Michael Jason Enriquez is the creator of Cholafied, that art project from 2012 that you probably keep seeing in your Tumblr feed because it is that awesome. Enriquez became internet famous for photoshopping unlikely celebrities to make them look like they're sporting '90s chola makeup – complete with sharply penciled eyebrows and dark lipliner.
Well, 2012 was a long ass time ago, and I wanted to know what Enriquez – who, I went to high school with in the San Fernando Valley (!) and who studied at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena – was up to these days. He recently moved to the Bay Area, and I reconnected with him to get the scoop.
Cholafied was a project you started in 2012. How many celebrities have you Cholafied?
Are you planning on continuing it are you done with that project?
I'm done with the project.
It seems like blogs keep picking it up and bringing it back to life; do you ever get inspired to do more Cholafied celebs?
There are times when certain celebs get embroiled in some controversy and I get the itch to put them up on my site. Iggy Azalea, Brian Williams, Giuliana Rancic to name a few. I feel that we place celebrities on a pedestal so that we can knock them down to see if they can get back up again. We jump them into this gang of celebrity culture, beat them up, and initiate them into my gang of the absurd.
What is it about female gangster style that fascinates you? Or is it just funny to see celebrities with crazy eyebrows and highlighted lips?
I grew up in Pacoima, CA in the eastern part of the San Fernando Valley. I’m a son of immigrants. The weird thing about growing up in that area is that you’re surrounded by gangs, but you go up the hill into Hollywood and you’re surrounded by celebrity culture. So you have this weird dichotomy of your friends’ dads getting arrested, but then you see starlets getting plastered on newscasts for being arrested for bad behavior. You never hear about the drive-by shooting down the street on the local news. You grow up thinking your neighbor doesn’t matter or that certain lives aren’t newsworthy. I would get bused out of my neighborhood to go to magnet schools in more affluent areas. I would take my yearbooks and turn the pictures of faculty and classmates into cholas. I would go through celeb magazines and take my Sharpie and have at it. That whole female gangster style re-contextualized to fit into the lifestyles of the rich or famous is a direct reflection of my childhood. Just a kid trying to make sense of his environment.
You also started another side project called Mugshot Doppelganger in 2012, where you took celebrity photos and Photoshopped them into 1920s mug shots. Both of these projects focus on celebrities. Why?
I was going through my bookmarked design blogs and found those 1920s Australian mugshots and thought they were so beautiful. They are pieces of unintentional art. They were made in the 1920s to document criminals and just photographed in a technique/style that was available at the time. Then I opened up a tab to read the news and found that Amanda Bynes had been arrested and her mugshot was plastered on my screen. Today's mugshots in comparison looked so ugly to me. I wanted to see what it would look like if you took actual mugshots from today's celebs and elevated them into something more interesting to look at like the mugshots from the 1920s. Would they be seen as art? Would they become beautiful? These celebs are so used to having glamorous photoshoots. You could see in some of their mugshots, like Paris Hilton, where the celeb is actually posing like it being arrested was another opportunity to have a staged photo taken. My mugshot project was a response to all of that.
So where are you working these days?
I'm an art director at Goodby Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco.
You just moved to San Francisco from Los Angeles a few months ago. How has the transition been? Do you like SF so far?
San Francisco is great. I live in the East Bay and work in the city so I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I've been in LA for most of my life and there comes a point where you have to just see what else is out there. I've travelled a lot. It was time to feel like I was on permanent vacation and live a city city. I love LA. It's just spread out and each community has its own specific area that you have to drive to to experience. San Francisco has all of its distinct areas butted up against each other. I find it odd though when you go into an area like Walnut Creek, which isn't too far of a BART ride from Oakland or San Francisco, and you still see a bubble mentality. As diverse as the Bay Area is and as progressive as its history is, it boggles my mind that race relations and ignorance can still be found in pockets around the city. It's a strange time to live in SF. There are buildings being erected everyday. It's completely unaffordable to live in the city with rentals being priced for the dot com set. There is a migration of creatives to the East Bay and there is a tension that can be felt.
What are some projects that you're working on these days?
I really want to do a side project that reflects my time here in the Bay Area. Most recently I was approached by a skateboard company to do a limited release of decks using my Mugshot images. The brand is called MUGBOARDS™ and it takes original artwork that represents Hollywood Pop Culture history at its finest moment — encouraging free speech and adding to the rich cultural landscape of the LA skateboarding scene and celebrity [bad behavior] culture.The mission at Mugboards is to accurately and creatively represent these two dynamic cultures in transformative artwork, while celebrating our First Amendment rights, and appealing to public interest in general. A portion of each sale goes to support Freedom of Speech within the arts, and support juvenile reform organizations nationwide through this effort.
How do you make time for personal projects? Is it a struggle to find and set aside time for creative projects outside of work?
It's hard. But you know sometimes you just have to make time to do something outside of work to keep sane. I love my job and it allows me to have a creative outlet, but at the same time there is a freedom in creating something for yourself without the input of a client, without focus groups, account people, and worrying about metrics. I keep a list of potential side projects on my computer. I'm always down to collaborate with other creatives. It's so easy to create something if you're not concerned about going viral and you just do something that you would want to look at. I guess you just have to prioritize your time so focus on things that make you happy.