Photo shows a corner of the gallery, with the title of the show on the wall. To the right are four black and white pencil drawings in light wood frames.
Installation view, "Plata o Plomo" by Esperanza Rosas, Cherry Mountain Arts Credit: Aaron Rhodan

The room was filled with chatter as the awed crowd took in works by Esperanza Rosas, who is most known by her creative name, Runsy. “Plata o Plomo,” which translates to silver or lead, is the title of Runsy’s first solo exhibition, which took place at Franchise Gallery in Los Angeles. Now, Rosas brings a second iteration home, with a few more works included, for her first-ever solo exhibition in Chicago, at Cherry Mountain Arts. Founded by Rello Jones, Cherry Mountain Arts is a place to foster collaboration and allow artists to explore their artistic inspiration. For Runsy, this proves very fitting, given that she says that this exhibition is “focused on the idea of power and the things that make me.”

Rosas is a multimedia artist hailing from the south side of Chicago. Her practice ranges from graphic design to illustration, but encompasses much more. The works in the exhibition are primarily done in graphite pencil. With this choice of material, she demonstrates her meticulous attention to detail, each work more intricate than the last. 

The pencil drawing details four faded images of El Chapo Guzman with a porcelain dog overlaid front and center. The dog is rendered very shiny, giving it a 3D quality.
Credit: Wenc Photo, courtesy of the artist.

One of the works, Chapo, details four faded images of El Chapo Guzman with a porcelain dog overlaid front and center. The dog was so smooth and shiny, I could almost pull it out of the paper. This drawing reminds me of many of the figurines my grandmother collected and displayed in her home when I was younger. To my surprise, the images of El Chapo and the porcelain dog connected to my grandmother in many ways. I remember hearing on the television how El Chapo escaped in 2015 and my grandmother pulled me towards the living room as she gasped at the news. This was being broadcast everywhere and difficult to escape. Surrounded by the figures and the news on the screen at my grandmother’s home, it was clear how these moments and motifs also pertained to Rosas’s upbringing. 

Another work is a close-up of jewel-encrusted boots that fills up the majority of a 22.5-inch-wide piece of paper. Down to the glimmer of the jewels, Rosas shows her prowess with the immense amount of detail. She is pointing towards vaquero or cowboy aesthetics found in Mexican culture. It’s not her first rodeo; the aesthetic is also referenced in her piece Botas, a self-portrait wearing a sombrero titled smile now, cry later, and even in a collaboration with Red Bull Music—an illustration and mural with elements of vaquero culture embedded within. 

On the left is a large pencil drawing of Mexican cowboy boots, encrusted with diamonds and with a birdlike cross in the center. On the right is a smaller pencil drawing showing a horizontal face in close up.
Down to the glimmer of the jewels, Rosas shows her prowess at depicting vaquero culture.
Credit: Aaron Rhodan

Many of the images in the show are cut off, giving a sense of showing just enough, a glimpse into what makes Esperanza Rosas Runsy and vice versa. By not including the full image, she leaves room for interpretation in the hands of the audience. Through Rosas’s use of framing, she is asking us to finish drawing those edges that are left untouched. In Lesson #1, there’s a frame from the movie Scarface, where Rosas depicts the dinner scene between Tony Montana and Frank Lopez. Cutting the frame above their eyes and leaving out Omar Suarez and Elvira Hancock, Rosas wants us to find ourselves within these details. 

A meditative drawing of Michael Jordan was in reference to the photo of him sitting on a basketball in contemplation. Many photos of Jordan often portray him in motion, so for this to be the one chosen speaks to the need for rest and moments of mindfulness to prepare to achieve greatness. There’s great power within resting and slowing down. After needing motivation to push his career forward, his coach Phil Jackson assigned George Mumford, a previous basketball player, to assist Jordan with meditation through mindfulness. This allowed him to continue the trajectory of his career. Rosas leaves out the basketball in this drawing in order to showcase his power and his influence alone. Not only is there the influence Michael Jordan had on Chicago, but more importantly, if we zoom in, we can see his impact at the individual level, in this case Rosas herself. 

As Runsy, the artist has also partnered with Nike to create boxes using her design and drawings to highlight Chicago collectives and spaces that are empowering movement and fitness within their communities, which include The Bloc, League of Their Own, Students Run Chicago, and The Rink. She drew Roberto Clemente for a collaboration between Topps Project 70 and Infinite Archives which resurfaced monumental figures across various fields to demonstrate the importance of history. She also collaborated with the White Sox to create a line of shirts, sweatshirts, and custom bobbleheads during one of the baseball games. She credits her father for making her a fan of the White Sox at a young age, and even drew a portrait of him in a team jersey. 

Up close and personal, I got a glimpse into the recontextualizing of Mexican iconography and pop culture references that shape Rosas as an artist. There is much pride in Mexicanidad in America. One could argue that now that vaquero culture and corridos have hit the American mainstream, the aesthetics have become much more pronounced everywhere else. Viewed through the lens of Rosas, these moments offer us insight into what she was surrounded with growing up and how we are all shaped through the cultural motifs and media references we experience everyday.

“Plata o Plomo”
Through 6/26: Fri-Sat 11 AM-6 PM, Sun noon-5 PM, Cherry Mountain Arts, 836 N. Milwaukee,

related stories

Te quiero para siempre / I love you forever

August 11 proved to be one of the most queer nights at the Chicago Art Department. The Gage Park Latinx Council was putting on an exhibition, “En el Abismo, Me Encontré,” where QTBIPOC artists from Chicago explored the ideas of life, dreams, and magic. In the next space the “Amigas Latinas Forever” exhibition was installed.…

Ethereal revelations

The first thing I noticed when I walked into Roots & Culture recently, on one of the better weather days in Chicago, was the smell of earthly incense wafting through the air. I stood in the entrance for awhile to take in the smell, but also to give myself a moment to realign my thoughts…

Defying gravity

Suddenly the audience was enveloped in darkness. We awaited the commencement. Two screens turn on, showing poetic verses scrolling up. Then, the music started flowing through the space, conducted by Asante Owusu-Brafi, Angel Bat Dawid, and Ishmael Ali as they sat under a somber blue light. Ethereal sounds and light piano keys echoed. I see…