“Am I eating them right?” I felt compelled to ask because my Sunday lunch on Cinco de Mayo with visual artist, Lola Isabel Gonzalez was my first time eating huevos rancheros. She’s incredulous at the personal trivia and exclaims amid peals of laughter: “how long have you lived in L.A.!?”
“Twelve years,” I confess. She’ll tell me shortly thereafter about her move to Los Angeles only eight years ago while I find my own way to combine the beans, egg, and tortilla on my fork for consumption. Before she tells her own story, she takes time to reassure me: “You’re eating them the right way because it’s your way, that’s how you’re supposed to eat it.”
It’s an easy parallel to all the work she does, both as a documentarian for her day job, and her wearable art she sells on Rose Pink Moon:
OI: You mentioned you’re not originally from L.A. and moved here eight years ago?
LG: I think it was seven years ago, 2012. I was born and raised in the bay area, I was living in San Francisco for five years when I decided to make the jump to L.A. I don’t know if this is the right place for me to answer the question from Seth Hansen, but I feel like it’s already connected in that story.
OI: Go ahead! Seth wanted me to ask you: ‘was there a specific moment that you had a make it or break it point as far as ‘should I continue this, or should I do something else?’ How did you overcome that period, or have you overcome it? How have you been able to live with that?’
LG: I was working at the Bar Association of San Francisco because my plan was to become an attorney. I had already taken the LSAT, I was working with criminal attorneys for three years. Through that process I had this crisis of, ‘is this really what I want to be doing?’
I was really passionate about the work, but I felt like there was something stronger in me of how I wanted to make an impact in the world- because the injustices that I saw in the system, I wasn’t even going to be able to make a blip by becoming an attorney. If anything I was just going to get lost in the system myself.
More and more I was thinking, ‘I want to make documentaries about what I’m seeing,’ versus trying to insert myself into the system and create change that way. I was more interested in bringing awareness to certain issues in a visual way, and I was grappling with that for a long time, maybe a year before I decided ‘I just have to do this.’
I moved to L.A. literally like a Lifetime movie: with ten bucks in my pocket, packed everything into my car, didn’t know anyone, and drove out here and started from the bottom until I was doing something that I felt like was true to what was calling me on the kind of change that I wanted to make.
OI: As far as fashion goes, I only have one principle which is a person should dress to be the leading role of the movie they’re living in.
LG: I one thousand percent agree with that. That’s my fashion philosophy as well. I’m curious on what your thoughts are on the darker aspects of Rose Pink Moon and how that fits in with your aesthetic. I’m interviewing you now.
OI: It’s interesting, because I think your question is revelatory to me in itself.
LG: The reason I ask is because I’m very interested to hear what people say and individual interpretations of the words dark and goth and romantic. There’s no right or wrong answer. That dagger and rose design?
OI: To me, it feels like something I could see on a coat of arms. I wonder about you telling me there’s no right or wrong answer, because you have a style from which you’re creating, but I think more than any other work, yours is subject to the whims of the consumer.
OI: That ties into the branding work you do for other people: how do you create in that space, maintain your voice, and apply it within someone else’s vision?
LG: I’m happy to hear you say that because that’s been what I’ve been wanting to accomplish with Rose Pink Moon. I created other brands before from my art where the messaging didn’t leave any room for mystery or interpretation. It was, ‘hey, if you’re a teen girl who feels this way about boys, you’re gonna like this t-shirt with this design that says this.’ Very Forever 21, bluntly telling you what you’re supposed to feel and there was a little bit of kitsch involved in that too.
I wanted to step back and think through, that wasn’t what I wanted to accomplish with my art. I like art that is open to interpretation by the consumer and they will get whatever they want from it. I’m not telling them what to get from it. That took a little more time to develop this brand then to really do some digging into the themes that matter to me that I wanted to connect with other people on, without laying it out there so clearly in terms of what it means to me. There is a mystery part of it where I don’t talk about what these things mean to me, instead I just reveal it and share it, and let it go from there.
OI: Your professional work seems like the opposite side of the coin: you’re doing branding, and making videos for what somebody wants to say and their vision.
LG:Part of my approach to work, whether it’s corporate or my own projects- I like to think that what I bring to it is the ability to think in a dual way with fantasy and reality, and blurring those lines. I think that kind of thinking is necessary. You need a little bit of imagination when someone is saying, ‘this is what I want to accomplish, but I’m all over the map with all these things that I’m doing. How do I synthesize everything in order to make one story?’
