Monica Leal Cueva: 2019 Grant Winner
Monica Leal Cueva was born in Mexico City and grew up in Monterrey, Mexico. After relocating to Los Angeles twelve years ago, she found it challenging to adapt and suffered bouts of anxiety and depression. Sometimes, her anxiety was such that she couldn’t do everyday tasks like go to the grocery store. Taking art classes and working at an art studio “changed everything,” shared Leal Cueva.
Leal Cueva was working on a series of digital collages when she decided to hire an art consultant to learn more about how the art world works and how to accomplish goals as an artist. “I do digital collages of sheep and goats and other animals and they are placed in this situation that’s sort of like a surreal Twilight Zone world.”
“The best thing about being an artist is that we grow along with our art. As we evolve, our art evolves.”
The art consultant came to the studio, viewed Leal Cueva’s work and advised her not to use the lambs or the sheep. “Every time she said something like that I felt a punch in the gut. I felt it and I thought, no – this is not right. I'm not even hurt emotionally by the words or the critiques. I just knew in my gut, that what she was saying was not correct.
“I was going out every weekend to the desert, small towns and ghost towns to photograph my landscapes and also to find real lambs, sheep, and goats to photograph for my collages. So basically, what she was saying was don't do that anymore. And my thought was – no, this is the first time that I know exactly who I am. I am an artist.”
“For me, the theme of Not Real Art was absolutely fitting.”
Ironically, when Leal Cueva decided to submit for the Not Real Art grant, she worried she wasn’t “rebellious enough” and was excited to hear she’d won. “One of the themes of my life has been that whatever I do, it’s not what it should be. I find it hard to belong to certain places or certain groups. So for me, the theme of not real art was absolutely fitting and perfect.
“I work with a lot of artists and I manage a studio. A lot of them have their degree in art, or they’re a lot older than me, or they've had a career, but a lot of them don't. One of the things my boss tries to instill in us is that credentials don't matter and even out there in the big art world it might feel like you have to have a master's degree or credentials to belong; he tells us that doesn't matter. You have to be yourself and sometimes, you're going to be told that your art is not art, but it still doesn't matter. What matters is that you do it anyway.”
On the Critical Voice
“I started calling myself an artist when I stopped having doubts about who I was.”
“I wouldn't say I'm critical of myself. I look at the work and I evaluate what is working and what is not working. But I really don't think about criticizing it. I'm not hard on myself at all because I know that eventually, things fall into place. My whole life is dedicated to this. And I really don't care what anybody thinks about what I do. I do it with so much passion that I really don't care.”
On the process
“There's no limit to the process. The process of making art is not necessarily about having this studio and sitting there for hours and painting for hours have that be your art world. Your art world can be anywhere. I found it getting out of the city and getting out of the studio, and going to all of these remote places and discovering all of these images that weren't part of my world before.
“The byproduct of me making art has been that I've written a small publication about how to be on the road alone as a woman and how to take care of yourself – some tips and advice. I just recently did a solo road trip for a week. There's so much that you can do outside of your immediate world. There are no limits. You have to push them, and I’ve done that. I wasn't able to go to the grocery store before and now I'm going to all these remote caves and ghost towns. It's been challenging, but I love it. And so that's where my lambs and my goats come from – from those experiences.”
Leal Cueva’s influences include photographer, Man Ray and filmmaker, David Lynch and of late, vintage country music. To stay inspired Leal Cueva says she leaves town. “I might just drive without any destination. The other thing I do is drive around neighborhoods in East LA or South Central because I like to take photos of ordinary things on the street that you don't notice when you're walking by.”
The best thing about being an artist
“In my case, I go on so many adventures…I feel a sense of freedom and I think that also one of the best parts is you have an opportunity to look inside yourself a lot. We grow along with our art. As we evolve, our art evolves.”