Being an artist is about self-discovery. It will always be about you, even if the work is about something outside your identity. Let this be your north star, your guiding light, as you navigate the business of being an artist, and other career casualties. As a young artist, I didn’t understand how people got to be successful, I thought it was about following certain steps, meeting certain people, or making art about certain things. Later I learned being an artist is the process of peeling back the layers of your own complexities, and becoming a greater version of yourself over time.
As a part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist” I had the pleasure of interviewing Francisco Donoso.
Francisco Donoso is a transnational artist, and recipient of DACA, originally from Ecuador, but raised and residing in the US (Miami/NYC). He makes mixed-media paintings of Fencescapes, referencing the chain-link fence to take viewers beyond common assumptions about migration and borders, introducing us to a multiverse of experiences arising from the coniditions of being undocumented in the United States today. He’s had multiple solo and group exhibitions throughout the US, and is part of various private and public collections. His work can be found at www.franciscodonoso.com
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for this opportunity! I was born in Quito, Ecuador and migrated to Miami, FL with my family at the age of 5. I grew up in a very entrepreneurial environment, and was highly encouraged as a young artist by my parents and teachers. My path as an artist was nurtured in the public magnet schools of Miami, with my first audition taking place in the 3rd grade. I was accepted to the prestigious arts highschool New World School of the Arts where I was immersed in a rigorous curriculum that helped me gain acceptance to college on scholarships. It wasn’t until I was applying to colleges that I realized I was undocumented. Simultaneous to my art education was my religious upbringing, where I began to explore personal faith, and began to ask questions around belonging and purpose. Those experiences laid the foundation for my current explorations as an artist.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
My earliest memory of drawing was at the age of 4, one Christmas, in Ecuador, on an etch-a-sketch. There hasn’t been a stage of my life where I wasn’t making some kind of art. The universe has guided me in this path all my life, even when I actively insisted on taking up other career endeavors. At one point, I wanted to be a mental health counselor in schools, but every time I created a distance between me and art, I was exponentially drawn back to it. I got my undergraduate degree in Painting and Drawing from Purchase College in 2011, and moved to New York City, pre-DACA, to figure out how to be a professional artist.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
This is hard! Sometimes “interesting” is conflated with “traumatic”, so I won’t go there. Like most artists trying to build careers, I had a day-job, or day-career, working in the arts social justice non-profit sector for over 6 years. I worked my way to the Director level of a very popular program for highschool students at a prestigious art and design university. I achieved a coveted level of security: recognition, salary and benefits. Then 2020 came around, and together with the pandemic, DACA was under attack once again, which turned out to be the perfect mix for me to make a radical change in my life. I quit my career in January of 2021, and with minimal savings in the bank, decided to launch myself fully into developing my artist career. That remains the single best decision I’ve made for myself. In the (almost) two years of taking the leap of faith, I’ve grown my practice significantly, with 4 solo exhibitions throughout the US, two of them art fair presentations, multiple museum group exhibitions, a rise in my collector base and so much more.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am a founding member of the Undoc+ Collective, a nation-wide collective of currently or formerly undocumented artists and arts practitioners seeking to create visibility, and build knowledge around undocumentedness via contemporary art. While I have had to take a back seat at the moment to prepare for my solo exhibition, Fencescapes, the collective is planning exhibitions, conferences, residencies and publications for 2023. I am also working with a fashion designer to create and launch a collection of garments and textiles based around my works, exploring themes of ephemerality, movement and water.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
As an artist living and working in NYC, I meet and interact with incredibly interesting people all the time! From artists, to filmmakers, actors, writers, philanthropists, etc, I am very lucky to be surrounded by inspiring people everyday.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?
I draw inspiration from my day-to-day. I spend a lot of time in my head, either daydreaming or processing my experiences and dreams. I’ve turned into a very introspective person recently, and I love tapping into my interiority- exploring my psychic self, to find inspiration. The external world, and conditions like anti-immigration in the US, climate change and increasing conservatism becomes too heavy a burden to carry sometimes, so I turn inwards to find hope. I love watching tv and movies, they help create distance between me and my reality, which can be very inspiring. I look at a ton of art, mostly paintings, where ideas are endless, I listen to podcast interviews of other artists, and I read a lot of astrology and numerology to get me curious.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Art is about the soul, not just the material world. There is a misconception that art is only for the wealthy, and not for the everyday person navigating life. Art is a way to access meaning beyond languages, cultural norms, and biases. I think bringing art into the world is an act of goodness in itself, regardless of all the external forces that move art throughout the world and to people’s consciousness. In addition to that, I create opportunities for other undocumented artists to do their thing. I launched the Undocu Spark Lab, a creative incubator within my studio, to provide artists space, mentorship and resources for developing their careers, and I hope to turn this into a formal artist residency next year.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Being an artist is about self-discovery. It will always be about you, even if the work is about something outside your identity. Let this be your north star, your guiding light, as you navigate the business of being an artist, and other career casualties. As a young artist, I didn’t understand how people got to be successful, I thought it was about following certain steps, meeting certain people, or making art about certain things. Later I learned being an artist is the process of peeling back the layers of your own complexities, and becoming a greater version of yourself over time.
- The art world is an ecosystem. You, as the artist, are at the center of your ecosystem, but you need everyone else to do their thing in order for you to succeed. It’s not a competition, there is a place for everyone in the ecosystem. We all start out thinking we are in competition with other artists, as if there were limited spots for the role of artist in the world. Switching from hierarchical to ecosystemic thinking, relieves you of that scarcity mentality, and allows you to define what success looks like for yourself. This is when you really begin to flourish.
- Your worth as a person is not the same as the value of your work. Never let the value of your work, or your career highlights, or deficits, dictate how you value yourself in the world. I’ve learned to surround myself with people that expect nothing of me anymore, except than to be my fullest self. If you can’t make it clear to others that your worth is not negotiable, then they will decide it for you.
- Finding success might take longer than you expect, and success should always change over time. In my case, it’s been 11 years of hard, dedicated work to find a semblance of success. There were many moments that I felt like quitting. Instead of giving in to cowardice, lean into whatever lesson you are meant to learn in those moments because that’s usually when you experience growth.
- Figure out what fulfills you, don’t chase the life that others model, it might not be what is right for you! Your journey as an artist is unique to you, so focus on your desire, and stop making decisions out of fear.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Real change happens inside the individual. No amount of policy, politics or infrastructure can bring about the same sustainable impact that healing oneself can do. If we could take the time to heal, do personal growth work, go to therapy, seek answers to life’s probing questions and remember that nothing, including earth’s resources, are permanent, then we might live in a world with less inequality, less hate for our neighbors, less climate destruction, and more interdependence, more justice, and more peace. I mean this especially for those working in industries and sectors where they provide direct services to others. Somehow it’s those that practice service that often need the most self-love.
We have been blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this.
I’d love to have a casual lunch with Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, the writer of The Undocumented Americans. She defies the citizen’s gaze in a way that I really respond to. I’d love to scheme up a collaboration with her, and find ways of materializing an undocumentedness futurity with her.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can find me in Instagram at @DonosoStudio
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Francisco Donoso: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.