CATHERINE ARMBRUST: Our First Artist at 360 Xochi Quetzal

CA1Catherine was the first resident at 360 Xochi Quetzal. We received over 100 applications from talented artists around the world. As we evaluated the images, videos and manuscripts, Catherine’s work stood out. It was fresh, authentic and passionate. We really wanted the residency to make a difference in the artist’s work and process and as you will read below, Catherine squeezed every bit of inspiration from every hour she was in Mexico. Enjoy! -dek

Describe a typical day during your artist residency

One of my favorite parts of each day was waking up in a sunny bedroom and gazing at all the birds—especially the hummingbirds—enjoying the gorgeous bougainvillea bush outside the window.  After a Ca2little breakfast and tea I would normally work in the studio most of the day, taking a break for lunch or to run out to buy art supplies at the local papeleria (paper supplies).  Most evenings I would walk down to the lake to watch the sunset, then wander through the neighborhood to find a taco cart or cenaduria (only open for late dinners).  The town has a different personality during the day so sometimes I would shop in the mornings in order to buy salsa or herbs at the plaza and fresh tortillas at the tortilleria (torilla shop).  On the weekends I spent a lot of time down at the malecon (promenade by the lake), people watching…and knitting—I always met interesting folks when I knit on the boardwalk.    

Your residency was in a small town in Mexico, a place that you didn’t know. How did finding your way around and exploring the town affect your residency experience?

ca3The residency house is located in truly the perfect place—situated in the middle of a neighborhood bustling with small, local businesses and only about 5 blocks from the lake’s malecon, as well as a huge, shady park.  I wandered down a different street almost everyday to see what new stores and eateries I could find.  This type of wandering allowed me to not only find supplies for my collages, but also to enjoy the varieties of colors, patterns, and textures used for the neighborhood architecture and signage—which translated into my work—and discover delicious treats along the way.  One day I ran across a woman selling quesadillas outside her home; another day I was quite thirsty and found a guy selling the most delicious “diablito” drink from his bicycle cart.  Walking through town and following my inner compass rewarded me with interesting interactions and fantastic sights.  I fell in LOVE with Chapala—everyone was so kind to me—it is wonderful to be in a place where folks greet each other on the street. 

When you arrived in Chapala, you had just finished a graduate program in Fibers. What can you share about your creative process during your residency? What ideas are you exploring?

ca4I had just finished a very intense year (well, 3.5 years) making, researching, and writing about pop culture, mating rituals, gender stereotypes, and personal ornamentation.  The graduate program simultaneously built me up and beat me down, so I was extremely grateful to have this experience and time to make work on a different physical and intellectual scale.  The work I made in Chapala was still related to my thesis work in terms of materials (sequins, glitter, lace, etc.), concept (idealism in media), and masking/ornamentation (in relation to the figure or character).  Instead of large-scale costumes and installations I worked on a series of brightly colored collages based around anonymous figures/characters found in magazines and cultural archetypes—like pop stars and religious icons. 

I also had the need to work on something more dimensional so I created a small vessel (inspired by Jerry Bleem’s work) made up torn loteria cards and staples, as well as a large-scale sculpture made of hula hoops and recycled “trash” that now hangs from the side of the residency house.

You hadn’t ever been to an artist residency before coming to 360 Xochi Quetzal. How has this time alone influenced your work and thinking?

 ca6I know that most residencies often have a group of artists living and working in close quarters—a treat for folks who might be missing that type of community.  Since I had just finished graduate school I had been privileged to be a part of a close-knit art community for the past 3.5 years.   It was actually a nice change to be on my own for a bit.  I think that being alone—rather than being surrounded by other artists everyday—allowed me to tone down my “filter”.  Instead of questioning every color, material, image, and object placement as I would in graduate school, I let myself make decisions with less judgment and more freedom.  Sometimes I would ask myself, “Does this make sense?” and sometimes I would answer, “I don’t care…just do it.”  I mostly tried to follow the “What if…?” in order to see where the work would take me.  Part of me did miss being able to get another set of eyes on the work in progress though. 

What were some of the highlights of the residency for you? What was hard about this month?

I often have a difficult time being able to sleep in a new place.  From my first night there I slept beautifully.  That to me was a sign that I was in the right place.

ca7Having this time to just work was a gift.  I had been working long days finishing up my thesis work and writing my paper, so that routine of hours in the studio was already in place.  But this time I was more relaxed doing the work! 

Other highlights included the migrating white pelicans and hummingbirds; the holiday cheer and decorations; the family band & people watching at the malecon; the FOOD (tamales, ponche, champurrada, tacos, pozole, etc.); new friends (Deborah introduced me to Chris, Jackie, Alberto, Norman, Ernie, Rich, etc.); the sunsets; practicing Spanish; being near water; and being able to just wander and explore a new place. It was all an incredible adventure.  

I am extremely grateful for the house’s wonderful Wi-Fi—I was able to Skype with my family whenever I wanted, work on my blog, and load photos onto Facebook.  Having Internet at the house helped me keep in touch and feel closer to my loved ones.

