Creative License

Denver Artist Monica Curiel on Plaster, Purpose and Granting Yourself Creative Permission

Article by Katherine Owen

Photography by Mallorie McBride unless otherwise noted

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

Inside artist Monica Curiel’s home studio in Denver, you’ll find all the same tools and materials you might find at a home construction site. Large pieces of wood, every form of plaster, grouting tools and more. 

“Pretty much anything you can find at a hardware store, I make with,” Monica explains. But her connection to these tools extends far back before her art career; these are tools and materials she learned how to use at a young age growing up in Texas.

“I grew up accompanying my parents to work, and they’re both labor workers; my mom cleans houses and was a stay-at-home mom, and my dad has rental properties which he flips, and that’s how we learned to use construction materials and paint walls and grout tiles and use plaster,” she says. 

Monica went into college knowing she wanted to pursue a creative field and majored in fashion design, but a cancer diagnosis her freshman year was the impetus to really start granting herself creative permission and push the limit of what’s possible. 

“Through that experience, looking back, I really am grateful for it, as it really helped me to have a mentality of, ‘If I have the time, I’m going to really explore what I want to do.’” 

By her senior year, Monica was exploring her identity through different creative practices, and, for the first time, she had more time to dabble in different mediums. She found herself pushing for creative liberty once again.

“We had some time to do independent study, which just meant you could dabble in whatever medium you wanted and explore it for a year. To be quite frank, I had never gotten the permission to do so….So I went to materials I knew how to use, which was plaster and concrete and grouting tools. And I started doing these textural paintings for my space.”

Today, that connection between art, home, culture and medium all comes together in Monica’s work as she explores functional objects like lighting and furniture in addition to her plaster art pieces. She uses a variety of plasters to create everything from sculptural paintings that mimic draped fabric to lamps and candleholders. 

“I think there’s a correlation for me between my mental health and my environment. I feel less anxious when I have control, and I feel more calm when I can express it and dive into it creatively. And I think a lot of what I’m doing today taps into that. I’m giving myself this new permission to explore things outside of being just a piece of art. I’m exploring space and how people interact with it, which is super exciting because it has to do with all the interests I’ve ever studied.” 

This year, those creations made it all the way to Milan Design Week, where Monica participated in an exhibit called “This is America,” showcasing underrepresented communities of American creators. For Monica, it was yet another opportunity to push boundaries and grant permission. 

“I feel this responsibility to try it all. While I am able and while I have this power to dictate what my hands do, I want to do that. Along with honoring my parents’ sacrifices, I think that is really taking advantage of the fact that I’m alive and well and able,” she says. “I think what other people might see as impulsive or chaotic, like the fact that I just started painting and now I’m trying to do furniture… To me, I think ‘Why not while I can? Let me explore. Let me do it now.’”

You can see more of Monica’s work at MonicaCuriel.Art or on Instagram at @MonicaCuriel.Art.

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