Claudia Aparicio-Gamundi is a Mexican American artist, graphic designer, and organizer based in Austin, Texas. She is one of the founders of the Puro Chingón Collective—a Latino art trifecta that focuses on the activation of nontraditional spaces, designer toys and art zines—and the proprietor of Bodega Visual, a studio specializing in design, illustration, lettering, sign painting, and web design. Claudia is an all-around badass. She is warm, caring, and lovely, while her work is thoughtful, pointed, and fearless.
Kayla E: What were some of your early creative influences? I'd love to know what you room looked like as a kid and what kind of books, movies, and toys you surrounded yourself with.
Claudia Aparicio-Gamundi: ALF was definitely the first creative influence I can recall with certainty. I was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, and was raised there and in Poza Rica, Veracruz. The very first word I wrote was ALF — I wrote it on every single wall in my house. I explored with different colors and wall textures: ALF in magenta, in blue, in green, on the kitchen, bathroom, patio, you name it. It was everywhere. I grew up on Odisea Burbujas. I was mesmerized by the whimsical creatures, the incredible set, and all the magical illustrations. Just hearing the opening tune would make me lose my shit. No joke. I was also very much attracted to El Chavo del Ocho, although my mom prohibited us from watching it (and she still does). I have yet to ask her why. The title sequence and the opening song are forever engraved in my memory. I got into Rosita Fresita after a trip to Laredo, which became an obsession. I wanted nothing but her plushies and bed spreads. She made me feel at ease. Rainbow Brite was also mad influential as well as Los Ositos Cariñositos. I pretty much had all the bootleg versions. My favorite was Tenderheart Bear (for some reason the names were in English, although I watched it dubbed). Every morning before elementary school, I would watch Las Muñequitas, a show with all female leads that taught girls how to be girls. I bet watching it now would be pretty disturbing.
Niño-Niña Alien, hand-printed glow-in-the-dark double-sided plush doll. 2013
My brother had a tremendous influence on what I liked after those first years. He would pick on me for liking pretty much everything I'd watch and would switch the channel so I'd watch his shows instead. Los Thundercats, Heman, and Los Halcones Galácticos were my jam. Not to mention Bravestarr, have you seen that show? I don't think it played in the US. I secretly wanted to be him, have all his powers, and ride on his mechanical horse far far away. I could go on and on.
"MUSIC FUELS MY CREATIVE JUICES. THAT IS A FACT. I CERTAINLY FEEL EVERYTHING I DO IS TOUCHED BY A COMBINATION OF PAST AND PRESENT EXPERIENCES, A LARGE AMOUNT OF NOSTALGIA, AND AN INTENSE YEARNING FOR THOSE MOMENTS ONCE LIVED — A DESIRE TO SOMEHOW CAPTURE AND SHARE THEM THROUGH MY WORK."
Niña Claudia holding her favorite rainbow brite doll inside her
mother's green "bocho" volkswagen in Monterrey, Nuevo Leøn, Mexico.
TV shows played a huge role during my formative years. Not that I wasn't encouraged to read, but I honestly did not read much growing up (aside from what I needed for school). TV was on practically at all times and it still is when I visit my mom's. That is possibly the reason I have not owned a TV for quite some years now. It is incredibly funny to think back, though. For instance, did you ever watch Los Caballeros del Zodiaco? It was like watching a novela! Not to mention how beautifully androgynous the characters were — I practically was in love with all of them. Seriously, it taught my brother and me that men can cry and have emotions and women can speak up. I kinda want to watch it now. As I mentioned, the list can continue and it is mad extensive, but I won't bore you. Although, I'd feel terrible if I left out The Simpsons. I was not allowed to watch it and we always did behind my mom's back (perdon madre). But if she only knew how relevant that show was and how important it was for me in my development as a young little Mexican niña, especially when we migrated to the US. I would watch it religiously. It would play right after school and I would go hide in my room and watch it with captions on and a dictionary on hand. I had previously watched most of the episodes dubbed back home (in Monterrey) so rewatching was mostly so I could learn the language.
La mari riega las plantas por la mañana, photo, pen & ink, colored digitally. 2016
KE: Haha! I can’t tell you how awesome it is that ALF was your first creative influence. I loved ALF too! Out of curiosity (I’m only asking because this was my experience), were you intentionally/consciously into “boy stuff” as a kiddo? Did your interest in pop culture appeal to your impulse to push against gender roles?