What else can you share about your residency experience? What surprised you about it?

ca8The aroma of this land struck me the moment I stepped off the plane—it has always amazed me how a place can smell like smokeca9 and dust and sunlight and simultaneously feel so fresh and wonderful.  I studied in Guadalajara for a semester when I was an undergrad and Mexico has been embedded in my soul ever since.  I was thrilled to have been accepted to this residency—and the first of the venture no less—so that I could return to the region that I fell in love with 20 years ago.  I was surprised at how immediately comfortable and “at home” I felt in Chapala and at the house.  I would love to return to Chapala one day and perhaps follow through on the installation ideas I had.  I would also love to share the area with my husband.  This magic place has definitely impacted my body/mind/spirit in very positive ways.  Thank you so much for granting me this opportunity to explore.          -Catherine Armbrust

To read a recent interview with a video about Catherine:

To  apply to 360 Xochi Quetzal:

read more about 360 Xochi Quetzal:


Everyone comes to the residency for different reasons. For me it was a
time to reflect upon this whirlwind year. Like many, I lead a hectic life
and run from one exhibition to the next with little time for
contemplation. Even if I hadn’t made a single thing during my residency,
I would have been satisfied because what I really needed was to slow
down and think about what direction my work might take. I reveled in
the environment – the lake and mountains – as well as two trips, one to
see the Monarch butterflies and the other to a fiesta in an indigenous
village with my fellow artists. I left the residency refreshed, with new friends and purpose!

Jennifer Angus, Installation Artist
“Applying for the free Winter residency of Xochi Quetzal was the start of many positive transformations. The silence I found for myself during the residency, allowed me not only to write the best last chapter I can write at this stage of my evolution, it also granted me a most sought-after introspection moment during which I read my dreams and studied ancient Eastern writings. The serenity of the lake and presence of other artists inspired me to get mentally ready and organized for my future as a novelist. I am particularly fond of spending the holidays abroad with ‘strangers’. It always infuses me with these wild insights and whims. Our group was just lovely, the artists one by one very interesting. Cobra and Christian are warm and graceful hosts who made life easy. All in all, Xochi Quetzal was a weighty meditation, a poetic experience that carried me through the rest of Mexico in newness and will resonate long after.”
Heidi Souffriau, Writer
“I was partly inspired to apply for the Xochi Quetzal residency by The Retro Cocktail Hour — a popular Saturday night radio show on Kansas Public Radio 91.5 that features exotica music (a form of tropical jazz).  My hope was for the palm trees,  lakeside sunrises, and culture of Chapala & Mexico at large to inform my creative process.  These elements did precisely that, and the generous hospitality of Cobra & her partner Christian provided me with a cozy composing environment.”
Note from Staff: Listen to the music created during Andrew’s residency -Winter 2016
Andrew Morgan, Composer, Musician

Chapala is a safe, spiritually charged, beautiful place. Wild horses run through town.  It’s a place where you greet strangers on the street.

I walked along the lake in meditation a great deal. I hiked the looming cerro overlooking town. I biked all over the countryside. I wrote, documented, created composed soundscapes utilizing field recordings, and built small maquette light sculptures based on my experiences. I attended traditional temazcals, and sat alone in cathedrals.

It was pivotal for me in a spiritual sense more than a career advancing experience. I’m very grateful for it, and Deborah Kruger is a wonderful advocate to keep in contact with. I truly recommend the residency.

Justin R. Lytle, Sound Artist & Sculptor

My residency at 360 Xochi Quetzal in summer 2015 was both restorative and productive.  I was inspired by the beautiful studio and the surrounding Chapala  / Jalisco region.  The setting worked well for me in terms of inspiring and completing new work, and learning the history and customs of the area.  The flexible residency requirements allowed an easy engagement with other residents, and encouraged me to participate in Chapala and Guadalajara communities.  There are many contemporary art venues in Guadalajara, which are an easy bus ride from Chapala.

Michael Pribich, Sculptor

“Not only was this residency situated in one of the most beautifully mystical, culturally resonant, and stimulating settings imaginable, it also managed to be both peaceful and galvanizing: the perfect combination for immersing oneself in a creative project without hesitation or distraction. Deborah and Christian’s home was an oasis. One of my fellow residents remarked to me that “this place has amazing energy for getting work done,” and I wholeheartedly agree: the atmosphere seemed to hum with a low-key, generative productivity, one that helped me get closer than I’d been in many months to actually fully realizing and finishing a long story. I wish I was still there among the bougainvillea, the jade vines, the dogs and the pelicans.”

Suzanne K. Rivecca, Author

Chapala has become my home away from home. The Xochi Quetztal residency is run efficiently. Cobra and her team are friendly, accessible, and professional. My stay in Chapala is enhanced by the personal relationships I have developed with several of the team members. The casita I stay in is very well maintained and fully equipped. The studio area is large and ready for me to engage in art as soon as I arrive.  The weather is always fantastic. The lake, the town(s), the life, the restaurants, the view, the very friendly local people all call me back again and again. I love it!

Zahava Sherez, Sculptor

“This was the most work I’ve ever done in a single month in my life. I will never forget what an incredible experience this was and I thank you for honoring me with a residency at 360 Xochi Quetzal. The reference material I gathered throughout the trip to Chapala, Mexico is going to fuel my work for years to come. Thank you for everything! You run an incredible residency program!!!”

Santiago Galeas, Painter