Linda Vallejo: Brown Power Artist

As an artist, one works towards the answer.  The answer comes through process and the process yields a tangible artistic style which becomes clearer and clearer.  The same can be said for Linda Vallejo's work.  As one looks through her recent project 'Make 'Em All Mexican.' there is this underlying question of what it means to be Mexican.  

Vallejo isn't necessarily giving the viewer answers but opening their eyes to a possible solution.  Vallejo says " If we can see ourselves positively and are less likely to consider how others view us,  we can grow to move ahead."  Viewers have walked up to her sculptures and felt something society has never allowed them to feel, that of acceptance.  Vallejo repurposes porcelain sculptures and copies of iconic paintings found in antique stores like figures of George Washington, The Virgin Mary, the Mona Lisa and even a bust of Superman, to name a few, and painted them all Brown.  Vallejo gives the viewer a new way of seeing themselves as heroes, leaders and even Saints.  But Vallejo also opened up the dialogue about why, in Latino neighborhoods, the stores carry figures that look white?  

'Make 'Em All Mexican' became the catalyst for the question that lead to her most current body of work 'The Brown Dot Project' opening at Salt Fine Art's 'Colectiva 2015' Exhibition in Laguna Beach from June 4 through September 3, 2015. Vallejo asked the question "Keepin' it brown, what would my work look like if I was a minimalist?" 

Vallejo began working on paper and finally found  the answer in translating demographic population data of Latinos living in Los Angeles County to create geometric patterns made up of thousands of brown dots.  These images give the viewer a minimalist perspective of a larger socioeconomic issue.  Vallejo is literally counting one Latino at a time, brown dot by brown dot.  

Vallejo says "The artistic process presents endless questions with an endless series of answers."  One could compare these new works to the geometric Nazca Lines of Peru where the exact numerical value and perspective are imperative.  Both have meaning, both go deeper on closer inspection and both are culturally significant and relevant.  

To see more of Linda's work click any photo below or visit www.lindavallejo.com

And check out her show at Salt Fine Art in Laguna Beach for 'The Brown Dot Project'' opening reception this June 4 at 6pm-9pm.

Vallejo's work has always been about the details, yet now her work is so intricate every mark matters.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Vallejo's work has always been about the details, yet now her work is so intricate every mark matters.  Photo © Aimee Santos

I encourage you as artists, teachers, professionals, parents, philosophers, poets in your own right to follow your own heart regardless of it’s color, race, creed, age, gender. I encourage you to follow your dream, to be selfish about your dream and make your impact on the world and on the community that’s meant for you to do.
— Linda Vallejo during Artist's Talk: "Make 'Em All Mexican"
Every dot counts.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Every dot counts.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Brown colored pencils line up next to Vallejo's 'canvas.'  Vallejo has stripped away the visual layers and is using minimalistic elements for her current body of work.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Brown colored pencils line up next to Vallejo's 'canvas.'  Vallejo has stripped away the visual layers and is using minimalistic elements for her current body of work.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Vallejo sketches her pieces in blue pencil and after the dots have formed the shapes she envisioned she erases the pencil mark.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Vallejo sketches her pieces in blue pencil and after the dots have formed the shapes she envisioned she erases the pencil mark.  Photo © Aimee Santos

The dots have a formula, one that Vallejo meticulously keeps track of with a calculator.  Photo © Aimee Santos

The dots have a formula, one that Vallejo meticulously keeps track of with a calculator.  Photo © Aimee Santos

At a distance one can see the geometric patterns the dots make and as one gets closer the amount of time and effort taken to create is more evident.  Photo © Aimee Santos

At a distance one can see the geometric patterns the dots make and as one gets closer the amount of time and effort taken to create is more evident.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'LA 49.3%' of 'The Brown Dot Project' image courtesy of the artist Linda Vallejo.

'LA 49.3%' of 'The Brown Dot Project' image courtesy of the artist Linda Vallejo.

The question that led me to this new series was, ‘if I were a minimalist painter what would the work look like?’
— Linda Vallejo
'ELA 96.7%' from 'The Brown Dot Project'  Image courtesy of the artist Linda Vallejo.

'ELA 96.7%' from 'The Brown Dot Project'  Image courtesy of the artist Linda Vallejo.

'Hollywood 42.2' from 'The Brown Dot Project'  image courtesy of the artist Linda Vallejo.

'Hollywood 42.2' from 'The Brown Dot Project'  image courtesy of the artist Linda Vallejo.

