Genre-Bending Designer Georgina Treviño Makes Jewelry For A Global World

Complex talked to the artist about growing up between Tijuana and San Diego and her distinctive sense of beauty.

Person examining various sneaker keychains displayed on a table
Adam Rindy/Sponsored by Jordan
Person examining various sneaker keychains displayed on a table

Georgina Treviño calls herself a “border artist.” She was raised in Tijuana before moving less than 20 miles north to San Diego as a teenager. Trained as a jewelry designer, her work echoes her life, crossing the borders between categories to explore sculpture, furniture, fashion, found object art, and painting. That genre-bending aesthetic and refusal to be limited makes Treviño a perfect artist for this moment, where global cultures overlap and endlessly remix on the internet. Her work has adorned global superstars in music videos and on the red carpet, while a number of museums have added her pieces to their permanent collections. Her sculptures regularly sell out at galleries and art fairs. 

With that range in mind, Complex called Treviño to talk about her work, goals, style, and unique sense of beauty. The interview was edited for concision and clarity.

Your jewelry and art are unique, but they’re also built from all these preexisting elements, like found materials and hand-painted signage. How are you able to create pieces that are so distinctive using these building blocks? 
I'm very unapologetic when it comes to my work. It happens really organically. I don’t think too much about what I’m putting out. That comes out in my personality as well. Of course, I do have a background in applied arts and my emphasis was in jewelry. I was a painter before. I was in a painting program before jewelry, but then I jumped into jewelry. So having that background, that's why I also move from one medium to another a lot. But at the end, the root is always jewelry. Everything that I do at the end has a jewelry language, either in its context or it's an actual, wearable piece or it talks about jewelry even if it’s not for the body or it's a different scale.

I did this series of swings that are based on the nameplate. So for me it's jewelry, but it's an actual swing. It's a sculpture, but it does have this jewelry reference. I do jump from scale to scale. And as far as inspiration and what you were saying, I jump from one thing to another. It’s kind of all over the place, but at the end it kind of connects. It’s very me as Georgina, where I’m in this bicultural world. Like me jumping from Mexico City to Tijuana to LA. It references my culture as well as pop culture. I am a 2000s girl. I was born in the late ‘90s, so my work has a little bit of that in it, even without thinking, even unconsciously. You might see that in the work. You can see a lot of bilingual, bicultural references there, like Spanglish. 

Woman in off-shoulder top and shorts seated on chair, showcasing sneakers amidst crafting tools

I see the 2000s influences there, like your “Pierced” collection with the barbell septum rings and stuff. I know you consider yourself a “border artist” and that you grew up between Tijuana and San Diego, and then I also spent time in Mexico City and time in LA. Can you explain what being a border artist means to you?
As a border artist, I feel like I’m kind of trapped with where I’m at, with where I work, and where I stand as an artist. When I was in school a long time ago, I had this lost identity because I was born in the border. I was born between. I was in Tijuana until I was 14 years old when I came to the US. I didn’t know any English, so that was a drastic change. While I was in school, there was a moment where I was like, Where do I stand? Where does my work stand? You’re trying to find your voice. I go to Mexico, I’m too gringa, here I’m too Mexican.

Not that we’re special, but we are sort of different in terms of how we become proud of where we’re at? There was a moment in my life that I went to Mexico City, lived there for a year, and I was able to come back and be like, Whoa, now I value all these beautiful things and to be able to be so bicultural. People in Mexico, they can come here, but in the end, they're from there. Here, I am considered more Mexican, but I am both. I have half of both. I get the culture here, I get it in Mexico. So I feel like I'm so bold because I feel lucky to be able to switch to one or the other. And Tijuana is 15 minutes away [from San Diego]. I'm 25 minutes from my studio. So for me, it's just so beautiful and crazy. If I want to feed my brain or just go [to Tijuana] for the sake of eating tacos and then come back, it's just so easy. And I feel lucky that I could do that. 

But that's something that wasn’t there in the work before. I feel at my most comfortable right now. I’m able to even grab references of these things happening. I’m even trying to push my work to be a little more referential to Tijuana and things that I grew up with, where before, it was kind of like, Eh. You think they're boring or you don't see the beauty in them. And I think it's really cool that I could represent that through my work or through jewelry, those kinds of references from Tijuana or things that we see in the street that maybe other people on the other side of the world might not get. And they'll buy your work. They'll be able to experience that.

While I was in school, there was a moment where I was like, Where do I stand? Where does my work stand? You’re trying to find your voice.

