Interview conducted by
R. N. Jayne
Rio, we’ve been acquainted since Obama was still in office. It goes without saying that much has changed since then. Artistically speaking, how have you coped with the pandemic?
Even though I’m an introvert, over the course of the pandemic I’ve felt restless and trapped. Some days are easier than others to withhold my focus from negative energy. I try to stay mindful in the present and express gratitude. I don’t meditate as often as I should, but when I do, I find it helps clear the clutter in my mind, which in turn enhances my creativity and intuition. However, I don’t need to meditate in the traditional sense—instead, I pour my emotions into my art.
As you’re meditating via artmaking, how does the stream of unfiltered emotions affect your process?
I think it’s good to sit with my emotions as they manifest rather than let them fester; harnessing them into my art can be akin to a therapeutic breakthrough. In this way, my artistic process has become slightly more chaotic. Although I still focus on the composition of a piece, I try to surrender a bit more to my intuition and let my emotions guide me. This can be quite challenging because I tend to overthink and try to control things. Most of the time, I live in my head. I use art to get into my heart, just as I use exercise to get into my body. It helps to accept the discomfort of pain to process and release it.
What is the most personal artwork you’ve created during the pandemic? How does it compare to previous personal works?
I haven’t created as many paintings during the pandemic compared to my usual amount. At the beginning of lockdown, I was quite inspired, but I didn’t paint as much—I mostly did sketches and collages because they were fast and easy to clean up. The artwork I poured my emotions into, and thus became more personal, was Mood Swing: When the Abyss Stares Back, the album cover art you commissioned from me.
My abstract pieces tend to be the most personal because I can freely let my emotions drive the composition and mood. While creating Mood Swing: When the Abyss Stares Back, I had a lot of emotional build-up, so it was a cathartic release.
I was amazed when you showed me the finished piece and it exactly reflected my wildly fluctuating state of mind when I wrote the song.
Since I like to experiment in my paintings, for this one I was inspired to use yellow and purple together, which made it more challenging. Trying to find the right colors and color combination is part of the process I enjoy the most. I had to create several layers before the colors and textures spoke to me. I wanted to play with the harsh shadowy indigo purple against the bright sunny yellow. In those colors, I expressed grief and deep despair contrasted with hope and delusional optimism. I would say that it is darker and harsher than usual in tone and mood, partly because I surrendered to the madness.
You told me a man at the gym noticed a photo you shared of Mood Swing: When the Abyss Stares Back and commissioned you on the spot for an abstract painting in a similar vein. However, the colors you used Celestial Fire: Breath of the Phoenix suggest a totally different mood. What was the emotional impetus behind this artwork?
The commissioner told me what he liked about Mood Swing: When the Abyss Stares Back was the nebulous and cosmic appearance. During the process it felt right to use different colors—I wanted a blue, fiery feel—so I went with turquoise and orange.
Years ago, I became enraptured with your painting Eternal Cosmic Love. Has your concept of humans’ interconnectedness altered since then?
I still absolutely love all things cosmic and celestial. Love and connection are important and shouldn’t be taken for granted: I wouldn’t say my concept has altered, just become clearer. I still feel like everything is connected, though I don’t necessarily feel connected to everyone—I feel quite disconnected from others and society, but I do feel connected to the cosmos, if that makes sense. I’m still fascinated by and drawn to the cosmos and all things celestial. Here on Earth, we are so tiny compared to the other worlds, dimensions and multiverses that are so vast and unexplored. It really puts things into perspective and thinking about this helps ground me. It reminds me not to take things so seriously; and that I can’t control everything even if I want to (easier said than done).
Speaking of earlier works, which pieces do you most relate to at this point in your artistic career? Which ones (if any) reflect your current state of mind?
Mood Swing: When the Abyss Stares Back and Celestial Fire: Breath of the Phoenix are more representative of my current state of mind than my past works. That being said, a while ago I made a collage with art that I’m proud of and still speaks to me. Two of the works depicted are paintings I did senior year of high school, when I had started to become more experimental, expressive, and riskier with my art. That’s when I really started using more textures and bold colors. I felt like I really found myself then, and I still relate and love those pieces. One of them is the Cubist Nudes: Transformation. (Still one of my favorites, it’s on my bedroom wall.)
I’ve always struggled with body dysmorphia and weight issues, beauty, and gender standards, etc., and I harnessed those feelings into that piece. I was also trying to express in a way how sexualized women’s bodies are, since they often censored more than men’s bodies, which is why I wanted to paint nude women.
Did you get any flack for your unapologetic display of the female form?
I remember while I was working on Cubist Nudes: Transformation during art class, a boy came up to me and said the piece needed a penis. Of course it didn’t: there are enough phallic symbols in the world. To express the chaos I felt at the time, I did hide a small anarchy symbol in the painting, It was a transformational piece for me, both in style and expression—along with the painting Cubist Trees, it helped win me an art scholarship. Overall, I think the pieces I included in the collage show a good range of my style that I still enjoy now.
The last time we spoke, you mentioned how years ago, you almost quit art, but then experienced a turnaround. What happened?
