INTERVIEW WITH JUSTIN LYTLE: Sound and Visual Artist at 360 Xochi Quetzal

6a0133ed05424c970b019104b3b017970c-800wiJustin was the second resident at 360 Xochi Quetzal. His work stood out from the applications that poured in from talented artists and writers around the globe. In contrast to our first resident whose work reflected the saturated color of Mexico, Justin’s visual and sound work is quiet and meditative. Justin soaked in the deeply spiritual energies that have been long known to the native peoples who inhabit the mountains and shores around Lake Chapala. You will enjoy reading this personal reflection. dek

How did you structure your time during your artist residency?

The first couple days of my residency at 360 Xochi Quetzel were spent in a state of sensory awe. I was quickly overloaded as I took in each sight, smell, sound and sunray. After a brief adjustment period, I slipped right into a daily routine. I would wake in my wonderfully light-filled bedroom. After breakfast and coffee, I would do some reading and meditation before venturing out to explore. I documented the wealth of local street life through photography and sound recordings. Mondays, I would set out early to the weekly tianguis market on the edge of town, where I would snake the streets in search of incredibly inexpensive quality produce. I’d grab other incidentals at the corner abarrotes or tortillarias on the walk back. For meat and fish, the market in the plaza was perfect. On warm days, the young man selling Agua de Coco was a godsend. I’d work in the studio through siesta and into the evening and would catch a bite at a taco stand or at one of the neighborhood Cenadurias at local dinnertime, around 9pm or so. Then I’d spend the rest of the night back in the studio, and prepare to repeat the process.

Your residency was in Chapala, a small town in central Mexico. Tell us about your explorations and how you found your way around.

6a0133ed05424c970b019104b3b267970c-320wiChapala was the perfect introduction to the authentic Mexican experience. The residence, situated in a lush corner of town is a mere cobblestone step away from all that the community has to offer. Following my ears, eyes, heart, and gut, I meandered virtually every street, eager to explore. I particularly enjoyed walking along the edge of Lake Chapala, where the low water level revealed mysterious exposed artifacts. Once I felt I had a small understanding of my immediate surroundings it was a breeze to branch out and explore the other pueblos along lakeside including nearby Ajijic. The bus station, just blocks from the residency house, offered efficient, and prompt service. I was pleasantly surprised by the rather new Guadalajara direct buses that would quickly escort you to the big city in style with recliners and air conditioning!

What can you share about your creative process during your residency and what ideas were you exploring? How did your work change during the residency?

6a0133ed05424c970b0192ac7d1773970d-120wiFiltering my impressions of simple moments in time experienced in a strange place and rendering them into tangible forms through the use of sound, light and fiber substrates was my chief aim when I began my time in Chapala. I enjoyed vibrant, fleeting moments: an abuelita singing beautifully out of tune for a peso on a cobblestone rocked bus, a grown man crying into a book walking along the Malecon, the siren song of a shamanic pan flute greeting the lake spirits in a simple ceremony hidden in the brush along the water’s edge. I came home with fragments of composed and found sound, sculptural mockettes, and a sense that what precisely is is far more gripping than a pristine idealistic version.

360 Xochi Quetzal is located on Lake Chapala and colors around you are lush and saturated. How did the natural surroundings influence or affect your work?

Something magical exists in the ether between Lake Chapala and Cerro San Miguel, the hill overlooking Chapala, with its looming white cross protruding from endless tones of umber. It lives in the dust kicked up by wild horses running through town, and in the confetti underfoot left by each vibrant bugambilia tree. Each detail of daily life, no matter how mundane seemed to hold more weight than what I take for granted as my daily life in Seattle, Washington (USA). Each moment felt less controlled, less sterile, and more alive. A balance exists between ugly and beautiful realities in small town Mexico, and I found the lines between the two blurred for me as time went on. As a perfectionist, learning to love the flaws was a huge step for me, and one I owe to this residency.

Some artists come to a residency with a particular creative game plan. Others just arrive open to whatever inspires them at the moment. How did you approach your residency and how did your studio time compare to what you anticipated?

6a0133ed05424c970b01901ebdc33b970b-320wiMy creative game plan flew out the window in seconds flat, and I ‘d be remiss if I didn’t admit that. I just tried to stay open. Rather than coming home with crates of finished work, I left with much more raw material and booming questions surrounding who I am, what I am doing, why it is important. My familiar creative practice, which is often a very physical, labor intensive process, felt different under these skies and somehow forced. I had to let go of a great deal. Now, with time to reflect and breathe in what returned from Mexico with me, I am reaping the benefits of my residency’s creative gestation period.