I think those border spaces also allow subcultures to emerge. Thinking of Tijuana and San Diego, San Diego has the surfers, the skaters. You have that Chicano Mexican American culture in San Diego and then a totally different scene in Tijuana. Do any of the subcultures on either side of the border influence your work? 
I think they do. My studio used to be in this Chicano community called Barrio Logan. So it’s a very lowrider vibe. And my nameplates or the Old English or the bamboo hoop references and all that comes from that. My material sometimes comes from those places, like if I go to the beauty supply store. I love the hoop culture. Because my studio was right there, I was involved a lot in these community events, like lowriders. And it was just so inspiring to see how even these cars are accessorized, right? I don't think I represented it. I'm not going to appropriate that culture, but I appreciate it and I think it's really interesting.

So yeah, I think there's a little bit of influence in that. Or even LA. I go to LA a lot. There's definitely the two worlds. Or sometimes more of the “tacky” or imagery that comes from Mexico City from the big markets. Or I have this crazy purse that I just cleaned. It’s silver. So it says “Carnitas Ricas,” but it has all this imagery in it. But this is all based on imagery from this beautiful, tacky typography and imagery that I’ve seen on the food trucks in Mexico City. And there was this one place that the government kind of shut down. So in Mexico City, we have this place where the tourists go, Roma Condesa, and there's a lot of this beautiful imagery that's on the food trucks and fruterias and stuff like that. And some lady in the government from that district was like, Oh, this is very ugly for the tourists to see. Let's wipe this out. So they wiped all the beautiful imagery. It's art, even text like bad written or a tacky Tweety, all bad painted, but it’s so beautiful. I love it. So they wiped out everything and they just put up government signs and they're all white. So it's very sad. This purse is paying homage to that. So there's definitely imagery that comes from little things that I see streetwise.

Person sitting by a desk with Nike sneakers on display, surrounded by art supplies and plants

Crazy. And your work mixes “high and low.” I’m thinking specifically of your bejeweled cockroach inspired by a fashion gala. It mixes that “high/low” and humor with elegance. Can you describe what you’re thinking when you mix those elements together? 
I mean, I'm a natural hoarder. I love collecting objects. I'm constantly collecting objects as I’m in the street, even trash. There's many times that I've found just a shiny can. So cool. It has a beautiful shine that I didn't even polish. I have one that was sold to a craft museum in Los Angeles. It was auctioned. It was just a shiny can and I made it into a broach. I made the whole sterling silver backing. For me, everything could be jewelry. So my eyes are already looking for how objects can be converted into something or how I can give them a chance or give them another life.

I think of it more as an exercise. I feel like I’m so ADD, I need to be making things. Sometimes it’s not a specific project, but just a thought I have and I run to the studio, make it, and then you have it there. So for the cockroach thing, I saw it in photos from the gala, went to sleep, and then in the morning was like, Oh my God, I need to go get a fake cockroach that moves. And I went and bought one and just had it as an object. And then I was like, Oh, I’m going to make it into a T-shirt. So that same day, I sent them to print and made T-shirts. I don’t think about it too much. It’s very organic and spontaneous, putting stuff out there without thinking about who might buy it. I’ll just let it exist and you never know where it might end. 

I’m also doing some teaching and I’m trying to apply this to the kids to try and practice and not to think too much and just go straight to it. So that’s me being playful. It’s like my playful time and I’m like, Oh, let me do this. I’m not like, Oh, it has to be so perfect. It just is what it is, but sometimes it ends up in a really interesting place. 

There was another can that I found outside my studio. It was a tomato can and I converted it into a purse. And this Brazilian artist, I forgot her name, but she’s really big and she needed jewelry for a red carpet thing. I sent her the tomato can with dry tomato still inside it. I have that kind of humor. Once you have that power, it’s like, Why not push it?

The teaching part is interesting. Because creative people can get caught up in perfectionism, but it’s better to make something and not get hung up on making it perfect. Get it done and then you never know. 
Right. For me it’s like, Let the work leave you. I have a saying. I always say, Work makes work. Like if I’m stuck. Or if you’re trying to find an explanation for your work, it’s still coming from your hand. At the end, it’s going to have whatever you’re trying to say. You just need to have your hands in it. Once you’re there, everything will just organically be. So when I’m stuck, I’m just going to get to it and I’m going to let the work lead the way. 

Or when I get invited to universities to speak to students, I do challenges of 15 minutes. I give you what you have to make, like the idea, and you have 15 minutes to make it. And you’ll be surprised what things people make with 15 minutes. I also have to work under pressure a lot when it comes to fashion stuff. When it comes to custom work for editorials or music videos, the turnaround is two days or so. I have to think really quickly what I’m doing and what I’m presenting. So it's almost an extension of that work into the teaching and it's been really cool to see.

Close-up of hands holding a sneaker box with distinctive logo, adorned with silver rings including skull designs

You also have a distinctive personal style. It seems like that style shows up in your jewelry. So how will you fit this Jordan 1 Low Shadow into your wardrobe? 
Well, I am extra in general [Laughs]. Even when I’m in the studio, I have my cute studio clothes. So I feel like they could be in the realm of a work vibe, but still cute. I feel better if I wear something nice, you know what I mean? It just makes me feel good. To feel good with what you’re wearing is just very important. It definitely turns your day.