I think that’s where someone can come in and have that imaginative approach of how it all works together and see what the underlying story might be. That’s where I could pull on this fantasy side that I always thought was a flaw in me, that I wasn’t looking at things in such calculated and logistical terms.
OI: When you were younger beckoned that fantasy side of your mind out into the world?
LG: I want to say it started before I was born. I consider both my parents to be artistic. I would even say they’re both insecure artists, as I am. My dad was an architect before computers took over- he would make blueprints for homes and businesses. On the side he would do a lot of cartooning when I was growing up. My mom was very into crafting and making things with her hands.
I remember at age four, one of my earliest memories was watching a Walt Disney documentary and I drew Mickey Mouse. My mom was like, ‘oh my God! We have a prophet!’ I see the Mickey Mouse, she still has it, but it wasn’t that good. But, I was four years old and able to see something and replicate it in my own way. I think about that a lot because I was so introverted in school and that early feeling of being praised for what I could draw on paper was the only way I felt I could communicate something inside of me.
That continued in school, I was the quietest girl in class. I had crazy anxiety about talking to people. Using art felt like the only way I could get any kind of attention. I was very much otherwise a part of the background. So I would get lost in that side of myself. I have six siblings and I’m the oldest so I would come up with all these ways for us to play together. That required a lot of imagination. It was four of us that were very close, my two youngest brothers came later when I was in middle school. Between the four of us we were always playing imaginative games, and I was always trying to be the “leader.”
We can talk later about my control issues, but I think that was the beginning of feeling confidence in my abilities to look at things through fantasy and bringing that in to entertain people, and to connect with and understand people. I always used to think that made me weird, because I can make these elaborate fake worlds in my head, but I can’t call the bank and ask them about something on my account. It’s, ‘why do I have this social anxiety but I can express myself in this other way in a very confident way?’
That was always a source of confusion and frustration. I wanted to take this part of me that sees the world through this lens of creativity and fantasy and apply it to other parts of my life. I was very much the quiet person probably until my mid-twenties, when I started to find myself better by bridging those worlds. I learned how to use this fantasy side to highlight who I really am and how I present myself to the world. That includes how I dress, what I do, movies I see- just being true to all these things and embracing that side of me.
OI: I feel like the only thing more terrifying than trying to match what someone already has imagined for how they want a video to look is if they don’t have a vision and they’re just a blank slate. The hardest person to serve is the one who doesn’t want anything. How is it sitting down with artists and applying that creative intuition?
LG:The biggest thing I’m taking away from being the oldest of so many kids and so many different kinds of personalities is empathy: learning how to empathize with different kinds of people. I do think that’s a skill, it’s something everyone has but I don’t think everyone taps into it in the same way. I feel like I use that a lot in all my work. It’s what helps me to see where other artists are coming from and using that first and foremost to make them know that I’m listening and that I see them and know their vision. Then tapping into the fantasy part of: what can I do to present to them that accomplishes what they’re trying to do, but maybe they can’t express fully and don’t know they’re trying to reach yet.
That’s where I come in and say, ‘why not this?’ ‘Yes! That’s what I was trying to do!’ That’s the best part of my job is for me to take that extra step of innovation and thinking outside the box I could only get by understanding their original vision. I’m not gifting them anything that comes from me, I just understood them and brought out the full potential of their ideas. I think that’s why some artists want to work with and why sometimes they do come in with a blank slate: ‘here’s a song, I don’t know what the visuals are, I just request you do it.’ I’m just like ‘okay!’ [Shrugs]
It ranges, and I still feel like I do them justice because I try my best to put myself in their shoes and really empathize. I don’t think I would have that ability if I wasn’t raised with so many other personalities that I felt responsible for– showing them the world and what it has to offer.
OI: There are also real world constraints of time and budget. You’re working against those limitations and using your imagination to make things work I’m sure.
LG: Maybe because sometimes I live in a fantasy world I do have this very warped thinking that I can do whatever I set my mind to. I think that comes from being resourceful also growing up with six kids where you do have to make sacrifices and that means being very resourceful and trying to make the best of what you have. Again, I think that’s another skill I was able to develop that translated to my creative projects later in life. Even though I said I was very introverted and shy, I feel like that dual personality of being quiet but then I have this other way to express myself is this actress mentality because it’s a fantasy I can insert myself into situations and be someone else.
I have acted before which is another thing- but by treating the world like a stage I can approach the world however I want that day. Because I feel enslaved to this personality of being quiet and introverted and shy? We’re here for a good time not a long time, that’s always been my philosophy. I might as well tap into that fantasy side of my worldview as much as possible because that seems to be the only way I have fun with the short time that we have.
