Vallejo and Los Cielos: Reaching for the Heavens
By Susan Rinderle
When we gaze up into the sunlit sky, we see an expanse of
blue and think of flight, clean air and limitless possibilities. By night,
we witness an indigo eternity sprinkled with distant stars, full of romance,
dreams and the unknown.
Although each person may observe something different and feel distinctly,
we all see and feel something profound in the heavens. Such is the premise
behind Linda Vallejo’s Los Cielos/The Heavens, the artist’s
latest, most stunning suite of paintings on display at the Social and Public
Art Resource Center (SPARC) Gallery in Venice, California, September 30
through November 4, 2000. Selected from approximately fifty pieces
in the suite, the exhibit invites the viewer to connect with collective
human consciousness through Vallejo’s two decades of experience with
indigenous ceremony, nature and personal healing through both, manifested
in glorious images of the sky, at turns tempestuous and dark or peaceful
and serene, sometimes graced with human forms.
A classically trained painter with an MFA from California State University
at Long Beach who has traveled, studied and exhibited her work across the
U.S. and in Europe and Mexico, Vallejo says she is not interested in playing
mind games with herself or her audience by over-intellectualizing her work.
Instead, her main inspiration comes from nature and she strives to express
experience – namely the experience of indigenous ceremony in the
case of Los Cielos.
Indigenous ceremony is central to the spiritual core Vallejo has striven
to build for herself since she decided to become a painter at age seven.
She studied Maya and Aztec dance for several years and has participated
in and supported Chicano and Native American ceremonies in California,
South Dakota and Arizona. She has provided sweat lodge ceremony to the
women of the California prison systems, including 14 years of service to
the Native American Religious Society of the California Rehabilitation
Center in Norco.
In her Los Cielos series, Vallejo does not aim to record the accoutrements
or artifacts of ceremony, but rather strives to transfer the feeling of
ceremony and resulting emotional and spiritual growth onto canvas. Such
feeling is often indescribable in words, but easily recognized by kindred
spirits. “The women who I sweat with and do ceremonies with understand
[these paintings] immediately,” she says, “I could explain
them for two hours using art history, but that’s not important.” She
reports that people experience a wide range of emotions and share personal
stories upon viewing Los Cielos images.
Vallejo, 49, has an impressive resume including national awards, mention
in major publications, teaching and lecturing positions at universities
and museums throughout California, and exhibits at venues such as the Armand
Hammer Museum, Museum of Modem Art New York, and the Mexico City Modem
Art Museum. However, she believes Los Cielos is the culmination of her
development as an artist thus far.
One of the reasons is the technical discipline the paintings demanded.
Vallejo says her academic training and decades of painting experience did
not prepare her to paint the sky. Annual trips to Hawaii to gaze at the
heavens for each of the six years she has dedicated to Los Cielos provide
necessary stimulation since she abandoned painting from photos four years
ago and her native Los Angeles skies fail to inspire. Vallejo says she
didn’t realize how many colors were in the sky until she tried to
paint it, and doing so is painstaking; each acrylic on canvas and masonite
painting in Los Cielos regardless of size took twelve to eighteen months
to complete and involves over 100 layers of paint. One, “Full Moon,” particularly
frustrated her until she mixed an “ugly, Frankenstein, dirty army
truck” green on her palette which supplied the finishing touch on
a mysterious midnight sky.
Another challenge for Vallejo was painting large canvases, as most artists
agree that painting big and painting well is extremely difficult. The Los
Cielos pieces range in size from intimate 8 X 10s to expansive five-by-seven-foot
images. However, curators and collectors alike testify that Vallejo’s
work is high quality. “I have made an intense effort to express myself
and I have been successful, even on a large scale and in a difficult medium,” she
Los Cielos is also pivotal in Vallejo’s maturation as an artist because
through these works she has finally achieved her goal of touching the viewer
through art and speaking to universal strains in all people. “Beauty
is the answer for me, as an artist and as a woman,” she says. “So
much in the world is tragedy. And the place I find beauty is nature. “ Perhaps
it is no accident then that universal, natural, indigenous themes such
as the four elements – fire, earth, air and water – are a common
theme in Vallejo’s work, and that the Los Cielos paintings emphasize
and synthesize the four elements and their intimate, powerful relationship. “Anyone
can paint a sky,” says Vallejo, “But here it’s the emotional
context. These are beautiful paintings, but they give a feeling, and that
feeling is from nature and ceremony combined with technical [painting]
SPARC, a well-respected center for community art and social advocacy since
1976, is the ideal venue to display Vallejo’s culminating suite of
works. SPARC founder and Artistic Director Judy Baca approached long-time
friend Vallejo at a local art opening about doing a one-woman show at SPARC
as part of a series of one-person shows hosted by the gallery this year.
Vallejo enthusiastically accepted. “SPARC is a Chicano icon,” she
says, “As a woman of color, I have few opportunities to have a one-woman
show in my own community. It’s wonderful to be supported by
Judy Baca, and I’m among good company.” The “good company” includes
renowned figures in the Chicano/Latino art world scheduled to appear at
SPARC this year such as Baca herself and Willie Herrón.
Meanwhile, Vallejo is still working on Los Cielos. “I’m done
when I’m done,” she says. “I’ve never struggled
so hard with anything in my life, but a really good painting takes time.
I’m not satisfied until I’m satisfied.” But more projects
involving the heavens peek over the horizon. Vallejo and her family are
moving to Topanga Canyon this year, where she will have more regular access
to nature and after-dark views of the Milky Way. “I imagine myself
sitting beneath the sky and soaking it up to see what comes out,” she
says. “I have to experience life, not intellectualize it, I have
to see and do, experience my environment and let it brew. It takes time.”
For more information, contact Linda Vallejo at (562) 423-6204 or SPARC
at (310) 822-9560 or visit Linda’s exhibit on SPARC’s Web site
Rinderle has over 15 years of personal and professional experience in
the area of intercultural and interracial relations. She has worked as
worker, social programs coordinator, high school teacher, community mediator,
and journalist. She has lived, studied, researched, managed a university
program, and done business consulting in Mexico. Susan currently provides
services related to international intercultural relations, domestic diversity
and conflict resolution, with an emphasis on Mexico and U.S. Latinos.
She is fluent in English and Spanish. Ms. Rinderle holds a B.A. in Sociology
(magna cum laude).
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