Denisse Wolf | Artist
In a short amount of time, painter Denisse Wolf has fashioned a career most young artists covet. Despite having never signed with a broker or agent, she finds herself completely sold out of pieces, including her signature, particolored celebrity portraits. While she’s shown work in galleries from San Francisco to San Diego, most of her buyers discover Denisse through instagram, where she routinely shares her own art and inspirations, as well as photos of herself and a unique cadre of pets, which include an Afghan hound, Angora rabbit, and what she calls “the most crooked dog you’ll ever see.”
The Tijuana, Mexico, native moved to San Diego to attend college for graphic design. But six years ago, finding herself on an increasingly corporate career path, Denisse dug out an old set of paints and began seeking emotional escape through use of oil and acrylic. Talked into showing the results in her downtown neighborhood record shop, she says when the public strongly responded to her style, she gained the confidence to pursue a more self-expressive career.
Lately, Denisse has mostly gotten out the graphic design game. She likes hitting up nature and traveling to seek out great cuisine, but for the most part, she spends time finding herself at her studio.
When did you first explore your creative side? Was there a particular event or experience that first spoke to you as an artist?
For as long as I can remember, art has always been a part of my life. My first dip in the art world began through graphic design, and then I fully submerged when I discovered painting. I think when I finished that first painting in our apartment downtown, I realized it was an extension of myself.
How did you practice and evolve your technique over the years? Did you ever have a mentor or formal training that pushed you in a certain direction?
I learn with every piece I do. Every painting is different and its never easy — if anything I think it gets harder each time. Since I am a self taught artist, I put lots of pressure on myself to grow and to be better. My biggest fear is to stop evolving and to conform. Its easy to stay where its comfortable and sometimes risks don’t always pay off, but when they do, it’s wonderful.
What creative risks have you taken to get to the place where you are today?
Yikes, a few… First and foremost — it’s scary to put yourself out there. That work is a part of you. Your thoughts, the feelings you had at the time you made a piece… its sometimes your darkest moments exposed.
I don’t use conventional colors, and I live in San Diego where everything is nice n’ beige. I wasn’t sure if anyone would “get it” here, and I definitely considered that risky, especially when I decided to do this full time.
When thinking about the future of your work, what are you most excited about?
It’s truly exciting to think about growth! I love that. Maybe my style will become completely different. Maybe I’ll absolutely hate color next year (doubt it). Maybe I’ll be making art in New York (I wish). I’m looking forward to the moment when I get out of the way of myself, and really, truly let go of things that hold me back as an artist.
What are your daily rituals that keep you in a creative, productive flow?
It’s messy over on my side. So messy that if someone broke into my studio while I’m in the process of making a piece, they’d probably turn around and leave, petrified!
I dump ALL of my paints on the floor, so I can see what I have to work with. I get distracted easily, so I’ll have music blasting. It’s of the few things that allow me to disconnect from whatever is going on. I prefer to be alone when I’m working, and — to be completely honest — I’m not the most pleasant person to be around with when I’m in the zone. I get paint everywhere. And I get emotional — and not always the good kind. I go through every feeling, every single time. It’s exhausting, but that’s just how it goes over here.
What’s on your playlist while you’re working in the studio?
I enjoy all sorts of music, but mostly indie stuff. Lately I’ve been listening to Sinkane, Polo & Pan, Kendrick Lamar, Gabriel Garzon- Montano, Twin Cabins , Exploded View, and tons of Anika on repeat.
Is there a past or present artist who has been highly influential or impactful on how you approach your art?
I will always be a fan of the classics like Roy Lichtenstein, and Toulouse Lautrec. Ellsworth Kelly, who passed two years ago, is also a favorite, and possibly one that inspires me the most.
My list for living artists that I’m obsessed with is mostly contemporary, and not solely in the painting world. I’ve been in love with the work of John Baldessari for years — his photographs and color play are fantastic. I’m loving everything Dan Flavin has done with his light installations, and — can we talk about James Turell? I mean, if you ever have the chance to visit any of this man’s installations, Please Do. Its an experience like no other.
The beauty and magic that Miss Yayoi Kusama brings to this world is something else. She can do it all, but her installations are just so impressive to me — she takes you to her world and it’s way cooler than the one we live in.
Do you have a place to go to recharge, or find further inspiration?
Finding inspiration is as difficult for me as it is making the actual art piece. If I’m not feeling it, I can’t work. It’s as easy and complicated as that, so I go look for inspiration. San Diego is beautiful, but my favorite part of living here is the closeness to the places that inspire me, like Tijuana, Joshua Tree, and forever Los Angeles.
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