donna fischer | the artist next door | march 2018
There are many captivating parts of the collection that make up, “Estamos Aqui; Celebrating Latino Identity in Northeast Wisconsin" at the Neville Public Museum. The exhibit weaves together personal stories, sociological studies, customs and art for an exploration of Hispanic people and their culture. Translated, “We Are Here," the exhibit offers an introductory step toward a better understanding for those who view Hispanic people from a distance, perhaps through the filter of preconceived notions.
Of the artistic offerings in the collection, one person's work stands out for its boldness, its magnetism. Maura Vazquez has two large paintings in “Estamos Aqui" that almost call out the words, “We Are Here, Look At Us." Each painting features a close-up view of a face, in this case the face of her husband, Pedro, and daughter Isabel. These portraits seem to radiate emotion with their honest expressions. Isabel was just a baby at the time, her face one of fresh beauty and curiosity. Pedro's face has an easy smile and a sparkle in his eyes. These paintings easily draw the viewer in and Vazquez has captured something in her portraits that only artists can: she has conveyed their humanity in her work.
These two paintings are part of a series of five portraits Vazquez created in 2011 for her studies at the University of Wisconsin — Green Bay. On her way to earning her masters in art, she learned a style of painting with acrylics that involves many layers of paint. The finished painting has a vibrancy that is comparable to oil colors. The five pieces took all of nine months to complete. Along with her husband and daughter, Vazquez painted portraits of her other three children.
“To me they are unfinished, but there is a point where you have to say, okay, I'm not going to paint anything anymore," says Vazquez.
According to Vazquez, such a huge project came with a price.
“There were long hours and as much as I was trying to pay tribute to (my family), that specific style that I was using to paint it was so time-consuming that during those nine months, I spent a lot of time away from them," she explains.
“I kept thinking, 'God, you know how much they need me and how much I need them and yet here I am away from them.' And so there were times when I was working and I didn't want to continue, and I just kept thinking, 'Okay, every brush stroke counts and I give it to you, Lord, and let it become the love that I have for them and the thanksgiving that I don't know how else to give you.'"
Vazquez offers insight into her faith quite readily, and she insists her gift is from God. When asked about painting religious subjects, like recognized saints, she hesitates and then suggests that she is more interested in finding the saint in the people she meets every day.
With her abundant artistic skill on display in the two portraits at the Neville, it comes as a bit of a shock to learn that Vazquez is not painting at the moment, nor does she have any immediate plans to do so. A busy mom and wife, with a demanding but rewarding job, she simply doesn't have time to work on her art. Is she going to pick up painting again?
“I know I am," says Vazquez smiling. “I don't think it's going to go away."
She hints that her work as a faith formation leader may give her inspiration for future portraits.
Another surprise comes when Vazquez admits that she first began painting when she studied at UWGB.
“Prior to college I didn't have the opportunity," Vazquez says. “In high school, we did drawing and it was small-scale."
Born in Mexico City, as a child her family couldn't afford paints for her. With a smile she recalls how she pretended to be a painter when she was quite young.
“I knew that desire was there. I saw myself painting murals — working big. In Mexico City the murals are everywhere. That's why I'm not worried; I know that time is going to come and I know I am going to be painting."
Having her work included in an exhibit like “Estamos Aqui" means a great deal to Vazquez. Her only regret is that there isn't room for the other portraits of her children.
Before moving to Green Bay, she lived in East Los Angeles. She asks me if I know what that area is like. I understand what she means, if only from impressions from movies I've seen. To Vazquez, Green Bay is just big enough, but not too big of a city in which to raise a family. She feels Hispanic people are putting down roots here and that's a good thing. And perhaps one day down the road Vazquez will pick up her paints again and that would be a good thing, too.
“Estamos Aqui" runs through the end of April 2018 at the Neville Public Museum.
Donna Fischer is an avid fan of music, film and art. When she's not writing on these subjects you'll find her gardening or snowshoeing around Green Bay.