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"Carmen Lomas Garza: A Retrospective"
2001-01-21 until 2001-04-15
San Jose Museum of Art
San Jose, CA, USA United States of America

Carmen Lomas Garza: A Retrospective premieres at the San Jose Museum of Art prior to embarking on a two-year national tour. The first retrospective of this San Francisco-based artist will feature work from the mid-1970s to the present. Populated with people and highlighting events from her childhood in a rural South Texas barrio - birthday festivities, faith healings, community dances, and making banderitas (special occassion tissue paper cut-outs) - Garzas nostalgic works honor universal commonalities of family and community while remaining dedicated to her Mexican-American heritage. In addition to more than 30 paintings, the exhibition will include a large-scale Day of the Dead altar installation - the centerpiece of the retrospective, 12 papel picado (paper cutouts), and an artist book. Carmen Lomas Garza: A Retrospective will run through April 15, 2001.

Awakened to the Chicano movement in 1965 when a group of the United Farm Workers marched through her hometown of Kingsville, Garza is committed to the realization of the movements goals through positive images of their culture. Coming from a position of affirmation rather than resistance, Garza chose to focus her efforts on enhancing a sense of pride in the Mexican-American community by emphasizing the importance of everyday life. In a 1997 interview with The Kansas City Star, she explained, I really wanted to be able to communicate. I felt that I could not afford to lose my Mexican-American audience. Because at that time there were a lot of Chicano artists that were doing very strong politically inspired artwork, and sometimes the same Mexican-American population felt it too painful to see that artwork. Nobody else was doing anything that dealt with just the ordinary everyday life, and thats what I wanted to concentrate on.

Often compared to the work of Grandma Moses and Frida Kahlo, Garzas oil, gouache, and acrylic paintings are intentionally rendered in a naive, folk-art style to convey her message. Her intricately detailed, tiny figures have a magical, storybook quality evoking a favorite childrens picture book. In fact, Garza has published four bilingual childrens books: Family Pictures/Cuadros de familia (1990), In My Family/En mi familia (1996), Making Magic Windows (1999), and Magic Windows/Ventanas magicas (1999). Clothing and backgrounds are filled with bright colors and joyous patterns - polka dots, flowers, leaves, and geometric shapes. Many of the paintings incorporate large groups of figures (Garzas family and neighbors) engaged in family and community activities. For example, in Cakewalk (1997), neighbors hobnob over a long table filled with lovingly detailed cakes, talk in small groups, or walk around the chalked circle. This game, part of a community event to raise money to send Mexican-Americans to university, exemplifies the supportive spirit of this close-knit community.

Garzas paper cutouts are intricate compositions of positive vs. negative space. Garza has been creating papel picado for more than 30 years, first learning the craft from her grandmother, who used them to design embroidery patterns. Over the years, Garza has refined and expanded the art beyond simple childhood patterns with scissors to dramatic and complex scenes magically sliced from a single sheet of paper. The culmination of Garzas papel picado work is realized in a 5-x-8 foot metal cutout entitled Ofrenda para Antonio Lomas (1995-96), which for this exhibition is incorporated into a vibrant ofrenda, a Mexican ritual home altar that welcomes visiting souls. Traditionally installed on November 2, the Day of the Dead, the artist allowed its inclusion because it is a major component of her oeuvre. The centerpiece of the exhibition, this poignant image of her grandfather watering his victory garden beatifully illustrates Garzas primary focus - the simple acts of life that nourish the spirit.

Growing up in South Texas, an area well known for its oppression of Mexican-American communities, Garza experienced many racist incidents. She has said that she emerged from high school feeling confused, introverted and angry. However, in her artwork Garza has concentrated on positive childhood memories. As a result, her art has the capacity to heal the wounds of racism and discrimination by reaffirming and celebrating family, ceremony, community, and tradition. Although Garza depicts her own experiences and cultural heritage, the work has universal appeal and makes powerful connections to all cultures.

A long-time resident of San Francisco, Garza was born in Kingsville, Texas in 1948. She earned a Bachelor of Science from Texas Arts and Industry University in Kingsville, Texas in 1972; a Master of Education from Juarez-Lincoln/Antioch Graduate School in Austin, Texas in 1973; and a Master of Art from San Francisco State University in 1981. Her work has been exhibited widely in such venues as the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris in New York, and the Honolulu Academy of Art in Hawaii.

Carmen Lomas Garza,
Flowery Words/Stories, Poems, History, & Wisdom,
1993, 36 x 28,
Collection of the artist,
copyright and courtesy of the artist

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