Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How great thou 'art': Carmen Lomas Garza

Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2011 at 7:07 PM

click to enlarge barbacoacumplenosjpg

I'm feeling moved by art these days. Before I sat down to write this blog, I studied the image I wanted to write about: Carmen Lomas Garza’s “Barbacoa Para Cumpleaños." I examined the faces of the work, its colors. I reflected on what the artist incorporated into the painting, and I began to feel a bit nostalgic. I decided I was in the mood for some ranchera music, maybe some tejano. Selena, Tito Puente, Jay Perez, Vicente Fernandez, Emilio, whatever. It didn’t matter. I just needed something that was going to fill the painful void that was starting to expand in my heart. Ten years ago, my mom decided she was finally ready to move out of the Westside. Having just retired from teaching and having no kids left to raise, she was finally comfortable financially. My father had been gone for over a year, and she needed a new beginning. And so, we left the pink and white house on Perez Street, and we moved into a brick house in a new subdivision. Even the names of the streets there were artificial. There was nothing cultural about our new neighborhood. No paleta man, no taquerias, no botanicas. Call it assimilation, call it progress. We had to move on. But every now and then that little void in my heart that longs for Home becomes more palpable, particularly when I stumble across something that takes me back to that house on Perez Street, where we barbecued on Sundays and played our music just a little too loud. Garza's work evokes that sense of longing in me again. In its own way, the painting constructs themes prevalent to my personal Mexican-American experience: love, tradition, family, celebration, and loss. A sort of emotional continuum among all of these elements begins to take form within the world Garza paints. It portrays a birthday celebration not dissimilar from many I've had, with family and friends, tíos and tías, a lover’s secret rendezvous behind a tree. Her work is fraught with bright blue, red, pink, green, and yellow hues—colors that are staples to any Mexican-American celebration or tradition. Even the birthday cake on the table is lined with a beautiful, rich pink color. Garza’s work garners a sense of hope from me. It symbolizes the Mexican-American sensibility of togetherness, even if there aren’t always enough chairs for everyone (sometimes quantity is better than quality in our minds). The image speaks to an existence marked by a Mexicano sense of unity more than anything else. Her brushstroke has a very sharp, almost animated quality to it that enhances its lively, lush tone. Within the world created by Garza, no individual character is more deeply characterized than the other. Somehow, the portrait isn't even about the celebrant; it's about everyone who is present as a family unit in that corner of time in the world. The house and its spare, green yard lend themselves to the simplicity of Mexican-American life. Overtly modest, the house Garza builds is strategically placed in the center, upward space of the painting, emphasizing the significance of the house as the cornerstone of any Mexican-American familial structure. It's drawn with clean lines and geometrically precise shapes, which creates a sense of strength and durability. Above all, Garza's painting takes me back to that moment in time where I was just a little girl hitting a piñata, when I could hear the sound of my uncles playing the guitar or the accordion in a drunken stupor, when the aroma of arroz con pollo filled the night's air, when I would help my grandma take clothes down from the laundry line. This painting transcends time, space, and memory, and it serves as a testament to all that's beautiful and romantic about Mexican-American life. Feel free to send your love letters and/or hate mail to me at cx@sacurrent.com or follow @chrissygarza (no relation to Carmen) on Twitter.

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