In the work of artist Grace Requejo aka @gracesrealm, we perceive a world brimming with haunting beauty and captivating narratives. Grace, an Asian-American artist based in Chicago, delves into the depths of graphite, papermaking, and fibre materials to craft a body of work that transcends conventional boundaries. Drawing inspiration from feminist sci-fi, mediaeval fantasy, kawaii aesthetics, and techno primitivism, she weaves together a tapestry of dreamlike imagery and otherworldly environments.
Each illustration unveils a fragment of a larger tale, while her sculptures breathe life into the objects, tools, and memorials of this fantastical realm. Delving into the artistic journey of Gracesrealm, there are clear signifiers of the childlike and unsettling coexist harmoniously, that allows beauty and mystery to intertwine.
Gracesrealm Metalmagazine 14.jpg
Firstly, could you briefly introduce yourself and your work to anyone who may be unfamiliar?
Yes! My name is Grace, I’m an Asian-American artist based in Chicago, and I work primarily with graphite, papermaking, and fibre materials. My work embodies a world highly inspired by feminist sci-fi, mediaeval fantasy, kawaii aesthetics, and techno primitivism. Within this world, each piece conveys a vague narrative, with highly stylised characters and otherworldly environments. I like to think of my illustrations as stories from this world, and my sculptures serve as the objects, tools, and memorials that exist in the world itself. I consider all of my work as existing in a world that I am continually expanding on.
Can you tell us about your artistic journey and how you got started as an artist?
Yeah. So, I’ve been drawing since I was very little and have always wanted to pursue art. I’ve always loved drawing. I went to an art high school in California, and got some really good technical drawing and painting training there. I took figure drawing classes outside of school as well. Once I got to the art institute (of Chicago) I was able to hone in my work more conceptually and develop a point of view as an artist. Once I started posting my work on Instagram I began to really pursue it in a more professional sense.
Your work often features haunting, otherworldly themes. Can you tell us more about your sources of inspiration if there are any in particular that are prominent for you?
I feel like I’m unconsciously inspired by so many things it’s hard to pinpoint. My sort of categories of inspiration are definitely kawaii aesthetics, shōjo and old manga, digital aesthetics, dolls, dress up games, plants and insects (right now I love those weird spikey caterpillars), 18th century European fashion, and fossils. I’m also really into retold mythology, and have always been inspired by science fiction and fantasy.
Gracesrealm Metalmagazine 6.jpg
You often work with unconventional materials such as cotton for your art pieces. What draws you to these materials, and how do you incorporate them into your creative process?
I’ve recently been exploring paper-making more, which has allowed me to get to the root of both my art practice, and my identity. When making paper, I use this fibre called abacá, which is a natural leaf fibre grown in the Philippines. My grandfather grew abacá before he immigrated to the US, and has pretty extensive knowledge about the plant. I like that I am able to connect with that aspect of my culture through my art. I also like how organic and life-like the paper looks. It really feels like a ritual object or scroll.
You also create miniature sculptures in a style reminiscent of your two-dimensional artwork. How do you approach the process of creating a three-dimensional piece, and how does it differ from your two-dimensional work?
I like to consider all of my work as existing in a fantasy world that I am continually expanding on. Illustrations with graphite are the basis of my work, and where I do most world building. But sometimes certain objects call for other mediums. I love experimenting with new mediums and seeing how my style translates. I feel like I have a lot of control over graphite, so when I work in new mediums I’m giving up a little bit of that control, and letting the medium guide me. I really enjoy that aspect.
Your artwork has a dreamlike quality to it that is simultaneously childlike and unsettling. Can you talk about the significance of this paradox and how it relates to your creative process?
(Laughs) I don’t find it unsettling! But I know what you mean. There’s something empowering about situating visual cuteness aesthetics within a more ominous environment. I think about beauty, cuteness, girly and feminine aesthetics, and how all those things are so incredibly complicated and vast. I want my characters to harness multitudes, visually and emotionally.
Gracesrealm Metalmagazine 18.jpg
Your artwork seems to tell stories, with each piece having a distinct narrative or atmosphere. How important is storytelling to you in your artwork, and how do you go about creating these narratives?
I’m always thinking about storytelling, even if it’s just an ambiguous narrative. My stories aren’t super fleshed out, but I’m always thinking about some type of motive or power imbalance that exists within the characters and their world.
Your art has gained a following on Instagram. How has social media impacted your work and artistic career?
And it’s weird because an Instagram post is so different from the physical piece, it’s like they are separate things altogether. There’s also something a bit weird about sharing such a personal side of myself with thousands of people. But that’s okay, I like the collectiveness, the knowing that other people might feel seen by the work.
Anyway, I am super fortunate that my work is able to translate well to the Instagram format. It's great that I have a platform to share work, and be able to connect with people from all over through my art. And I’m endlessly grateful for all the support I’ve got for my practice.
What do you hope viewers take away from your art?
A lot of times with my work I’m trying to channel a certain feeling. When I feel a strange or complicated emotion, I’ll hold onto that, then unravel it through drawing. Sometimes it's present in the narrative, or it's through something as simple as a shape or an eye. It means a lot to me when people connect with my work, or feel seen by it.
Gracesrealm Metalmagazine 5.jpg
Are there any other artists or creatives who have influenced your work?
Yes. My friend Leonne (@plasticrelic) inspires me a lot. I’m also inspired by a lot of tattoo artists, especially artists that came out of Chicago.
Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions that you’re excited about?
Yes! I have a super exciting collaborative project coming out, but it’s a secret right now. I have a few secret projects so be on the lookout.
Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring artists who are just starting out in their creative journey?
I feel like I can’t give advice because I’m still figuring things out myself (laughs) but I can speak to my own experience and what I’ve learnt. I’ve learnt that my art grows with me, and the better I know myself, the easier it is to express that through my work. Find what you like and care about, organise your thoughts and feelings, and find the best way to translate that into something that can speak for itself. Don’t try to make someone else’s work. Also two things I value a lot are gratitude and curiosity!
Gracesrealm Metalmagazine 17.jpg
Gracesrealm Metalmagazine 10.jpg
Gracesrealm Metalmagazine 15.jpg
Gracesrealm Metalmagazine 8.jpg
Gracesrealm Metalmagazine 4.jpg
Gracesrealm Metalmagazine 7.jpg