That means I’ve learned how to talk to people- I’m not going to use the word manipulate- to get what I want when I need something done. It’s understanding someone to the point where i know when I can ask for something and that always helps me to do things at a bigger scale than maybe what my money allows. It’s ‘ask and you shall receive,’ and I know how to pull favors and not see barriers that are there.
OI: To have the confidence to proceed and hurdle those barriers.
OI: In preparing for this interview, you brought up your acting but couldn’t share it because you mentioned that you ‘archive’ a lot of your work.
LG: Maybe it’s from being the oldest child and having to be the trailblazer for so many other personalities, there’s this responsibility that eventually turns into rebellions where I say ‘I don’t want to do things the way people expect me to.’ That includes how I approach my thinking around my art, and my expression. Luckily I did have enough self esteem to have some kind of faith in myself that the way I was doing things, as long as they’re true to me, is a good way of doing things.
Sometimes that philosophy was tested and sometimes I did have really low self esteem, but overall I felt like I didn’t have to do things the way everyone else did because I found the way that worked for me. That includes my approach to the art that I make and how I show it to the world. Sometimes, as far as archiving, I do believe in the rebirth of projects. Sometimes projects need to go through a certain process that other people might react like, ‘oh my God, you deleted all of this!’ Yes, but that was necessary to birth this phoenix in another way.
I don’t want to ever feel like outside forces are guiding my thinking on my own work. I trust the work, I trust what I think about the work. If I want to put something away for a while that someone says, ‘oh I love that,’ well, this is what I think about it and it’s going to come back in another way. That’s my process. I think a person’s relationship to how they process their art and expression is sacred. That’s going to help you create something that’s saying exactly what you want to say.
When you can mute the outside critic–and even sometimes the inner critic that’s tied to something toxic you were raised with, or have internalized–it’s about stripping that away and getting to the core of why you wanted create in the first place and what it means to you. That’s sacred, though it’s not easy to get there.
OI: In marketing Rose Pink Moon, who are you trying to reach, and what kinds of shows do you choose to attend?
LG: The pin community is very small, but there’s a diverse amount of different brands. Some of them are very close friends of mine, but a lot of other artists who make wearable art, I feel like they have a different approach to their companies than I do. I get to the point where I see that approach so often that it’s better for me to separate myself from that. I think their approach is from this place of, ‘oh my God, I had this great idea, let’s put it on a pin, let’s put it on a t-shirt,’ and some of them don’t think about the repercussions of the messaging and what it’s doing.
OI: A level of impunity.
LG: Yeah, I just could not relate to that at all and I see it so often that I’m like, ‘why do I keep aligning my brand to whole shows around that?’ It wasn’t until I found shows that were more about designers out there, in particular Latinx and women of color that I can relate to.
The whole reason I like pins is that it’s a form of art that’s accessible to more people, because the price point is normally lower than buying a huge a print for your apartment or even a t-shirt. Therefore an artist who is trying to make money from their art if they were making pins that’s an easier way to manufacture something that is your intellectual property but you’re not making each one by hand. The labor is lower and you get to enjoy people wearing your stuff.
OI: It occurs to me: how many places can you put a print versus how many ways can you display a pin?
LG: Not very many and you can put a pin anywhere you want. I could put a pin in my earlobe if I wanted. Now with that experience and knowledge, I’m constantly fine tuning who my audience is, who I’m really trying to reach and constantly checking with myself: is this going to be true to what I want to put out there in the world?
Unfortunately that sometimes means that when you get more and more into this niche market it means making less money because I’m not saying yes to all these shows. I’m totally okay with that. I’m only saying that because I have the privilege of having a day job. I’m very lucky to have found other work to sustain me during the day so that I have the privilege of fine tuning this more artistic side.
OI: And your day work is incredibly interesting too.
LG: Well, my philosophy on life is I never want to do something I don’t want to be doing! Like I said: we’re here for a good time, not a long time. I still want my day job to be something I’m passionate about, and yes I am lucky in that I found something that fulfills that. Extremely lucky.
I think that also came from the huge risk that I took back in 2012, from the law school route I was going down. It would have been financial stability, making my parents happy- all those things, instead of choosing the artist in me to take over? That was a huge risk, but taking that risk is why I’m in the position that I am now where I do something that I love during the day that funds the creating I do the rest of the time.
I’m okay with working within that niche market because I see my long term goals are being reached. It’s gonna take longer, but I’m feeling the change and I’m feeling the success growing, little by little.
OI: There’s a quote from Dave Grohl, ‘you can sing a song to 80,000 people and they’ll sing it back for 80,000 different reasons.’
