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Carmen Lomas Garza: A Retrospective

by Mary Jane Garza

The San Antonio Museum of Art set a new record of attendance for an opening recently with the exhibit: "Carmen Lomas Garza: A Retrospective". Attended by almost 1,500 people the June 3 public reception, which was held in conjunction with a "Free Family Day," featured activities common to those depicted in Garza's visual-narrative style art. Cold slices of watermelon were served to exhibit visitors, reminding one of the popular painting "Sandia," which portrays family members enjoying a south Texas summer evening on their front porch while sharing watermelon. Music, dancing, book making projects for kids, and a cake walk with desserts decorated with sugary loteria cards also made up the afternoon festivities. With works dating from the mid-1970s to the present, including more than 30 paintings, 12 papel picados and two large-scale metal cutouts, the show represents this San Francisco, California based artist's first retrospective exhibit.

Garza, originally from Kingsville, Texas, noted that the exhibition in San Antonio was like a family reunion for south Texans, touching collective memories of family and community. Garza spoke about her art and the events and people that have influenced her work. She recalled suffering racist incidents that left her "confused, introverted and angry" by the time she graduated from high school. He commitment to painting positive images of Mexican-American culture is a direct result of those childhood experiences. "I didn't want to draw the workers in the fields," said Garza "because it was something painful to see and painful for me too&A lot of the Chicano artists were doing works like that but nobody was doing anything that dealt with just everyday life, and that's what I wanted to concentrate on." Coming from a position of affirmation rather than resistance, she concentrated her efforts instead on promoting a sense of pride in Mexican-Americans communities. As a result, her art reaffirms and celebrates family, ceremony and tradition.
Garza's oil, gouache, and acrylic painting are intentionally rendered in a naïve, folk-art style to convey her message. Clothing and background are filled with bright colors and intricate patterns polka dots, flowers, leaves and wavy hair. Many of the paintings depcit actual family members, friends and neighbors. In Cakewalk (1997), neighbors gather over a long table filled with cakes, talk in small groups, or walk around the chalked circle.
This game, part of a community event raise money to send Mexican-American children to college, exemplifies the supportive spirit of the community. Her elaborately detailed figures have a magical, storybook quality which evoke memories of childhood picture books. In fact. Garza has published for bilingual children's books: Family's Pictures/ Cuadros de Familia (1990), In My Family / E m familia (1996). Making Magic Windows
(199),and Magic Windows/Ventanas Magicas (1999), all published by Children's Book Press, in San Francisco. Her books remain the Press's most popular sellers.