Gina Contreras paints gardens of beautiful flowers where old folks stroll hand-in-hand, become friends with benefits, and fall in love. She is interested in the possibilities of love at any age, and is especially keen on the awkwardness of romance in the golden years. While devoted to her art full-time, Gina also works at SFMOMA where she's clocked several celebrity sightings, including one of her longtime crushes, James Franco. We snuck into her studio just in time for Valentine's Day to find out more about this lovely artist.
EKG: How did you land on the subject of elderly romance?
Gina Contreras: "I like drawing old people because they're the only kind of people who can be cute and creepy at the same time. I find that really lovable and funny. Most of my work is about the humor or randomness of love. A lot of people see my work and think I'm drawing my grandparents or family members, but I'm actually drawing strangers. I have a weird sense of humor about love, but I wouldn't want to draw my own grandparents doing dirty stuff."
EKG: What are the titles of your pieces inspired by?
GC: "Some are just from watching T.V. Some people like listening to music while they're drawing or painting, but I like having my TV on. The one called "I'm down for the get down," was a quote from Jersey Shore. "I feel it where I get it," is from that show The Bad Girls Club. They say amazing things on those shows. Another title is a quote from The Real Housewives of Atlanta: "I will one-up you." People put down these shows, but it's the people behind these shows that I find interesting."
EKG: Are any of your characters recurring, or are they always new people?
GC: "The male figures are sort of recurring because they always have brown hair, and a schoolboy haircut. The women are more different from each other in every piece. I went from being a brunette to blond in life, so now my drawings have more blonds."
EKG: Tell us more about why you enjoy drawing frisky old folks.
GC: "I have so much fun drawing old people in general. My characters are coming out of their shells more now. They're showing some skin, and situations are getting tougher for them, but they're still pretty funny. It's something that I've always drawn ever since high school. It started off with a drawing of my grandpa; a portrait I made for him. He hung it up in his house and people would say, "Oh, you drew a really good portrait of Cesar Chavez." I always thought that was funny.
I grew up with a bunch of older cousins, and my teacher in high school called me an old soul. I think people are afraid of growing up. You're going to grow old, and if you have somebody and they pass away, there's always that chance of starting over, which is a beautiful thing."
EKG: Your characters are obviously engaged in some hanky-panky, but they seem modest. Sometimes there are flowers to provide a veil and keep them from being too graphic.
GC: "Sometimes people see something they consider to be perverted, but if you put a really pretty flower next to it, it somehow becomes cute. I was recently talking about the movie American Beauty where there's that perverted moment when a man is picturing this young high school girl naked, but there are all these beautiful flowers around her. People talk about how beautiful that scene is but, you know, it's kind of gross."
EKG: Tell us about your current exhibit at the new Incline Gallery.
GC: "My friend who I'm in an art collective with (The San Pancho Art Collective) got the space. It's huge, but there's a ramp you have to walk up to see everything. Two of my friends from work are in the show, Nora Aoyagi and Leah Brawley. We're going to start off the show with little murals that lead to our artwork. The title is, "And it felt like a kiss." It plays off a song by The Crystals. It's close to Valentine's Day and all of us draw about love, so our show is about the possibilities of love, like the song."
EKG: If your art had a soundtrack what would it be?
GC: "This band called El Guincho."
See Gina Contreras' work for yourself at her group show, And It Felt Like a Kiss at Incline Gallery through March 6, 2011.