When Esperanza Rosas was young her family’s house on the South Side of Chicago burned down. A bottle rocket was thrown and set the home ablaze. Hearing the 24-year-old artist speak about the incident, it’s apparent that resilience runs in her family. “That left my family homeless for a little bit. We were living at like aunts’ and uncles’ houses [before] we got our house back,” says Rosas—better known as Runsy to her friends and the art community of Chicago. “It’s just a story that’s in our family and [we just] remember all the good stuff that’s happened after that.”
These stories push her forward. Her memories as the youngest of six—and her connection to her lineage—are central to her work. Runsy’s black-and-white illustrations usually feature family members juxtaposed with Latino iconography to disrupt conventions of race and gender in contemporary art.
“I go through family photos; I actually have boxes of family photos and albums that I just look through,” Runsy says, detailing her creative process. “I look for patterns. I’ll [decide that] this series is going to be all about women in my family, and I’ll go sifting through all of my photos, revise them and then I take pictures of [the pictures] so I can zoom in—to see the skin better and stuff like that—and then from there I just [start] freehand drawing.”
With a strong work ethic instilled by her father and an insatiable hunger for knowledge, Runsy’s artistic range is staggering. Vibrant instillations, intricate show posters, raw photography and hilarious-yet-poignant zines all pour out of her. And she’s fascinated about every step of the process—including what happens once she finally gets her vision on its form. “I’m just like a nerd about things,” she laughs. “I get really, really into like small details, like I used to work at a museum and I learned how to hang work like the museum style. I know so many things because I’m a one-person team. So if I have a show I have to be able to know how to print, how to mount, how to frame, how to hang, how to do stuff!”
Working at the National Museum of Mexican Art also helped Runsy find the voice to challenge the homogenized narrative that so many institutions present as fact. “I would look at the syllabuses and there would literally be nothing about Mexicans,” she says. “I had to do my own personal research because no one would teach me this. I feel like within academics that the Latino history is kind of erased. And even just within [the art scene], you go to art school it’s going to be hard to find a professor that will teach you about Latino artists.”
This desire to flip the script is present in every fiber of her pieces: “I can’t give you the Mexican story that’s going to apply to everyone, but that’s not my point. My point is to tell you my story and say that this is my family and this is what happened to us—it can be very relatable to other families, but it’s about me right now.”
Runsy’s not afraid to speak up for her heritage, her family and her craft—even if that means reminding others about the power that art can have on a viewer. “[In art] everything small is part of something else, something bigger [than it appears on the surface]. And as much as you, the artist, don’t want something to be ‘conceptual,’ I think you have to know that [your work] is going to bring out a specific emotion or response to someone else,” she says.
“You don’t want to be in a spot where people say that your art means something [to them] and you can’t respond to it. I had an instillation once that was an easel (which was pink), a canvas (which was also pink), and it had nails through it. You could just think that it’s a canvas, an easel, nails and that it’s all pink and I’ll be like ‘Yeah, I thought it was cool,’ but like beyond that, What do nails represent? What does the color pink represent? What does having this big easel and canvas in this room represent? What does the type of setting that I’m putting the piece in say in a bigger spectrum? We don’t have to tell [the meaning] to others, but I have to know what I think about all of these things before I show the piece to others. And I have to be prepared to back my own work up.”
From crediting her start in the art world to a chance meeting with Chief Keef at Six Flags to posting memes across all her socials, Runsy knows how to let loose too. “I think that sometimes the question is asked of if you like the art or the artist,” she explains. “And I think that, in that line of thinking, people just see me on the internet as a normal, funny person and they want to be my friend for that reason and then [they think] AND she’s dope at art. I think it’s like good customer service you know?”
“You want to see Cardi B win because she’s just such a normal person. You want to see me win because I’m the normal girl from the Southside; I’m like your cousin and your friend, someone that’s so normal that it could be you. It makes you root for that person.” Through her art, Runsy makes us root for her as well as whoever she elevates alongside her.
The three best pieces of advice that Runsy got and actually took.
Don’t be a headass!
My mom always said be a good person and be nice to everyone. Just be a positive person. Don’t be a headass! Don’t get ahead of yourself. You can get attention somewhere else, just do your work. I don’t need attention getting invited to parties, I need attention for my work and that’s it. I don’t need to flaunt that negative energy into my work. Just give everyone a chance. You’re never better than anyone.
Real Gs move in silence.
Real Gs move in silence–that’s what everyone tells me. Just don’t worry about it, stack your bread, make your money and don’t worry about flaunting what you’re doing. If you’re a G, you’re not going to go out and say what you’re doing, you’re just going to do it. So many people just talk. If you’re actually making moves and making changes, then you’re just going to do it and then eventually people are going to see and that’s the value of working hard. Don’t let other people’s actions diminish what you’re doing. All you’ve got to worry about is the moves that you’re making.
Your career matters more than a party.
“I used to be the party queen; I used to drink a lot, I used to party, but sometimes when you do all of that all the time you get really messy. One of my friends told me, ‘If you keep acting the way that you do, this is going to be the beginning of the end of your career.’ After that I was like ‘Nope, this is it.’ I realized that my career matters more than a party. Other people aren’t going to pay my bills, other people aren’t going to turn me into the artist I want to be. That was life changing because you have to balance out your own personal life to have your career because this is all part of you. You can’t give too much to one end and then not enough to your craft.”