By Jessica Johnson
Oftentimes, along with a new year comes a new perspective. As you flip through the pages of a pristine new calendar, the clean, blank pages offer hope and a renewed outlook on life. This month’s column brings you something similar. For January, I am happy to introduce you to a young voice, a contemporary perspective, that of an up and coming visual artist just embarking on what is sure to be a successful career in the arts.
Meet Aptos High School graduate Gabriella DeNike, a local artist currently studying Art Practice at UC Berkeley. Gabriella was born and raised in Santa Cruz County and attended the Honors Program at Cabrillo College before heading up to Cal this past fall. As she puts it, she has “two loves, art and children,” and she hopes to find a way to incorporate her art into working with children with disabilities.
I have been a fan of Gabriella’s work for several years and, after talking with her, am even more impressed with her creative journey. I think you will be too.
Why is creativity important to you?
When I was younger, I had hearing loss in both ears…that began when I was around age three. I was able to shut out the world and just draw, for hours and hours — my mom says that was my favorite thing to do. When I was 7, my mom signed me up for a Blue Apple Studios art class. [The class] helped me cope with my hearing loss because I had not learned consonants and sounds correctly and I also have a mild case of dyslexia. Art was a way of coping and was something that came to me without struggle.
What’s the first thing you remember creating?
You know the wax from Laughing Cow cheese? (laughs) I would unwrap them and give the cheese to my sister and I would make little animals, like mice and dogs. They were miniature and I had a huge collection of them.
Who has been the biggest influence in your creative life so far?
It’s probably my mother, with all of her encouragement and always bouncing ideas off of her.
Do you refer to yourself as an artist?
Are there other creatives in your family?
Yes, my grandmothers on both sides are artists. My mother’s mother has done a lot of stone artwork and she’s a chef. And on my dad’s side [my grandmother] went to art school and she did printmaking and screen printing. Later she went into performing arts and is now a director.
What never fails to inspire you?
I am in love with van Gogh and the way that he paints, always have been. But I would say I am also really drawn to Diego Rivera — and Frida [Kahlo] of course is in there too — so I actually try to pull from them. That might be because I am attracted to Mexico and the culture there.
Do you have dry spells? What do you do when you have them?
Um, yes! In those moments I just start drawing. It’s really important, just as writers write every day, for artists to draw every day. For me, when I have moments of dry spells it’s like my inspiration bank is empty and I need to make time to fill it back up.
How do you do that?
Being in nature, having conversations with people with different perspectives, watching movies. Being out in nature is a big one.
How has living here, in Santa Cruz, influenced you?
Well, I am surrounded by artists here. I always go to Open Studios. I really am drawn to the ocean and the fields. Agriculture has such a big influence in my art, so there is this beautiful connection to creating from the earth and creating a painting.
Do ideas come to you in a flash or do they percolate?
There will be a spark of inspiration, it will be very small, not big. And then it gets bigger as research happens. I do a lot of research, hours and hours. When I did a series of paintings on children with disabilities, I did research on dyslexics and mechanics of the brain, a lot of research and education went into it. That sometimes leads me to a completely different inspiration. And then I store it in my bank!
Is there any advice you would give to someone who says they are not creative?
There has to be a certain sense of curiosity … and fearlessness. I always tell people that to be an artist you have to have a sense of fearlessness. You just have to do. A creative person isn’t afraid of taking risks.
How you do define living a creative life?
My art doesn’t define me, it’s not my identity; the process defines me. I don’t see myself being able to cope with life without art. It’s how I relate to life, how I cope, how I participate.
Gabriella’s art can be seen on Instagram: @gabriella95rose_art
Raised in Aptos, Jessica Johnson is a freelance writer and blogger dedicated to inspiring others to live brave, creative lives. Learn more at www.jessicajanisjohnson.com Email your questions, comments and creative suggestions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org