interview Jorge Perezchica
Amairiani Noriega grew up the youngest of three sisters in Thermal, CA., and describes it as “Small town, made up of pretty much all trailers and a few houses throughout, the rest is all agriculture.” In those formative years, before Netflix and chill, Amairana was looking for fun in creative places and ways. And she did. She was happy wandering outside in the sandy hills that surrounded her home. Amairani’s parents are immigrants from Mexico and they made a living in the best ways they could. Looking back, Amairani had everything she could ever need. In the last years of high school her family lived in Indio, CA., where she began to explore various creative outlets from photography, theater, and digital art. But Amairani’s main passion is drawing, here she discovered something magical about the simplicity of a pencil and paper. She transitioned into college and enrolled to Cal State LA. Amairani started experimenting with my art and her drawings went from realistic to more abstract. Amairani stays motivated by the community that surrounds art. She is inspired by music, Coachella Valley sunsets and in organic things that experience life and death, because that is essentially the human condition.
Coachella Magazine: Can you tell us about yourself, growing up between Thermal and Indio, CA and your art background?
Amairani Noriega: My name is Amairani Noriega. Most people call me Ami because it’s easier to pronounce. I’m 24 years old. I was born in Indio and raised in Thermal, CA. Anyone who grew up in Thermal knows, it’s a small town made up of pretty much all trailers and a few houses throughout, the rest is all agriculture. I grew up the youngest of three sisters and now have a 7-year-old brother who lives in Coachella with my mom. I spent my last years of high school living in Indio and graduated from Indio High School. That’s really where I met some of my good friends that I still keep in touch with and where I began to explore my artistic interests. Simply because my previous high school had less funding and offered less electives, which were always my favorite classes. When I moved to Indio, I started getting even more into theater, photography, and digital art. My passion is drawing. There is something magical for me about the simplicity of a pencil and paper. I also really enjoy painting, graphic design, printmaking, sculpting, and pretty much everything I can get my hands on. I’m a sucker for tea parties with my roommates, picnics, and skorts that are always too short.
CM: You mentioned growing up in a one bedroom trailer park in Thermal — what was that experience like? Was your family supportive towards your art and creative endeavors?
Amairani: It’s mostly agriculture and trailer parks, so my sisters and I had to look for fun in creative places and ways. And we did. This was well before Netflix, Hulu, or anything like that and we had no other choice than to wander outside in the sandy hills that surrounded where we lived. I grew up happy. I had everything I could ever need and looking back, I think part of that was because we were living so simply. My parents are immigrants from Mexico so they made a living in the best ways they could at the time, but they always made sure we were comfortable and I’m grateful for that. My sisters have always been supportive about my art, and while my parents weren’t unsupportive, I think there was definitely some disconnect about my projects outside of your basic STEM subjects. My eldest sister Veri was the bio major, the middle sister Oyuki was the math major, and then there was me, still trying to figure things out.
CM: Did you always want to be an artist. And was there a special point in your life that you felt art was going to be a career?
Amairani: Actually no. As much as I love making and learning about art, I equally love learning about psychology, science, philosophy and math, so it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to major in or even consider art as a career. My eldest sister is the one who really sparked my interest in art and who inspired and encouraged me to be creative, but I always had the idea that I needed to have a career in math or science to really make my parents proud. I kept thinking, what would bring in the most income. Surely I thought it would be science, so I enrolled at Cal State LA as a biology major. I did like genuinely like biology, and still do, but because my decision was influenced by money and not passion, I found myself doubting that I would actually enjoy a career in biology in the long term. It was really until I finally convinced myself that money is not an issue if you are doing what you love. Yes, that’s something you hear iterated so much, it’s a cliché. So cliché it’s almost like you don’t believe it applies to you personally. Though that’s not the case, what makes it cliché is that it’s so true. If you are doing what you love, you will find yourself around people who love that too and it makes the possibility of art as a career feel more obtainable and real. It took me a while to figure that out, and I will admit it was pretty scary, but after being in school for two years, I finally changed my major to graphic design and the opportunities that came from that decision have been amazing to say the least.