One of Vallejo's notebooks shows the preplanning detail that goes into each piece.  Photo © Aimee Santos

One of Vallejo's notebooks shows the preplanning detail that goes into each piece.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A figure of a sasquatch lays on its side because it creeps Vallejo out and a binder full of DVD movies that keep her entertained in her studio as she works.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A figure of a sasquatch lays on its side because it creeps Vallejo out and a binder full of DVD movies that keep her entertained in her studio as she works.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Small test pieces lay the ground work for Vallejo's next potential work, Mexican faces on Japanese paper painted with 'Burnt Sienna' Gouache.  

Small test pieces lay the ground work for Vallejo's next potential work, Mexican faces on Japanese paper painted with 'Burnt Sienna' Gouache.  

Burnt Sienna is the color that Vallejo has found does not offend Mexicans.  Photo © Aimee Santos 

Burnt Sienna is the color that Vallejo has found does not offend Mexicans.  Photo © Aimee Santos 

Suddenly instead of brown dots Vallejo felt inspired to work on another piece she had been thinking about that involved Japanese paper and Gouache paints to create elements of the Mexican face.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Suddenly instead of brown dots Vallejo felt inspired to work on another piece she had been thinking about that involved Japanese paper and Gouache paints to create elements of the Mexican face.  Photo © Aimee Santos

The issues and concerns are the same in large and small cities. How we see ourselves and how others see us. How we judge ourselves, our capacity and ability and how others judge us. Color and class issues are everywhere.
— Linda Vallejo
A broken piece of painted ceramic sculpture that had been painted brown was lying around Vallejo's studio yet to be used.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A broken piece of painted ceramic sculpture that had been painted brown was lying around Vallejo's studio yet to be used.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A test palette with q-tips and gouache paint lay out on a table.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A test palette with q-tips and gouache paint lay out on a table.  Photo © Aimee Santos

After moving her pieces from one storage facility to another Vallejo decided there were some pieces she no longer wanted to keep so she destroyed them in her backyard.  Photo © Aimee Santos

After moving her pieces from one storage facility to another Vallejo decided there were some pieces she no longer wanted to keep so she destroyed them in her backyard.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Wednesday, January 21, 2015 Meet the artist and creator of the exhibit "Make 'Em All Mexican: Works by Linda Vallejo." This exhibition at the Chicano Studies Research Center Library features works from Vallejo's acclaimed Make 'Em All Mexican series, plus excerpts from critical essays, publications that feature the series, and objects from the CSRC's portfolio on the artist in its collections.

Surrounding Vallejo as she works on her newest project sit pieces of her last project 'Make Em All Mexican' in which she painted traditional porcelain figures brown.  In a way this project has merely evolved into the dots.  Brown is still important.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Surrounding Vallejo as she works on her newest project sit pieces of her last project 'Make Em All Mexican' in which she painted traditional porcelain figures brown.  In a way this project has merely evolved into the dots.  Brown is still important.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Born in Boyle Heights, a culturally rich neighborhood of Los Angeles, Vallejo has lived and traveled throughout the world.  As a professional grant writer Vallejo also teaches the art to anyone interested in learning.  Vallejo says about her Grant Writing work 'You know art doesn’t make money it spends money.  You have to have money coming from somewhere to be able to buy supplies.'  In fact it was her profession that allowed her to visit Galleries and Museums all over the United States that gave her inspiration for 'Make 'Em All Mexican' after noticing artists utilizing repurposed art and later realizing why can't they be brown.

'La Pieta' from 'Make 'Em All Mexican' project by Linda Vallejo.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'La Pieta' from 'Make 'Em All Mexican' project by Linda Vallejo.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'El Andy' from 'Make 'Em All Mexican' project by Linda Vallejo.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'El Andy' from 'Make 'Em All Mexican' project by Linda Vallejo.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Make 'Em All Mexican' pieces wait on the counter to be placed inside Vallejo's home while she works on her new body of work.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Make 'Em All Mexican' pieces wait on the counter to be placed inside Vallejo's home while she works on her new body of work.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Deborah Lynn Irmas: Pictorial Seamstress

Glitter! The word itself incites a smile and is synonymous with laughter and fun.  All these things are felt when looking at the art of Deborah Lynn Irmas, an artist based at the Santa Monica Art Studios in Santa Monica, CA.  Her trajectory has had many turns but she always found herself drawn towards art in more ways than one.  

After graduating from UCLA with a degree in Fine Art Irmas began her art career as a Graphic Designer but when the profession moved towards computers she decided to go back to school to keep up with the change.  However, the environment of new technology and a new generation of graphic designers who learned graphics and not really design became unappealing to Irmas.  After taking classes in printmaking and painting Irmas found a figure drawing class which gave rise to a suggestion that she might look into a part time profession as a personal trainer and so we are at the present day. 

