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Designer Spotlight: Monica Ceniceros

As a design community, there’s no better way to share, learn, and grow than by having conversations with and sharing the work of fellow designers — which is what our latest series set out to do. For our Designer Spotlight series, we talked to designers who are using their creative talents for good and bringing the community together.

Our next Designer Spotlight is on Monica Ceniceros. Monica is a painter, co-founder of atxGALS, and founder of The Cathedral, a co-working and event space in East Austin.

Below, Monica shares the influences behind her art, how she hopes her organizations contribute to Austin’s creative community, and where she recommends creatives go to get inspired for their own work.

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    Tango by Monica Ceniceros

Tell us a bit about yourself and what led you to pursue a career in art.

Art has always been a big part of my life. I have been drawing and painting since I can remember.

It wasn’t until I moved to Austin from Mexico that I started thinking about my art a little more seriously - I was in high school then, and took part in a few art competitions through school. That opportunity allowed me to put my art in front of an audience and I ended up winning several regional and national awards. While that helped me build some confidence as an artist, I still saw art as just a hobby.

When I moved back to Austin from school, I decided to rent a studio space in East Austin to keep that “hobby” alive, and was quickly introduced to EAST, where I was able to show my art next to other local artists. Not having a degree in art made me extremely self conscious and critical of my work, but I knew that I could only get better by putting myself out there. I also learned that art could become a great side income for me, so I continued to say yes to any and all opportunities that opened up for me. I have now been part of over 30 group exhibitions and two solo shows in Austin.

What drew you to the mediums you currently work with, acrylic on wood?

I’ve always liked going against the grain (ironic), and for art, that meant experimenting with unique mediums. When I bought my first wood panel, the intention was to cover it with paint, but then I realized that the grain was naturally giving me these beautiful flowing figures and simply decided to go with it. After that, I never looked at wood the same.

I immediately loved the connection between the natural beauty, complexity and imperfections of the wood to ourselves and life in general. We’re all dealing with our own imperfections, but it is those imperfections that make us unique and beautiful. My pieces represent individuality and taking pride in who we are, regardless of those imperfections. My focus on women figures has to do with the fact that we can be extremely judgmental of our bodies, but taking pride and owning who we are is truly the most beautiful feature we can have. My art is joyful, playful and subtly sensual - representing all women and our femininity.

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    Dancing on My Own by Monica Ceniceros, pictured at The Cathedral

  • How did growing up in Mexico influence your work?
  • Over time, it’s become more and more clear to me that growing up in a colorful and lively culture has had a huge influence in my art. The more I learn about myself, the more confident I become telling my story and being comfortable with who I am. In a way, my art is a piece of me, and I see myself reflected in each of my paintings. My background is a big part of that, and it makes me proud and happy to be able to show it through my work. I also highlight my love for Mexican art, design and fashion through the colorful and traditional dresses adorning the dancing women.

Can you tell us a little more about atxGALS, the art event organization you co-founded? What drove you to design a community that highlights female artists?

Being active in the local art scene introduced me to some incredible artists, many of which I am fortunate enough to get to work with today. Similar to many other industries, women are underrepresented and underpaid in the art world. atxGALS was created to help bring more exposure to women in art.

I also believed that the art scene in Austin was missing something. A typical art exhibit tends to be a little stuffy and at times intimidating to many people who are eager to learn more about art. Our goal was to create a unique, non-traditional art show that could speak to all audiences while giving women in art more exposure in the art world. We created a setting where art spectators could experience art in a unique and fun way. Our shows are truly a big party with badass art and artists that are excited to share their creative process with people that are just as excited to learn about them and their art.

After having a sold out show on our first try, we decided to throw a second, third and fourth show to see the response. The shows were a big hit (imagine an art show with 500+ attendees, an open bar and DJs) and inspired us to make atxGALS official. We now work with ~30 local artists and hope to continue to support them in their art careers through more art shows, new partnerships and opportunities.

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    Lady in Red by Monica Ceniceros, pictured at The Cathedral

  • What role do you hope atxGALS plays in Austin’s creative community?

I hope to make a positive impact in our artists’ careers, and help them succeed pursuing their passion. It’s been eye-opening to see how much our artists have inspired our community through their art and creativity. Our goal is to continue to do that through our exhibits, while continuing our efforts to give back to organizations that align with women’s rights and equality.

You are also the founder of The Cathedral, a co-working and event space in East Austin. What inspired you to create that space?

We learned a lot after 3+ years of curating and producing art events, and realized there was a limit to how much we could support our artists and help our growth with the current model. To make a larger impact in our artists’ careers, we needed to find a way to create more opportunities for them. Having a brick and mortar would open the opportunity to host more events and build a more sustainable business model.

Understanding the need for co-working and event space in Austin, we started looking for a versatile space to call our own. There wasn’t anything in Austin designed for creative entrepreneurs and artists, and I wanted to create a space that was not only inspiring, but also serve as a space for collaboration between different artists, designers, and entrepreneurs. We wanted something unique and non-traditional, so when I first walked into what is now The Cathedral, I felt such positive energy and saw the potential it had to be the space I had imagined. Building The Cathedral from the ground up is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I would do it all over again. I am proud of the positive impact it’s made so far.

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    Poppin' Poppies by Monica Ceniceros

  • Where in Austin would you recommend creatives go to get inspired?

  • Austin is a beautiful town - it’s hard not to feel inspired in it. The city has a unique energy to it and has easy access to great parks and lakes. One of the easiest ways to find some inspiration is to go outside and find time to be with yourself and your thoughts. A lot of my inspiration comes from goal setting and learning about people I admire (reading, listening to podcasts, etc.) and I like doing that from places that are colorful and inspiring to me. I think everyone thrives when they’re in their element. For creatives, I would suggest finding a place you enjoy based on the thought that went behind the design and atmosphere of the space. Visit a museum alone, or create a space in your own home with inspiring elements: quotes you like, art from artists you admire, etc. Surround yourself with people you admire, and remind yourself of your intention.
  • What kind of contributions do you want to make through your art and community work?

For my personal art, I think being able to inspire someone by doing what I love to do. If I can make a positive impact in the community through the contributions from atxGALS shows and events at The Cathedral, while also supporting our artists, I would love to continue to grow that.

What are you embracing right now?

Change, adaptability and resilience. With all the crazy and scary times we’re experiencing right now, being able to slow down and pinpoint what truly matters to me is something I continue to embrace. I have personally enjoyed the extra quality time I get to spend with my partner, my family, close friends, and my puppy. Being a new business owner (of a gathering space nonetheless) and not having control of what could happen has been very challenging to say the least.

We have learned and grown so much from this experience, and it’s been refreshing and inspiring to be constantly reminded that hard work, dedication and good intention can get us through tough times. While we continue to go through all these ups and downs, finding that validation from the community keeps us going.

Design That Inspires Monica

  • Las 2 Fridas by Frida Khalo (below left) - As an early admirer of Frida Khalo, her paintings reflect her strength through her pain and suffering. It is inspiring to see how difficult times can transform us and make us grow, and how pain is part of every single human.

  • Lady in Gold/Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt (below middle) - Gustav was an Australian symbolist painter that continues to inspire me for his transformative use of patterns, colors and gold leaf. Despite all the criticism he received for his "pornographic" work, he is a great reminder for me that art is and should be personal, and that you should paint what you see and love, not what others want to see

  • Asantewa by Bisa Butler (below right) - All of her work is inspiring to me for many reasons: the bold celebration of her heritage, her use of color--NO PAINT, it is all hand sewn textiles/quilts. She is a pioneer and one of the most talented and unique artists I've come across.

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