An art form that primarily has been explored by women in the past, has recently seen trendsetters like A$AP Rocky, Bad Bunny and Tyler, The Creator incorporating nail art into their outfits. It was actually through one of my male friends, Billy Ogbara (featured throughout) that I discovered AstroWifey’s work. She had replicated Skepta’s ‘Pure Water’ single cover on Billy’s nails and he didn’t even have to tell me that, because of the nearly exact replication. Seeing more and more men challenge the idea of what masculinity means is what pushed me to want to learn more about nail art. With the popularity of customization in fashion the past few years, it’s only right that people from all walks of life are exploring nail art more and more.
Her work has extended further than what most people have grown to know about nail art. She’s brought her work into institutions like MOMA PS1 and the MCA, collaborated with Gucci and most recently done Rosalía’s nails for her Lollapalooza set. Finding inspiration from political messages to music and fashion, it was growing up in Chicago around Latina women who embraced bold nails, that would end up influencing her work today. Anyone that works on a craft can attest to the people who don’t like to share secrets or techniques, but AstroWifey’s desire to do those very things speaks to her having a style that she’s not only honed, but is her own through years of tinkering, learning and relearning.
How did you get started creating nail art? Who inspired you to take the artform seriously?
My love for nails grew early on in high school. I followed a group of women in streetwear who dubbed themselves the Brown Babie$ on MySpace. I admired their style; their bamboo hoops were large and the nails were long. They always posted detailed photos of their acrylic nails that had 90s airbrushed styles, hand-painted flags and crystals. I’ve always appreciated customization culture and individuality. Then I discovered Japanese nail art on the internet. At the time it was very kawaii, lots of 3D-sculpted acrylic in the shape of Sanrio characters, glitter, and cherry blossoms. Styles from different regions of the world have evolved a lot over the years. I was in After School Matters for painting, it's where I started gluing crazy oversized beads on my nails with hand-painted pop art styles and sneaker patterns. I created my own mashup style of everything I loved. That’s when it really became a hobby and I started to form my own identity with nails.
Who’s a manicure artist that inspired you when you first got started?
I started to dig deeper online to find other people who expressed themselves through nails and the United States didn't quite have nail artists that had individual identities yet. I finally found a group of women in London that went by WAH Nails, run by Sharmadean Reid. She was building a nail empire and it was all I needed to see to get the fire burning under my ass! She was cool and motivated. She had pop-up shops, collaborations with car companies, and events with fashion brands. It inspired me to think of nails outside of the traditional nail salon setting. I got certified, started a Wordpress blog and I never looked back. If it wasn’t for WAH I probably wouldn’t have seen the possibilities.
GROWING UP IN THE CITY OF CHICAGO AND BEING PART LATINA I ALWAYS FOUND IT BEAUTIFUL SEEING MY GRANDMOTHER, AUNT, AND FRIENDS WITH THEIR SIGNATURE BOLD NAILS.
When someone is going to get their nails done for the first time, what should they keep in mind?
If you’re getting nail art for the first time with an artist, I would respect their creative process. Make sure you like the artist’s style and you’re not trying to make them fit in someone else’s box. It's common practice in traditional nail salon settings that the client controls everything, but going to an artist is a different experience. Communicate your preferences and be open to the artist's interpretation. I attribute my friend Elizabeth of Asrai Garden for teaching me to be more selective and to embrace boundaries as an artist. If you try to control the creative process too much it can really be a roadblock. Like for most artists, my work is personal and of course I want you to love it, but I want to be proud of it as well.
When I think of nail art certain people come to mind, like Florence Griffith Joyner. Who are some people that you think are synonymous with nail art?
First off, I love FloJo. I remember every woman I crossed paths with in my life who had unique nails, there is a wonder and impracticality behind it. The dedication is fascinating to me - everyday tasks are not a barrier because they find hacks and adjustments to make it work. Youtube ‘Long Nail Goddesses’, it’s so wild I can’t help but respect them. When I think of other people synonymous with nails I think of Rosalía, Coko from SWV, Elvira, Ivy Queen, Barbara Streisand, and Bad Bunny. Nail art isn't always just the painted work for me; it can also be the length and style, the curated, signature look.
Where do you find inspiration when you’re working on a new design?
