Allow me to introduce you to my friend Selena Navarrete. Words like “art” and “artist” get tossed around often but Selena and her work magnificently embodies these words. Seriously people, she makes me want to remove the word “artist” from my title because she brings an entirely different level of meaning to the term.
I was super fortunate to enjoy a long conversation with her about her life and her craft–which are one and the same–and was left marveling at how a single person can possess such ability and imagination! Selena creates Mexican folk art and also happens to be an amazing makeup artist (she even does permanent makeup!)…Did I mention she is entirely self taught?
“As far back as I can remember I’ve always thought of myself as an artist. We were pretty broke growing up, but my mom would always think of fun projects like going to the beach to collect things to glue to paper. Instead of spending money we made art, would paint, would draw.”
“I started out in fine arts…I loved photography and even had my own dark room. I also painted with oils and acrylics. I started working on gourds after becoming a mother. Once my daughter and son were born we went to Apple Hill every year. One year we went and there were Apple gourds . I thought they looked like a box of skulls…so I got a box and started painting!”
“I learned there was a local gourd farm in Folsom. So I went out there and realized there were so many different shapes of gourds. So I started sculpting with them. Blue (her son) suggested cutting them in half for two masks.”
“My father is Puerto Rican, mom is Mexican and creole. The Day of the Dead connection in my work…comes from dealing with death, not from necessarily the cultural root of the traditions. I wasn’t born in a small Mexican town. I grew up in south central LA.”
“It’s not that I have a fascination of death, but more how society deals with death. In western culture, people die and you put it away quickly and move on. People are practically like, ‘Aren’t you over it yet?’ I love Mexican culture because death is just an extension of life. You bring the mementos out, you remember those who pass on a regular basis and it makes things not seem so final like it is in western culture.”
“Apparently in Puerto Rico, mask making is foundational in their arts. I thought that was so interesting. I look back and wonder that some things are innately inside of you…part of the connection you feel to things that weren’t necessarily part of the culture you were raised in.”
“I feel like my love of makeup came from my grandmother. My grandmother was gorgeous. She was a diva. Purse, shoes, outfit…all put together all the time. Never left the house undone. She let me play with her makeup and wear her jewelry. It just was a part of my art.”
The first day of 7th grade was the best day of my life. It was the first day I could wear makeup. My mom bought me a little palette and I wore every color in it! Lash line to brow stripes of the shadow colors. I thought I was the sh*t and I looked crazy! Since that day, makeup was a part of my life. I’m currently taking on permanent makeup (at Sidney Le Beauty)…taking my makeup skills and understanding of color and art so I’m able to impact someone on a permanent basis.
“I don’t know how not to make art. I cannot live without it. There are always things I’m thinking of. I can see things in my minds eye, completed. Whether it’s a makeup or a sculpture. I see it before I finish it. Because of that, I have to do it. I see it already completed, so I’m compelled to do it. It’s not what I want tomake, it becomes what I need to make. Pain, grief, and sorrow are universal themes. Not everyone understands my art but when I see the people who are impacted by it, it makes me happy.”
“As I get older and I sculpt more faces…I think of all of the faces that I’ve touched. People share their vulnerabilities with you when you’re doing their makeup, they tell you sad things. That has helped me become a better artist. And those skills are incorporated. Like my sculptures even get lashes and I paint on their makeup. It gives it a special aesthetic because of my makeup background.”
“Doing someone’s makeup is important. It changes them and they can feel good about themselves. You have the chance to negate what they think. Everyone sits down and has something bad to say about themselves. I get to say, ‘What are you talking about? I don’t see that, I see this…’ That keeps me doing what I’m doing.”
Cheers to Masks, Makeup, and the Abilty to help someone see their true self,