Costume Designer and Artist Renata Morales on Her Obsessive Drawing Practice, and the Studio Habits That Fuel It

Morales is having her first solo museum show at Dallas Contemporary this fall.

Portrait of Renata Morales.

The Mexico-born, Montreal-based artist Renata Morales may be best known for her costume designs, which have been donned by Grimes, Arcade Fire, and Spike Jonze, among others. But she’s also a prolific visual artist, drawing “all day without stopping” at her studio in Canada and then flying south to work on ceramics in Guadalajara.

Morales will have her first solo museum show next month at Dallas Contemporary, which is staging an “evolving” exhibition of more than 700 of the artist’s drawings and ceramic works over the course of a year.

We spoke with Morales about her plans for the show, the music that keeps her motivated in the studio, and the artists who are most inspiring her now.

A work in progress, courtesy of the artist.

A work in progress, courtesy of the artist.

What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why? 

Always light first, then pencils and paper. Drawing is a significant part of my practice, whether designing costumes or merch, developing ideas for ceramics or simply creating works on paper. Although, over the past year, my process for making sculpture has been heavily influencing my drawing, so it’s reiterative. 

Is there a picture you can send of your work in progress?  

I’m currently working on finalizing new works for my upcoming exhibition at Dallas Contemporary, which will actually be my first solo show at a museum. The images of drawings have all been made from my studio in Montreal, where I am currently based, and the ceramic sculptures are from a studio in Guadalajara, Mexico. 

In the studio. Courtesy of the artist.

In the studio. Courtesy of the artist.

What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to? 

I am currently in mandatory quarantine in Canada, so I set up a simple, temporary studio where I am locked up and just work every day on drawings. I need to draw and can do it all day without stopping.  

What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?

It depends on the medium I am working with. When I work on sculptures at Ceramica Suro in Guadalajara, the tasks are quite physical, so I prefer music. I am listening to new music from Latin America and some from Spain—the neoperreo sounds I find very inspiring. Otherwise, when I am working on drawings, I am mostly sitting down and I listen to podcasts. Right now, I’m listening to audio books: The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, and The Making of an American Capitalist, a Warren Buffett biography.

Renata Morales, <i>tres caras</i> (2019). Photo bv Samantha Cen.

Renata Morales, tres caras (2019). Photo bv Samantha Cen.

What trait do you most admire in a work of art?

Its enduring power to move or communicate, from the simplest compositions to the most complex and intriguing. I really love the work of several Mexican artists. Francisco Toledo, for instance, has inspired me since I was very young. 

What trait do you most despise?

I try to avoid what I despise.

What snack food could your studio not function without? 

It depends on what studio I’m working at. In Canada, I drink coffee. In Guadalajara, there’s an endless choice of street food snacks: fresh cut fruit with salt and lime from the fruit cart or handmade tortillas with a slice of avocado.

The artist's temporary drawing studio. Courtesy of Renata Morales.

The artist’s temporary drawing studio. Courtesy of Renata Morales.

Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now? 

I have a long list of artists and friends whom I follow and could share, but I also follow a lot of musicians. Some are well established, like Tyler, The Creator (@feliciathegoat), and others are more up and coming, such as Soto Asa (@999.asa), MethMath (@methmathxoxo), The Garden (__thegarden__), and the guys from More Juice Records (@morejuicerecords). 

I also follow some great chefs, including Xokol (@xokol_), Lester Walker from Ghetto Gastro (@cheflesterwalker), and Martha Ortiz (@lamarthaortiz), as well as a few athletes like CeeDee Lamb (@cee2x___). 

Aside from Danny Baez (@digitaldannybaez), who always introduces me to interesting artists through his Instagram account, the curators I follow have not been posting much lately.

When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck? 

I take a long walk or hit the gym. Otherwise, I keep working until I get unstuck.

Installation view, "Invasor", 2019. Photo by Luke Walker.

Installation view, Invasor (2019). Photo by Luke Walker.

What is the last exhibition you saw (virtual or otherwise) that made an impression on you? 

I recently traveled to Dallas in preparation for my upcoming show there in September. Tomoo Gokita’s color paintings at Dallas Contemporary made a lasting impression on me, as did the group exhibition “For a Dreamer of Houses” at the Dallas Museum of Art. I loved seeing in detail my friend Francisco Moreno’s stunning chapel, completely finished by hand with filigrane-like details, as well as Alex Da Corte’s Neon Ghost House. The exhibition also introduced me to the work of Dallas-based artist Jammie Holmes through his painting Tired

If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now? 

Human expressions from all ages and all over the world with marble slabs and Viacrucis costumes made by my friend Alejandro Garcia Contreras. Plus, many different shades of blues, browns, yellows, and pinks. I’d also work the TV show Narcos Mexico in there somewhere. 

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