With a surrealist style, Mexican artist Paola Lagunas creates art that allows her to communicate her emotions and be proud of her culture.
Lagunas — who goes by the artist alias ‘Arte por Lola’ — has a condition called Aphantasia, meaning she is unable to see images in her mind. If you ask her how to describe her mother’s looks, she won’t be able to. She can feel her, but not see her. Her art is her form of expression.
“The colors in my work, show up because I do a lot of work with my emotions, it’s a way to communicate with my subconscious and it’s also a beautiful way to add color to my life,” Lagunas said. “I know in Mexico and Latin countries, things are bright and colorful, so it’s an ode to Latin America and all our cultures to keep my art vibrant.”
Lagunas has been artistically inclined since she was young, seeing her mother work in craft and being involved in art classes throughout her school years.
“My mom in Mexico had an arts and craft shop and I remember helping her do a lot of the decorating,” she said. “But after my father passed away, she had to leave all of the art behind because her crafting business was not enough to support my siblings and I.”
Her mother, Alma Ivonne Torree Olguin, said she is happy to see her daughter succeed and enjoy her love for art.
“I am super proud of her and her past teachers from school who are now teachers of my younger son, are also proud of her and knew she was talented and would go far in life,” Olguin said in Spanish.
Lagunas also has support from her fiancé, Xavi Herrera, who is inspired by her leadership and describes her art as dreamy.
“I think because she puts so much raw emotion into each of her paintings, they all evoke different emotions within the viewer,” Herrera said. “She has so much history to draw from within her own experiences as a woman, while also adding experiences of her culture and ancestral experiences, where anything her ancestors have felt permeates through her. She’s able to tap into that and put it on canvas and it can be seen through her art.”
Becoming a full-time artist was not easy for Lagunas. Coming from Michoacan, Mexico, she initially migrated to Idaho before coming to the Bay Area and wanted to pursue her career at Mills College. But due to financial reasons, she couldn’t continue her studies.
“I ended up having to step back from school and one day, working as a waitress, I reminded myself that I wanted to get good at drawing and I would spend hours drawing before work at coffee shops and during breaks,” Lagunas said. “This is how I started my social media because my coworkers at the time said I should post my art and that’s how it all started.”
Upon arriving in Oakland, it was the graffiti where she found inspiration.
“Initially what I first practiced was lettering and all the artwork and buildings made me want to get better,” she said. “I would attend free art events in Oakland and pop-up shops because I was so curious.”
She also draws influence from, Mónica Hernández, a New York-based Panamanian artist who has a similar surrealist artistic style.
“There’s also a part of me that wants to step into larger art spaces where you’re not seeing a lot of female artists, so that other Latina artists can start seeing themselves in those spaces,” she said.
In 2022, she painted a mural for La Cocina Municipal Marketplace and is in the process of formalizing her vegan family food business.
“My ultimate dream is to have an art bar, using the food and representing the colors in my work is really important to me and shows my love for Mexico,” she said. “I also want to host bigger art shows, including other artists in the Bay and other small food vendors and using the power of community to help other artists along the way.”
From January 28 to February 18, Lagunas had her solo art exhibition “El Viaje de las Mariposas” at Evolved SF where she showcased her theme idea of returning to Mexico.
“A big message in my art is the idea of transformation and change,” she said. “I do include a lot of butterflies in my art because I think a lot has changed in my life since I started devoting myself to art and trusting the process.”
Lagunas is appreciative of her mother’s sacrifices and the support she receives in following her artistic goals.
“There are many opportunities here in the United States, the goal is to take advantage of them and Paola has done exactly that and has inspired many other artists from Latin America,” Olguin said in Spanish.
To see and learn more about Lagunas’ work, visit her website: arteporlola.com