Everywhere, really. Current events, political messages, things found on a walk, art, music albums, patterns, fashion. Life is constant art and inspiration. It’s mostly a collaboration between the client and I. They bring me an idea or two and I just run with it. I prefer inspiration from the client, a few clients let me choose anything I want but I only prefer that once I have a rapport built with them first.
How does your ethnicity influence your art?
Growing up in the city of Chicago and being part Latina I always found it beautiful seeing my grandmother, aunt, and friends with their signature bold nails. City women tend to be adventurous and Latina women are confident. Those virtues influence me which in return influence my art. I especially loved the amount of rings they would wear coupled with their nail choices. The Latina women in my family wore lots of gold and on almost every finger. It's probably why I wear so many rings myself — I never take them off. I learned to do everything with them. It makes me feel powerful. It’s not about class and flaunting wealth for me, it's about armor, travels, and adornment. I like the sound that nails and rings make, the tapping, clicking and rattling. I think hand movements and mannerisms is an art form in itself. To truly understand check out ‘Rosalía Explores #ASMR with W Magazine’.
Nail art has such a rich history. How important is it to acknowledge that history when creating new techniques?
I respect history, it is the foundation of all I do. Without history I wouldn’t be here today as a nail artist but it’s honestly not that important in creating and trying new techniques. In fact, there has been so much advancement in nails over the past decade that you actually have to unlearn old knowledge and habits to adapt to the fast-advancing industry.
I DONT FEEL THE NEED TO BE SECRETIVE BECAUSE I HAVE MY OWN STYLE. THERE ARE MANY ARTISTS OUT THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE ASTROWIFEY.
Last year at Lollaplooza you had the chance to do Rosalía’s nails. How did you get that opportunity? Are there any other musicians that you’d like to do their nails?
That was a dream come true! It sounds crazy but I felt like I’ve manifested some of my biggest career moments. I told everyone under the sun that would listen to me that Rosalía was coming to Lollapalooza and I was dying to do her nails. I was alone one night at an intimate Tierra Whack concert and got a freakin’ voice note from Rosalía herself in my DMs! I discovered that she asked the internet for a nail art recommendation and Kaina, a Chicago musician, was in contact with her management and gave them my referral. It was one of those small world moments and the stars aligned. She was so gracious, I adore her so much. Speaking of Tierra Whack, I’d love to do her nails. And Bad Bunny — he loves getting nail art.
I’ve noticed you make an intentional effort to be transparent with your business, like sharing tips about the various products you use. Most people in your position tend to be a bit more secretive about those kinds of things. Why is that something you chose to do?
It’s funny you mention that, because I notice when I talk to my audience I talk from the perspective of communicating to other nail artists. I enjoy teaching, but technique is not the same as style. I don't feel the need to be secretive because I have my own style. There are many artists out there but there can only be one AstroWifey.
You’ve collaborated with different brands like Gucci in the past. Would you like to do more things like that and if so with who?
Of course, I really enjoy working on artistic projects. Working with fashion brands is great for my resume, but designers usually just want nude manicures. They tend to not want to distract from the clothing. The Gucci project, shot by Elizabeth De La Piedra, was different, and I would want to work with more creative teams like that. A few designers that come to mind are Iris Van Herpen, Vivienne Westwood, and Fenty.
Do you think nails will ever be exhibited at a museum?
Nails have been exhibited at many museums over the years. In 2013 I worked with Vanity Projects at the Brooklyn Museum Artist Ball and also a pop up at MoMa PS1. In the summer of 2013 I also worked with Chicago artist Carlos Rolon aka Dzine at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Homebodies: Imperial Nail Salon. I was invited by Rolon to be the lead nail artist to carry the essence of his mother's home salon business. We worked out a replica of Rolon’s childhood living room where his mom hustled doing nails in the 1970s, complete with brown shag carpet, macrame plant hangers, childhood photos, and legendary Puerto Rican salsa artist Hector Lavoe playing over the record player. It’s been one of my proudest career moments to date.
What’s next for you & your business?
I’ve been working in overdrive for a long time — I’ve had the pedal to the metal for over a decade. COVID-19 has forced me to examine my priorities, how I spend my time and share my artistry; I’m slowing down quite a bit these days. I would love to start teaching more and focus on nail art projects and events in fashion and art whenever the world opens up again. The world is my oyster and I fucking love oysters. I plan to just let life do its thing.