video • Joe Lu
words • Jake Krez
photos • Bryan Allen Lamb
We’ve all had coloring books. For Esperanza Rosas, the timeworn practice of staying inside the lines eventually proved to be her way to see life beyond the bounds of her surroundings.
Rosas, better known to the world by her nickname, Runsy, first found her love of creation through a simple love of coloring books. After she quickly filled that first Space Jam book, her parents would bring them home with increasing frequency as she filled one after another. The childhood hobby quickly became a lifelong passion that she’s since utilized to produce artistic works that have found audiences far beyond her South Chicago neighborhood. Appropriately, it’s that tight-knit community where she found both the inspiration and lessons to take the necessary steps along the way.
Much has been written about the musicians that initially opened the world’s eyes to the urban artistry that’s come to be referred to as the Chicago Renaissance. However, as the spotlight on the city’s creativity has widened to include an array of talented individuals across a wide spectrum. Among those is Rosas, who lends her perspective to tell the stories that surround her and illustrate her worldview.
Having worked with artists like Stefan Ponce and Chief Keef and been a featured artist at last year’s 30 Day In Chicago with Red Bull, Runsy is well on her way to the dreams she began illustrating in those coloring books as a child.
“I remember [my dad] got one for me and I remember he’d always tell me ‘you better not get outside the lines,'” said Runsy, reminiscing on her first introduction to the medium. “And I was like ‘oh crap, what happens if I do?’ I always wondered what happened if I went outside the lines and once I decided to make my own, I just got really good at drawing.”
A somewhat simple premise, Runsy has used her first love to explore the world beyond her neighborhood by shining a light on those in her orbit.
“That time it was crazy, it was like “Stefan Ponce wants to work with me? Chief Keef wants to work with me? What the fuck,” Runsy said, reminiscing on those initial wins. “I’ve pulled out like two pieces and that was all I needed for y’all to want to work with me. It was super motivating but at the same time, I also wanted to seperate myself from that because its a start that a lot of people want, they want to draw celebrities for a living. I felt like that was the breaking point,like my ideas were way more than just drawing something that’s meaningless and that was the hard part of being an artist that was also so into the music scene.”
In 2016, at 22, she was getting her first taste of attention for her work. While some may allow a quick rise in followers and visibility to go to their head, it only inspired a more thorough work ethic to come about. That’s not to say she wasn’t having fun. Fully invested in her twenties and a newfound recognition for her work around town, the never-ending cycle of events, shows, galleries and the parties that tied them all together began edging into time previously occupied by creation. It’s a lesson any artist this side of Bukowski and Basquiat has to grapple with at points throughout their career. Substances can often open the mind, but can just as quickly close opportunities if left unchecked, and also serve to compound emotions in an artist’s mind if work isn’t getting done as a result. For her part, Runsy, who made the decision to go sober while working on her projects for 30 Days In Chicago, openly talks of her struggle with alcohol and anxiety and the importance of finding a balance in her life as a way to move forward.
“I’m still making great work but people don’t see the hours of panic and self-doubt that go into each piece. I was wondering what the problem I have is and its obviously a self issue that I need to figure out,” Runsy explained. “I was doing all this stuff and at a certain point I was like ok I need to chill. You gotta stop going out and you got to give up liquor because thats not going to get you anywhere in life. Are your friends going to pay your bills, are your friends going to do your work? They’re not. So from there I was like I’m going sober and I went sober for 70 days and I literally wasn’t going out or drinking at all. I was spending all my time while people were partying I was drawing, I was getting deadlines done, I was responding to emails at 5 AM, I was sending stuff. A lot of times I feel like as individuals its easier to complain and give up and its like either you sink or you swim.”
It’s that innate openness, that tethered sense of reality and unedited personality that endears both Runsy and her work to those from her hometown and beyond. At a time of manicured images and Instagram-stan artists, she’s as real as they come regardless of the situation she finds herself. It’s indicative of her persevering nature that at a point in which she found herself falling behind, she was able to identify the problem and make a necessary change, realizing that ultimately the work and her legacy mattered more.
The last two years have been filled with consistent growth and opportunities for Runsy. As she continues forward in her career, she does so with an newfound confidence and respect for herself and her work that has afforded her a rising profile both local and beyond. While eager to add to her legacy immediately, she’s taking note of the lessons she’s learned throughout her journey. Having closed out last year in hyper-speed with 30 Days In Chicago, she’s starting off 2018 with a more relaxed demeanor. Allowing inspiration to come to her rather than chase it, she’s been toying with and idea for a gallery show, new zines and unannounced collaborations. It’s no secret at this point that Runsy has come a long way in a short time from her Space Jam coloring books, while never compromising her ideas, personality or culture in the process. If nothing else, Runsy is dictating her future with the movements of her pencil.
“A lot of people can have a big break, but at the same time its like what are you going to do afterwards. I also dont want to profit off of my culture, I can do better for other people who are making art and aren’t being represented as a Latina or Mexicana. I just don’t want to be categorized as one thing or another, so I’ve started figuring out more of what I want to do. Money, the prints, they don’t matter to me. What I want to make is art, I just want to make good art.”