CM: What was the experience like moving from the Coachella Valley to attending college in Los Angeles? Was it a smooth transition? What was the main thing you learned from your college experience?
Amairani: It was an exciting transition. I grew up with a really strict mom and couldn’t wait to move out and go to college. I knew I wanted to live and go to school in LA because that’s where my sisters lived after they moved out. I would visit them while in high school during vacations and just fell in love (mostly with the climate difference). I’m kidding, although that was a plus. I was away from home and free from my parents jurisdiction. It represented freedom for me, and I knew the easiest way to keep that freedom was to go to school. When I first moved, I lived with my sister Oyuki, and my sister Veri lived 15 minutes from us. So I had their support in every way imaginable throughout that transition. And to this day, I still have that support, so I consider myself lucky for that. The most important thing I learned is probably the idea that school doesn’t make a person more intelligent. It’s not the institution, it’s the education. It sounds obvious but in my first years of college, I had this distorted idea that the person I was when I started school and the person I would be when I graduated were two totally alien people, not considering all the challenges in between. A lot of times I did feel like I wanted to give up and drop out and that school was a drag or it wasn’t for me. Yeah, it’s hard to juggle fun stuff and getting up early, but I had to really wake myself up and not just physically speaking but also mentally. I had to scold myself and remind myself that I’m lucky to even have this opportunity. Education is not about going from point A to point B, it’s not something you “finish” when you “graduate,” it’s about continually improving yourself so you better connect with your surroundings, especially other people. Once I saw it in that light, I started taking school more seriously. All we need is to have that eagerness to continue to learn. In school, after school, or outside of school in general.
CM: How has your artwork evolved since graduating from college?
Amairani: Tremendously. I really owe it to a handful of my art professors who actually put in the effort to make my classes more challenging but also taught me to be more aware of my surroundings. And not only my art professors but my philosophy professors and peers that really challenged me and got me to think differently. Our environment is what influences us and the more you learn about the world around you and the people in it, the more you start to figure out how you can connect with that or if you’d like to connect with that at all. And when I started to kinda figure that out, I became more open to things that I might have considered uncomfortable otherwise. So I started experimenting with my art more. My drawings went from super realistic to more abstract.
CM: What keeps you most inspired and motivated as an artist?
Amairani: What keeps me most motivated is the community that surrounds art. I’m amazed at all the different ways that creative people can come together. I’m inspired by my friends who are also visual artists or musicians. Seeing your friends conquer hardships and find successes alongside you is really motivating because it’s really is an amazing feeling to experience that growth together. I take a lot of inspiration from music itself. I’m also really inspired by nature. The Coachella Valley sunsets and cacti because that’s what I saw growing up. The best color palettes and patterns are found in nature as well. I find beauty in organic things. Things that experience a life and a death, because that is essentially the human condition. We are all these “things” that live among one another and will all one day die, and that’s a beautiful thing we all have in common.
CM: You work both in illustration and graphic design. What is your creative process for each?
Amairani: My creative process for both are quite similar. I like to use a lot of illustration in my graphics so I tend to begin my process with simple sketches after doing quite a bit of research. After sketching out my ideas, I take the best qualities of each and combine them into a solidified sketch. Since my work is collaborative a lot of the time, I discuss that idea with whomever I’m working with. Once we come to an agreement I can finally start to draw it digitally. I just got an iPad which is really great because I can draw straight onto the program which cuts down my work time drastically. I run the final piece by my partner or client and make any final adjustments if needed.
CM: How would you describe your aesthetic and personal style?
Amairani: I would say my style is organic. I tend to stay away from hard edges and use a lot of lines. It’s weird because when I draw with pencil I get very realistic with shading and detail but when I draw digitally that completely changes. My drawings are flatter and more 2-dimensional, and of course a lot more colorful. I love using bright backgrounds contrasted by white lines in the foreground.
CM: Are there any reoccurring motifs or themes you explore in your work? You mentioned beauty in nature and organic things.
