Chicago’s art scene, like its neighborhoods, tends to be segregated. Artists and aficionados usually partake in shows and galleries that are within the bubbles of their own enclaves, and seldom experience anything outside of them. Whether it’s on the city’s West or South sides, Chicago’s Latino art scene is notorious for this, and understandably so—if Latinos don’t support their own hoods, who will? But while these art shows and events from neighborhood to neighborhood are a great cultural hub for communities to come together, eventually the Frida Kahlo-inspired spring show concept tires out year after year. What about the Mexicana creative who’s really trying to make it—and not by solely banking on producing prints and trinkets of Mexican folklore?
Enter Esperanza Rosas, better known as Runsy. The 22 year-old South Side native is grabbing national attention with her minimalistic Mexican, feminine and political artwork. Ranging from illustration to zine making to design, each project she tackles effortlessly showcases her unique yet relatable perspective as a brown and proud millennial.
In between finishing up her undergraduate degree in criminal justice and jet setting from city to city (like Dallas and LA) for gallery shows featuring her work, Runsy is creating day and night. We sat down for coffee one afternoon at Pilsen’s historic hood gem Cafe Jumping Bean (the neighborhood’s first duo gallery and cafe) to talk how she got here and what’s in store for her as an artist.
How did you know that art was more than a hobby for you? What urged you to make this talent of yours a profession?
Well I’ve always wanted to be an artist since I was young, but when I started off going into college and everyone tells you you’re not going to make money as an artist, that pushed me into doing criminal justice. Once I started taking sociology classes I realized, wow, I hate the system.
The system is bogus, they don’t like people of color, they don’t like brown people like me. They don’t want to see Mexicans like me advance. Then I started to advance in my art and started to really like what I was doing and it just became full time. That thought process of realizing how messed up the world is is what made me believe I need to be an artist—the way I think is going to help me change things through my art.
Your Mexican heritage is clearly evident in the work that you do. When did you start to consciously incorporate that into your art?
At first you could have asked me “Why did you draw a skull?” and I would have answered “Because I think they’re pretty.” At first my stuff wasn’t really conceptual, and that was a problem because it didn’t really matter how pretty my stuff was – at the end of the day, if I can’t explain what my art means I’m not doing anything positive for myself. I had one teacher who was pushing me and asking me “Well why is this pink? Why do you do that?” and I started putting in more of my identity into my art. I also started seeing everyone else’s stuff, and thought yeah, it’s cool if you can make something that looks good but it looks like everyone else’s stuff. That’s why my stuff has become really personal. No one can make what I make because they can’t feel what I feel.
I feel a lot of female artists don’t like to be obviously feminine in their work because they’re worried about male scrutiny and critique. The color pink is clearly prevalent in your work however. Let’s talk about that—why is it there?
We’re [women] not meant to be in galleries—so when you see my work with the color pink I’m reclaiming the color and all of the gender stereotypes that are already put out there to separate us. I’m reclaiming it so it’s like, “Yeah I’m a woman and I’m in a gallery and there’s other women who can do this too.” [The pink] isn’t something meant to be in the background, it’s meant to be noticed.
You’ve done a couple well received hip-hop illustrations. Tell me more about those.
I don’t do those as often anymore. In the beginning I thought it was cool, but now I try to stay away from it because I feel a lot of artists do those to post on Instagram so that another artist will repost. Now, I’m at a point where I don’t care about that. I want to make stuff that means something to me. What’s the point of me drawing something that I don’t truly love? I don’t want to be an Instagram artist my whole life.
I like how you said “Instagram artist” because that’s a new category of “artistry” I never thought would exist. How do you think social media has impacted the art world?
I think it’s a positive thing. I’m all for Instagram and social media because I wouldn’t be around without it. You have to visualize it as branding —the way you’re viewed on the internet is how you’re going to get opportunities. It’s like you’re doing your own gallery on the internet. That’s how I think about it.
Have you experienced any challenges being a woman in the art world or has it been smooth sailing so far?
It’s actually been pretty good, but like a month ago someone told me something that really offended me. They said “You make really good art, if you want to sell out just post a selfie of yourself to make it easier to sell stuff.” Saying I should post a selfie next to my art to value it was really frustrating and I was really offended. Don’t tell me my stuff isn’t good or that I can’t sell my stuff without a selfie. Do not objectify me. I’m as talented as a man, I’m as talented as anyone. I’m a person.
I always like to ask different creatives their opinion on Chicago’s art scene. What do you think of it versus other major cities?
I’ve been here my whole life, and I’ve been here for so long. There are good opportunities but I gotta meet other people and then I can come back. You can’t make new opportunities if you’re not reaching out to other people. There are so many events everyday in New york and LA and it depends on what you do and once you hit your goals somewhere. I want to be in a museum! That’s my ultimate goal. Whether it’s LA or Chicago or New York I need to make it to a museum because brown people aren’t meant to be in museums. I love it here, but it doesn’t really make a difference to me where I am I just need to be inspired by different places and people.
What’s next for you and your work?
Me and my best friend are launching an online magazine soon and an print issue too. I’m also coming out with a zine called Mexicana and I’ve been trying to get that finished—it’ll have most of my photo work that I showed at my Soho House show with Juggernaut. It was awesome but not everyone got to see my work and with the zine you’ll be able to see it all. I did an interview with my cousin who just got out of prison—that’s what I’m really most excited about lately— that focused more looking at how the [justice] system is meant to dehumanize quote unquote criminals—and how we all have a story to tell.