Theresa Escobedo’s illustrations pull subject matter from fantasy novels, skate culture and folk art to make cross-genre collage and designs. This fluidity in style and material supports a pervasive anarcho-punk ethos common throughout the work. For one such design, a black knight grips the handle of a sword pointed towards the ground; flowers vine up the blade, and it’s framed within a decorative border. The screen printed handkerchief reads, “the path to paradise begins in hell.” Whether for a unique piece, or a limited run of t-shirts, Escobedo continues to sharpen a visual identity that evolves and expands from one medium to another. Her work is never without warmth, and although the skies above the castle may storm, the promise of shelter compels us to cross the drawbridge.
Theresa and I met in Chicago’s Humboldt Park on the 29th of May. Coffee shops, bars and restaurants are closed. Public parks remain open during shelter-in-residence. We sat on rocks by the pond, talked about the city and watched geese swim circles in the water. What follows is a loose transcription of that conversation.
You grew up in San Antonio, and lived in Austin, TX for a spell. How did you find yourself in Chicago? Were you looking for a drastic change in weather, or did something specific bring you here?
Definitely wouldn’t say weather, although I mostly don’t mind it now. Funny enough, the day I moved here, was the first time I had ever been to Chicago. I spent most of my twenties jumping cities. Austin, NYC, St. Louis. I ended up in Chicago after my friends offered a cheap basement room, with seven roommates, no windows, and I figured. . . that was my green light. I fell in love with Chicago immediately though, and quickly settled up and out of the basement. I feel very lucky to have the friends and community I have here. It’s been a little over two years, and I haven’t had any intention of leaving.
How did your relationship with illustration begin?
As a kid I occupied a lot of my time with drawing and crafts. Certainly, made a lot of teen-angst bedroom art. I became more consistent, right after high school. I was drawing a lot of flyers for punk shows that I either booked or played.
I can see the influence of punk iconography and graphics in your drawings, and you always keep a bold quality to the line. Is this something you strive to maintain in your work?
In my early days of drawing, my interest in tattoos grew, maybe obsessively. I’m pretty sure from 2010 – 2015 I almost solely drew tattoo flash. Completely with the intention of tattooing one day. That’s definitely where the bold outlines originate. The idea was, if I just kept getting tattooed, and putting my flash out there, an apprenticeship would appear. But it never happened, and honesty I’m grateful it didn’t. During those years I was so focused on getting into a shop. I can really see now how I’d struggle with the constraints of a traditional tattooing path.
I’m still obsessed with tattoos, and the craft, of course. And I think the influence of tattoo flash is still pretty visible in most of my illustrations. But I think by relieving the idea of a traditional tattoo career, I was able to recognize that approach wasn’t working for me.
Did changing environments have any significant impact to your process after making this realization?
I’d like to think with all of the moving in recent years I’ve become pretty adaptable. I do prefer to maintain routines though. Drawing is such an isolating practice it is easy to quite literally get stuck in one place, or mindset, for a long time. And I am heavily influenced by my environment.
I was able to take drawing with me as I figured out where I wanted to be. But now that I’ve settled here in Chicago, I’ve been attempting more involved and large scale projects. I’m trying to explore new methods that evolve naturally. Just slow down a ton. I’ve had a long M.O. of never completing anything after a couple days. So, I’m learning to love the long processes now. More painting, printing, and recently paper mache.
You mentioned exploring new mediums; beyond painting and printing, you also use a range of mediums with particular devotion to Mexican Traditionalism. Can you speak on that a little in regards to your latest project?
While in quarantine, I really needed a break from drawing. I was already feeling a bit of burn out, and was searching for more meditative practices outside of art making. I started experimenting with paper mache as a hobbyist, and it’s transformed into a pretty unpredicted introspection.
Identifying as Chicana is important to me. I often use different traditional Latinx mediums and concepts. Ballpoint pen, paper mache, also themes and symbolisms. But as a white, non-Spanish speaking, Mexican-American, I’ve battled with exhibiting that identity in my work. I try and observe my own cultural connection and authenticity, while engaging with my privilege. Which is totally awkward and uncomfortable, but also feels really good.
I’ve recently been focused on a series of traditional paper mache masks. A series with no real, structured direction, but an opportunity for self-examination and education. I hope to release a small photo book of the project later this year.
Is there one memory that sticks out to you? Maybe a jumping off point when you realized you wanted to make art?
I guess, in all honesty, I watched a lot of TV as a kid, a lot of cartoons. I remember thinking pretty young, it’d be badass to make a cartoon show. Still think so.
For more from Theresa Escobedo, follow her on Instagram.
Photography by Jesse Bryant.