Crystal Latimer is a multi-disciplinary artist primarily working in the two dimensional mediums of painting, drawing & collage, but has also extended her recent practice to include ceramic tile. Heavily influenced by her Latina heritage and a lifetime of travel to her mother’s native Costa Rica, her studio practice explores the hybridity and dilution of the Latin American culture. Crystal’s academic studies have been based out of Western Pennsylvania, obtaining her BFA from Slippery Rock University in 2010, an MA from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) in 2013, and wrapping it up with her MFA from IUP in Spring 2016. Crystal’s work has recently been published in the December 2015 Issue of Fresh Paint Magazine. Regionally, her work has been shown at Most Wanted Fine Art Gallery, UnSmoke Systems, and 937 Gallery in Pittsburgh. Her international experience includes a group show in Hong Kong, China, as well as an Artist Residency at the Joaquín Chaverri Fábrica de Carretas in Sarchí, Costa Rica, both in the year 2014.
CL: My work is basically a hybrid of Western culture and American culture, and stems from my background, being Costa Rican-American. Some of the work goes into the dilution of Latin American culture because of Westernization, but some of it is just a hybrid of the two cultures. To get to the Latin American side or the vocabulary of my work, I reference Latin American Folk Arts. There are Costa Rican caretta designs, which are designs that were put onto ox carts that transported coffee from coast to coast. I am really familiar with that design because that’s where my grandma lives, and I went and visited there as a child… and I kind of saw the process, but then in grad school I got into it again. And I did a residency to really learn how to do those designs. And that’s a huge part of the work. Those are the wheels that you see, and some of those designs are hidden in the back as well. But then I also I really like to reference Mexican tile work, I just love the pattern in it.
JK: Looking at these without the Costa Rican historical side of it, I thought they were just sort of a nice tile design. But that brings a lot of depth to it.
CL: I like the organization. The carreta design is more of a radial design. And so I like the contrast with the more grid-like design of the tiles… And then in my collages, which I can show you as well, I use South American textiles. Whenever I was doing my thesis in grad school I started to research Westernization, and I realized it started in 1492, when Christopher Columbus came, so I have a series of work that depicts the colonization of Mexico. I grabbed from the Conquest in Mexico paintings done in the 1700’s…
JK: So those figures at the bottom are directly pulled from that source?
CL: Yes the silhouettes. That’s actually the Mexica people killing Montezuma, their leader, because he trusted the Spaniards coming in… It’s painted with cheerful colors but I guess the symbols in it are not that happy.
JK: Your color palette is so bright and so warm, even the blues and some of the greens are very warm, is that also because of the Costa Rican feel?
CL: Yes, I have been down there, I think 6 times, and I’ve been down there for a whole summer before. I really got to know, especially the little part where my grandma lives Candelaria. Everyone’s homes are painted the brightest colors. My cousin’s house is hot pink, which is why I bring in a lot of pink. And my grandma’s house was teal and then it was a green color. But all of these really saturated, punchy colors, and mostly warm colors. I try to replicate that type of flavor in my work… Everything I use is a metaphor, so there is a reason behind everything that I use. The silver and gold come from the primary reasons that the Spanish went to Latin America was to exploit them for their gold and silver.
JK: I am wondering now about the spray paint?
CL: The graffiti tag?
JK: Yes the graffiti tags.
CL: I kind of equate that to colonization. This attitude that you can just go in there and claim land as your own, and then also by performing the act of graffiti you raise your station, because you are gaining more territory. It’s the same with colonization. They went in there to raise their station and claim land. I equate those two acts.
JK: So that is more of a western influence?
CL: Yes. I used to use more expressive mark making too, which I tied to Abstract Expressionism, which was exclusively Western. It’s kind of come and gone in the last few years. My older work has it more. I think the graffiti is one of the major ties to the Western part. But also if you get close to some of the pieces, I have rebranded some of the Mexican tile to include corporate logos. A lot of them, and you can’t really tell, which I love, have Starbucks in it or Pinterest. I’ve replicated the design so you don’t really notice it at first glance. That’s another part of the Westernization too.
JK: Let’s look into your past for a little bit. I’m always curious about that moment when an artist decides, whether it’s in childhood or adulthood, that this is it, they’re going to be an artist, and this is what they’re going to do with their life. When was that moment for you?
CL: I’ve heard great stories of that moment, and I don’t know if mine is as great. It’s something that I have always done as a child, but I never thought it was a viable career. When I was looking into majors for college, I jumped into it, but I went the more practical route of graphic design or art education. And I think it was a lot of years of positive motivation from my husband and my professors that let me accept that I can be an artist. I think it’s something that I am still accepting now, that it can be a viable career because I enjoy it so much and why not do something that you love?
CL: Most excitingly I think, is the three Rivers Arts festival, I am an emerging artist over there. And I am so excited! I’ll be there[Correction: June 3-7th Booth #34 in Gateway Plaza].
JK: How did you become an emerging artist?
CL: … It’s one of the emerging artist scholarships… I think Terry Boyd actually planted the seed in my mind. I don’t know if I would have applied this year or not. But he planted that idea, and I did apply. And when I found out, I was completely astounded to be a part of it. I have been going to the Three Rivers Arts Festival for years. And truthfully the only reason I go is to look at the emerging artists. I just gravitate straight to their booth. I like to see what artists in this town are working on and what to strive towards. I am really excited to make that fully circle and be part of that emerging artist this year.
JK: So that was a long time goal?
CL: It was a huge bucket list goal.
JK: So in this emerging artist section, is your work going to be for sale?
CL: It is. I’m going to have paintings, I’ll have prints of my paintings, and I will have framed collages as well.
CL: I picked up my first paint brush in the summer of 2008, so I still feel like a newbie… I did all figurative work before I did this more abstract layered work like this. It happened the month before my first thesis exhibition for my Masters of Arts and I completely freaked out and had no idea what I was doing, and then it all came together in the very last month before the show.
I have been with this style ever since and developing it. I think the layers have gotten a lot more sophisticated in the last year.
JK: Like more intricate? More layering?
CL: It’s more layering and then I discovered the sander. I have a sander, and sometimes I will apply paint but then I strip it away to the bottom layer. And that really helps… It has an aged look.
JK: If you could let this city and it’s residents one thing, what would it be?
CL: I would say, dear Pittsburgh, trust the process. I think perseverance is one of our greatest tools as an artist, both in the studio and in an artistic career.