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Paper Goods 

Papel picado artist Beatriz Vasquez has a huge smile on her face when she opens the door to her home and studio. She's wearing a Frida Kahlo necklace. I like her immediately.

Vasquez's passion -- which is pronounced "pah-pale pih-kado" -- can best be described as paper cut into intricate and beautiful designs. It's considered a Mexican folk art and not the fine art Vasquez has made it into, creating everything from greeting cards to a mixed media piece featuring her poetry that covers nearly an entire wall in her living room.

click to enlarge An English as a Second Language teacher by day, Vasquez devotes her off hours to her passion for a traditional Mexican art form more than 400 years old. - MICHELLE CRAIG
  • Michelle Craig
  • An English as a Second Language teacher by day, Vasquez devotes her off hours to her passion for a traditional Mexican art form more than 400 years old.

Surprisingly, Vasquez has only been making papel picado for five years. Her talent for making "flat" work (i.e., that which can be hung on the wall and displayed) and wearable creations is impressive, and has caught the attention of arts aficionados in and outside Indianapolis. She's done workshops with the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art, Indiana State Museum, Indy Parks, and the Indianapolis Art Center, and she has a show coming up at the University of Florida.

A Mexican-American Latina, Vasquez came to Indianapolis in 1998 after growing up in Texas and Mexico. She attended Herron School of Art and Design, experimenting with fine art, illustration, painting, oil pastels, ceramic design, and even assembling structures with wood. Frustrated that she couldn't find herself in any of those art forms, she returned to her hometown intent on finding her creative side. She was reminded of making papel picado as a child. Back home, the art is considered disposable, a common craft made by indigenous people of Mexico. Vasquez's goal was to take tradition and turn it into fine art. "I needed to create papel picado so it could be a permanent thing," she says.

Vasquez explains that it's always been a passion of hers to be involved with the politics of her culture through her "paper cuts." It makes sense that she would be inspired by the fiercely unapologetic Kahlo. I'm inclined to believe Vasquez appreciates the artist for having painted even when she was in a body cast following surgery. Vasquez comes from a long line of very strong and dedicated women who "learned to improvise with what they had."

click to enlarge Lilli Renee Cunningham models one of Vasquez's intricately cut-out papel picado dresses made of paper. - MICHELLE CRAIG
  • Michelle Craig
  • Lilli Renee Cunningham models one of Vasquez's intricately cut-out papel picado dresses made of paper.

Influenced by her grandparents, Vasquez was taught to use her hands to create. She imparts the same wisdom to the youth she works with, everyone from kindergarteners to high school seniors. She likes to work with any kind of paper and manipulates it as soon as she can, employing any number of techniques from wetting to ironing it. She times herself to see how fast she can finish a project, her creativity not confined to pre-planned designs.

Now a teacher of English as a Second Language with Indianapolis Public Schools, Vasquez always got in trouble at Herron for not having her sketches committed to paper. She laughs, remembering conversations where she explained that her ideas were all in her head, and says, "We all have a way of working and [we] know how our minds work. The more time I have to think about it, the worse it is for me." It makes sense then that Vasquez once created 13 papel picado dresses when she had a week off for spring break. Incorporating her work with fashion was a defining moment in her career. Her designs include paper eyelashes, 2-D paper backgrounds for runway shows, and even paper covers for shoes. She explains that her dresses are "skeletal" -- that she fashions the concept, form, and shape of the garment, "creating an armor out of paper." Then she drapes the finished piece over a model wearing minimal black clothing.

Vasquez's commitment to spontaneity and projects where she has to push herself has made her a "gallery artist," someone whose work can be purchased during art exhibits. She has sold hundreds of pieces this way, finding the ease and ubiquity of Facebook the perfect medium for connecting with the arts community. In fact, she no longer has a separate website. Examples of her work and videos of her in action can be found on Facebook under BeatriZdesignZ or Beatriz Artist.


See Vasquez's work and meet the artist at Tanjerine, an event sponsored by the creators of Oranje, which is billed as "an interactive experience of fashion, film, and food." Vasquez will be presenting five models in her latest papel picado creations at The Sanctuary on Penn (701 N. Pennsylvania Ave.) on Saturday, April 19, from 7 p.m. to midnight.

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About The Author

Chi Sherman

Chi Sherman

Bio:
Chi Sherman enjoys writing essays and poetry, being a documentary nerd, and hanging out with her family and friends. Her work has appeared in NUVO, The Huffington Post, and, sporadically, on her blog.

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