And it’s interesting how deeply TV has influenced creatives from our generation — I definitely read A LOT as a child, though (mostly thanks to my grandmother). What sort of influence has your family had on you?
CA-G: I definitely don’t think [my interest in “boy stuff”] was intentional or conscious. I was never quite pushed to enjoy the pink and barbie dolls most girls my age did. In fact, the first time I realized this was when I was eight. I was visiting my friend Dirce's place and she had it all. I asked my mother why didn’t I have any barbies and how come my friends had all kinds, plus the pink houses, the Barbie cars, pets etc. (Even though I do recall asking for the Barbie Jeep growing up — you know, the one you get on and ride around and basically look pretty badass driving a pink Jeep. Never got it, though.). We took a trip to Julio Cepeda one weekend (the Mexican equivalent to Toys “R” Us) to finally get one and I went straight for the Kevin basketball player doll dude instead for some reason. I was mad stoked. Pretty bizarre I didn’t go for the Barbie doll. I didn’t really question it, though. Then, after playing with Kevin and my brother's G.I Joes (this dude was my jam) I realized Kevin was too big and he needed buds. So then I had to expand my Barbie “collection” with Brandon from Beverly Hills 90210. And after Brandon came Brenda, Dylan, and the whole gang (plus Dennis Rodman). And THAT ONE was my favorite without a doubt. I wish I still had it. His pink hair was revolutionary in my eyes. But clearly there was a pattern — no barbies were ever owned. Perhaps I just didn’t identify with them? They definitely did not speak to me; no Disney princesses ever did either. I did, however, have an infatuation with Aladdin.
"THE VERY FIRST WORD I WROTE WAS ALF — I WROTE IT ON EVERY SINGLE WALL IN MY HOUSE. I EXPLORED WITH DIFFERENT COLORS AND WALL TEXTURES: ALF IN MAGENTA, IN BLUE, IN GREEN, ON THE KITCHEN, BATHROOM, PATIO, YOU NAME IT. IT WAS EVERYWHERE."
I grew up with my mother and older brother. Mom had three jobs sometimes, so I was left with my brother a ton. He'd leave me alone to go out with friends and, to me, that alone time was magic. I had quite the imagination and talked to myself a lot. I super enjoyed playing dress up with my mom's office jackets. Now I play dress up with my own.
Embrace yourself, 2016, gif.
We lived a couple blocks away from a pretty big park that felt like a forest to me. I loved to go get lost. My brother and I would agree on a time to get back home so my mom wouldn’t know we were both gone, especially without one another.
She never really pushed any gender roles on me until I got older. I must say, she really allowed me to do (and be) me as a kid. Of course, she'd get annoyed and wouldn't let me eat without washing my arms off before sitting at the table — I used to draw on myself a lot. She was definitely strict, and still is to this day, but I am grateful for that on so many levels.
My mom, my brother, and my extended family’s love of music had a huge influence on me. There was definitely no silence at the house. She sang and whistled along to every song. A favorite memory of mine is listening to her sing while she showered and watching her dance as she would get dressed. She does not quite comprehend what I do now, but she is definitely supportive. Certainly not so much at first — her vision was to see me become a doctor. I guess she thought having an interest in art was not going to go anywhere and she wanted to protect me. She is quite the protector. My brother has my back 100 percent and supports me fully. I love that dude. I love both of my brothers and I love my family. As I mentioned, my older brother has been a huge influence in my life. I feel I owe part of who I am to him, for sure. I think he knows it. Recently, he asked if me being me was, in part, due to him. I guess he felt guilty for causing any hardships. He has a five-year-old daughter now and supports her completely. She is into dinosaurs and he buys them for her, but was a tad concerned as to whether or not doing so (and letting her explore outside of the gender normative toys and interests a girl "should" have) was going to make her different and reached out to me. I thought that was a beautiful act. He feels he does not want to impose anything on her — he wants her to make her own decisions.
Come at me, photo, pen & ink, colored digitally. 2015
Viejit@ danzante, one-shot hand-painted resin toy. 2013
"MOM HAD THREE JOBS SOMETIMES, SO I WAS LEFT WITH MY BROTHER A TON. HE’D LEAVE ME ALONE TO GO OUT WITH FRIENDS AND, TO ME, THAT ALONE TIME WAS MAGIC."
