Celebrating Art, Life, and El Dia De Los Muertos with Artist Linda Vallejo

by Judi Jordan

Linda Vallejo is that rare bird; a happy artist.  
It shows in her work, which is complex in rich color and masterful technique, and yet simple in subject matter.
It also shows in her life.

Linda Vallejo is a perfectionist, but she does not let that get in the way of living. Married for twenty-five years to Ron, a self-effacing, successful contractor, whom Linda met at LAX—“I picked him up," she chuckles. "I asked him what his sign was. How corny was that?" Linda and Ron are obviously, still `crazy about each other.' Ron looks mildly embarrassed by Linda's statement, but he also looks happy. They Nave a comfortable complicity, like partners in crime, or middle-aged teenagers.

They have two sons, 15 and 17, who Linda talks about in metaphors: She calls them `giants who eat like Vikings,' and who are `like the trolls at the bridge, every time you pass they're asking you for twenty bucks.' She says this all with a huge smile; it's obvious that she loves her sons dearly, in fact, she loves life dearly and wants to make every minute count.

But that does not mean that she rushes her work.

Her masterwork series, Los Cielos, a celestial body of over fifty works depicting, you guessed it, the heavens, took over five years to paint.

Linda has a Masters in Fine Arts from California State University in Long Beach. She began her journey as an artist twenty six years ago. A score of prestigious shows later, Linda’s work has hung in high places. Among those are the Armand Hammer Museum, The Museum of Modem Art in New York City, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Bronx Museum, The Carnegie Museum in Oxnard bought three pieces. Add to that, The Art Museum of South Texas, Mexico City Modern Art Museum, Santa Monica Museum, the Anchorage Museum of Art and History and others.

L.A. Times art critic Leah Ollman compared Linda’s piece 'Eternal Seed' to Georgia O'Keefe for its lush sensuality. Art collector Armando Duron refers to Linda's work as `some of the most indigenous-based Chicano art of Los Angeles artists.'

According to the Aztecs, the painter was of utmost importance in society because she/he was the master of symbolism. More importantly, however, before an artist began to paint it was necessary that they learn how to converse with their heart, to become one with a heart rooted in God.' [Miguel Leon Portilla, author, Aztec Thought and Culture. University of Oklahoma Press]

Linda has consistently exhibited a strong connection to Nature and the Divine, through in her work, but she hasn't always been comfortable talking about it. `A couple of years ago, I decided that I was no longer not talking about spirit when it came to art. `I have always produced work that had spiritual intention but in the art world that has really not been something you've been welcome to talk about.'

There is a season for everything. And a time for every purpose under Heaven. With the tragic events of September 11th, hardboiled art critics may be more ready to admit the need for art to offer something more uplifting than what's been lauded; 'cutting edge fare', self-conscious 'confessional art', designed to shock, confuse and provoke may be less welcome.

As we go to war, very few people are going to want sharks pickled in formaldehyde.

Wouldn't you rather draw solace from a gorgeously rendered sky, knowing that tomorrow is no longer a promise, but a prayer?

" I always say that al¡ artists work from the spirit, but very few of them know it. What I'm most interested in, in terms of spiritual work are the actions. It's important to dedicate your work to an ideal, it adds meaning and gusto." Linda admits;

" I don't have visions, I don't have dreams; I'm a hard worker. What I try to do is share the universal spiritual experience. I believe that we are actually, literally seeing the struggle between the `old world' [family] and the `new world' [technology], today. Literally seeing it. We as Latinos are caught in the middle. Latinos are very loving people, humble, hardworking, we care for our children, our parents. This is what we have to contribute to the spiritual, global community."

Comfort is what America seeks, we want to feel that we are resting in the hand of God; under divine protection, with the reassurance that "Eternity" is not just the name of a designer perfume. We want sincerity, mastery of technique; beauty. That's what Linda’s work delivers.

" It's important to dedicate your life to an ideal, it helps you to become more prolific. I just turned 50. I decided if I'm gonna paint big I better do it now. To help support her family and buy the land they are building the house of their dreams on, she's been teaching grant writing, for the last twenty years. Now she's doing it online. She has an enormous amount of discipline, an essential for balancing artistic productivity with mothering and nurturing outside of her immediate world.

A real Chicana Earth Mother, Linda has spent a lot of time with women in prison; "It's about action; the ceremonies I've helped to support, it's as much a part of my life as my family, and my painting." She helps the incarcerated to understand and heal themselves through art and ceremony. Some of their handiwork is on her personal altar; the beaded Condor feather holders that celebrate underscore her Mexican /Indian connection.

“ Im Chicana, and Apache; Tarahumara Indian," says the artist.

Linda conducted services in prisons with Native American Medicine women. They [The Indians] never asked her for "credentials."

It wasn't necessary.

A big believer in ceremony, and ritual, Linda has helped assemble a very special Dia De Los Muertos program for SPARC [Social and Public Art Resource Center] that will draw together Latinos, Chicanos, and art buffs who gravitate to SPARC’s culturally aware, informative Art Experiences.

Linda stresses that this is not an art exhibition. "This is something very personal and real,' an invitation to participate in honoring those in the other realms."

On Saturday, November 3rd, El Dia De Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead celebration, begins at 2pm with a community altar, where everyone is encouraged to place photographs and flowers in honor of family. There will be a lecture, by Lara Medina, assistant professor of religious studies at Cal State, Northridge, entitled "Communion with the Dead", examining the significance of Dias De Los Muertos in the lives of Chicanos and Mexicanos in East L.A..

The afternoon will be filled with song, and ceremonial dance, featuring performances by Cuicani, Flores de Atzlan Dance Troupe, Tribal groups from Southern California will present songs, accompanied by gourd rattles, and clapping sticks.

The day ends with a candlelight vigil. This celebration is open to the public, and free. Planning events like these takes time, thought and energy.

Linda is extremely generous, with her time, her thoughts, her support. It is linked to the expression of her personal abundance. "A lot of people speak about abundance, how do I bring abundance into my life? I found for myself that if one dedicates the reason for abundance to something worthwhile, then the energies open up and allow it to happen. So I asked the Creator for the resources to be able to build this home, and I said to the Creator, if this is what you would like for me to do, I am willing to do the work. I promise that if I do this work, my family will always be welcome, my prayer circle will always be welcome and the artist community will find a place where they can come and speak about art. Once I dedicated for a reason, it began to open up.'

It's the same with her painting.

" I don't believe in forcing imagery, I can't paint like that. It has to come from my internal expression. I discovered that I spent twice as much time looking at the painting as I as I do painting. People say, `how do you know when you're done?' My Answer? When I see the light."

Full Moon at Midnight, 1997, acrylic en caneas, 40"x30"
Standing Spirits, 1997, acrylic on caneas, 40"x30"
Father Sky. Mother Earth, 2000 40"x30"
Eternal Seed, 2000, oil on caneas, 72"x48"

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