After rediscovering my love for art due to taking psychedelics, I became more expressive. Psychedelics caused me to look at the world with wonderment and awe, like I did as a child. This shift in perspective brought me out of a dark place, where I had let past trauma fester and I almost lost myself and those close to me. Psychedelics really opened my eyes and forced me to reevaluate my values and forgive myself and trust and love myself again. My experiences with them reminded me that life is precious and not to take things for granted.
I tend to hyper fixate and become obsessed (especially on negative aspects), which often means I have blinders on for everything and everyone else. Psychedelics forced the blinders off and made me realize how much I was shutting out those closest to me. I almost lost my way in the dark, but psychedelics turned on a light. They helped strengthen the nearly severed bond I had with my partner. They inspired me to create art that called to mind works from my teenage years, back when I had initiated the formation of my own expressive style.
It sounds like your experience with psychedelics inspired an awakening that impacted your artistic journey for years to come.
It forced me to look deep within myself; as a result, I grew more vulnerable and open with my art. I became bolder and more expressive, displaying nudity, using more texture and movement, harsh edges, and black in my paintings, like I had done back in high school. I love using vibrant colors often clashing with darker shades and I focus on texture and movement to bring my art to life. Exploring different techniques helps me improve, and really amplifies the process of discovery and insight for which art allows.
Which pieces did you create while under the influence of psychedelics?
I was inspired to create works like Cosmic Love, Cosmic Ocean, and Eternal Cosmic Love after my experience with psychedelics because I felt such beauty and love while taking them; it was such a huge shift in perspective and a period of growth for me. It felt like I was the universe, subjectively experiencing itself. By using bright colors and specks of stardust against a darker background, I wanted to convey the vast and infinite space just waiting to be explored. So many things remain undiscovered: It is an amazing and fascinating concept that really puts things into perspective.
The rare connections, the real moments of true love that could be lost at any moment, should be cherished.
Your works include a variety of natural elements—plants, flowers, trees, etc. Which type of non-human organism holds the greatest sway over you?
Trees are fascinating to me. They have so many details and textures and can convey different emotions and movement. They have a sentient yet animated energy. Like feet, the roots provide stability. (I’m into fitness, especially foot health, so I like tying in the metaphor here.) Their tapered roots point down, connecting them to the underworld. I often like to pay more attention to the roots: like gnarly veins, they dig deep down into the earth, sucking up nutrients from the abyssal world below.
You often paint or draw on wood. Is there a medium you haven’t explored yet that you’re itching to try?
A medium I would like to explore would be digital art, particularly on a tablet. I’ve never tried that because I haven’t been able to afford one yet. I did complete some digital art back in high school and a bit when I was in college, but the medium has changed a lot since then. I would like to try drawing characters in the anime style. It’s always something I’ve wanted to try. I’d also like to try image and layer manipulation and collages. I’ve dabbled a bit with making collages with apps on my phone, but I imagine the options are more elaborate with advanced software programs.
Think back to one of your first early childhood artworks. What was it, and how did you feel after creating it?
I remember one painting I did when I was taking watercolor lessons. It was one of the first times I used a palette knife. I loved how the paint looked when I smeared it around with the knife. It brought the tree to life with texture and blended the colors and created movement in a different and unpredictable way. Since then, I have loved using a palette knife. I called the painting Enchanted Forest. I was fortunate to find a photo of it, as I sold it some time ago.
Imagine a different version of you existed in another time (another life). Where would you be, and how would your AU (alternate universe) lifestyle relate to your current one?
What an interesting question, and to be honest, I’m not sure how to answer it other than I would think no matter what version of me exists out there I’d have the same base personality and essence, regardless of experiences, and that I’d be able to relate to my life now, at least on a fundamental level. I tend to be quite critical and easily experience disdain, so I think I’d probably be a bit harsh towards myself at first, but still retain some empathy. I’d like to think an AU version of myself might be be a punk e-girl from the future, or perhaps a chic performer or actor, or a character designer for a video game, or a linguist, or a brilliant psychologist studying human behavior and personality.
At this very moment, what is your source of inspiration?
My current source of inspiration is my mind, especially for my abstract works. My imagination is boundless, so there’s a lot to draw from.
In a throwback to our first meeting on Twitter, please sum up the essence of your art in 280 characters or less.
My art has a distinct style in a category of its own. It is the sweet alchemy of my brain, splayed out, dissected, the conceptual and emotional aspects of my mind on display. Since love gives life meaning, my goal is to express that thought. My art conveys what words cannot.
Well said! Thank you for your time, Rio. I’ve enjoyed revisiting your old works as well as discovering your new ones. May inspiration continue to find you.
Thank you, Jayne. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss my art!
Since then, Rio’s art has been showcased at several art galleries and shows including The Ford Gallery, The People’s Art of Portland and various local businesses and First Thursday venues. Rio is known for her use of vibrant colors and rich textures. As an avant-garde artist, Rio draws influence from psychedelics, expressionism, impressionism, cubism, abstract, and contemporary works.