Monica Curiel

This may be the American Design Hot List, but our nomination of Curiel arose just as much from her functional objects, which we first spotted in Milan last year, as it did from the monochrome draped-plaster artworks we fell for in the collection of South Loop Loft — before we even realized, with delight, that they were made by the same person. Curiel’s practice is based around elevating simple materials like plaster, house paint, and grouting tools in part as an homage to her parents, who immigrated to Texas from Mexico and took her along as a child while they cleaned homes and worked on construction sites.

What is American design to you, and what excites you about it?

As a Mexican-American, I still believe in the American Dream — it fuels me, and I find a lot of hope in it. To me, American design reflects a unique fusion of dualities and embodies individualism. You can be a designer anywhere, but the opportunity to build something regardless of your background is unique here. This excites me because it removes creative boundaries and makes it possible to dedicate a career path to refining one’s creative vision. It grants me the freedom to celebrate both of my cultures while using my work as a vehicle to dive into diverse material and conceptual explorations. And as a woman, I’m excited to witness (and be a part of!) the more inclusive chapter of American design that’s being written.

What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?

A big goal of mine for this year is to continue exploring how my art and design practices intersect and prioritizing studio time and exhibition opportunities. I’m looking forward to a five-week residency at Anderson Ranch in the spring, where I’ll expand my work with plaster and integrate other mediums as well. I’m also collaborating with Boyd Lighting, a company with a 102-year legacy, to unveil a collection of lighting set to launch in late 2024. While I can’t reveal too much about that work yet, I can confirm that plaster is very much involved.

What inspires or informs your work in general?

My culture is my driving force and a constant source of inspiration. I visit Mexico annually to connect with my family and observe the familiar in new ways. Mundane structures like the “lavadero” (an outdoor sink made of stone or concrete with a built-in washboard used to wash clothing) that I once overlooked — and was even embarrassed by! — have gained a new significance for me. I contemplate how they were constructed, who in my family built them, and with what materials. My work seeks to elevate everyday construction materials, prompting viewers to question the how, why, and who behind what I create. My work being recognized as handmade is very important for me, as it embodies the essence of my artistic journey and honors the skills that have been handed down to me by my parents.

Photos above by Jimena Peck Three photos above by Ian Ace Photography for South Loop Loft