It makes sense though, for anyone who has taken a drawing class and been around art that the human proportions are the hardest to draw and studying the muscle structure and manipulating it on paper would, in a way, lead to manipulating it in the gym.  Fascinating trajectory really!  

Day job aside Irmas describes some of her pieces has having a masculine and feminine balance to them with the clean painted canvas surrounding the glitter covered pins at the center.  One can see there is a balance to her work, one that speaks in both color palette and composition.  However an off shoot of her work developed one day while working on the glitter pins, through the wiping off of excess glitter from her fingers to a canvas.  This element of chaos, in opposition to her ordered pieces, was seen as a compliment to her existing body of work.  The smears now grace sections of her paintings and at times can become a piece on their own.  If one looks closely at her piece 'My Heart Can Stay' they will notice the presence of the glitter smears gliding up and off the canvas, as if they are running off to another job.

In addition to her 2D work Irmas also sews on fabric, a fascination inspired at a young age while watching her Salvadorian mother sew elaborate dresses on a fixed income.  The beauty of textile can be understated or glamorous depending on the creator and with Irmas she combined the two using her minimalistic aesthetics of painting and the glamor of textile glitter.  

In conversation with Irmas it was discovered that throughout one's life we learn lessons and it's not always clear as to their purpose.  But as one lives and works the answers become clear, almost as if M. Night Shyamalan wrote it, that the skills we learn can be applied with greater purpose later in life.

To commission your own glitter pin piece contact Deborah Lynn Irmas via her website at www.deborahlynnirmas.com  and follow her on instagram

To see Deborah Lynn Irmas' work in person visit the following locations here in Southern California!

MOLAA (Museum of Latin American Art) Auction Exhibition- April 29th

SMMOA (Santa Monica Museum of Art) Incognito 2015 - May 2nd

Venice Art Walk - May 17th

A detail of glitter smears that Irmas wiped off during the application process of glitter on pins, the cleansing palette soon became an artwork of it's own.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A detail of glitter smears that Irmas wiped off during the application process of glitter on pins, the cleansing palette soon became an artwork of it's own.  Photo © Aimee Santos

It feels like there is this sense of control within your work.  Do you feel there is a sense of visual control happening in some of your pieces?

Yes, there is definitely a sense of control in my work.  The funny thing is, I don't plan that.  I always start loosely and I try not to have any sense of what direction I am going in, but somehow my pieces end up very controlled and often times very minimal.   I would have to say that this is my art identity.  It is nothing planned.  If I were to plan my pieces out, I don't think they would read the same way to the viewer.  I believe in "just doing".  No thinking beforehand and let the creative process take its course. It is very difficult to work this way sometimes. I have learned this invaluable lesson from my teacher Tom Wudl.  

'My Heart Can Stay' by Deborah Lynn Irmas.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

'My Heart Can Stay' by Deborah Lynn Irmas.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

Multiple canvas' around Irmas' studio lean up agains the wall prepped and ready for paint yet a solo piece smaller than the rest stands out as if ready to be hung.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Multiple canvas' around Irmas' studio lean up agains the wall prepped and ready for paint yet a solo piece smaller than the rest stands out as if ready to be hung.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A detail of a piece show exactly how detail oriented Irmas' work is.  As a true artist would Irmas follows a strict color palette and applies glitter to the heads of pins using only her fingers to make sure even the bottom of the pins have been covered.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A detail of a piece show exactly how detail oriented Irmas' work is.  As a true artist would Irmas follows a strict color palette and applies glitter to the heads of pins using only her fingers to make sure even the bottom of the pins have been covered.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Pins 1' by Deborah Lynn Irmas.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

'Pins 1' by Deborah Lynn Irmas.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

You mentioned that some of your pieces have a masculine and feminine balance to them.  Which elements do you see them as and what makes you think that about your own work?

Yes, I do feel that my pieces have a feminine and masculine balance to them.  My panels with the squares cut out of the center are heavy and they are 3" deep. This makes me feel that they are masculine.  I often add glitter in some way because I think it has a feminine quality and the two give my work balance.  I'm not really sure why I think that about my work. I have always felt the balance between masculine and feminine makes my work interesting.  If a piece is too heavy and strong, I feel it's masculine and if it's too light and soft, it's feminine. I try to combine these two to balance my work.  Maybe it's because I was a figurative artist to start and as I became an abstract artist, I have kept the feeling of both sexes working together, like a sort of love story that the viewer probably does not see.

From above Irmas stacks out finely bottled glitter, a process she has found through trial and error.  Photo © Aimee Santos

From above Irmas stacks out finely bottled glitter, a process she has found through trial and error.  Photo © Aimee Santos

You work as a personal trainer, which is a 180 to the world you are surrounded by.  How did this life choice come about and do you see either world influencing the other, meaning do you get inspired at the gym to create in the studio or vice versa?