What were some of the highlights of the residency for you? What parts were hard?

6a0133ed05424c970b0192ac7d1bd2970d-320wiI could walk the lakeside endlessly, and found that I was drawn to it on a basis that pushed far past intellectual or even artistic curiosity, and into the realm of the spiritual. It’s no wonder that Huichols and other indigenous tribes still make pilgrimages to send offerings to the spirits of the lake. I had many experiences that I will cherish, but making my way to Tepetates Temezcal to take part in a traditional sweat lodge ceremony was certainly very high on the list. Other memories include an afternoon at the thermal springs in San Juan Cosala and trekking to the Guachimontones on the route to Tequila

I had no real trouble with language, but felt that most locals weren’t sure what to make of me because I was not an expat retiree. I was often uncomfortable using my documentation equipment because I felt like a braggart alien amongst what at times was true poverty.  Sometimes I had to let go of moments that I really wanted to capture especially in the small pueblos outside of Chapala and Ajijic. As a city dwelling person, I found myself much more comfortable on the streets of Guadalajara. I had several wonderful visits to the city and saw many of the sites including all the Orozco murals.

You haven’t been to an artist residency before. How did this focused time influence your work and thinking?

Truthfully it sent my mind reeling. I felt I lost the ability to pretend I knew the ins and outs of what I was doing in my practice. The questions became more important, and the answers became harder to come by. Letting go became vital, and I found I gained much more from my time when I stopped trying to force a previous practice that didn’t feel right into this new context. It brought about more opportunities once I could free myself from expectations. I am still learning from my time in Chapala. – Justin Lytle 

To see Justin’s website: http://www.justinrlytle.com/

To listen to Justin’s sound work: http://justinrlytle.bandcamp.com/track/sin-la-grimas-amigo

To read more about 360 Xochi Quetzal:

To  apply to 360 Xochi Quetzal: http://callforentry.org


I spent two months in the Fall of 2019 at the 360 Xochi Quetzal Residency in Chapala and had a really productive time, as a painter and also exploring the local area and Guadalajara/Jalisco.
The Lopez Cotilla apartment was perfect for one person, using the second bedroom as a studio.  Everything was within walking distance with lots of nearby food tiendas if you like to cook.
Lake Chapala is spectacular and calm enough to get a lot of work done without too many distractions.  Guadalajara, less than an hour away, is an incredibly rich cultural city with a great food scene.

Highly recommended!

Peter Holden
Painter-Todos Santos, Mexico

Thank you all for making my stay in Chapala an Amazing Experience. Your Handbook was a major player in helping me feel at home. I loved the artist dinners where I met the other residents. One artist gave me exactly the feedback for my writing that I’ve been waiting for years!
Chapala itself was astounding – I couldn’t believe all the birds, and having a space where I could see the sunrise AND the sunset. Chapala is also a great place to walk around and think.
So gracias! for giving me a wonderful adventure, and time to re-work a part of a book that has stymied me for many moons.

Pam Summa, Writer Seattle, WA

The residency was truly wonderful. The uninterrupted time and spaciousness to create was truly a gift. The 360 Xochi Quetzal team were very warm and helpful. Our apartment was lovely and well set up for writing. We particularly loved breakfasts and star gazing on the outdoor patio area. Lake Chapala is a delightful town – gorgeous lake, lovely people, great food, slow pace of life – perfect for place to get away and create!

Chanelle Gallant, Political Organizer Sunny Drake, Playwright Toronto, Canada and Melbourne, Australia

I spent a month at 360 Xochi Quetzal to finish work on a novel. I couldn’t have picked a more charming and inspiring place to work. The accommodations are lovely, the town is lively and accessible, the food is amazing, the weather spectacular, and the people of Chapala are very friendly. Everywhere there is color, from the flowers and trees to the facades of buildings and the legendary sunset over Lake Chapala. But all of this would have been for naught if it weren’t for the hospitality of Deborah and Christian who made me feel immediately welcome and at home as family. I will surely return again.

