Our fifty fifth interview in this new series of intimate interviews is with talented mobile photographer and artist Mayte Balcells and whom you may recognise from her popular Instagram account @theartofmayte. Balcells currently lives in Miami, United States. Formally known as Mayte Fleites, (her maiden name), she is a Cuban/American artist/designer. This interview is a wonderful thrilling tale of a life across time and borders mixed with beautiful art and imagery, you’ll be left admiring this prodigious talent. Enjoy!
To read the other published interviews in this series including artists, Adria Ellis, Rino Rossi, Mehmet Duyulmus, Alexis Rotella, Lou Ann Sanford Donahue, Irene Oleksiuk, Kerry Mitchell, Filiz Ak, Dale Botha, Lisa Mitchell, M. Cecilia Sao Thiago, Deborah McMillion, Rita Colantonio, Amy Ecenbarger, Jane Schultz, Anca Balaj, Joyce Harkin, Armineh Hovanesian, Kate Zari Roberts, Vicki Cooper, Peter Wilkin, Barbara Braman, Becky Menzies, Sukru Mehmet Omur, Sarah Bichachi, Michel Pretterklieber, Alon Goldsmith, Judy Lurie Whalberg, Andrea Bigiarni, Sean Hayes, Oola Cristina, Kathleen Magner-Rios, Linda Toki, Deb Field, Emilo Nadales, Lydia Cassatt, David Hayes, Jean Hutter, Frederic Deschênes, Mark Schnidman, Fatma Korkut, Fleur Schim, Rob Pearson-Wright, Dieter Gaebel, James Ellis, Marco P Prado, Jeronimo Sanz, Manuela Matos Monteiro, Bleu Chemiko, Manuela Basaldella, Stefania Piccioni, Luis Rodríguez, Marilisa Andriani (@mitrydate) and myself, go here.
All images ©Mayte Balcells
What was your earliest childhood ambition?
Dressing my thirty three dolls in Cuba with new outfits every year for Christmas and cutting out paper dolls called “Cuquitas” in spanish with my grandmother. She was a great inspiration because she was very creative not only was she an excellent tailor and an expert knitter, she used to be a chorus singer for the methodist church. She was also a teacher and an intellectual. I missed her greatly when we left Cuba because of communist Castro to live in Madrid and then to Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands, I was only 7 years old.
In 1982, I was 19 years old when I won my first designer competition award sponsored by the ILWGU International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union for designing a futuristic line and submitting with students from all over the United States and winning in the State of Florida. It was a big event for me and my college, famous designers acted as judges and it was held in New York. Calvin klein, Bill Blass, Halston, Pearl Nipón, Kasper just to name a few.
Was designing children’s wear for a company called King Kole that hired me from my University to do my internship. They also gave me a scholarship to pay for my tuition and an award for designing children’s wear. It was another competition but of local Universities here in Miami, Florida, USA.
Private or State school?
In Miami I went to state school not private. Coral Gables Sr. High School, MDCCollege, Florida International University but if you didn’t have a GPA higher than 3.0 you had to pay for tuition, I had 3.4 paid some but not much as other students. I graduated in 1984 with a an A.A. an A.S. in Fashion Design and B.S. Bachelors in Science in Apparel Mag’t and Industrial Engineering.
University or work?
I graduated from the university at 23 and not long after that I got married with the love of my life and moved to Central America, Rep, of Panama for 9 years. I created a freelance fashion business called Nina Bonita dedicated to designing children’s wear lines for companies in Latin America and the Caribbean. Originally, I had planned to move to New York for work and my career but I couldn’t resist marrying and living abroad which was a different life than here and we both were on our own without our parents.
Who was or still is your mentor?
No mentor for me, I always followed my intuition. My husband has always been there for me and my son. He is a brave man and travels all over the world constantly, he is my pillar, my rock my everything.
How physically fit are you?
Right now not to much because of some health issues and I’m 57 years now, not young anymore. All my life I was a swimmer and loved to run so I was always very fit but hormones and age take a big toll on women.
Ambition or Talent. What matters more to success?
I like this question. Both are important. Ambition is greater and exceeds talent. Ambition is a tool for making process in life. To posses the will, the desire and courage to get ahead in life are greater than any skill you might have. Talent means nothing if you don’t have ambition. Not quitting. Ambition is the fuel of life and the pursue of our goals. By this I don’t mean greed, ambition is trying to better yourself by working hard and studying everything you plan, putting effort and persistence because there are no shortcuts. We all have our highs and lows but must go on to embrace our passions no matter you age. Prove to the world that your ambition is moving forward. Master your craft.
How politically committed are you?
Well, I proudly live in the USA and I’m proud of my Cuban Heritage but I now feel more American because of so many years living here. Although this country is a bit divided now i just hope it goes back to what it was! I’m so grateful to the United States in every aspect and I love living here. I’m not into politics but can assure you that the best form of Gov’t is a democracy just look at those countries that are in politically turmoil now. So many people want to live here to work and live in freedom. Just hope for a better future and for better gun control laws and more mental illness awareness and facilities for the mentally ill.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
A vintage Ford Truck dark green. Love old trucks.
What is your biggest extravagance?
My collection of crosses made by yours truly with Swarovski crystals, gold leafed, and hand painted. If you would like to see some of them they are in my Facebook account.
What ambitions do you still have?
My main one is health for everyone in my family, and keep my digital art going.
What drives you on?
My only son Javier, he is now 30 yrs old and my husband, they both are my loves.
What do you find most irritating in other people?
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
The greatest gift and achievement I have received has been to be born to a father and a mother that instilled in me their culture and passion for the arts in its various forms. It has transformed me throughout my life and continues to guide me in many yet to be explored uncovered roads.
If your twenty year old self could see you now, what would she think?
Maybe that I could have achieved more.
Which object that you’ve lost do you wish you still had?
The first toys or ballerina dolls my mother gave my sister and me in our first Christmas in Spain after leaving Cuba. One was blonde like my sister the other a brunette like me. Hers was taller and mine shorter. I wish I still had them.
What is the greatest challenge of our time?
Global Warming. Peace.
Do you believe in the afterlife?
If you mean in an afterlife like in heaven, then yes!
If you had to rate your life satisfaction so far, out of ten, what would it be?
If I were to answer this question I would have to limit myself… I don’t like to choose one thing over another and by doing so I continue to evolve in everything I have yet to learn… Hence, I’m an 11….
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