Kingsville, Texas: 1948Present
Carmen Lomas Garza knew she wanted to be an artist when she was thirteen years old. She did not have access to art lessons, so she resolved to teach herself. She went to the library and checked out and read every book she could about art. She also practiced drawing every day--she drew pictures of people she saw at school, at home, and in her neighborhood, even drew her pets. By the time she reached high school, she had developed an impressive portfolio of work.
Within the close-knit Mexican American community of Kingsville, Texas, Carmen received love and encouragement from her family and from a broad range of friends and neighbors. But when she ventured outside the comfort of her community, she experienced prejudice. The Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s helped give her new pride in her mixed Native American and Spanish ancestry. In college she decided to dedicate her art to the Mexican American community to show her gratitude and celebrate her rich mestizo heritage.
Carmen hoped that by painting positive Mexican American activities, her art might help eliminate the racism she experienced as a child. Her paintings focus on joyful childhood memories of her everyday life with her family, as well as on community festivals and events. Some of her earliest paintings depict her grandfather and her in the garden. Others depict dinner at her house and couples dancing at a party. All of Carmen’s artwork incorporates monitos (little figures), a term she learned from her grandmother. Her monitosinclude her brother and sister, parents, grandparents, and others. She also depicts the family cat and even the lizard she would sometimes see crawling on the porch.
When Carmen was in college she decided to paint a modern version of the Lotería game she often played with her family and neighbors. Her mother insisted she follow tradition. New players must make their own cards by imitating the images on pre-existing cards.
Carmen now lives in San Francisco, but continues to paint images of growing up as a Mexican American in Texas.
In Camas para Sueños (Beds for Dreams), the artist and her sister sit on the roof and dream of becoming artists. In their bedroom below, their mother, too, reflects on their future. Carmen describes the inspiration for the painting:
I have a very vivid memory of what people were doing, where they were, what they were wearing, the time of day, the colors of the atmosphere, and so when I recall something, I have the whole picture in my mind. So when I'm getting ready to do a certain painting, I rely on what I already have in my mind, and then I do move some things around. I do have poetic license to make the picture be able to tell the whole story with all its details... That actually is me and my sister Margie up on the roof. We could get up on the roof by climbing up on the front porch....That's ...my bedroom, actually it's the girls' bedroom... My sister and I would hide there [on the roof] and ...we also talked a lot about what it would be like to be an artist in the future because both of us wanted to be [artists]. And I dedicated this painting to my mother because she also wanted to be an artist. And she is an artist, she's a florist now, so her medium is flowers... She gave us that vision of being an artist... That's her making up the bed for us.
Although the painting documents a specific Mexican American childhood experience, it also honors families of all cultures that nurture their children's dreams.
Note: The quote is taken from interviews with Carmen Lomas Garza conducted by Andrew Connors in June and July 1995.
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