We had the good fortune of connecting with Mai Gutierrez and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mai, alright, let’s jump in with a deep one – what’s you’re definition for success?
My definition of being successful has evolved as the years have gone by. We are taught at an early age to believe that having a money making career, marriage and kids are the ultimate goals that one much achieve to become a successful human being. Early in my career, I aimed to shatter that preconceived notion of success. I chose to set architecture aside, the sure money making career, and focused on what I loved; working with my hands. I spent quite a few years bouncing around many different fields such as interior, jewelry, and furniture design and production; as well as woodworking, metal, and stone sculpting classes and residencies. I was ecstatic, yet always lacked the financial means to achieve what I truly wanted, which was to have my own shop to work out of. I had to tap back into the architectural money making career in order to achieve that goal. That’s when I realized balance was key. In order to do what I loved the most, sculpting, I had to work on what I liked the least, being an architect. I now embrace the need to have a money making career, and have learned to love the process of designing the built environment. I cannot have sculpting without architecture, and in most situations they can speak to one another and aid each other. It took this internal battle to realize I was doing things all wrong. In my attempt at rebellion, I only hindered myself from my own idea of success.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
What I enjoy most about my practice is its diversity. Currently in my studio you can find a variety of projects including architectural services, furniture, millwork, and jewelry design and fabrication, as well as sculpting in stone, wood, metal and glass. It took a good decade to get to this point. There’s been numerous challenges and even more help from incredible individuals. It certainly wasn’t easy, and my biggest limitation was my own expectations. After graduating from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a bachelor and masters in architecture, I was uncertain of where I wanted my career to go. All I really knew was that I loved working with my hands. My first job out of college was making glass beads for a well-known jewelry chain. I went through training, got my torch set up in my bedroom of a small apartment in East Atlanta, and failed miserably at making money. I would get payed by the bead, and with the majority of them rejected for miniscule imperfections, I would scrounge up around two hundred dollars a paycheck. Needless to say, I needed more money to simply pay my bills, let alone do anything else. My career then took a turn into restaurant and food truck interior design and business consulting, and then back again into jewelry production management. While I really enjoyed living in Atlanta, I wanted to move closer to home, but not all the way back to Monterrey, Mexico where I was born and raised. One of my best friends was living in Austin and needed a roommate, so I packed my two cats and headed for a new life. I then had a plethora of diverse jobs. Starting with jewelry production, to running the CNC machine at a small woodshop that fabricated dovetail drawers, to fabricating cabinets in one of the best shops in Austin; all while taking art classes that fed my creative mind. Soon after, I had the opportunity to work under one of the most recognized sculptors in Monterrey, Jorge Elizondo. I spent six months assisting him in amazing large scale sculptures in both steel and black marble, and another six months working on my stone sculptures under his mentorship. That was by far one my most treasured experiences, and what really broke my expectations about being an artist. Seeing what Jorge did his studio, only proved that I could be a successful artist that made more than enough money to pay the bills. Up until then the idea of becoming the starving artist always kept me at bay. I was terrified of taking that plunge. Upon my return to Austin, I knew that I wanted to build my own shop. So I bit the bullet and did the thing my eighteen year old self would not approve of; a full time job as an architect. The first few months were rough, I felt I had “given up on the dream”, but little did I know how incredibly fun architectural design could be, and how hand-in-hand it went with all my other practices. That lead to yet another break in expectation that a desk job that would suck the life out of me, it did anything but that. Today, I’m weeks away from breaking ground on the construction of my shop, which I’ve designed. I balance my workload with several practices, keeping all those eggs in different baskets. My biggest leverage is having gained the knowledge that being an artist doesn’t mean I’ll be poor, and being an architect won’t make me dull. I intend to focus my efforts into large scale public art, bringing in all the different roles I’ve played in a culmination of intense joy.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Austin has a lot to offer, even during this crazy pandemic. If I had a friend in town, we would start our tour with my favorite taco spots. First up, Discada on Rosewood Avenue. They serve nothing but one type of taco and elotes, that’s all you need. Second, we’d move our way to Cuantos Tacos on E. 12th St., they offer authentic Mexico city street style tacos. And last but not least, Nixta also on E. 12th, they offer outstanding Mexican food in the casual environment Austin loves. The owners of all these restaurants are paisanos, so you know the food’s going to be good and the service will be the best you can get. Every now and then, these three spots will team up and produce some of the best Mexican food I’ve had in Austin. Another one of my favorite things to do other than eat is visiting art. Luckily, a lot of galleries are allowing the public to visit under strict covid regulations. After feasting on tacos off East 12th, we could walk a couple of blocks to Northern Southern Gallery, and check out their exhibition. A good spot to visit several galleries at once would be Springdale Road also on the East side. This street is known for all its galleries including the Art Center Canopy that houses several including ICOSA, Big Medium, Ivester Contemporary and many artist studios. Not too far down the road, you’ll find Dimension gallery and their sculpture park – feel free to also grab a cider or beer from the brewery. Lastly, my friend and I would enjoy a nature tour starting at the heart of the city in Lady Bird Lake. We could hit up the botanical garden in Zilker Park, maybe take a dip in Barton Springs or Deep Eddy Pool. We’d try and not throw up our tacos as we climb up Mount Bonnel, and end at Laguna Gloria, one of my favorite places to watch the sunset. This tour would have only scraped the surface of all the food, art, and nature that Austin has to offer. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would not be the person that I am without the support of my family members, friends and mentors. I would like to start by thanking my mom. She worked her butt off so that my sister and I could have a better life with more opportunities that she did. She was a very strict mom. She pushed us more than any daughter would like, and I’m now eternally grateful for that. I would not have the confidence, work ethic and vigor that I have if it weren’t for her. To my sister and father, thank you for letting me be me and encouraging the behavior that went against the norm. I owe my uniqueness to you. To my husband Blake, who always sees the best in me and reminds me of my virtues when I’m feeling insecure. To my home girls, Andrea and Monse; little did they know we would turn out this way. To my mentors Jorge, Jen, ICOSA and everyone at Studio Steinbomer; thank you for showing me your view of the world and letting it spill into mine.