Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Cultural Nexus

Sandra Gonzalez, "Nuestra Pasado/Nuestra Futuro" (Our Past/ Our Future)  mural, 2017  photo: Jared Jischke
Sandra Gonzalez (b.1986) was raised in Tamaulipas, Mexico, emigrating to the United States in 2000 with her family. Her artwork springs from the intertwining of her Mexican heritage and her American culture. Her style reflects this with colorful Mexican-American patterns and symbols of both cultures. Traditional Mexican fabrics and tiles inspire her work and the artist states that she sees fabric "as a social metaphor where each garment is a collection of individual fibers forming a group/society." She feels passionately about helping communities with her art, often involving them with the painting process.

Sandra studied studio art and printmaking at Texas A & M University and received her MFA in 2013 from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Full disclosure: Sandra was one of my classmates and friends in the MFA program at PAFA! I always loved Sandra and her work, and so I was thrilled to discover she'd recently created a piece I could include in my Women in the Act of Painting project! After graduating from PAFA Sandra was hired by Philadelphia Mural Arts where she became enthralled with the whole concept of mural painting. In particular she was inspired by mural artist Betsy Casañas with whom she has worked on several projects.

Eventually returning to her home state of Texas, Sandra now works as a High School art teacher and continues to create public art large and small. She's completed several mural projects in the past few years, unifying neighbors, friends, students and families who work together on her projects. 

This particular piece (shown above) was part of the Electrical Box Project commissioned by the Marina Arts District and completed in January of 2017. The box is located at Mesquite & Williams Street in Corpus Christi, Texas. The box is covered with the bright colors of embroidered flowers, and tiles. One side features the artist's beloved grandmother, and the other side (pictured) shows her young niece, Kira, in the act of painting. "I have always been inspired by the women in my family." Sandra says.  The juxtaposition of age and youth explain the work's title, "Nuestra Pasado/Nuestra Futuro" which translates as Our Past/Our Future.  While I don't usually use photos in this blog that display anything but the artwork itself, this charming shot of Sandra's niece jubilantly playing her violin next to the mural bearing her likeness was simply too charming to pass up! So, since I'm on a roll, here's another, of Sandra showing the other side of the box mural. 

Sandra Gonzalez, "Nuestra Pasado/Nuestra Futuro" (other side) mural, 2017  photo of the artist: Earl Parr

Sandra Gonzalez's website can be found here. More up-to-the-minute photos of the artist's work can be seen on her colorful Instagram account.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The extraordinary Edmonia Lewis

Doodle by Sophie Diao

I'm absolutely thrilled to find that today's Google Doodle depicts Edmonia Lewis! I have long had my eye on Ms. Lewis for this Women in the Act project, but was never able to find an artwork depicting her at work. Frustrating! Now at last, I'm able to feature this outstanding artist.

Edmonia Lewis (1844 - 1907) was the first American woman of African American and Native American heritage to achieve international fame as a sculptor. Lewis pioneered a unique style which incorporated African American and Native American cultural themes into her Neoclassical style sculpture. Her independent and adventurous life at a time when women's lives were routinely limited was likewise avant-garde, unique and awe-inspiring.

Lewis was born in New York state to a father of Haitian descent and a mother of Mississauga Ojibwe and African American descent. After her parents’ death when she was nine years old Lewis was adopted by her maternal aunts, who supported the family by crafting and selling Ojibwe baskets and other souvenirs for tourists. Interestingly, at this period of her life Lewis went by her Native American name, Wildfire.  At age 15, Lewis enrolled in Oberlin College, and began her serious study of art. Unfortunately her time at Oberlin was fraught with disruption and outright discrimination. Because of certain charges brought against her (later dismissed) she was prevented from enrolling in her final term, and therefore was unable to receive her degree.

Undaunted, Lewis moved to Boston in 1864, determined to pursue a career as a sculptor. She apprenticed with Edward A. Brackett, a sculptor whose clients included many well-known abolitionists. Lewis worked as Brackett's apprentice until 1864, when she launched her first solo exhibition, which paid homage to the abolitionists and Civil War heroes of the day, including John Brown. Her work became very popular and her financial success allowed her to travel to Italy to further pursue her studies. "I thought I knew everything when I came to Rome, but I soon found I had everything to learn.” Edmonia Lewis (quoted in Romare Bearden'sA History of African-American Artists)

In Rome, Lewis soon joined a circle of expatriate artists and established her own studio. She began sculpting in marble, combining classicism with naturalistic observation and themes relating to African American and Native American people. Her work won respect and fame, and commanded large sums of money. She continued to receive international acclaim until her death in 1911.

Today’s Doodle depicts Lewis sculpting one of her most famous works, The Death of Cleopatra, which is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Her strong yet sensitively realized  portrayal of Cleopatra’s death received the highest praise from critics when it was exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. One called it “the most remarkable piece of sculpture in the American section" of the show. 

The artist Sophie Diao who created the Edmonia Lewis Doodle works at Google and freelances for the computer animation industry. She graduated from the California Institute of the Arts in 2013. Her impressive portfolio can be seen here!

Self-Portrait with dog, Sophie Diao