It's a hot evening in May. The kind of night that, despite the setting sun, the stickiness in the air lingers. Aileen Quintana, known to the world by her artist name Haiiileen, emerges through the large wooden doors of her Allapattah studio with her hair arranged neatly in a bun. She’s been inside all day, creating.
All around the studio are crates piled high and properly labeled. A metal cabinet houses spray cans in one corner, and nearby hang some plastic goggles. The large warehouse is exceptionally tidy. The artist takes pride not only in her work but in her space.
On her workspace is a stack of mirrors, wooden planks, and paint. Walking by it, she gently touches the surface of the table as if to acknowledge her work-in-progress and show it some quiet affection.
The Miami native describes her art as “all about light, color, and sound.”
The description is fitting: Quintana lives with an uncommon condition that affects her visual and auditory senses. It's a form of synesthesia called chromesthesia, in which sound can evoke a sense of color or shape.
Quintana admits that while her synesthesia influences her work, sometimes the sensation is too overwhelming, and she prefers to work in silence.
“Audio creates visual components for me — sometimes sound can overwhelm me to the point where I hallucinate,” she says.
She raises her arm to reveal a spot of dried paint on her elbow.
“Still,” she adds, “I have a beautiful relationship with audio.”
“The authenticity of the work is very important to me,” she says. “The emotional connection between the artist and their art is very important to me, as well as the process of the work and creating the work.”
The idea for the brightly colored mirrors came to Quintana in mid-2020.
At the start of the new year, she was completely booked with commissions, festivals, and partnerships. A few months in, it all changed.
“Just like that, it was all gone,” she says crestfallen. Her eyes divert to a stack of framed photos from an unexhibited project that sit upright against a wall.
She was even working as a lead visual artist with the music streaming service Tidal and had a piece as part of the company's Super Bowl 2020 promotion. The piece was supposed to tour for the remainder of the year but was postponed indefinitely.
“I took it one day at a time, and I didn’t let it get the better of me.”
Charged with newfound energy, she decided for the first time in a long time to create for herself rather than for a client.
available on her website. Each mirror is painted with a colorful chemical solution that she concocted herself.
As you look in the mirror, you quite literally see yourself in a different light. The pieces are meant to provoke self-reflection while also inviting a sense of happiness. The result is an almost psychedelic experience.
“I’m a light-theory artist, so for me, how I describe and create a narrative and how I manipulate color and light in spaces is really important for me,” Quintana explains as the light reflects off the 22 mirrors that hang on the wall behind her. “I really wanted to continue that dialogue with this project.”
Quintana also created prints from the chemical negatives of the larger pieces.
Despite the tumultuous start to 2020, Quintana closed out the year with an installation at Artechouse gallery in Miami Beach. Titled “Aqueous,” the immersive installation was a partnership with Pantone that debuted last November.
“I was an exhibiting artist during the pandemic, which was a blessing,” she says humbly. She describes the digital collaborative piece as meditative and abstract, adding how “I was taking from this endless narrative of light and color.”
As an artist, Quintana says, she’s eager to see what her fellow creatives make of the mess that was 2020. A rebirth is on the horizon; she can feel it in her bones.
“Artists make the best shit from the worst situations.”
Quintana plans to continue spending long hours in her studio. Up next is an installation for the upcoming III Points festival, an event she’s been involved in since the inaugural music fest in 2013. She attributes her close ties to the festival and its organizers as part of the inspiration for the triple “i” in her pseudonym.
She looks around the studio as if absorbing some unseen energy from the air and says with a smile, “I just want to keep creating.”
“Aura Miiirror” by Haiiileen. Available to view by appointment only; gethaiiileen.com.