LG: I really like that Dave Grohl quote. That’s why I don’t regret any of the things I’ve done with Rose Pink Moon, it’s all been a learning experience. So, going to the shows and seeing who I’m placed next to but also seeing who comes up to me to talk to me and talk about my stuff, the more I am vulnerable in showing my true self the more people connect to me, which is the total opposite of what I felt I needed to do.
OI: What do you hope the audience is taking away from the breadth of your work, as an individual?
LG: The thing I keep coming back to in my mind is having grown up in this society with the hustler mentality of needing to find out what sells so that I can make a living, it was a big lesson for me to learn that people can see right through that. They can feel when you’re trying to sell them something.
Yes, even though sometimes they will pay for a hashtag woke hat, they’re not going to remember your brand. They’re not going to remember the person who sold it to them. Business is going to fizzle out because of that. I found that what has helped Rose Pink Moon to last through the years is that I dropped the notion of ‘I need to make a living off of this,’ and decided I’m only going to release things that are so terrifyingly vulnerable that it instills bravery in someone else. I’m just going to pour my heart out and I’m not doing this for your money I’m doing it for the sake of being a human and the need to create and get this out.
People feel the humanity in that and then are like, ‘I want to be a part of this, I want wear what you represent on my lapel.’ I found that’s the key, that’s why I wanted to make Rose Pink Moon. I’m going to put my poetry out there. I’m going to put my thoughts out there, this art that I’m creating that comes from a raw and vulnerable place. I’m not putting it out there for money now, I’m putting it out there because I have something to get off my chest.
People need that, they need to see people do that to inspire them and impart bravery that it’s okay to be that way and be raw with your emotions. It’s okay to indulge in your darkness sometimes, and to feel all these feelings. I don’t want to call them loyal customers, but I feel like I’m connecting with people who want to continue this journey with me.
OI: Somewhere between friend and customer.
LG: Yeah, that’s how I see anyone who supports Rose Pink Moon: you connected to something that I had to say, therefore this could be a reciprocal thing. I want to keep hearing you guys express yourselves, and you guys talk about your vulnerabilities and your ups and downs.
That also leads to where I want Rose Pink Moon to go. I don’t want it to just be my stuff in the future. I want to turn it into a boutique where I sell other independent artists’ work. People who are like-minded in that they’re not doing this for a paycheck, they’re doing this because they have something to say and want to get it out there. If someone connects with it, let’s keep inspiring and keep that cycle going so that other people feel comfortable with that vulnerability.
OI: There’s that old saying that once you get to the next level your job is to send the elevator back down for the people behind you.
LG: Exactly. This is where I get my question for the next interviewee.
OI: Wow! I don’t even have to ask!
LG: [Laughter] My question is: what are you doing and what will you do to uplift others during your journey? There was a saying I heard two days ago at work because we were interviewing a panel of community-based organizations. One person said something that I will never forget because they said something that I’ve been trying to articulate: even when you think you’ve arrived you haven’t made it until you’ve brought someone with you.
That is a philosophy that, going back to the empathy thing, is very dear to my heart because I feel that we’re not here to just make money for ourselves and survive, we’re here to elevate humanity to a point where everyone is comfortable expressing themselves. Right now we’re in a society where not everyone feels comfortable or safe to express themselves.
If you can find some ways of connecting with others, to elevate their voices, give a voice to the voiceless, that should be our responsibility. I feel like that, even in the art world, is something that we should be doing–checking your privileges as you make your art. How can you bring someone else along? I feel so blessed with how I’ve been growing and how Rose Pink Moon has been growing, and it’s time for me to bring other artists along to get their voices heard because it isn’t about me and what I want to say. It’s now about being a platform for other people to say what they want to say, too.
OI: Have you started incorporating other artists yet?
LG: I have a list of artists I want to reach out to. My business plan for 2020 to transition fully into a boutique, and the ultimate goal is a brick and mortar store with rotating artists. Highlighting the work of other people who feel the same way. I try to highlight artists and poets that people may not have heard about, artist from marginalized communities. And exploring more of what goth means to me: a vulnerable alternative that is not always popular that speaks to the darker sides of our psyche. That’s part of the vulnerability. I don’t think that’s what always sells, but I think eventually it will. I think there is a market for people who want that authenticity about our psychology and what goes on in the darkness of the mind.
Lola Isabel Gonzalez is a visual artist, you can check out her wearable art for sale at rosepinkmoon.com, or follow Rose Pink Moon on Instagram (@rosepinkmoon) and Twitter (@rosepinkmoonLA) for continued updates.