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“I feel a sense of belonging now in the art community.” Nicaraguan-American artist Jessica Gutiérrez creates artwork that explores ancestral stories

Jessica Gutiérrez

Nicaraguan-American watercolor artist Jessica Gutiérrez had always used her art and creative compulsions as something to do on the side while focusing on her career work and schooling. While therapy work and the social work field are her expertise, Gutiérrez was always inclined to her artistic side, too. Things changed after an unfortunate slip while working part-time as a server.   

“I was always doodling. It wasn’t like, ‘I’m gonna make something’. It was more in classes or training, and I’m always writing or drawing all over everything or I would draw the instructor. That was more so how it was until I had an accident in 2010,” Gutiérrez told Madison365, recounting a fall that eventually led to the discovery and diagnosis of fibromyalgia. 

“Everything changed from that moment forward. I was very athletic, and then all of a sudden, I couldn’t be.”

Without being able to use exercise and physical activity as a release and rejuvenation, Gutiérrez made art a priority in her recovery. For Gutiérrez, the art and process of creation was a way to negotiate the pain and change of pace. The unfortunate circumstances did, however, lead to more time to develop artistic skills. With a new intention for what her art meant, Gutiérrez started to explore a balance between taking a serious approach to her art while still using it as a restorative practice. 

“I’ve always taken pictures of things, and then later I’d go through my inspiration folders and go, ‘What do I feel drawn to paint or draw today and create?’” said Gutiérrez “For a long time, I felt like I was both being drawn to something and trying to become more skilled. I was trying to find my way in that way, but my mind was like, I want art to be fun. I want it to be creative, I want it to be playful, and I want to find joy in it. I want it to be something that doesn’t stress me out, so my approach was to really not try to be too perfectionistic about it, because it takes the fun out of it.”

Gutiérrez grew up in central Wisconsin and eventually went to UW-Eau Claire for her undergraduate degree. It was not until she was accepted into a social work program at UW-Madison that Gutiérrez made her way to the city. Jumping into the art world after her fall was not immediate for Gutiérrez, however, and it took a push of confidence from herself and fellow artists to truly start investing in it.

Artwork of Jessica Gutiérrez

“I found my way and realized it was just like this negative belief that was holding me back,” Gutiérrez said. “Once that was out of the way, the creative flow just never stopped. In Madison, most of the art I’ve created was in coffee shops … I met some other artists and we would meet up at Fair Trade and make art together. They were more seasoned and experienced and had gone to art school. I was just like, ‘I’m gonna start playing,’ and then they just nurtured me. They were like, ‘Keep going, you got something,’ and that’s just what I kept doing.”

Growing up far from extended family in an environment that lacked the diversity to offset the distance made it difficult for Gutiérrez to connect to her roots. Past experiences and ancestry can be difficult for many people and communities of color to engage with, especially due to racialized experiences. These experiences are not lost on Gutiérrez who has used her artistry as a way to both explore and reconcile with personal and familial histories … an approach that she expressed has had a positive effect not only on herself and her art, but also on her ability to connect with loved ones.

“There’s just been this blank story, this unfulfilled story about our lineage,” said Gutiérrez. “It’s like pieces and I’m the one in the family that’s like, ‘Tell me more, I want to know everything.’ I’m just starting to do that and creating these pieces. I get to talk to my mom about things, and I feel like she’s healing in the process too in a really beautiful way.”

Gutiérrez creates artwork that is often intimate and personal, which is a scary prospect when that work is often then released for public viewing and judgment. These nerves are exactly what Gutiérrez has looked to overcome by taking those steps outside her comfort zone, including being an artist in attendance at the Latino Art Fair last month. Receiving love from the community has helped keep Gutiérrez going and although the idea of putting art out into the world is intimidating, she is both hopeful and happy with her experiences so far, coming out of that shell.  

“As far as where I’m going, it’s more of these kinds of family stories, but then I also want to have light and playful fun,” Gutiérrez said. “I want to balance it with something that’s a resource to me … like if I’m drawing flowers or working on a commission for somebody. I’m kind of going back and forth between those two things. As far as community goes, I feel a sense of belonging now in the art community.”


To see more of Jessica Gutiérrez’ work and to get in contact with her, check out her Facebook page here