Like in sports, since we’re talking about the Jordan 1 Low Shadow, they say, Look good, feel good, play good. And that translates to life as well. They’re perfect for the studio. Fashionable, but comfortable. 
Yeah, and especially if you're running around. Like sneaker-wise, I think of like, Squeak, squeak. You know what I mean? I’m in a studio where it’s a jewelry building, so I’m all the way up. So I’m pretty much all over the place. I’ll be in the elevator, the supply store, so if I relate it to the shoes, it’s like I’m actually on the court, like, Squeak, squeak. 

Person tying the laces of a black and white sneaker

And then, back to your work. You already mentioned your nameplate swing in the craft museum in LA, but you have other pieces in permanent museum collections too, right? And then sculptures are such a different scale than jewelry. Do you approach jewelry and art differently? 
I come from a contemporary jewelry background, but now I feel like I’m merging two things. I’m not saying I’m making something crazy new, but it’s interesting because I had a studio visit with El Museo Del Barrio and they asked a similar question. For me, I see it as art. Of course I have my jewelry line that’s different, but when I’m creating these pieces, from paintings to sculptures, at the end, they all have a jewelry reference. I guess I’m trying to push. Contemporary jewelry is such a very small niche. But it’s basically a small sculpture and a small scale, right? Like jewelry that has storytelling. Why can't contemporary jewelry be next to a painting or a sculpture? I have to work towards that. That’s something that the curators are kind of like, Oh, it’s something new. They maybe see it as a craft, and it’s like, No, it’s more than that. It has storytelling, it has context. It’s the same with ceramics. Once that was viewed as just a functional craft. It was never seen next to a painting in an exhibition. Now it’s very popular to see ceramics everywhere. So I feel like we’re slowly getting in there. Even as far as small objects. Even in fairs, we see more of the smaller objects than we did before. 

I don’t know if you’ve seen some of the crazy purses that I’ve done, but there was a purse that was literally a cheese grater with these knives. And then there was another one that’s full of nail clippers. And they’re all referencing these songs. They all sold at NADA Fair in Miami. We sold three swings too. It was a series of three swings. They’re a big plate, so you can sit on it, but they have beautiful text. So being that all these pieces are selling, it’s cool, even for other people behind me. I think it’s really important. We’re heading there. For me, it’s kind of like an accessory, but obviously it’s a sculpture as well as something that could be wearable. So it’s kind of breaking the rules or entering this new thing. So I’m interested in how that’s evolving and I think it’s good for my community of contemporary jewelry. 

Person peeking through fancy cut-out text, surrounded by plants and lights, playful expression

It’s like you’re making up your own rules. Is it important for you to show people that there are beautiful things they might not pay attention to? Is that part of your mission? 
I think it’s part of the mission to try to. I mean, coming from upcycling or trying to be resourceful, you know what I mean? It’s not a rule, but I am working with these materials that might inspire other people. I mean, of course, there’s so many people using found objects, but I think I’m just attracted to those things. And I think those objects have interesting energies too. It’s like, using an object and only your piece has that material. That’s more interesting than producing something new in many cases. 

When I’m stuck, I’m just going to get to it and I’m going to let the work lead the way.

So you’ve broken all these boundaries in your work. What do you have coming up next? 
I’m having my first institutional show in May in Houston at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft.

I know Houston has such an art scene, so many big museums.
Yeah, I'm excited. I'm going there a week before to produce pieces that need to be finished there. So crazy weeks ahead.

A person customizing a red knit sneaker with embellishments and jewelry

I'm sure. Do you ever see yourself working in any new mediums or going back to painting or anything like that?
I am. I'm actually exploring that right now. I have a few new paintings. They're on social media too. So yeah, I'm trying to see how I can bring jewelry and painting in one, and I'm doing that by either the subject or actually photographing just an actual existing object, literally how we see the cockroach. It exists in a piece, and then it's in a T-shirt. So some idea like that.  I'm on my third painting since I’ve reconnected to that. It’s oil paint. I'm adding structures to the canvas that come out. So there's a piece that's a purse, and then it has two grommets on the canvas, and there's a chain that comes all the way down to the floor. So yeah, I'm trying that. I'm always trying to explore new mediums. I'm not limited at all.

I would love to get into more  fashion. I would love to have an actual collection or online, but I mean, I'm constantly in collaboration, so I think that's kind of happening organically with that. I'm interested in furniture.I started by doing benches. I did a series of benches and then I did the swings. So then I'm working on other stuff. And also home wearables, but more like art home wearables. I think there's so many possibilities and it's just exciting that my brain is open to that because I feel like sometimes people are stuck into, Oh, it only exists in this form. And it's like, there's just endless possibilities. So I'm excited to explore that.