“I like everything, I’m a mess”: Maria Contreras Aravana on her wacky and non-conforming illustrations

With cartoonish cats, spooky babies and swimming bananas as her protagonists, the Santiago-based illustrator looks to her subconscious for inspiration.

13 February 2020

“I’m a mess,” says Maria Contreras Aravana when describing her style. Instead of following strict rules and a pre-determined aesthetic, the Temuzco-Born and Santiago-based illustrator prefers to work on a loose and free basis. “I really love experimenting, and I don’t commit much to a style – I like everything,” she tells It’s Nice That.

But even if her working process is slightly chaotic and unplanned, there’s still a level of consistency running throughout. This can be seen through her reoccurring motifs – that being wacky cats, bugs, naked bodies and strange characters – as well as her vivid colour palette. It’s one of those styles that looks as if it has been plucked straight from the advertisements of a retro cartoon channel; it’s garish but ringing with style.

Drawing whatever springs into mind, Maria’s illustrations tend to not bare much meaning. Instead, they “relate directly to [her] unconscious and irreverence,” she explains. An example of this is the inclusion of a banana and cat – two elements that feature widely throughout her portfolio – which she regards as having caused much interest: “The concept is to do with being as natural as possible, where I let the ideas that cross my head flow.”


Maria Contreras Aravana

As for her background, Maria grew up in Temuco, a small city in central Chile that’s located south of Santiago – or “at the end of the world”, as she puts it. This is where Maria was born and where she studied until the age of 18, before venturing to pastures new and attending university in the country’s capital. “I feel foreign in such a big city; at the same time I feel that the visual tour of the south and the countryside – its colours, the rain and its people – help me to always have a theme to share or provide another point of view,” she says. Calling on her surroundings for inspiration, her transition and the arrival of a new landscape evidently (and positively) plays with her artistic outcome, whether it’s the analogue-esque drawing aesthetic or mishmash of subjects. “I think that it’s enough to give birth to something with a sense of belonging – simple and not very refined, but with a lot of life.”

When asked how she first realised her infatuation with the medium, Maria explains that it was instinctual. She pinpoints the moment when she was first referred to as an “illustrator”, even after many years of drawing. “I once heard ‘I like your illustrations’ and then I considered it as a formal profession,” she explains. “Perhaps it was the academic side of things – the studies, the university – that led me to understanding or directing the work that I’m doing today.” Well, all it takes is that gentle push from someone to broaden the idea of what’s seems possible, and thankfully Maria has ridden this wave. When creating her works, she begins with a notebook and jots down her ideas. “I often make collages with images where I cut pieces of an object or animal, or one with the other,” she says. “Then I draw them, and I work the colour palette separately. Then finally, I apply the effects that simulate risograph and analogue printing.”

Maria now creates fruitful, creative and downright nonsensical drawings. On the outside it may appear to look like she’s working full-time, but the reality points to a slightly different scenario. ”Actually, I’m still in the office behind a computer,” she adds, “because in my country it’s very difficult to dedicate myself only to drawing – sometimes I get up at five in the morning to draw, then I enter my work at eight and when I leave I continue to draw. It was gives me life, sometimes I think of all the effort, and in moments like this I feel that everything is worth it.”

GalleryMaria Contreras Aravana

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.


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