Mexican illustrator Valeria Gallo has a penchant for the quotidian. Her vivid illustrations are often inspired by the everyday and the family and friends around her, but also by strangers on the street – the myriad of characters you can find on the vibrant and often tumultuous streets of Mexico City. Along with the depictions of real and fictitious characters in her life, you can also find a portrait that is unmistakably her: the unruly locks of black hair and stylish eyeglasses are a clear giveaway. “I think every work is inevitably a reflection of its creator,” explains Valeria. “Sometimes we wish it weren’t, but it is inevitable. Maybe I see a reflection of myself in my characters with big tired eyes, maybe my drawings of children look like my son, the women look like my mom.”
Throughout Valeria’s prolific career her illustrations of everyday people and their expressiveness have attracted interest from publishers of children’s books. Yet her perspective is grounded and real – far from a fairy tale. Through vivid illustrations, her narrative expands to lend a voice on social and political issues, which in her opinion should always be expressed. “I guess more and more there’s a need to speak up,” she says, “to give your opinion about everything that is happening in Mexico, about injustice, political decay, violence. At least that need should exist. Working on children’s books I haven’t been able to shape the conversation that I have been having with myself the way I’d like to. It’s not easy. I wish the art scene in Mexico was a bit more rebellious, more real.”
That need to speak up through her work translates not only to expressing her point of view on social and political issues but also as a way to welcome introspection. For Valeria, creating means well-being. “Creating is growth,” she says. “It’s growing old without stopping playing, like a child. To create, for me, is to live. If I don’t have that, I have very little left.”
Earlier this year, as the pandemic hit and lockdown began across the world, Valeria started a series of illustrations entitled “Tambien se vale…” (“It’s also valid…”) depicting a female character dressed in loungewear and with unshaven legs who, bound by constraints and isolation, goes through a series of stages and emotions. It’s a character many of us will find relatable.
During confinement an introspective space emerged, giving Valeria the opportunity to explore and reflect upon the strange place and time we are living in and how isolation affects our lives and our creativity. Through different iterations in her illustrations, Valeria acknowledges the vast range of emotions we are all undergoing – from despair to hope to sadness to contentment – connecting us through the shared experience of isolation. Valeria captures those feelings perfectly, and with just the words “Tambien se vale” she is giving herself – and giving us – permission to experience the range of actions we take to help us cope with confinement, whether it’s wanting to escape or endlessly watching videos, smashing a dish or putting on makeup, procrastinating or indulging. It’s all valid.
For Valeria, creating during difficult times can be an escape, but even more than that, it’s also the way she lives and how she inhabits this world. “It’s where I find my voice and many times my solace,” she says. I asked her for any advice for creatives who feel the need to create during confinement but can’t always find the motivation or inspiration they need. “It’s very complex,” she explains, “because it’s the kind of work that goes hand in hand with emotions. You can’t force it. However, meditation and yoga has helped me, as well as putting my mind at ease thinking that we are all in this together and that there’s nothing we can do except trying to have the best possible attitude. And of course, sometimes I go outside – taking all precautions – I talk to my people, I read, watch movies, listen to music. I try to find beauty anywhere.”
We like to think that Valeria’s series transcends borders and languages as we all share a collective experience. And we hope that her cathartic illustrations can help you in finding a way to navigate confinement. Please know that you are not alone and that however you are feeling today, it’s all valid.