Our Biggest Heist
medium. oil on paper
size. 60x60 cm
by. Maria Solias
Welcome to Ice Cream Social, the summer's socially distant group art show, featuring creators and makers from all walks of life, coming together to share their love of the greatest treat known to man. Each week through Labor Day, come chill with new artists as they discuss a wide range of topics spanning their personal journeys, art, pop culture, and, of course, ice cream! This week, we sit down for dessert with digital artist Brendan Albetski, pyrographer Michael O'Shields, and oil painter Maria Solias.
Everything is colorful in my home country...
even our sorrows.
Maria, you're a fantastic illustrator and painter. How did you first cultivate your love for art?
Oh, thank you so much! You are so kind.
Well, my abuelita actually introduced me into painting at a very young age. She used to paint a lot of landscapes back in the day and encouraged me to paint with her since I was like 6 years old. As a teen, I abandoned traditional painting completely and fell into doing anime fan art and embarrassing mangas in the back pages of my school books. And later on, as an art student I was discouraged to do illustrative or narrative focused work by most teachers, and tried more experimental stuff. It took me a while to find my path and having the need to support me and my family made me really insecure about my work. Honestly, I considered giving up a couple of times.
It wasn't until maybe five years ago that I put one and one together, and realized that all I wanted to do was traditional paintings focused on storytelling. So I went back to my roots and started working with oils again, but the love has always been there. It just took me a while to get on track.
As a freelance illustrator, do you find yourself scrambling and hustling from job to job, or do you have a steady clientele that keeps you busy?
More often than not, but as I started to develop a voice and style as an illustrator, it’s been getting easier and easier each year. The instability of the whole freelancing deal, the constant worry of finding clients and projects to work on, and dealing with exploitative work practices were wearing me down and were definitely factors into my decision to flip my focus into developing personal projects. That’s why I decided to open a Patreon account.
A year ago, a friend suggested that I should open one. At first, I was reluctant, and well, my first thought was: Nobody knows me! Who’s gonna want to support me! I’m not good enough, and all that ugly stuff creatives usually say to themselves, but he insisted, so I decided to opened it anyway. That friend was my first patron and he’s been supporting me there since. (His name is Ryan, by the way! Thank you Ryan!)
And now, I have 30+ patrons directly supporting my work! I just can’t believe it! Having the financial backing of so many people and their constant support has been a blessing and it has helped me gain more confidence in my work, not feel guilty about working on my personal projects and have a small but constant safety net in case things get difficult, which they often do!
An accountant might escape their mundane world by picking up painting, but your career and passions are inextricably tied together. How do you reconcile that? Is it ever too much? How do you get away, if you even want to?
Yeah, sometimes it can be [too much] but I've noticed that as long as I can work on my personal projects, it’s easy to keep going. For me, it’s really important to have a bigger thing I can fight for. Even If I can only dedicate a couple of hours per week to my projects, there’s some tranquility into knowing I'm not abandoning myself and my dreams in the process of growing up and being an adult.
You're in an advantageous position of being bi-lingual (or more... do you speak other languages?). How has this opened doors for you and your work?
Oh of course! I’ve been able to connect with more people online and apply to projects that I wouldn't even dream about when I was little. I been actively trying to work on my English since I migrated, and even though its been difficult and sometimes embarrassing, it’s totally worth it! I would really like to learn more and more languages!
Talk about "Our Biggest Heist". Is this inspired by a real event or location, or is it purely fictional?
It’s fictional. I like to write backstories for my pieces. I imagined these two kids playing for the last time together; they didn't know that was the case. They didn't know their families decided to leave Venezuela. For them it was another Friday after school. They were just up to another devilry game, another mischief arising from the fact that one of the kid’s uncles owned a typical Venezuelan ice cream car and of course they had to steal it, and of course they had to go down the sloping street of el barrio and eat ice cream until it came out of their noses!
The painting has such a fine balance of warm and cool colors. How did you cultivate this color palette, which seems to appear in many of your paintings?
I often try to rationalize it, and it’s so natural and it comes from such an honest place that I can't really explain it, but it’s definitely inspired by El Caribe and Venezuela. Everything is colorful in my home country: Streets, houses, clothing, nature... even our sorrows.
If you hijacked an ice cream cart like your subjects in "Our Biggest Heist", what would you hope was inside?
Oh, my favorite ice cream as a kid for sure! It was called “bati-bati”. I don't think you can find those anymore. It was a “colita” (a type of sugary soda) or bubblegum flavored cone shaped ice cream with a tiny gum in the bottom.
This sounds like the Screwball you'd find on an American ice cream truck.
You've got a bowl of your favorite ice cream at hand, and an unlimited selection of toppings. What's going on that sundae?
Oh arequipe or dulce de leche, Oreos and sprinkles!
Is there a distinctive frozen treat of any kind from your native Venezuela, or your adoptive home of Colombia, that you'd recommend as a must-have to anyone?
Oh there’s plenty! There’s something called “Tetas”, the literal translation to english means “boobs”. Tetas are a traditional Venezuelan frozen treat that you can make by simply freezing any kind of fruit juice on the corner of a regular plastic bag. My favorite flavor is coconut. There’s also “vikingos” or “chupi-chupis,” which are based on the same concept, but they are more industrialized and all the flavors are artificial-tasting and well, as a child that’s all I wanted, sugary bubblegum or cola. And finally there’s "raspados," a tropical-flavored shaved ice treat served with condensed milk. It’s the most refreshing and delicious treat ever! I wouldn't change it for anything.
This all sounds great. Now, the lightning round. Sprinkles or jimmies?
Rainbow or chocolate?
Cup or cone?
Sherbet or sherbert?
I don't understand the reference.
The great debate has not reached South America. Maria, thanks for your time, and your tremendous contribution to Ice Cream Social.
Dulce de Leche
Though its origins have been disputed, ducle de leche is traditionally accepted as a Latin American culinary contribution. The name literally translates to "sweet of milk". It is typically a caramelization of milk and sugar, often with vanilla.
From The Culture Trip:
"In 2003, Argentina attempted to declare dulce de leche as Argentinian cultural heritage before UNESCO, unsuccessfully, as Uruguay claimed it should be considered Gastronomical Heritage of the Río de la Plata (the region concerning the two countries)."
Though the names and places change, legend has it that this sweet treat was accidentally invented when a cook left a pot of milk and sugar unattended for too long, only to return to discover the caramelized concoction.
October 11th is "World Dulce de Leche Day". The date reflects the supposed date of its 1829 creation by Argentinian general Juan Manuel de Rosas's maid.
In Colombia and Venezuela, dulce de leche is known as "arequipe".
There are several ways to make your own dulce de leche at home, but the classic method can take up to two hours, and requires an attentive hand.
Of 2019's top ten best-selling brands of ice cream, most of which include some version of a caramel flavor, only Häagen-Dazs offers and official "Dulce de Leche" variety.
Solias's recollection of "bati-bati" most resembles the Screwball commonly found on ice cream trucks across the US.
Maria Solias is a visual storyteller originally from Venezuela, and currently residing in Colombia. She is currently working on a book about the Venezuelan diaspora, and constantly working on slice of life pieces inspired by Latin America. Stay up to date with all that and more on Instagram and Twitter. Watch her YouTube channel for live sketches, and support her work through Patreon and InPrnt, or email her directly for commission requests.