is putting on. One will guide participants in making their own Bizaarbie dolls. Another will assist participants in crafting art bras, an idea sparked by projects like Art Bra Austin, which Garcia has made work for previously in order to raise money for support resources for people with breast cancer. Finally, one workshop will focus on constructing a community art quilt where each participant contributes their own unique square. “It’ll be an explosion of shapes and color,” Garcia laughs, “and a chance have fun with my community, to have conversations, to create together.”

You can sign up for April Garcia’s MACC residency workshops by calling the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center at (512) 974-3772. The Bizaarbiesworkshop is offered two weekends, June 24-25, and July 1-2, for four hours per day. The art bra and quilt workshop dates will be announced later in the summer.