3 Up-and-Coming Local Artists You Need to Know
A trio of emerging artists who are making their mark in the Valley.
By John Roark | Photography by Brian Lilley
By transforming words on paper into intricate stories told in three dimensions, Valley native Sam Fresquez is gaining notice for her evocative calligraphy-based intermedia artwork.
“I have always been fascinated by the power of language,” the recent Arizona State University graduate says. “Through my work, I am often trying to answer questions on topics I am curious about.”
Spanning subjects as disparate as the history of the Spanish language in the United States educational system to the intersection between the queer community and the Catholic church, Fresquez works in cut paper, wood, Plexiglas and metal. She has also been known to write and draw on everything from a discarded NASCAR tire to palm fronds to the human body.
As a child, Fresquez learned the art of calligraphy from the
women in her family, most notably her grandmother, who owned an art supply store in Phoenix. “While I was growing up and helping in the store, I got to meet a lot of working artists,” she says. “It didn’t seem far-fetched to me that you could make a living that way.”
Sculptor Pete Deise, who met Fresquez when she was a teenager, has served as her mentor and partnered with her twice for Artlink’s annual Art D’Core event, which pairs seasoned artists with a neophyte of their choice. “What is awesome about Sam is her desire to tell the story,” he says. “Her work is not just about the aesthetic or the design, both of which are very important. It’s about the research she does and how she finds a way to put herself into what she learns. I love her fearless, inquisitive nature. She just dives in.”
Fresquez believes that all art serves a purpose. “Someone once told me that you must make bad art in order to make good art,” she observes. “Not every piece is going to hit every mark, and it doesn’t need to. You must make mistakes before you know how to fix them. Every person in the world who has made anything has had to go through that.”
“In my family, the best way to communicate is through humor; it’s part of my roots,” says fine artist Diego Perez, whose large-format, baroque- inspired canvases and murals are infused with a decidedly irreverent aesthetic. From cavorting circus performers to canines sporting holiday haberdashery, his colorful pieces are populated by beings who seem to have found themselves transported through the looking glass. “I am always drawn to the nonsense in everything,” he says. “Some people understand my messages; others come up with entirely different interpretations.”
Born and raised in the Mexico City neighborhood of Coyoacán, in a barrio frequented by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Perez was taught as a child to draw and paint by his artist uncle, Felipe. “I was a very anxious and distracted little boy,” he recalls. “Painting was like therapy, the only way to calm me down and
keep me quiet.” After earning a bachelor’s degree in fine art from the esteemed Art School La Esmeralda in Mexico City, Perez made his way to the Valley five years ago with an exhibition at the Mexican consulate. His work attracted the attention of Michael Oleskow, curator of Phoenix’s Found:RE Hotel, who asked the artist to create an on- site mural.
“Diego is someone who really contributes to the fabric of Phoenix, of who we are and what we’re becoming,” says Oleskow. “He is willing to take risks in his imagery. You can sense the humor and feel the passion he puts into his art.”
Today, Perez is hard at work on a public piece for Valley Metro’s Broadway Station, slated for installation in 2023. “This project is a great challenge because I am working with architects and engineers, doing things I’ve never done before,” he says. “I am learning about size and weight issues and the external considerations we have here, such as the wind and the sun.”
In the meantime, Perez is grateful for the opportunities that have come his way. “I just want to keep painting for the rest of my life. It sounds very romantic but that’s it,” he says. “I hope I can bring my work to more people and help others who want to learn about art.”
“Growing up in Ukraine, making a living as an artist was not an option,” says Lana Nguyen. “My parents wanted me to do something practical, so my creativity became more of a hobby.”
Nguyen channeled her energies into competitive sports, eventually landing a spot on her country’s national swim team, which enabled her to travel throughout Europe. “Swimming was my life,” she says, until a trusted coach informed her at age 18 that the sport held no future for her. “I was devastated at the time, but it got me to explore other possibilities outside of Europe.”
Receiving an athletic scholarship to a small private school in San Antonio, Texas, Nguyen double-majored in interior design and art. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she worked in an interior design firm for six years, simultaneously launching a fine art business on the side.
After marrying, Nguyen relocated to Phoenix last year to be near her mother-in-law. “I guess you could say that the sunsets, mountains and my husband brought me here,” she says. “We would visit the Valley on vacations, and I was always drawn to the beautiful landscape.”
In addition to abstract canvases painted in acrylic, Nguyen pays tribute to her new Sonoran home through her “Adorkable Cacti” collection. After painting paper with brightly colored alcohol-based inks, she fashions one-of-a-kind collages representing blooming succulents and other desert flora. Generally measuring smaller than 6 inches square, each diminutive piece is mounted on wood and coated in multiple layers of resin. “They’re very happy. I try to keep things vibrant with bright little pops of color,” she says. “I want to feel happy, and I want other people to feel that way, too.”
Nguyen notes that other local artists have been very welcoming and supportive. She also recognizes the importance of individuality. “Arizona has a strong art community, but that doesn’t mean there are no challenges,” she observes. “My work isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK. To stand out from the crowd, you need to be different.
I apply this not only to my art but to everything I am passionate about. My goal is to keep loving what I do. Hopefully other people will like it too.”