Fredric Sinclair, Writer, poet, playwright New York, NY

My husband and I truly enjoyed our residency in Chapala, a place of beauty, extraordinary color, kind people – and inspiration! I was able to step back, concentrate, start working with new materials, relearn and incorporate new colors into my paintings on silk. Our casita was well placed and comfortable. Our host was welcoming and facilitated connections with other participating artists. Walking on the Malecon, discovering the town, attending cultural events, interacting with other residents from around the world – and watching in awe the extraordinary sunsets, this residency was a time of learning, relaxation and progress. I plan to return.

Merridee Smith, Silk Painter, Auburn, California

I will always remember my writing residency in Chapala, where I spent a month making great headway on a collection of poetry I’d just begun focused on borders and walls—literal and metaphorical. Like so many Mexican towns, Chapala is simultaneously peaceful, bustling, and vibrant. The Xochi Quetzal casitas are located within walking distance to everything you need, and some are right across the street from the beautiful lake and lively boardwalk, where I went every evening to soak in this supremely alegre slice of Mexican life. The Upper Casita, with a view of the lake and surrounding mountains, was perfect for me, and the open terrace proved to be the ideal space for having other residents, who quickly became good friends, over for dinner or a glass of wine after a day’s work. Cobra and Christian are warm and welcoming, so from the beginning I felt at ease and at home. I highly recommend Xochi Quetzal if you are looking to immerse yourself in a creative project while balancing your work life with the stimulating and interesting exploration of a Mexican town. I hope to return again and again!

Sandra Dunn, Poet, Long Island,NY

We were new to Mexico and had no idea what to expect from the Residency or Chapala. Both were delightful! I was able to work successfully on two projects that have been germinating for some time, and also enjoy the friendly, lovely and accessible town with its many colors and flavors. Our casita was comfortable, spacious and nicely furnished. It included a studio, patio and a private balcony perfect for an end-of-day cocktail. Deborah, Christian and colleagues were the perfect hosts who fostered a very satisfying creative experience in an environment that was at once stimulating and restful. Muchisimas gracias!

Diana Leidel, Visual Artist Brooklyn, NY

Our residency at 360 Xochi Quetzal was more than we had hoped for! The time and space to work, think, and explore–without deadlines or requirements–opened up our practice in a way we had not imagined. The town is lovely, easy to navigate, with everything within walking distance. The locals were so welcoming; we felt at home right away. Our accommodations in Lopez Cotilla were clean, comfortable and allowed both of us to have our own studio space. We really enjoyed quiet evenings on the patio watching the sun set over beautiful Chapala and meet ups with the other residents. Muchisimas gracias!

Suzanne Stroebe, Artist Bernard Cousins, Musician Brooklyn, NY

After a beautiful and adventurous journey from Europe, we found ourselves in a taxi descending the hills of Sierra de San Juan Cosala with the full moon reflected in the lake. The word “magia and maravilla” crossed my mind and I got goose bumps.

Chapala is indeed a magical place, colourful, charming and very safe with friendly people everywhere. We were blown away by the bird life, vegetation, architecture, which are so different from ours in Hungary.

Our casita was a for us: comfortable, well-equipped and authentically Mexican. The Residency Handbook answered all our questions before we even asked them. Cobra and Christian are very attentive and kind, and their hospitality was unmatchable.

Zsuzsa and Istvan visual artists from Hungary, Europe

As painting and writing residents during 2017, we both would like to thank you for the opportunity to be able to focus and collaborate on a project, entitled Immigrants. We had been thinking about it, had discussed it, but never quite got around to doing it until this residency. The atmosphere, encouragement, feedback and like-mindedness of all involved in Chapala gave us both the inspiration to move forward.

It was a productive and great experience for us both and we thank you.


Joyce and Hector DeCordova Writer and Artist - Greenport, NY

I visited the 360 Xochi Quetzal Artist Residency in Chapala, Mexico for the entire month of April 2017.  It was a perfect retreat for me.  I loved watching the cowboys ride in on their horses.  My work flourished, inspired by the other visiting artists and the tranquil nature of the town.  I went to Ajijic and attended figure drawing and portrait sessions up to three times per week.  I made new friends and felt encouraged in my writing and art making.  I am so glad I had a chance to participate in this program. Chapala is a perfect place to get your work done with little distraction.

