STORY

Ignoring the
traditional paths

The pandemic has been a reminder of values: Artist Luisa Salas on her choice to live a slow and untraditional life

As an artist, Luisa Salas has been challenged by the COVID-19 outbreak. A lockdown of her creativity has resulted in anxiety, but the pandemic has been a reminder of life and refreshment of inspiration. Now Luisa tries to balance a slow life with her family while being busy working.

By Jakob Laust Hviid.
Photographed by Conie Suarez Bravo.

On Sundays, the streets of Mérida are closed. The city is in a slow mood, and so are the people. Many of the inhabitants get together with their families and friends to walk around the streets.

- You might say that Mérida is a bit of a boring city. There are a lot of old people - but it is nice, Luisa Salas laughs.

The 28-year-old artist moved to the small city of Mexico a year ago after staying in Cancún for nine years. Luisa wanted to get away from the chaotic, big city to make a more peaceful living instead.

Her new life might be slightly more boring, but moving to the south was a question of security, school and a desire for a change in her surroundings - to replace the ongoing drug war with a nice neighbourhood and good schools.

- Mérida has given me space to express myself through my art and the time to be a mother and a partner. Things that are more valuable than a big-city-life, she says.

The slow life in Mérida does not only give her inspiration and peace to develop her art, but it is the perfect surroundings for her little family that includes her husband, Mis, their 6-year-old son, Lorenzo, and their three cats, Gatini, Ninja and Shubby. They all live in a remodelled, two-story house from the 1800s in the outskirts of the city.

"Mérida has given me space to express myself through my art and the time to be a mother and a partner. Things that are more valuable than a big-city-life."

Ignoring the traditional paths of art

A lot of Luisa’s work involves painting. However, she works with many mediums as an artist: Canvasses, skateboards, walls.

While she only stands 163 cm tall, the latter is her speciality and why she describes herself as a ‘muralist’. The challenge of using a lift and working from a grid is thrilling to her.

- For me, it’s incredible to paint on a small canvas, but once the scale goes up and the canvas becomes a huge building, it is a big challenge, Luisa says.

Also, she appreciates that the murals she makes are for everyone, not just the ones that have money to buy a painted canvas.

The choices Luisa has made as an artist are different from the mainstream artist in the region. Her work often breaks with traditions and the way artists are expected to perform in Mexico.

- Art in Mexico is very institutional and gallery-focused. That’s how you are expected to climb the ladder, but I have completely ignored that, she says.

Her murals are all over Mexico and the United States. For example in Atlanta, Mexico City and Cancún - just to name a few. But besides painting murals, Luisa also likes to work with brands. She has an upcoming partnership with a skateboard company, and previously she has collaborated with a tequila brand.

The challenges of art

Luisa likes this idea of expanding the canvas to commercial objects instead of institutionalizing her art in the corner of a gallery that is only seen by a cultural elite or tourists.

- When I cooperate with big brands, it helps me get more noticed, and this way, my art reaches more people than small galleries manage to. I like the thought of that, she explains.

Collaborating with big brands helps her not only to tell her own story but also Mexico’s story to the world. Also, projects like that challenge Luisa to be creative in another way, and that is a big part of how she develops her art and herself.

Another challenge as an artist is one’s mental health, Luisa mentions.

- It’s easy to spiral down in depressive moods because it’s a very lonely job. It’s silent, and the work is coming from your own mind, which can be a dark place. Even if you’re painting a mural, where people are cheering from the street, you are entirely alone.

- It is only your family that gets you out of that place because they’re not artists and can tell you to chill, she explains.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, Luisa has been challenged mentally in a new way.

- I started to get a lot of anxiety. I couldn’t travel, I couldn’t make murals, I couldn’t meet up with friends.

Her creativity was basically locked down like the rest of the global society, she exemplifies. Naturally, that has made the last six months mentally difficult for Luisa - as with the rest of the world.

Nevertheless, Luisa has chosen to see it as another challenge she has to overcome and use in her art.

"It’s also important to press pause and appreciate what you have right now."

The art of balancing life

The pandemic has forced Luisa to be inspired in other ways than usual - and it has also been a reminder of what really matters to her.

In that regard, Luisa has then tried to keep a positive mind and found to appreciate the smaller things – and let those things inspire her. Like the flowers in the garden and seeing her son’s smile in the morning, she elaborates.

Now she tries to take these smaller experiences in, which she hasn’t been used to. She was probably a little more rushed; if she was bored, she would meet up with friends, go to the cinema or take a trip to the beach.

- While that is good too, it’s also important to press pause and appreciate what you have right now, she says.

But sometimes you forget to appreciate those things while life goes on, she adds.

- Of course, there’s still an eagerness inside of me to go out, but I hope that I – and the world in general – will have learned to balance things better. In that way we still satisfy our curiousness, but also remember to live in the moment, Luisa says.

Even if it is a cliché, the chaos of the pandemic has made it more clear to Luisa what is really important to her. While she likes to travel and be busy working, the Sunday feeling of Mérida where people get together and have time for ice cream and slow walks is something she has come to value greatly.

Luisa is wearing