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all photos: Kimberly Cadena
interview: Svetlana

Intrigued by the way artists make do in a city notorious for its lack of building stock that is both suitable and affordable, we’ve decided to go on a mission to investigate and document the work spaces of the city’s creative class.

I am not going to lie, the second we came up with the “Inside The Artist Studio” idea, I’ve had my eye on the Gaitans, just biding our time for perfect timing, and so in 2011, they were our first order of business. The fact that Victoria, after an insanely prolific 2010 (7 shows and one auction, thankyouverymuch),  JUST opened her SWEET MEAT CHERRY WHIP FLIP exhibit @ Artisphere (on display through March 12th) gave us the perfect excuse. So, on a cold, cold, Friday afternoon we ventured down Lee Highway and fell through this particular rabbit hole.

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Victoria F. Gaitan lives and creates her darkly beautiful, hyper gothic images in the same place: a smallish apartment on the 6th floor in Arlington. The second you walk in, and you walk in with expectations ( expectations of, I don’t know, a velvet swathed dungeon, of a castle dripping in blood and corn syrup, of an enchanted, vast loft painted entirely and completely in a glossy black?) you are instantly taken aback by well, how normal it all looks.

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I mean, sure there are swaths of paper, and a big bar of lights (“So very high tech”-laughs Victoria), and piles of books and shoes and inspirations everywhere, but still, it is just an apartment. It gets good natural light, the walls are painted white, just like your apartment’s walls are and the kind of organized chaos that rules the space reminds you of those art school finals you took way back when.

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Then, of course, there is Victoria. Yes, she is wearing 6″ heels indoors, and yes, it feels completely natural that she does. Yes, her hair is as blond and long and wavy as you remember it from gallery openings you’ve seen her at. Her lips are also just as blood red and her arms are covered in intricate, almost lace like tattoos. And she is holding 2 cats: Mister Bewbies and Peanut and they are exactly the kind of cats you’d think Victoria F. Gaitain would have: odd, scary, beautiful.

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But the first thing you notice with her in person, is just how delicate she looks. Pin thin and pale, 6′ tall in her heels, with one of the softest speaking voices (with a hush of an Australian accent) you’ve heard, she radiates (and this is a very rare occurrence in real live people) both fragility and determination, a cross between driven femininity and near extinction. If I was to compare her to something, I’d compare her to a Gothic unicorn. And with that you realize that she could make her magical photos anywhere, so why not at home.

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I ask her about how insanely busy she’s been lately. 7 shows, one auction, now a big solo show…where does she find the time and energy? Where does she find the inspiration? She smiles her big red smile and tells us how this is how she likes it, how she spent many years not being able to do what she wanted to do due to illness and how it was driving her crazy. So now, that she is well and able, she just wants to do stuff she likes and nothing but stuff she likes.

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And the inspiration, the inspiration comes from anywhere. Victoria went to school for film, but really hated the film department so she “just started taking still images”, but her cinematic flair still shows even in them since they really are all about creating a complete, twisted parallel universe. (I couldn’t help but think of Bathory as I spoke to her-ed).

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“There is a pig head in the freezer”, she casually mentions and sometimes all it takes is for her to just see a person and she knows exactly what she’d do with them. “This girl -she motions to a picture of a pretty blonde on a wall behind us -“I just saw her photo on facebook, and I emailed her and said “I promise I am not going to kill you but I WOULD REALLY LOVE to photograph you” And she said yes”.

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Often times the subjects are her DC art world friends (we spied everyone from Philippa Hughes to Jeffry Cudlin to Maura Judkiss (who was working on a story on sitting for Victoria simultaneously) on her walls) and all it takes is to just “Trust her”.  Sometimes there is a very clear idea of something she’d like to try (or a particular texture or substance she’d like to use ON THEM) but sometimes “I just want them to look empty, and then I’ll direct them from there”. It is refreshing how she tries to make you non-intimidated by her process, how she really looks to under-complicate it all. What you see is a direct translation of what goes on in her head, and you should just accept that, plain and simple (and glorious and gory)

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Not only does all the posing happen in that room but all the printing and processing does as well. Victoria gestures to her printer/computer set up, and with a soft smile says “The computer is about to get retired, it is way past it’s prime”.

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The printing process takes anytime from 12 to 70 hours and all the photos are priced according to size. “I like to keep it simple like that-more paper simply costs more money”-she says.

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Stacks upon stacks of test shots cascade all over the tables. Victoria, over time, has learned what are “the inevitable trouble spots: eyes, chins, angles” and focuses on those. The little prints for her Artisphere flip books are around too, the juxtaposition in size between those and the larger than life copies that hang on the walls absolutely fascinating. I sort of just want to bury myself in it and look at every little detail of every shot.

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Then, of course, even as you discuss the artwork, the shoes are just everywhere. So, no matter how hard you try, you have to mention them. It turns out that there was, of course, more of them (“I have a bit of a problem”, Victoria laughs) but between Australia, London, Brooklyn and now here only the true favorites have made it through.

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“They were initially in a closet in the back. But it was too dark and moldy in there”-she says-“And I was afraid they’d get infected and so, I Laura Palmered them all (there are little Twin Peaks references throughout the apartment, which make me love her even more-ed) and brought them out here”. The shoes now occupy the center space of the area, right next to the photo backdrop and the entrance into the Gaitans’ more private spaces.

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We then spend some time, just “looking over my crap”, as Victoria calls it. Gaitans collect stuff and are not afraid to display it.  There are souvenirs from Alberto’s childhood travels with his diplomat parents, memories from England and home for Victoria, many, many, many books (“And more books are coming. My father is kindly mailing a bunch of them for me from home”. She has resisted getting her stuff mailed to any of her other locations but “DC now feels like and is home, so it is time to bring all the things that make something a home, all the things that played a part in making me who I am here”.

Congratulations DC, you won this round.

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Want more: read up on Victoria on her website: http://www.victoriafgaitan.com/, and visit her exhibit at ARTISPHERE (Artist talk is on February 25h and promises to be pretty unmissable)

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