Ángel Labarthe del Solar on the catharsis of documenting the trans experience in their art
“My process of becoming who I am today hasn’t been a crossing from one gender to another,” the artist says of the experiences that inform their deeply personal yet rewarding body of work.
- Joey Levenson
- 24 June 2021
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
Born in Peru and currently based out of Los Angeles, multimedia artist Ángel Labarthe del Solar is something of an artistic polymath. Their work cuts across illustration, painting, oral histories, collage, and more. “I had to be my own representation for a long time and that was really scary,” he tells It’s Nice That. Ángel’s complex relationship with gender and pronouns – both before and after coming out as transgender – informs a lot of their work. “I’m constantly working through what [gender] means to me, which is why so much of my art is about this exploration.” In Ángel’s often graphic yet strangely delicate elaborations of this exploration, we bear witness to brightly coloured starkly “real” moments of the gender-diverse experience that coincide with “some pieces that simply mean nothing,” Ángel explains. As a “storyteller by nature,” Ángel finds the most exciting part of his work to be documenting and sharing narratives of all kinds. “It started in 2017,” Ángel tells us. “When I realised I was transgender, I began to religiously document my gender journey through self-portraits, drawings, writing, and recording voice messages. I have a tremendous archive of everything that I constantly pull from for inspiration.”
Whilst this form of art has always been very cathartic for her, Ángel admits to only recently starting illustration professionally, and painting only during the pandemic last year. “They were both two new mediums I could use to document and archive my journey,” he adds “It pulls together my love of colours. It’s a mix of fag meets cowboy meets unhinged, recovering addict.” Whilst this is an apt and fair assessment of their own work, Ángel also keenly adds they’re “not too concerned with having a signature visual style,” as the means of documentation is what lies at the heart of his work. “I think there’s something special about letting people bear witness to your experience,” they explain.
Ángel’s unflinching reflection of the everyday trans experience breathes life into her work and keeps it new and exciting. Across all his mediums, the images have a certain distinct eye, look, and feel that resonates with those that even aren’t trans. It speaks openly to all those who may wish to seek a deeper understanding of what it means to be outside the parameters of a cisgender culture that often mystifies transgender individuals as hyper-visible commodities of the market. Ángel’s most honest work of this nature comes under her Sundries project via her website. “The definition of ‘sundries’ means the various items not important enough to be mentioned individually, yet ironically, the Sundries page on my website has become the most vulnerable and meaningful to me,” he explains. For Ángel, it’s akin to what a visual personal archive looks like for them. They’re works originally not seen as distinct enough to be highlighted on their own, yet over time, Ángel has found all the disparate elements produce a cohesion that reflects most honestly on themselves. “It grapples with my gender, with my sexuality, my trauma, my euphoria, my addictions.”
“The trans community is everything to me, when I feel the most loved and held [by them] is when I create my best work,” says Ángel. “I think that’s because I’m able to let go and let myself be vulnerable, which is crucial with the type of work I aim to create.” As for vulnerability, Ángel’s own battles with addiction and mental health are certainly present in her work as well, but ultimately they shy away from demonising these moments in darkness. “I wanted to normalise the myriad complexities of my own experience,” he says. “I attempt to portray a reflection of my own lived experience because I want people to see themselves reflected.” Discarding what was once an intense bout of loneliness in their time coming out as transgender, Ángel operates out of the same tools of enlightenment and joy the trans community once gave him in his journey to acceptance. “It wasn’t until I found my community that I realised I could be someone that helps others feel seen by telling my own stories.”
Ángel Labarthe del Solar: Body Study (Copyright © Ángel Labarthe del Solar, Nov 2020)