The Artsy Vanguard 2021: Gabriella Sanchez
Gabriella Sanchez has a way with words. Words are the foundation of her abstracted portraits, framing them and suggesting points of entry and exit for the viewer. Sanchez plays in syntax, etymology, and the structure of words, re-constituting familial archives, rupturing colonial thought, and mapping a visual landscape of a wondering interiority. In paintings such as A Just Hand/Just A Hand (2019), Wilde Flowers (2018), and Pointe of Reference (2020) Sanchez wields language, bold graphics, photographic snapshots, and the subject of family as topographical structure.
Sanchez’s earliest works and first solo exhibition at Charlie James Gallery in Los Angeles in 2018 highlighted her delight in edited signifiers, partial portraits, and color-blocked compositions. By being included in the lauded group exhibition “Punch” at Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles in 2019, Sanchez’s bold color palette, collaged abstractions, and wordplay cemented their work as critical to the Los Angeles contemporary art landscape.
On a recent call with Sanchez, we chatted about the artist’s earliest works, which she described as rooted in her own grief and psychology. “It felt purely conceptual,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t really know what this ‘art thing’ was. Now, I collage a lot, which is about the intersection of past, present, [and] future, and the work continues to lean even more into abstraction.” One of Sanchez’s earliest works from 2016, Where is a color block painting with the beginnings of figures, which appear in later works, asking the question “Where U From?” in a graphic font. In one of her more recent works Good and Bad Omens (This Side Up) (2020), Sanchez orients the word “grasp” and a series of black-and-white and neon-hued photographs atop a larger fragmented image of two people nose down and chest up. With some figures upright and others upturned, the painting wrangles the viewer toward multiple orientations that play between past, present, and future.
The move towards abstraction has afforded Sanchez a means to grapple with language as structure and sensation. She is interested in “how we talk about language as a concept” and how words come to have meaning. Sanchez is not satisfied with language as a signifier whose meaning is secure or already achieved. The use of font, format, color, and placement allow her to investigate words as aesthetic, discursive symbols. For Sanchez, language is a structure which cannot rest on its presumed laurels and never has. Rather, there is a need to push, bend, and play.
“Initially, it was a very journalistic approach for me and a deepening of my initial concerns with language,” Sanchez said. “But, I am doing my best to keep it loose and centered on whatever comes out with the parameters (color or brushes used) I define. All this is hybridity, and that’s how I tap into abstraction.”
While Sanchez's work finds utility in the play of language, her practice is a broader stroke in pleasure, psychological theory, and intuition. Sanchez works across mediums—including video, performance, textile, collage, and painting—and collaboration in particular has become a significant aspect of Sanchez’s practice. In 2020, Sanchez and the interdisciplinary artist Se Young Au co-created Dedicated to You Vol. (), a purple-hued collage of black-and-white photographs, text, and typeface interventions. The work is both a balm and proclamation, a community act of grief for loved ones who died at the hands of the carceral state and the desire to extend life outside of this horrifying site. Displayed as part of Henry Art Gallery’s mobile art exhibition, “Set in Motion,” Dedicated 2 U Vol. __ appeared on the billboard panel of a Seattle city bus over several months, linking lives lived beyond restrictive geographies. In the collage, the text “Everything is Everything” collapses onto itself with the typesetting wingdings replacing font when desired.
Sanchez and Au have continued Dedicated 2 U Vol. __ through an audio component created from community submissions, with open calls in Spanish and English posted throughout Los Angeles as tear-off posters as well as on social media channels. Akin to calls made during radio shows, they ask for dedications to loved ones who have passed in the form of songs and messages. This singular piece exemplifies Sanchez’s ethos and explorative state, where the elements are not yet settled, and the work is a conduit for placemaking and possibility.
Sanchez noted that collaboration is an “essential part of the ethos” of her artmaking because of its power to develop and stimulate new ideas. “This is about staying in a place of enjoyment. It keeps me, and the work loose and lets collaborating with a friend come organically,” Sanchez said. “With a few years under my belt, I ask myself what ways do I want to grow and progress? I don't want it to be in a singular direction; I want it to be multiplicitous.”
One of the ways Sanchez has progressed is by seeking independent structures for exhibiting work. In 2019, she participated in the group series L.A FONTS, hosted in the artist Alfonso Gonzalez Jr.’s backyard. Three years earlier, Sanchez co-hosted a series of art collaborations in her downtown studio, exhibiting alongside designers, jewelers, and other interdisciplinary artists. But as Sanchez’s career has grown, she has taken a critical interest in the institutional conduits that structure and sustain careers.
“There are lots of great people who work at museums and galleries and it’s been cool to be in a more public setting showing in a museum versus a gallery. However, I feel quite critical about the economic inequity within making art and representation of one’s work,” Sanchez explained. “Producing work is expensive and timely, and there’s not much equity in that part of the process for an artist who doesn’t have personal or familial wealth to fund themselves. As an artist, you do a lot of press and marketing for institutions, which ultimately aids in funding their spaces…so it’s tricky, that space between perception, reality, and care.”
For Sanchez, her love of form, communication, and the vernacular begins and ends with family. “I like keeping my work about my family. My mom and grandma are constantly making things; nothing goes to waste with them or me,” Sanchez said. “So, traditions are kept by spending time together and making things. It’s just part of my art practice; we make shit. But, you know, being a person in the world, it gets hard to see yourself, it gets cloudy, and trusting my intuition and being mindful of the movement/flow of time along with whom I’m spending my time with is paramount to being grounded and moving along.”
The Artsy Vanguard 2021
The Artsy Vanguard is our annual feature recognizing the most promising artists working today. This fourth edition of The Artsy Vanguard is a triumphant new chapter, as we present an in-person exhibition in Miami featuring the 20 artists’ works, including many available to collect on Artsy. Curated by Erin Jenoa Gilbert, sponsored by MNTN, and generously supported by Mana Public Arts, the show is located at 555 NW 24th Street, Miami, and is open to the public from December 2nd through 5th, 12–6 p.m.
Header and thumbnail image: Portrait of Gabriella Sanchez. Courtesy of Gabriella Sanchez.