Maya González

I was first exposed to art in my family Bible. It must have weighed five pounds. Bound with cracking red leather, each page was lined with a brilliant gold. The pages with words were thin like silk. The pages with weight, thick and heavy, dispersed throughout the large text, held brilliant art. I sat for hours with that book on my lap, staring at the work of Botticelli and Giotto, Michelangelo and Correggio. Light emanated from within their figures; spirit informed gesture and expression. Supernatural beings were visible to the seeker and the sky was bright with those ascending. This triggered the deep truth within me that the divine is within all things. And what’s more, art can expose this truth.

I left the church when I was sixteen. What I took with me was a belief in the divine and in the power of art. As I got older and continued on my spiritual and creative path, I searched for my own face within the art that I loved so much as a child. Round, Chicana, mestiza, regular, working class. The closest I could find was Mexican folk art of Catholic saints. Although I found my face, I also found myself psychologically bound in an overlay, a spiritual and creative tradition honed in colonization. I looked deeper to find the muralist and the codices of Mexico’s rituals and calendars and the paintings and carvings of the Mayan civilization. These freed my mind and spoke more directly to my internal spiritual experiences.

I learned to walk the path of shadow and light. I became the veil between life and death. I traveled back and forth and learned to use creativity as my vehicle. When I paint, I am inter-dimensional. Time and space flatten out and my paintings become markers of the journey in and through.

My being is a synthesis of my European and Mexican descent. By nature I am a bridge, connected to both realities but rising as something wholly different, a new sense of One. A bridge of two cultures, two creative traditions, as well as two states of being: physical and spiritual. Synthesis means I am not trying to show the connection between the two, but that the two are indeed one. In my work I am intent on conveying this. I expose the divine that is the mundane.

My women are round and sensual, infused with spirit while fully physical. Like me, they are on the unspeakable journey within. At various stages of this, some are confronting fear represented by skeletons or rattlesnakes. Others are pressing the miracle of fruit to their heart in order to hear the Mother (Earth). Still others seem to move in trance as if hearing the sound of All That Is. This is my journey and so it is theirs. In my women, you can see the ascending Virgin. You can see also the Mayan holy women in trance, pulling the thorned rope through their tongue. I push my medium to show light that comes from the core. I never lay down a shadow, a skeleton, a wing without having found its origin and truth in the invisible world.
Like all of my ancestors who have carried on this tradition, I paint spirit so that we as one people can learn to live in greater light. For me, being an artist means traveling deep, then returning to translate. This is my journey and as individuals view it, the journey and the light become theirs.

I work in a highly communicative but silent medium. I paint. I spend hours each day alone and silent in front of my board applying color, creating form, traveling unspeakable distances while standing in the same some spot. Seldom, very, very seldom, am I challenged to express verbally what it is I do and why. Recently, I sat down with Richard Lou, the curator for Hecho en Califas, to answer questions. What I experienced with him was a first for me. His presence and his provocation provided me with an opportunity to speak. During the interview, I felt like I was sitting in a perfect circle of sunlight. It softened me and gave rise to a voice I have never heard.

The questions I remember most are the ones that went unanswered: "Your exteriors are painted the same as your interiors. What does that signify? Are you trying to keep something in? Or something out?" I didn’t get a chance to follow up on that one, but I heard him asking me over and over in the days after the interview. This feels like an entry point to talk about my work here, because it lays a foundation for anything else I can say. What he was picking up on has to do with the origin of my work. While I am not trying to keep anything in or out, I am working from a very deep personal/spiritual landscape.

My images most often begin as haunts within my mind. When an image haunts me long enough, I commit it to paint. These haunts are generally related to something going on in my personal life. The image may be a summation, a resolution of a particular issue. Or it can present more of a lesson, open, waiting to be experienced. Often the act of painting one of these haunts is the point. The time spent fully creating the image imparts the lesson needing to be learned. The act of painting is healer or teacher with the painting itself standing simply as a milepost, a marker on the side of the road. I’ve found that away from me, the painting still holds the power of the lesson. At a show in Sacramento, a young woman came up to me, quite shy. She asked to speak with me privately. She said that standing amidst my paintings, she felt beautiful, strong, transcendent–a way that she had never felt before. She began to cry. I was very moved, but knew instinctively that it wasn’t me, but my paintings doing their job. Sometimes I think that I am simply the one that gets to stand in front of the easel while this work finds its way up and out.

