Inside (Some of) Sonya Gallardo’s Most Memorable Studios
One of them was open-air, even.
Sonya Gallardo, a huge fan of making personal spaces public à la the French conceptual artist Sophie Calle, says her studios have evolved with the type of work she creates—they’ve shifted as she’s moved from painting to textile design to accessories (her line: HighLow Jewelry). Here’s a look at where she started out and where she creates now. —lauren caruso
“This is the studio I had during my second year at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, before the jewelry was even a thought. I had started taking textile-design courses, and I really started getting into repeat patterns. I was taking two classes—one was computer rendering (left) and one was hand rendering (right). I made computer-rendered textiles and called them ‘Passion Prints’ because I had taken sexy images and made repeat patterns that translated as pretty and soft, so people didn’t really know what they were looking at. I would tell people to look carefully, and they’d be super surprised.”
“This was where I worked the first semester of my junior year at CCA when textile design really started influencing my paintings and sketches, and I became really interested in referencing my personal life. I had gone through a terrible breakup, and it was affecting all of my schoolwork. I was trying to think of a way to make it easier, so I thought, ‘Maybe if I deal with the breakup by making art about it, maybe it will help me complete all my assignments and also help me get through it emotionally.’ It was indirect, but all of these things had to do with that relationship ending. A friend of mine used to call this studio ‘the apartment’ because it became a home away from home.”
“At my art residency in New York, I really wanted to challenge myself to not paint or make any textile designs for the entire semester, so I hung up my painting clothes and organized my paints in this really obsessive kind of way on the floor. Everything just sat there like some kind of alter. I was so stuck, and I spent two months fooling around with video and had no idea what I was doing. I had artist’s block, and a month before the program ended, I just gave in and started painting. For the first time, I was really working sculpturally, and even though I ended up painting, I went from working completely 2-D to working in 3-D—right before I drifted into jewelry. Forcing myself not to paint sparked my interest in objects. “
“In my transition from college back home, I had to move into my brother’s old bedroom, and all I had was this small table that was my own. I could have painted something tiny, but I needed to figure out what I could do in such a small place—so I had the idea to make jewelry. At first, I was just playing around and trying not to take it seriously at all. I didn’t have the skill then, so this was a really insecure time. I had no idea if it was going to work. You have to think about more than what it looks like. Can it function as a necklace? Is it wearable, or will it break apart? That was a whole other world for me.”
“This was my studio in Los Angeles for one was summer. I tend to be a hermit and have to remind myself to leave my studio, so I thought it would be a healthy and nice thing to move everything outside. This little space was enclosed, except the ceiling was open to the sky. It was private and cozy. That same summer, I painted a lot of the jewelry outside. A bunch of wasps started building a nest right above me, and when I stepped on one with my bare foot, that was the end of that.”
“This is the same room where I started the jewelry, but my parents have been so supportive that it’s no longer my brother’s bedroom but a full-blown studio. On the brown board, those are the pieces of my necklaces in the painting process, and because I have to mix the colors every time and tape the brass pieces down to paint them, I always keep the scratch paper because I love the markings the process leaves behind. On the back wall, there’s a print from Felix González-Torres. There’s always artwork hanging in my studio for inspiration, whether it’s my own or by someone I love.”
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Spending her entire life immersed in art—textiles and painting, specifically—Sonya Gallardo never put much thought into jewelry-making. That is, until her gut told her to drop out of California College of the Arts after completing a residency program in New York. In a back-in-L.A., living-with-the-‘rents bind, Sonya had the urge to make something, anything. “I wanted to create things, but after I moved into my brother’s old room, I didn’t have the space,” she explains. “So I thought, ‘What can I make that’s small enough to fit on this table?’” Influenced by craft practices and symbols found in folk art, the work began as a hobby soon turned into the next phase of her creative development. But Sonya couldn’t let her love of painting fall by the wayside: Using vintage brass plates, silk-wrapped chains, and acrylics, the newly minted designer took a paintbrush to her work.
After a friend reblogged a photo of her latest endeavor, her whimsically charming—and not at all cutesy—aesthetic really caught on. As she says, “I couldn’t fill orders fast enough. I didn’t know what I was doing!” Founded in July 2011, HighLow Jewelry is fueled by the conversation about high and low art—and Sonya’s opposition to all that. “I don’t like those terms,” she explains. “So I combined them into one word to neutralize them.” That, and to make them her own. —lauren caruso
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Sonya Gallardo’s Creative Counterpart Can Count Her Age on One Hand
Meet HighLow Jewelry’s secret weapon.
Handcrafting (and hand-painting) jewelry out of a small L.A. studio can get lonely, but Sonya Gallardo has an under-the-radar helper coordinating things behind-the-scenes: her five-year-old niece Sofie. “She inspires me so much because kids don’t have these preconceived notions of what art should be or what things should look like,” Sonya explains. “Her thought process is so untainted.” Check out how Sonya and Sofie fuel each other’s creative pursuits. —lauren caruso
“Sofie went through a phase of doing these little studies of things—she decided to collect all these leaves for a plant study, and she eventually created a rock study. She always comes to show me. I think she likes to share everything with me because I just get her. She knows I genuinely like to know what she’s doing, and she knows that I’m making things all the time. So that’s something we share.”
“I was trying to create pictures for the website, and she was asking me about what I was doing. She followed me outside, and I asked her if she wanted to help. I taught her some terminology like photo shoot and styling and told her she could style the jewelry however she wanted. So she just walked around and started picking plants and flowers, and it just happened organically. She loved it. Those are her little hands arranging the jewelry.”
“This is one of the arrangements that appeared on my website. Nobody knows that she was helping me!”
“That towel was a gift from my friend Nicole at Nomadic Thread Society, and I wanted to blog about it. As usual, Sofie asked me what I was doing, so I used that as an opportunity to teach her what a blog was and asked if she wanted to model. We did a couple different poses, but this one was my favorite.”
“I taught her what an exhibition was, and she said she wanted to have one. This was her first. I asked her to go through all her art work and select what pieces she wanted to show, and after I taught her about curating and creating an installation, she told me exactly how and where she wanted everything, right down to how many pieces of tape. She also named every piece. We made invitations and invited our immediate family. She was super-excited, and our whole family came—which is only like five people. And as soon as they got there, the next picture happened.”
“She hid! It was very intimate for her, and she felt so vulnerable that she couldn’t handle it. She ended up getting so uncomfortable that she went inside. I totally understand! But now she’s gearing up for her second exhibition—a group show with her little sister’s work—and she’s really excited about it. She’s preparing for it.”