Elizabeth and I met while she was a resident artist for my Pittsburgh based events company, Cafe Con Leche. There were over 60 Latino artists that applied from around the country and she was one of 10 that was chosen. Muralist, Elizabeth Barreto was chosen because the judges felt her murals were grand and intricate at once, you can see more about her background by reading her bio. Each artist residency was for one month. Having never lived outside of Puerto Rico, being in Pittsburgh was a new adventure for Elizabeth. And she happened to stay during the month that the Penguins won the Stanley Cup (which for anyone who knows anything about Pittsburgh sports culture is a really big deal). It was a blast to have Elizabeth experience the true Pittsburgh love of hockey and all things Pittsburgh. The art she produced as a result of this experience was some of the most fun work I have ever seen, even leaving two wheatpaste murals along Penn Ave. in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Garfield. Since Elizabeth’s time in Pittsburgh, we have kept in touch and I am happy to be able to present this follow up conversation with Ms. Barreto.
Tara Sherry-Torres: Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you are from and how you became an artist.
Elizabeth Barreto: I’m a visual artist but also an art educator. I currently work for the Museum of Contemporary of Art of Puerto Rico. I grew up in a creative home environment with mom doing arts and crafts as a hobby while my dad was a ceramic dental technician. My interest in art developed around the age of twelve when I became obsessed with japanese animation. I loved painting watercolor backgrounds and copying character designs. Once I even tried to write a script for my own story but discovered that I enjoyed drawing the most. When I was 16 I began to design collages on my notebooks and that continues to be a technique that I constantly use.
TT: How did you start painting murals?
EB: When I got to college there was an underground graffiti/street art movement starting to happen in San Juan and I began to collaborate with the artists by painting backgrounds and characters for murals. I was really bad at first but enjoyed the thrill of it. As I practiced, my work developed and I started to enjoy the challenge of working on bigger scales. Feedback from my colleagues and professors helped me because I began to understand the way constructive feedback works and I became confident about making mistakes and learning from them. My method is using a mix of mediums like spraypaint, acrylics, wheatpaste and anything else that helps accomplish the vision.
TT: Why do you enjoy painting murals?
EB: Overcoming the blank space of an empty wall is ambitious and at the same time a little bit frightening, for me it’s important to observe how the environment relates to your artwork and how your artwork is being contextualized. Many artists have the skills to reproduce their artwork on a large scale, but I take in consideration where this artwork is going to be displayed, for whom and why. I believe artists have a social responsibility within their communities.
TT: What is your latest project?
EB: I recently relocated my studio into an all women artist co-working space in an area of San Juan called Santurce. The name of the space is Taller Malaquita (Malachite Workshop). It was founded by eight women artists and named for the Malachite mineral, which is believed to have healing and protective properties. The idea is to create a space where women artists can discuss ideas, share supplies and equipment, and support each other. By promoting solidarity, respect, love and strength, the space can also serve as a place for the community to promote art through hosting workshops, exhibitions and community gatherings.
All of the women in the organization stand together in order to support each other through adversity to create our own art while providing opportunities for others. In times when Puerto Rico is going through the worst social and economical crisis, community art reinforces important social values in the community like teamwork, self-management, freedom of speech, respect for diversity, peaceful coexistence, and empowerment.
My next step is to hopefully start image studies for my next solo show for which I am planning to assist the gagá festivities in the town of Comendador in the province of Elías Piñas, Dominican Republic. The gagá is a cultural manifestation of social-religious character from haitian origins celebrated in the Easter weekend. What interests me the most is how kids and teenagers interpret these cultural manifestations and mythify deity characters and ritualization.
TT: How can people keep up with your adventures?
EB: People can keep up with my adventures through my instagram account @cookingood, is my favorite platform for sharing my work.