Artist Amber Ibarreche on her witchy queer designs

Brooklyn artist Amber Ibarreche’s first solo show went down in Williamsburg at Capricious Space in the spring of 2009. It was called “Ceremonial Entanglements,” featuring a collection of paintings and prints with a focus on typography. The visuals were consuming, lucid and mystifying, calling on the concept of what it means to be tangled up in something, through collage, repetition, and the relevance of repurposing and reinterpreting meanings, whether they are familiar to us or not, beckoning a world of emotion, or simple a flash of insight.

Born in Florida, Amber hails from Atlantic Beach, a small town outside of Jacksonville. (I also grew up in the Sunshine State so I pose the always-important question about it’s wholly weird reputation, which spawns the topic of weather—it can be raining in your backyard and dry and sunny in your front yard all at once, did you know?) “I’ve personally changed a lot,” says Amber. “I’m more me now—sexually, mentally, and spiritually. Nothing else changes if you don’t. I left Florida in Florida. I’m a light traveler. My experiences there were too heavy and dark to carry with me.”

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The sentiment that “nothing else changes if you don’t” speaks to the idea of leaving something behind, if even traces of yourself, in the place where you grew up enough to know when to leave. So, who is Amber today? “I’m a boy right now, but may be a girl in 30 seconds, and somewhere in between the two in an hour. The boy collects comic books and makes collages with them. The girl writes. The in between person unfortunately has to deal with all the feelings. Somebody’s gotta do it!” And with those feelings comes the sharing part. Amber’s work pours out into ‘zines, drawings and T-shirts, plus a recent book of collages,  Royal Orphan.

But that’s not to say that those mediums are Amber’s only method of madness and stillness. One of the best books on writing I’ve ever read is Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. She speaks (writes) to the idea that in order to make record of your thoughts, you simply can’t let a thought go without writing it down. Soapy hair, awake from a dream — a piece of paper nearby you, even if it’s a napkin or a receipt, will make you feel grateful later, after all the times you tell yourself “I’ll remember” and you just don’t. Write it down.

Keeping a journal or diary isn’t Amber’s M.O., rather, loose leaf paper and scrap pieces hanging around. “Keep it boundless,” says Amber, which you could interpret in a number of ways. Still, for the boy in Amber who collects and makes, and the girl in Amber who writes and writes, it’s a queerly cool mantra to take in: Let’s repeat it together—”Keep it boundless.”

On a tangible level, it’s all about sharing your work, sharing your mind. Up until five years ago, Amber hadn’t been documenting any work, now marveling over the idea that there are no previous records in the years beforehand, “Which is beautiful in a sense but also very strange. I scan everything now!”

We are indeed creatures of habit, and our habits change as we change. How can there never be a shift? Did you know the Earth is constantly moving faster than you can even imagine straight toward the sun, but because of this weird, weird, weird momentum we picked up millions of years ago when our galaxy was created, we never hit the sun and we keep moving around in a circle? We’re like a big ass merry-go-round, and just like the vessel we ride on through space, we’re also basically, constantly shifting and moving forward and creating new, cool moments of ourselves, even if we fully believe we could die at any single second. Morbid? Not really. Not when you’re making the most of your habits and you’re not afraid to get to know yourself. “I try to keep in touch or connected to what’s going on at the moment, whether it’s spiritually, sexually, mentally or personally.”

How we connect ourselves to art, to writing, to anything really, is really embedded in how we perceive things, how we identify, what triggers us, what we deduce. In Amber’s art, the usage of repetition is something to be discussed and digested. Have you ever said a word, like, “fork”—over and over and over again? After a short while, it really loses all its meaning and you laugh and you’re like, “Wait, what even IS a fork?” Language, symbols, and the in between is so baffling, and strange. “I’ve used words repetitively in some of my pieces, and their meaning literally disappeared. There’s something magical about removing the meaning from something that’s easily identifiable. I’m all about unlearning these days. Keep it mysterious and stay curious always. Meanings before definitions.”

The concept of “unlearning” is what glues together Amber’s aesthetic, taking out the preconceived, binary definitions of something, and replacing it with whatever your pretty little mind sees, feels, and believes to be its truth, even if you may never really, really know the truth. In our minds are collages and maps, and in many ways, Amber is a collector of that inter-channel of thought through a spectrum of artistic expression.

When Amber posted the T-shirt design “I Only Fuck with Goddesses” to Facebook and Instagram, there was a wave of positive reaction. “Everybody reads into it differently and it’s interesting to hear their personal theory of the quote. I make everything for everybody. I never intentionally make anything queer. Witchy maybe,” says Amber. I’m going to take a leap and suggest that witchy is in fact quite queer, because being spiritual, ritualistic, and manifesting good things in your life is ambiguous and only requires you to be a sensitive human being, which we all are, even us lads with big egos.

Amber has tons of cool designs. A few other T-shirts that stand out and make me feel warm and fuzzy say things like “The Moon Don’t Phase Me” and “Spiritual Thug.” There’s more on the way, too. Amber says new ‘zines, posters and shirts are coming out in the next few months. In the future, maybe even Amber’s unreleased music. So much collecting, constructing, deconstructing and archiving makes me wonder if Amber is a nostalgic person. Then again, to be nostalgic would mean that there’s some kind of yearning for the past, some kind of decision made to replicate what’s already occurred on some level, and for an artist so current and so entangled in change, that would be a contradiction on some level, right?

In all caps, Amber writes to me: “Sleep with your future and fuck your past,” followed by a little explanation. “That’s another writing/shirt dedicated to just saying ‘no’ to nostalgia.” Maybe, though, what we’re saying ‘no’ to is the limitation of nostalgia. We can be wistful people and we can document our lives in such a way without clinging to the past and being vividly connected to our present. Amber Ibarreche is onto something.

Check out Amber’s stuff at Shopify and Otherwild.

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