Art has always been a part of my life. As a child I was taken in by the impact of art and spirituality. I was raised as a Catholic who also believed in the indigenous rituals of shamans or healers. In that perspective art was not just an art piece on its own, but also a medium to get from the common man to a higher spiritual level. I see my art serving as a healing factor, if not for the subject matter portrayed, then for me as an artist who needs to expel the bad for the good. My artwork started out as therapy for me as a child and as an adult has become my existence, creating through drawing or painting.
My focus as a painter is to create narratives. Much of my work is oil and enamel painted on metal due to my attraction to the Mexican retablo paintings (narrative prayer paintings), which are created on tin. While my early retablo paintings started as admiration for the small paintings, my work is now more of a vehicle to keep my cultural and ritual upbringing alive, combining my cultural past with my present.
As a Mexican American/Chicana artist, I consider it important to not only embrace my culture, but also to share it with the community. I have participated in the Chicano/a movement for the past twenty years by exhibiting nationally with other Chicano/a artists throughout the United States. Even though I have lived in Philadelphia for a while, I still find that I have been painting my past. I am interested in painting more about my present and current environment but feel that there is more to say before I move on. Perhaps this is because I always refer back to the reason why I became an artist. My initial desire to draw and create art all started as a child. My aesthetic sensibility stems from everything I experienced at that time.
While my earlier paintings involved personal narratives of my family, friends, and myself, I have recently started a train series based on the familiar landscapes seen from across the street from my parents' house or above the bridge that I used to cross over as a child. I am lured by cinema and literature, so I find the painted narrative parallel to my goal in expressing myself. Influences of Bunuel's cinematography and García Márquez novels come to mind when I created these landscapes. I wanted them to capture a mood and to show the beginning of my autobiographical paintings.
For the most part I work in segmented series so that I can focus on specific details in my ongoing narrative. Whether I'm painting retablo portraits, flora representing a dance, or a train yard, all these work together to create one large ongoing narrative. Other than painting with enamel on metal, I have also been working on installations, adding a third dimension to my composition. I find that sometimes it's the best way to represent the narrative, especially when I collaborate with others.
While creating art I found myself making other objects from my past. I started making cascarones, or Mexican Easter eggs, which are hand-painted eggshells filled with confetti for my friends. This led to creating a small grassroots organization that raises funds once a year for children with AIDS. After eight years of fund raising, I believe that my art making and art activism have fused together. I am interested in making a large painted installation for the ten-year anniversary of our fund-raiser (spring 2001). Creating, healing, and sharing, much like a shaman in my upbringing, has transcended into a visual shaman of art making.
Retablo para mi hermana, Rosario Sánchez Cárdenas
This work was created to bless my sister, Chayo, and her love for not only her family but more specifically her ability to celebrate the richness of love. She has always been someone who nurtured and desired love, as most just desire life itself. The text behind her is the lyrics to the song "Dos arbolitos," which is not only a love song but also a song that was favored by our grandfather, who was very close to us, especially Chayo. Her interest in Latin and Asian art helped her create her personal shrine of her loved ones–my grandmother Blanca Estela, her sons Juan Carlos and Marco Antonio, and her husband Tomás.
Retablo for Christopher and His Father
This retablo was created in my studio with Julius and Christopher sitting before me. I liked the spontaneous effect of having them both pose for me. Christopher and Julius are the grandson and son of my close friend Eleanor De Angeles. I wanted to make a retablo for them to assist them as they continue to grow individually as well as in union as a single parent and child household. Retablo for Christopher and His Father is a painting mainly praying for this father and son relationship to remain strong. With the two compositionally joined at the base of the painting and standing parallel, one can find the strength to be able to confront any obstacle.