Amairani: Yeah, for the last two years or so I’ve been interested in exploring the idea of growth. I took a philosophy course about two or three years ago that focused on how to live a meaningful life, and a lot of material we read touched on the idea that to find meaning in one’s life, one must first have goals, and then take action in order to realize these goals. So naturally, I pondered that upon working on and reaching these goals, we experience growth. Whether that be intellectual growth, spiritual growth, and the more obvious, physical growth. A lot of my drawings, paintings, and graphics have been centralized around this idea, and so I’ve been using a lot of plants and flowers in my work as one way of representing that.
CM: What do you normally do on your spare time away from art?
Amairani: I love live music so going to shows and concerts is a regular activity for me. I also really enjoy stand up comedy. So apart from watching a lot of it on TV, I often go to comedy shows around LA. More recently, I’ve been spending more time watching as many films as I can. I love visiting my favorite neighborhood coffee shop Holy Grounds. I love it because they host art nights as well as comedy nights and support local artists by selling some of their goods. They just recently reopened after getting hit by a car so I’m extremely happy to hear they are back. And lastly, I’m always up for trying new restaurants because who doesn’t love food?
CM: What are some challenges you have faced thus far as an artist and what have been exciting opportunities that came your way?
Amairani: Working with musicians is always really exciting because one of my favorite challenges is representing music visually. Working as a junior graphic designer for two years at Cal State LA was a great opportunity because it allowed me to have hands on experience early on that I would have otherwise not had until I got a job at a design firm. A huge challenge I face daily is finding validity in my career in between projects now that I’m not working in an office environment. It’s tough finding clients and then maintaining them and so when you’re working a normal job to survive, it’s easy to get stuck in that cycle because having money flow in constantly is nice. Having enough money to make your rent, eat, and still be able to do fun stuff between projects is definitely a struggle.
CM: Can you tell us a bit about one of your favorite projects you completed?
Amairani: My senior project was probably the most challenging but also the most rewarding project I’ve worked on. Challenging because we had the freedom to create anything that fell under the category of graphic design, so I couldn’t decide what I wanted to make. Then, I had the crazy idea to make a book. I took this opportunity to really explore the ideas of growth and decay that I have been so intrigued by. What I didn’t consider was that I had decided to write and illustrate a book, and make a gallery installation for the finished product in about 13 weeks time give or take. And like, how do you successfully illustrate the idea that since we all experience growth and decay, we should learn to accept death and not let it dictate our actions? Because if you think about it, a lot of times we let our our fears consume us. We might stop ourselves from experiencing something, closing the door to a possibility of growth, out of fear of failing or fear of getting hurt. So I had some help with the writing portion of the book, because I’m better visually than I am poetically, and then did it. I made a book and made an installation for it in order to exhibit it in the gallery.
CM: What advice do you have for young aspiring artists interested in pursuing a career in the creative industry?
Amairani: My advice would be to not get discouraged by seeing the successes of everyone around you. It’s easy to fall into that pit, scrolling endlessly on Instagram, seeing what everyone else is up to. Just remember, everyone works at their own pace and everyone is dealing with their own hardships. Also, everything on social media is only a small spectrum of all the possibilities in the world, and frankly, there’s already enough of that going around. Be as weird and as different as you possibly can because that’s what will set you apart.
CM: What are you currently working on and where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Amairani: Right now, I’m really just trying to establish myself as a working artist. I’m building a clientele because that’s how you survive as a freelance graphic designer. Meanwhile, I’m working on fun projects like a Day of the Dead themed t-shirt design for Selenamos, a Selena cover band based in LA that will be performing on a cruise ship. I’m also working on a branding project for a new cannabis company that is based in Pomona.
CM: Thank you very much for your time.
Amairani: Thank you so much for taking the time to get to know artists from the Coachella Valley. It’s quite nice to see people from your hometown being creative and doing well. I think the valley needs more representation aside from Coachella Fest because anyone from the valley knows that Coachella Fest is only the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more hidden beneath the surface.