One of the bravest questions Richard Lou asked me was, "You say that your paintings are often marks, mileposts for rites of passage. I see that your body is marked too. What marks become paintings and what marks go to your body?" Immediately I thought about my paintings out there in the world. They live with other people, have lives separate from mine. They are like my children. I give birth to them, but I let them go to fulfill what destiny they may have. Some are teaching and holding space for people I have never even met. They are independent of me. But sometimes marks come up for me that are mine. They are for me to hold onto so that the lesson or the healing can stay close at hand and keep me on track. All of my body marks have stories as my paintings do. They mark a time, a passage, a lesson that I must remember every day. I am a traveling artist, and my body documents my journey as much as my paintings do.

SIDELIGHTS: Children’s Books
Maya Christina González

I have loved to draw and color for as long as I can remember. As a child I would go looking for my face in my coloring books, in my storybooks … but I never found my round Chicana face, my long dark hair. So I would go to that blank page in the back or the front of these books and draw my own big face right there where it belonged.

That’s what I tell the kids when I go into the schools. Those empty spots are actually there so that we can draw ourselves in. We belong everywhere. Our face is important. It is a mark of who we are and where we come from. I work almost exclusively with children of color. Children with faces like mine. I teach the kids to claim all that they are: their face, their feelings, their experiences … and express that for all the world to share through art.

Most of my books are bilingual. This always seems like a secret prize for me. As a small boy my father was enrolled in an all-English speaking school. He spoke only Spanish. I know this was a difficult way for him to learn. It must have affected him because although his family spoke primarily Spanish, I was not raised speaking it at all. In fact I am still learning to speak it. When I am alone in my studio working on one of my books, there is a part of me who is painting it for that small boy who became my father.

Mayan Ball Gown
9.27.2000

This piece is about tension as well as synthesis between worlds. I mixed elements, eras, and styles to convey the different levels that this is going on in.

The woman in the painting is clearly a solid, physical woman, but an ancient spirit hand is lighting her cigarette. Her features also tell us that she is an indigenous woman, although she is light-skinned, has one green eye and one brown, and is wearing a formal European ball gown. The smoking refers back to a sacred act and symbolizes the intent to remember that we are both earth and sky. The butterflies carved into the back wall are keepers of the "other side," fragile and veil-like.

She sits formally posed, but the smoking and her strong stare belie the traditional European portrait style of the 1800s as does her tattoo, one of the first images used to symbolize Quetzalcoatl. Sea images. It was prophesied that the great feathered serpent would one day return from the sea to bring light again to guide the people. An interpretation of this prophecy was what first allowed the Aztecs to so embrace Cortez, the conqueror, upon his arrival from the sea. With this tattoo, she identifies herself with not only Quetzalcoatl, but also with Cortez.

She speaks to the many parts I have within myself: Indian, Mexican, European, conqueror, royalty, slave, earth, sky. She wears my rings to remind me that although I have many complex parts, I am one, and in understanding this there is strength.

Sunday Afternoon
1994 acrylic on Masonite 46 x 33 inches

I moved to San Francisco to paint full time. It was a relief to be in the Latino/Chicano Mission District of the city and be recognized for who I am. My first show dealt solely with death and for the first time in my life, my relationship with death made sense to my viewing public. Death is a powerful teacher that helps me stay focused in the present. This piece is about that unexpected visitor who comes around and must be entertained at a moment’s notice. Death here is a humorous character, smoking, taking the coffee, and not taking off his hat in the house.

The Love That Stains
2000 acrylic on Masonite 24 x 33-1/2 inches

I had an ecstatic vision. In it a hummingbird came and pierced my heart. My heart was fuchsia and as it was pierced I was flooded with immense love and gratitude. In the vision this flooding was shown as a stream of blood-red/fuchsia seeds pouring out of my heart onto a white plain. This healed me and firmed my soul to go out into the world and share this love. I was beginning to draw this vision when I caught sight of a drawing I had done some months before during a very difficult time. In the old drawing the woman was wearing dress over dress over dress trying to forget, find comfort, and satiate some loss. The ecstatic vision and the old drawing fell into conversation until a healing took place. Now there is a spirit behind her wearing but one slip and holding her hand as she listens to the hummingbird. The love that pours out onto her dresses stains and nothing can ever be the same again.

Duality/Ascension Puppet Show
2000 acrylic on Masonite 24 x 33-1/2 inches

In this piece I wanted to create a woman with a very penetrating sexy gaze, but dealing with issues of spirituality in a very rudimentary way. She holds up for display two finger-puppets. One is wearing a banner that says "Duality" in lovely gold script. He is dressed in a tailored, pinstriped business suit. He’s got it all worked out and is smiling a very happy, knowing smile. The other puppet is some sort of old gray sweater remnant with orange scrap yarn on top. Its banner says "Ascension" in a backwards, childlike script. This one does not have it down and is barely holding form. Our sexy puppeteer shows us that they are related, in the same show. We are not savvy at ascension yet. We are just learning this one.