Transforming Grief into Art: An Interview with Artist Katie Ruiz

RAW:Natural Born Artists features Katie Ruiz of Paloma Art. She sat down with Delen Arts to talk identity, emotion, and the creative process. Ruiz’s work will show at Public Assembly February 21 and 22. Purchase tickets here.

Katie 1

Photograph Courtesy of Renzo Grande,

Delen Arts: Can you please tell us about yourself? How do you identify yourself? What aspects of your identity influence your art?

Katie Ruiz: I grew up in California and Northern Arizona. My father is from Mexico, and my mother is Caucasian. I identify as Chicana, and my artwork is influenced by Mexican culture. I think it’s important that I grew up in Arizona, in the woods, in a small town full of creative people. I was raised by my mother, a single mother, and that affects me as a woman. It taught me to be an independent woman.

DA: Can you speak a little more about how your race – your ethnicity – connects to your gender in your work?

KR: I don’t know if gender affects my work as much. Actually, maybe it does. I paint a lot of self-portraits, a lot of woman. My work is about human emotion, my culture does mix into that. Chicana means of Hispanic descent, and the “a” at the end makes it female.

DA: When did you discover yourself to be an artist? How did you begin to identify yourself as an artist?

KR: I think I’ve always known I was an artist. Even in kindergarten, I could always draw things to look like they looked. My mom put me in art classes when I was little, and I would just draw the same thing a hundred times, over and over. It’s just something I always knew I could do, something I always knew I was.

DA: In your artist statement, you describe your art as your “thoughts on relationships.” Can you talk about how you formulate your art from these thoughts? How do you define “relationships” here?

KR: I think about all relationships through inter-connectedness. I paint moments you can’t describe with words. I think about watching movies, and those moments that people try to film that don’t need words. I paint to show attachment to human form within a love relationship. My first love died. He drowned in a canoe accident, so I paint to show these emotions. It’s about redistribution back into the earth, rawness, sadness, learning to live without. For me, a relationship can be between any two people. I like to focus on love. It’s important to show what you’re fighting for.

DA: How old were you when your first love passed?

KR: I was 20, and he was 25.

DA: A lot of times, I see artists who use their work to transform painful life experiences into their art. I’ve seen this as a writer. Can you describe how your own life experience influenced your art?

KR: It’s how I dealt with the grief, and it’s how I was able to heal.  Actually, I didn’t paint for a long time after because it reminded me of him. I began to paint again to get through my grief. You learn more in your struggle than in your success. I was more successful because I had those emotions.

DA: What is your creative process? What inspires you as you create your pieces?

KR: I love color. I never usually know what I’m going to paint when I start. I just have to make myself start which is the scariest part. I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I get an idea before I get through it.

DA: You describe starting a painting as scary. Can you explain that fear?

KR: A blank canvas. For me, a blank canvas is a fear of failure. I try not to worry about it too much. I think that’s what keeps people from succeeding. Now, I feel like it’s my duty. It’s nerve-racking. I think I fear failing, but I learned that it doesn’t matter what other people think. I paint for myself, and I know that other people will connect to my work because it is about human emotion and connecting.

Moving to New York really changed my mentality. I want my art to be seen. I know when people see my art, they feel something. I moved here 9 months ago, and it’s made me a different person. I see others succeed, and I’m not willing to live my life and not tried my hardest.

DA: Your pieces touch a somber note, yet there is space in these pieces for hope. How do you connect hope and despair within your work?

Katie PaintingKR: They started out very somber. I paint a lot of birds. Dead birds, or birds in cages. It’s about not being able to let go or set the bird free. Slowly, I started painting – eggs hatching – rebirth. I wanted to show them grow and fly. It was my grief process. I try to live by a mantra

I bless you.
I release you.

I let you be.
I let me be.

I set you free.
I set me free.

The more I let go of the fear and the attachment and things I couldn’t explain, I started to learn how to love and be vulnerable again. I shut down, I was afraid to be.

DA: As a writer, I’ve recently been fascinated with the concept of vulnerability. Can you explain a little more about this idea of being vulnerable?

KR: I guess it’s about just being willing to not be afraid to make a terrible painting and knowing that you’re not ever going to please everyone. I want to be true to myself and open myself up to new learning. I want to be authentic. I feel like I can learn from other people. Someone else can teach me so many things. It’s about letting other people in.

DA: Can you describe what you mean by authentic?

KR: You know if you’re not being yourself. If something resonates in me, it’s about knowing that what you created that day was the best you could do that day. If I put on neon pants today, I’d know that’s not really me. I like to explore. I know when I’m faking it. You have to go back and find something that is you. I feel very grounded, so I’m not confused about who I am, about Katie.

DA: Can you explain what Paloma means?

KR: Paloma is a dove in Spanish. It really just started in Mexico. I was with some friends, and there was a Mariachi man. He asked if we knew this song, and he insisted on singing to us. Paloma, Paloma. When I got home – this was back in the day – I changed my MySpace name to Paloma Paloma. People began to recognize me – You’re the bird girl.

Katie 3

Photograph Courtesy of Renzo Grande,

DA: Anything else you’d like the world to know?

KR: I have a new website up at I also have an art show going up on February 21. It’s a large installation piece focusing on my life. It steps through dealing death, growing, and learning to be vulnerable again. Actually, all the things we’ve been talking about today. It’s 20 feet long and 6 feet tall.

Ruiz’s work will show at Public Assembly February 21 and 22. Purchase tickets here.