I work as a fitness trainer. Well I began as a graphic artist after I graduated from art school.  After years of graphic design, the field became all computerized.  Once the people element was taken out of my work, I lost some interest.  I have always needed a balance of the real world and the art world.  Art can be very isolating and I love it.  But I also need energy and people to be part of my life so I can stay happy in my isolation.  I have always loved the body, and as I said earlier, I was doing a lot of figurative work, mainly monotypes.  The combination of drawing or painting a model and doing fitness training seemed to make perfect sense.  They were both about the body.  Both art and fitness require the skill of mindfulness. I decided at some point to quit graphic design, get an art studio and eventually get certified as a personal fitness trainer.  It is an unusual combination, but it works well for me.   I definitely have a creative influence in my training style.   And vice versa, some of the organizational principles in training have helped me with my art.  But I have to be careful not to carry my training world (my rational self) into my art world (my irrational self). That can be a constant struggle as an artist.

A finished art piece shows just how many details are involved, from the heads of the pins to the placement to the canvas they stand in.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A finished art piece shows just how many details are involved, from the heads of the pins to the placement to the canvas they stand in.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Starburst 2' by Deborah Lynn Irmas.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

'Starburst 2' by Deborah Lynn Irmas.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hand stitching gave Irmas the freedom she needed for a different textile piece that was obviously inspired by the pins.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Hand stitching gave Irmas the freedom she needed for a different textile piece that was obviously inspired by the pins.  Photo © Aimee Santos

For each pin Irmas applies glue to the head of the pin and dips it in a jar of glitter but it is only with the precision of her fingers that she can attain the look she wants in the end.  Photo © Aimee Santos

For each pin Irmas applies glue to the head of the pin and dips it in a jar of glitter but it is only with the precision of her fingers that she can attain the look she wants in the end.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Glitter is an important material that you use in your pieces.  And when you say or hear the word ‘glitter’ it almost inspires a smile.  Do you think your inclusion of such a ‘happy’ material is inspiring the viewer to smile on some level?  And what does glitter mean to you?  Why did you start using it?

Yes! Glitter is happy!  It's an interesting material because of its "crafty" like quality.  Because of that, I have to fight with it and take it out of its natural element.  I like glitter because it's simply pretty.  I grew up with very little so as I got older, pretty, beautiful and elegant things made me happy.  Although, I don't think of glitter as elegant, I think the way I use it in my pieces allows them to feel that way.  I always have loved anything that sparkles.  I use a lot of house paint in my work and because of its minimal and flat quality, I am then drawn to glitter to give my pieces the opposite effect.  It's the opposites attract principle.  I definitely respond to that.  I would hope the viewer does too.  

Irmas drapes a section of fabric she has been working on.  It's evident the two mediums have similar aesthetics with circular shapes standing in for the glitter pins.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Irmas drapes a section of fabric she has been working on.  It's evident the two mediums have similar aesthetics with circular shapes standing in for the glitter pins.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Your mother was El Salvadorian and an avid seamstress.  What was your exposure to her sewing and how do you think it has overlapped into the art you now make?

My mother made a lot of my clothes.  But not everyday wear.  She always made me beautiful clothes...like a beautiful coat or an elegant long dress.  When I would come home from school, my mom would always be doing one of two things, either painting or sewing. So I was exposed to this every week, almost everyday.  If she was not sewing for me, then she was sewing for herself.  I loved being with her and watching how she did everything.  She would show me, but I was never interested in sewing from a pattern.  I think I finally found my outlet in sewing with my art.  I feel free when I sew..when I am in the creative process.  Making a dress or a skirt required skill and patience, but sewing my art pieces allowed me to be free of all that.  My mom absolutely inspired me and helped me find this path.  I've named many of my pieces "Violetta" in honor of her.

Photo © Aimee Santos

Photo © Aimee Santos

How important do you feel it is that art remains in schools and inspires the next generation of potential artists?

As an artist, I would have to say it is very important, so important that without it, it would almost be considered criminal.  Every one of us is creative.  Every one of us should have a chance to express his or her creativity.  Even for those who don't aspire to become an artist, art in schools is important.  Art is about creativity.  It is about mindfulness.  It is about personal expression.  And that is important for all people in all fields.   Learning how to tap into your own personal creativity is a very important thing in life. It will keep you happy whether you are a practicing artist, a hobbyist artist or in an all-together different field.  I can only hope that art is put back into any program that it has been taken out of.   All young people deserve a chance for personal expression.