KE: Your mom and brother sound amazing! Good family is such a gift. What were your aspirations when you were young? Were you always creative? Also, how do your childhood influences feed into your practice now?
CA-G: One too many [aspirations]! That still make things difficult to navigate at times. I wanted to do it all. I was constantly creating. From doodling on my own skin (or on others') to making up stories and “acting” while I was alone in the house or playing outside. I enjoyed surprising my mom when she’d get home from work with a different living room “arrangement.” Boredom was definitely never a problem. I think my childhood influences are coming up more than ever lately, or perhaps I am more aware of them now. Especially when it comes to choosing tunes for a gathering/party, it ends up being that sound my grandparents would jam to when we were in the car. I didn’t understand (nor did I care) at the time, but now I’ve gained a huge admiration for it. I crave it; it’s just beautiful. Lyrics and sounds by Agustin Lara, Pedro Infante, La Sonora Santanera, Chico Che, Chavela Vargas, Silvio Rodriguez, Camilo Sexto, Manzanero, Chente, Paquita, Jose Jose… Uy, I could keep going. Music fuels my creative juices. That is a fact. I certainly feel everything I do is touched by a combination of past and present experiences, a large amount of nostalgia, and an intense yearning for those moments once lived — a desire to somehow capture and share them through my work.
KE: Tell me more about Bodega Visual! How did you get started, and what are your hopes for it?
CA-G: Bodega Visual is the name of the studio where I do all things design down here in South Austin, Tejas since 2011. It’s my little side hustle. During the day, I work at Sanders\Wingo, a rad advertising agency that started in El Paso, Tejas and has been around since the 1950s — I do BV work after five. It started as a creative space for me to work with clients and friends and to produce personal work all under the same moniker. I made the name a cognate so it could be understood by both English and Spanish speakers. The studio capabilities are illustration, creative direction, apparel design, branding, environmental graphics, sign painting, advertising, lettering, publication design, mural work, product design, and even interior design. In a bodega, you can find all kinds of different items, each for a specific use. This made it way easy to name the studio Bodega Visual since I can’t seem to focus on one single thing. Everyday an adventure. I have been blessed with opportunities to teach workshops, give talks in high schools and summer programs, and even mentor a younger artist, Daisie Pesina, through The Contemporary Austin museum. My hopes are to continue to cultivate these types of relationships. I hope to keep on working with the most radical friends and clients and to never stop learning and challenging myself.
Foto by Whitney N Devin of Claudia's old home studio space/ "Raspa" & "El Viejito" resin toys for Puro Chingøn Collective.
KE: I understand you're a part of Puro Chingón Collective with the wonderful Claudia Zapata — tell me more about what y'all do!
CA-G: I love me some Claudia Zapata! Yes, Puro Chingøn is a latino art collective that specializes in the activation of nontraditional spaces, we produce a zine called chingozine and have a toy line called chingolandia. Puro Chingón Collective is James Huizar, Claudia Zapata, and me. We all met while working together at the Mexic-Arte Museum here in downtown Austin. Claudia Z. was the Curator of Exhibitions, James was the Production Manager, and I was the Visual Communicator. We worked extremely well together, so we decided to collaborate more outside of the museum.
We started PCC in 2012 after we created our first zine. Chingozine is a zine that publishes doodles and work by Latino creatives from all over. We started the collective after seeing a void within the art scene. There weren’t enough POC, specifically Latino artist's, spaces and we realized that if we wanted to show and archive the work, we had to work harder and create spaces for ourselves. I’ve had the pleasure of applying our vision to our brand design and products. I also have had the opportunity to learn how to work three dimensionally and even large scale. We learn from each other and push each other tremendously. We’re a team. A family.
"I HOPE TO KEEP ON WORKING WITH THE MOST RADICAL FRIENDS AND CLIENTS AND TO NEVER STOP LEARNING AND CHALLENGING MYSELF."
So far we have released six zines and we have featured artists from all over the US and Central and South America. Our third issue was even in a show in the Ukraine in 2014. The zines are now part of the Barnard Zine Library Collection, Pratt Institute Libraries, Texas A&M University Zine Collection, UTSA Library, at the MOMA, Blanton, and several other libraries and research centers. The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection currently houses our official archives.