My first memory of painting was at four years of age and it has continued as my life's dedication. My goal as an artist is to consolidate multiple, international influences gained from a life of study and travel throughout Europe, the United States, and Mexico.
I call my artist process "alchemy," where diverse and contrary influences can be brought together to conceptualize and create an image. As I continue in my artistic process I find that there is no limit to the number of possible influences, ideas, or images. This concept of limitless choices is essential to the postmodern experience. In my "alchemic search" I find that multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, multi-cultural images best describe my experience, vision and views of the modern world.
For over 20 years (1980-2006) my painting and sculpture described a fundamental and metamorphic relationship with nature. These early works were influenced by my study and experience of ancient culture, architecture, and symbols. I completed hundreds of fantastic realism landscape paintings and earth-based sculptures made of found tree fragment and handmade paper. Finally, I combined these paintings and sculptures into a three-dimensional presentation entitled A Prayer for the Earth Eco Installation.
Four years ago I began developing a completely new series of mixed media sculptures and collages focusing on biting and comic social and political satire.
This exciting change came after extended visits to China, New York and several other major cities in the U.S. It is my custom to include museums and galleries in my itinerary to get a sense of what is happening in the national and international art scene. On these trips I noticed a growing trend from the mundane to the fantastic—sculpture made of pre-produced objects, wildly untamed images created from found objects put to fascinating new uses, photographic collages combining digital work and hand drawn forms, and images that juxtaposed seemingly contrary cultural symbols and icons. In New York I encountered the work of Mexican artist Abraham Cruz-Villegas who used wire clothes hangers to create a lyrical floating white sculpture reminiscent of Alexander Calder. Photographer Wang Qing-Song re-purposed Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus using a staged photograph with Chinese models. Ana Mendieta’s solo exhibition at the Hirshhorn in Washington DC thoroughly moved me. I was fascinated by her ability to combine what appeared to be incongruent media to create an expressive whole.
After seeing these works and hundreds more, my thought and creative processes began to shift. I found myself ruminating, “I’m a person of the world. What would the world of contemporary images look like from my own personal Mexican-American, Chicano lens?” “How would I combine new media or juxtapose incongruous forms to create an image particular to myself and my heritage?” I became enthralled with images that incorporated a specific cultural viewpoint in interpreting contemporary political, social and environmental issues.
I began asking myself, “What would these images look like from a Latino/Mexican/Chicano point of view?” “How would contemporary cutting edge media and message appear from the angle of a California Chicana?” I found myself randomly collecting newspaper articles, found object, and pre-produced/manufactured items without knowing exactly what I would do with them.
Suddenly the impulse arrived and I completed my first series of post-production sculpture and collage. Now this impulse has gone haywire and I am in the thralls of developing a new series of work entitled Make ‘Em All Mexican where an entire universe of icons, both sacred and pop imagery in two and three dimensions, have suddenly become Latino. I am asking for a grant to help push this work into a realm of creation that I have never experienced before.
Mixed media, post-production work requires me to use every skill and ability that I have in my art arsenal. I am pushing my “creative envelope” by envisioning an entirely new comic and political message using new forms of media and context that are new to me thematically. I have completed many Make ‘Em All Mexican collages, books, and sculptures with the funds requested.
This work presses my creative brain into producing images of biting satire that de-construct time-honored images to create a new cultural icon. I believe that I have found a way to describe the Latino/Mexican-American/Chicano conundrum, condition, and attitude that we face in “living the American dream.” The viewer is cajoled into envisioning their imaginary and wished-for political and social status and then forced to face the reality of their predicament. Yet, these new works are wickedly funny, causing the viewer to laugh and then apologize for ‘thinking it’s a joke.”
This impassioned yearning came from a realization that visual representations of the American dream somehow did not include me, or my loved ones. It came to me that I had never seen the golden images of Americana with familiar faces—friendly faces, sure, but not familiar ones. I found myself furiously painting directly on antique photographs and figurines to deconstruct iconic images to create an America that included me. I began aimlessly browsing antique malls to find images that I could “call my own.”
When I discovered a full color antique image of the Queen Mother, I marveled to myself, “I found her.” There she was, decked in emeralds and diamonds, with a glistening tiara, surrounded by the beauty of the palace. This is how I see my grandmother, even though she came from poverty and only had a fourth grade education; to me she will always be a queen, “Mi Reina.”
Make ‘Em All Mexican carries a strong electric charge. To some viewers, the images are hyper-political; for others, they are emotional portals to a past remembered and sometimes forgotten; and for another group, they are just down right hilarious.
Make ‘Em All Mexican is definitely strange and unfamiliar. Recently on television I saw sculptor Richard Serra. He stated that the work of the artist is not necessarily to create the unique, but rather “the unfamiliar.” I have re-created a familiar world to create a new unfamiliar image, one that is unfamiliar to everyone that’s not Mexican.
WHAT CRITICS, HISTORIANS, COLLECTORS, AND CURATORS SAY ABOUT MEAM
William Moreno, Curator and Critic
Vallejo has been collecting tchotchkes. Not just any tchotchkes – the Yiddish term for functionally questionable objects – this carefully selected assemblage services her biting artistic vision. The focus of her newest suite of works titled Make ‘Em All Mexican, is anything but subtle. Conceptually-informed, poignant and ironic, she melds populist cultural conventions and racial politics into an edgy brew, adroitly tapping into that nebulous space between anger and laughter.
Gordon Fuglie, Curator
Amidst the roiling national debate about American identity, veteran California Latina artist Linda Vallejo creates a realm in which US popular culture is overlain with a Mexican-American sensibility. Gleefully raiding the world of classic commercial images of middle class WASP life, Vallejo gives common American icons a new sabor or flavor. The result is the satirical series Make ‘Em All Mexican.
Armando Durón, Collector
The experience of Vallejo’s art causes one to wonder at its effectiveness in calling us to question the premises upon which we have built our lives as middle-class professionals. In Make “Em All Mexican we find albums of recovered memory revised to make us realize just how ephemeral our lifestyle is—and just how deep runs our fear that we might not ever fully arrive into the dominant narrative of American success, a fear that was seared into us through the onslaught of popular images that never truly reflected our culture; that never allowed us to fully see ourselves in those happy portraits of success and beauty represented by those smart clothes, those ceramic cherubs, those beautiful movie stars.
Dr. Karen Mary Davalos, Historian and Curator
Vallejo's series is quietly disorienting. It fiercely defies closure and invokes uncertainty. In her hands, Mexicans are not simply the dominant public image, they are the only public face on the Western visual landscape.
Marlena Donohue, Editor, Art Limited Magazine, Los Angeles, California
Vallejo’s exaggerated clichés here seem deliberate, designed to remind us that however much myriad identities/realities are marketed both in academia and consumer culture as the new ‘post race’ norm, the ideology of racial dominance continues.