Anna Roach, Mixed Media-Seattle,WA

360 Xochi Quetzal was my first residency and I loved every bit of it. The opportunity to get away and single-task toward my writing instead of routinely multitasking was priceless. My studio was cute, clean, and well-equipped. Deborah and Sandra were very approachable, helpful, and I loved connecting with fellow-residents from different disciplines too. Most of all, the location of our residence across from the Malecón buzzing with artisans, vendors and restaurants offered to me just the right balance of isolation toward focused work and a community around. I hope to return soon.

Namrata Poddar, Writer-California

My time in Chapala was pivotal for me as a writer. You can’t understand the effect Chapala has until you arrive. Its splashes of color, rhythms and scenic beauty will inspire you. Scribbling away at Café Paris, locals ambling by, a cool glass of beer sweating on the table… I felt like Hemingway. This residency gave all that to me and more. It is a gift I continue to cherish; a feeling I look back on when in need of encouragement, inspiration, and motivation.

Sean Hammer, Writer – New York City

Everyone comes to the residency for different reasons. For me it was a time to reflect upon this whirlwind past year. I lead a hectic life and often feel like I run from exhibition to exhibition without time for contemplation. I really needed to slow down and think about the next direction for my work. I got that and a lot more! I finished two small projects and reveled in the beautiful environment. I was able see the Monarch butterfly migration and experience an indigenous fiesta with my fellow artists. I left the residency refreshed, with new friends and purpose!

Jenny Angus, Installation Artist - Madison, WI

I had no expectations when I headed to Mexico for a personal residency, and the entire experience was a wonderful surprise. I loved Chapala: its realness, its people, the lake, the restaurants, and especially my casita where I could work outside on the patio. I met wonderful people that made my trip even more enjoyable. I had no agenda as I worked, but I was pondering an exhibition for the following December.  I didn’t realize until I returned home and began working on the show in earnest how beneficial the weeks in Chapala were.  I will certainly return.  http://loribgoodman.com/

Lori Goodman, Artist – Eureka, CA

My personal residency at 360 Xochi Quetzal was wonderfully productive and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has a creative project that requires some quiet, focused time.  The casita was lovely – spacious, fully furnished, very clean and stocked.  The residency hosts, Cobra and Christian, are welcoming, fun and engaging.  My casita was steps away from the Malecón and within walking or bike riding to Ajijic.  The locals are friendly and engaging-quick to suggest a favorite taco stand or even invite you to join them for a hike.  I will definitely be back!

Lenna Minion, Writer-Dubai

The 360 Xochi Quetzel Personal Residency Program was a perfect place for me to focus on my children’s book. I wanted an authentic Mexico experience where I would be submersed in the culture and language. Chapala was easy to get around and affordable. The Lopez Cotilla casita was cool, breezy and comfortable. It had everything I needed. I woke up in the morning to hummingbirds buzzing around a tree outside my window. Sunsets were beautiful from the outdoor terrace and an occasional dramatic thunderstorm just to let you know who is really in charge around here. Muchas Gracias!!

Kristin Balouch, Writer-Brooklyn, NY

We have one word to describe the our experience here at 360 Xochi Quetzal, and that is MAGIC! The casita is very spacious, allowing for lots of room to create. It is very comfortable and clean, and has everything you could possibly need for your personal residency. We especially enjoy spending time on the relaxing balcony. Cobra and Chris are available and very helpful. The Residency Handbook in the casita addresses all of our questions in detail and offers suggestions for things to try around the area. You will often hear live music in the early evening from the Malecon. It feels very safe here, and even more secure having the Red Cross right across the street. It has been a wonderful experience, and Kristen and I  would like to return each year.

Orion Kugel, Photographer-New Hampshire

We have one word to describe the our experience here at 360 Xochi Quetzal, and that is MAGIC! The casita is very spacious, allowing for lots of room to create. It is very comfortable and clean, and has everything you could possibly need for your personal residency. We especially enjoy spending time on the relaxing balcony. Cobra and Chris are available and very helpful. The Residency Handbook in the casita addresses all of our questions in detail and offers suggestions for things to try around the area. You will often hear live music in the early evening from the Malecon. It feels very safe here, and even more secure having the Red Cross right across the street. It has been a wonderful experience, and Orion and I would like to return each year.

Kristen Pobatschnig, Painter-New Hampshire
“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-Brussels, Belgium
“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-Lawrence, KS

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, Sculptor-California

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-New York City

“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-San Francisco, CA

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-Oakland, CA

“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-Philadelphia, PA