Marcela Gutiérrez‘ sheer water colour portraits have put a spell on fashion world. In our interview, the artist divulges the secret of her deft and delicate shading – and treats us to an exclusive preview of her enchanting early works
In her work, Marcela Gutiérrez combines various techniques in a range of bewitching portraits and fashion illustrations, capturing the genre’s glitz and glamour in delicate shapes and a surprisingly bold colour palette.
Her paintings have become welcome additions to Prada’s US flagship stores, they grace the cover of Harper’s Bazaar or spruce up campaigns by Swarovski, Nina Ricci and Beyoncé, to name but a few. Her latest endeavour sees her pair up with star photographer Rankin for the editorial design of Hunger Magazine’s very first issue.
Against this varied background, the artist shares an equally eclectic past. Born in Florida, yet raised in Guatemala, she followed a relatively roundabout route: Early explorations took her to Mexico (studying architecture) and London (a fashion degree and stints at John Galliano and Alexander McQueen) before she discovered her love of illustration. Nowadays, Marcela Gutiérrez commutes between New York and Barcelona to harness the inspiration of the Big Apple’s creativity and Spain’s laid-back flair.
The former designer tells us how she discovered her love of this old-fashioned yet vibrant visual technique.
What kindled your love of water colours?
Well, my dad was an architect - and I invariably admired his ink drawings, pinned up there on the wall. So, when I went to college I started to experiment with ink. And once I had mastered this technique, I graduated to gouache and finally water colours. At first I was quite apprehensive as I had never actually learnt how to work with water colours. Nowadays, I simply combine all three methods - I love the unpredictability and lightness of it all.
Tell us about your early, previously unpublished works.
These are early illustrations from a period when I didn’t yet know that I would become an illustrator. Some are from all the way back, from the days when I was studying architecture. But most of these were done during my studies of fashion design at the Central Saint Martins College in London.
How did your style and technique evolve over time?
It was a gradual process - the more I practiced, the more it morphed into what I tend to do today. I guess the most fundamental change occurred when I started to live off my illustrations. The whole thing was a little bit tricky and complicated. To cut a long story short: My father died, I lost my job as a designer and I had to support my mother. As I had to live off something, I simply tried to do what I did best.
We are very sorry to hear that! It must have been a very tough time for you. Nevertheless - or maybe because of this - your illustration evoke a range of incredibly bold and colourful shades. Is there a story or specific set of influences behind this?
Naturally, it always depends on the motif I am about to capture. At the same time, I find myself magically drawn to images with high-contrast colours like the photos of Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott or Mario Sorrenti. In my illustrations, I tend to go for a rich and saturated colour palette. But whenever I work on a picture, it is all about following my emotions and the moment. In the end, it all boils down to finding a harmonious combination of colours.
Perhaps this particular colour scheme is also a result of the strong colours and lighting conditions you encountered during your studies in Mexico?
For some strange reason, I preferred black and white back then. However, this could also be due to my general lack of experience in dealing with colours in those days. I never really stop analysing why and how I paint. But now that you mention it, I would say that living in such a colourful environment might have played a subconscious role.
What about local culture - after all, you grew up in Guatemala?
I left Latin America almost fifteen years ago, so I tend to look to new things for inspiration, more so than to my past. The unknown is always exciting! I love to meet new people and see new things.
Now that you split your time between New York and Barcelona: Which aspects of these cities tend to stay with you at home and abroad?
I would say that it is more about the people I meet than the cities themselves. And yet, New York always makes me feel like I’m on top of the latest developments; the air seems pregnant with progress and creativity. When I’m in Barcelona, I love the city’s laid-back appeal, its wonderful climate, the food, the city’s history and, of course, the local beach!
Among other works, your blog features a picture of an artfully arranged breakfast selection. Does this betray your general approach to art?
It does! I love to sort and display items by colour. My visible environment should always be harmonious and this includes meals and my art. When I paint, especially, I want and need the result to be aesthetically pleasing.
You used to be part of the fashion realm, including jobs for Alexander McQueen and John Galliano. Looking back - would you do it again?
Today, I would rather go for a collaboration, the way I do with other fashion labels now. I don’t think I would work for a single designer again.
Well, after switching professions once: Are you open to another brand new start, doing something entirely new and different?
So far, nothing in my life has ever been planned - I guess I was looking for something I really liked. Now, I’m pretty happy with what I do. At the same time, everything I have done and tried so far has made me who I am today. It is important to remain open to change as this is the only way to evolve. Although I have travelled quite a bit, I am still up for new explorations and adventures!
We hope you get to enjoy many more creative adventures. And thank you very much for this interview.
Additional information to the artwork above:
"Kate & Sasha" - Kate Moss & Sasha Pivovarova, inspired by a picture by Mert & Marcus for Marcelas exhibition "Beauty for the Sake of Beauty" for Metal Magazine/Los Angeles © Marcela Gutiérrez
"Lara" - Lara Stone, inspired by a picture by Hedi Slimane for Marcelas exhibition "Beauty for the Sake of Beauty" for Metal Magazine/Los Angeles
© Marcela Gutiérrez