A Light Bearer in Tucson
Midnight Bloom by Racheal Rios
On a typically warm-to-roasting day in early July, just as the monsoon gathered its yearly forces to relieve Tucson of the swelter, local artist Racheal Rios gifted me with her time and conversation.
Although some people may be born with an inclination towards the visual aspects of life, I am a true believer in the notion of the “creative birthright” within us all. Rios is a shining representative of creative birthright. Born and raised in Tucson, her evolution as an artist began in the nurturing, playful, accepting and supportive arena of her family home.
Racheal, how did you begin your life’s journey on the visual arts path?
When I was 8 or 9 years old, I won a poster contest for the “Love of Reading Week” held at Menlo Park Elementary School. My dad was super excited and really started to identify me as the family artist. I would draw and decorate everything, including my siblings. I would use ball point pens to mimic the images in magazines onto their forearms. My dad is a creative person himself. He is a barber, now retired, and draws incredible holiday and birthday cards.
Were there any particular school experiences post-elementary that supported your involvement and growth as a visual artist?
My first paying job, in high school, was through a city youth painting mural program. I believe it was aimed toward at-risk youth, although not all the participants were at risk. During the application process, I had to present a makeshift portfolio and talk about why I wanted to be involved in the arts. It was incredibly fun to participate in, and as of a few years ago, one of the original murals that we (the group of teens with our adult artist helpers) painted still existed, on a wall south of the TCC near Carillo Elementary and La Pilita Museum.
What unfolded next in your creative evolution as a young woman out and about in the Tucson art scene?
After high school I supported myself with a variety of jobs in the food industry. I started working with the fire performance group “Flam Chen” and focused my attention and energy on costume-making and fire performance.
How did you wind your way back to the visual arts after a stint exploring the world of performance art?
Through my husband, Albert Chamillard, who is a practicing visual artist and has been a fantastic and inspiring partner. When I became pregnant with our youngest daughter Isabell, I stepped away from performance art and starting spending a lot of nesting time with Cassidy, my oldest daughter. We would spend a ton of time drawing together, and Albert would encourage me to go bigger, go bigger—and the next thing you knew I was back in the saddle making huge charcoal drawings. Albert has pretty consistently been a daily art maker, and that definitely keeps the art energy flowing.
Can you talk a bit about your current imagery? You have work up at the YWCA currently and recently did a pop-up exhibit with Albert here in town. Can you share some insights about the source of your imagery?
My drawings generally focus on desert imagery, including animals and plants, and the environment surrounding them. I am also very heavily influenced by the history of art makers in the Americas, pre-colonial and after colonization. The piece I have in the YWCA group show is a self-portrait that represents the title of the show, “How We See the World”. It is a fierce embodiment of my feelings toward our leader.
In 2016, you won the Buffalo Exchange Emerging Artist Award. How did it feel to be selected for this award, and did receiving it affect your studio practice in any way?
It would not scratch the surface of the amount of surprise I felt, to say I was completely dumbfounded by it. It feels like a dream that it happened, and I still grapple with impostor syndrome. It changed my studio practice mostly by affording me a studio to practice in, and the complete luxury of the freedom to mess up with art supplies and grow. You have to make a lot of bad art to make good art.
Many working artists in Tucson work a “day job” in addition to maintaining a committed studio practice. Is this the case for you?
My day job is with Perry Luxe, a high-end fabricator of metal furniture and window coverings. I work in the window coverings department and make custom draperies and roman shades.
How do you see the relationship between your day job where you are using your creativity to craft these products and your personal work as a visual artist?
Creative sources can be accessed and expressed in so many different ways. “Craft”, at one time, just meant women’s art. I can find a creative outlet in making food, yard work, combing children’s hair or even packing school lunches; in fact, I think anyone who does these things, or other everyday things, is a crafter. From this perspective, I don’t separate my work with fabric, where I craft and sew, from my work on paper, canvas or walls, where I craft images using charcoal and paints.
Do you see your work with visual arts as a healing practice for you on a personal level?
When I am drawing, there is no running away from my abilities or limitations. Creating anything involves struggling and finding solutions. Learning to let go in the studio can feel like a metaphoric practice for letting go in other areas of life.
Most recently, you created a body of work for a pop-up exhibit you and Albert did together within six weeks. That show was followed by a commissioned mural for Desert Island Records, a new record shop on Broadway. How did it feel to have two back-to-back tight time frames within which to produce finished artwork?
There is the expression, “A body in motion stays in motion”, which is very true for me. Once I am into the flow of creative production, that channel seems to stay open and the energy continues to the next project. In a way, working intensely for six weeks to create the pop-up show felt like a warm-up for the mural project that followed.
How do you connect the dots between your personal work as an artist and serving the larger community?
I am committed to the idea that everyone deserves to be able to have original artwork in their lives and homes. I try to make artwork that I would be able to afford as a parent that will soon have a child in college—affordable art.
Connect with Racheal Rios at Mrs.RachealRios@gmail.com.
Carolyn King, M.A. in Arts & Consciousness, is a local practicing artist who has worked with communities as a teaching-artist for over 30 years, both in the U.S. and Mexico. Earlier this year, she founded Heart to Hand Studio, where she offers visual arts experiences for Tucson residents and beyond. Connect at CKing72@cox.net.