A Fine Line
Mia Carameros’ elegant and precise paintings are a daily invitation to observe the natural world
by Margaret Williams
Photographs by Hannah Haston
Mia Carameros has been making and creating most of her life. As a young child, the El Paso native would wake up as early as 4 a.m. “My mom just wasn’t having it,” explains the artist. “She cleaned out an empty closet; decked it out with scissors, markers, paintbrushes, paint; and told me to go to my little studio. Then she would come and get me when it was time to start the day. My mom really championed the creative part of me from a very young age.”
These early nudges toward creativity came naturally in a family where art was always valued and easily incorporated into everyday life. Carameros recalls weekends marked by estate sales and antiques store outings and family trips that revolved around museum and gallery visits. In fact, on one such trip she remembers, “My parents bought my brother a painting that really spoke to him — he was 14. Now it hangs in his home. Pretty unusual.”
Childhood daybreak crafting led to an adolescent interest in collecting and pressing plants, and by high school the textile design enthusiast was rearranging her school schedule so that she could audit an apparel design class at a local tech school. “As a high schooler, that was my dream for myself, as a fashion designer,” remembers Carameros. After four years of studying high school art (technically not allowed) and summers spent at Savannah College of Art and Design, the Coronado High grad left for art school in the San Francisco Bay Area, eventually transferring to St. Edward’s University as a visual studies major.
This move proved to be a crucial one, as St. Ed’s is where Carameros met professor Hollis Hammonds, herself a multimedia installation artist, who would became a pivotal instructor and mentor. Hammonds and Carameros would talk beauty, concept and philosophy for hours, and these exchanges encouraged the now oil painter to hone in on the yearlong project that would become her senior thesis: “Forty-five small paintings based on two friends’ experiences of suffering and dealing with major loss,” explains Carameros.
In the midst of the painter’s senior thesis she happened to take printmaking and was asked to pick one subject matter to focus on. She chose plants. Despite a childhood love for flora and fauna, she isn’t quite sure what precipitated the decision, but before long she was “scanning plants, manipulating them, turning the threshold down … that screen-printing class was the catalyst to what I do now.”
After graduation, and without access to a printing press, the artist began painting her romantic and sparse imprints. An offhand “in process” photo sent to designer Hanna Seabrook (a fan of Carameros’ work) that was then shared on social media set the wheels in motion for larger career moves. Carameros explains, “It was 2013 and social media had just become a place to share work and gain a following.” By 2014 she had her first exhibition — a group show at Agave Print with photographer Kate LeSueur — and after 4 years of working full-time and painting in her spare time, Carameros decided in August 2017 to fully pursue her career as an artist.
Now represented by gallerist Wally Workman, Carameros says she “wants to keep focusing and working on this until I’m 80. It’s really more of a practice now. I am always on the hunt. It’s a daily invitation to keep my eyes open. The plant has to speak to me. Sometimes I’ll pick something and it won’t come out at all. This process gives me a lot of room to fail gracefully. It’s just a plant. If it doesn’t work out, it’s OK.”
By the looks of it, things are working out just fine.
•Picks a plant and presses it. The pressing can take anywhere from a week to a month depending on how much cellulose the plant has.
•Scans the pressings. Mia has a digital archive of everything she has ever pressed.
•Views the plant through a compositional lens — removing a leaf, for instance.
•Projects the edited pressings, using a ’50s projector, onto paper. Mia says she “prefers paper to canvas. Something about it is precious.”
•Draws and paints the projection. Mia explains that she goes into “surgery mode” when she starts painting. “I have to position my body a certain way,” she says. “I like that I have to be present and precise. The process requires a lot out of me and I enjoy that.”