Monday, June 20, 2016

Viola Delgado - Artist in Overalls

Artist Viola Delgado
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2016

I don’t know anyone who's been lucky enough to meet Viola Delgado who is not fascinated by her.  There’s something about the way she dresses in long, worn, faded overalls patched throughout in colors to match her painter’s palette and a bright crimson smile.  Usually, she wears smart specks and when she speaks, it’s soft yet she commands attention with her fascinating stories that only she knows how to tell.  She’s a living raconteur with an understanding voice about life, nature and infinite beauty of the universe which she translates into narratives on canvases, murals and sculptures.  She has a passion for the simple details and vibrant color.  Her prodigious curiosity competes with her transcendent wholesomeness in a calm, peaceful manner and best of all, her gentle humor shines thru in just about everything she says.

Her poetry is private, yet she uses a certain quality of language that evokes meaning.  Perhaps it’s the way that life has had a hand in shaping her personality.  Much of her poetry translates directly to her visual pieces.  Her paintings can be a verse of nature, love, idealistic aspirations, the struggles of women or even death.  Much of her writing is written by hand in the form of memos, letters, poems, thoughts and stories in leather bound hand made books which also include small drawings.

In her formative years she attended Dallas Baptist College where she studied Psychology and Sociology.  Later she went to Art League School in Alexandria and studied printmaking.  But that was a long way from Sinton, Texas, a small town just outside of Corpus Christi where she grew up as a young girl.  

Viola revisits her past and expresses her gratitude in her simplistic upbringing that greatly influenced her artistic style

My parents set a great example and they wanted my two brothers, my sister and I to be the best that we could be.  We lived a simple life close to the beach in a two room house.  A curtain divided a living room from a make shift  bedroom where my bother and I slept in one bed and my parents slept in another.  A small kitchen was next to it.  We used a large tub to bathe in.  Mother would warm water on the stove and pour it in the tub.  She always made it fun.  We also had an outhouse.  Later a room was added.  This room was on our property but not attached to the house.  Later the room was attached and became a bathroom and a bedroom for my parents.  I have to mention the tub in this bathroom was pink.  I’m sure someone gave it to my parents, but that was the first house my parents actually owned.  Our evenings were spent at my maternal grandmother’s house, while my aunts and ladies in the neighborhood would all gather for coffee.  During the summers we would go to the beach on Saturdays.  The women would take all the kids in the morning and the men usually arrived in the afternoon.  We would cookout, there was lots of singing and laughing.  I believe that my imagination strongly developed during this time.  I spent endless hours looking at the sky and beyond the ocean.  I would imagine what would lie on the other side.  I loved to spend time listening and looking.  The ocean waves sounded like soft, strong rhythms.  Sometimes I close my eyes and go there, especially when life gets a little rough. 

School was always an important factor growing up and my father went to great lengths to ensure that.  He had a third grade education and worked hard as a janitor at my school, but he never gave up.  Later he went to welding school and moved the family to Plano and then to Garland.  My mother had trained as a nurse but when I was born she decided to stay at home to raise me and my siblings. 

Growing up I’m sure there were economic hardships.  There was an older woman named Chentita who helped my mother.  Sometimes she would babysit or just helped hang clothes on the line.  Mother cleaned houses at the Plymouth Petroleum encampment.  She also drove other ladies to the encampment to clean houses.  There was a house in which the VP of the company lived and my mother loved to clean that house.  She would make believe it was hers, thinking of ways she would decorate it and which would be my room and my brother’s.  The house had porcelain light switch plates.  Several years later the company closed and my father decided to buy the house for my mother.  He could not place a bid because he was Mexican American, so he got his friend Mr. Henry, who also loaned him the money to place the bid for him.  The house was then moved to a lot in town.  It had a big screened porch and those porcelain light switch plates (which I still saved).  The house still stands in my hometown.   

We didn’t have much money but my mother was a minimalist anyway.  We didn’t have more furniture than we needed and it was never a cluttered house.  When we moved into that house we always ate together at a big table.  By that time there were four children.  One time I remember Mother saying that we were going to eat like the “white people” did.  This meant that we were going to get dressed up and have hamburger patties on a slice of bread with white gravy over it and homemade fries.  We were only allowed to have one serving because “white people” didn’t have several servings.  Many years later she told me the reason she did that was because there wasn't a lot of money so she had to stretch the food.  She would use half a can of Pet milk, mix it with water and place it in the fridge for our cereal.  I never liked the taste or the smell, even to this day.  I know there were hardships, but our house was always busy and happy.  My mother passed away at 68 and my father a year and a half later.

Floating Women Oil on Canvas by Viola Delgado
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2016
I think my culture and upbringing is definitely represented in the subject matter and color of my art.  As I mentioned before there was a woman (Chentita) that lived next door to us in my younger years.  She was sort of old fashioned in her dressing and style.  She wore long skirts and rebozos, her hair was always in a bun and she cooked on a wood burning stove.  She was the nicest woman, I really loved her.  Years after I started painting I was in an interview at a university and was asked where I got my images. Did I spend time in the Mexican countryside? I said no. As the woman was asking me questions it dawned on me that the women in my paintings were Chentita! Voila!!  I had never realized or made that connection, it was definitely her. I didn't know that she had left such an impact on me and that years later there she was back in my mind.  So yes, I would definitely say that there is some representation of my upbringing.  I also did a painting of a grandmother holding a baby.  Later I made the connection that it was my grandmother Pabla holding the baby.  So I think that these memories cannot help but come thru onto one’s creation.

On the challenges of being a woman artist 

From the writings of artist Viola Delgado
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2016
I never experienced discrimination as a latina artist, but as a woman in the art field I think we do experience some discrimination, such as at times society sees us not as professional artists but as art being a hobby for us.  Where as for men it’s a profession.  In the art world it’s been defined this way for many years.  I do believe it’s getting better with technology and I feel it levels the playing field a bit more.  Being a professional artist is like someone owning their own business.  You do your work, if someone likes it enough they buy it.  It’s always hard, never easy and more so never easy to let go of cherished art work.  But I’m always glad when it goes to someone that appreciates my work.  You never quit thinking about it, images, ideas, you see them, feel them, they’re always all around you and then on top of that, most people don’t understand you.  There are times people might think you’re odd, not with the norm, and sometimes your friends or family don’t want to talk about art.  So at times you find yourself feeling alone.  I think it’s hard for artists and even harder for women artists.  But there’s a strong movement towards changing this thought.  I myself am working hard to make that change.  As for challenges, I’m a lousy business woman.  Yet I try to be reasonable in my pricing.  I was once given great advise by an art critic when I asked how I should price my work.  He said, “Do you want to keep your art in the closet or do you want to sell it?”  I always kept that in mind.  It was the best advise I got and I pass it on to other artists.  I’m not in gallery circles much so most of my work is sold thru word of mouth or when shown in exhibits.  That has been my most successful method.  I have great business women and friends around me that always network for me.

From the writings of artists Viola Delgado
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2016
On being single

Most of the time society tries to dictate to women about her life and future.  I used to be
asked if I was married or ever had been, and of course I would say no.  I never felt like I had to be married, my parents never asked me when or why not.  The people that would ask were usually people I grew up with or my relatives, never my immediate family.  I did come close to being married, but we both decided against it, mainly because we both wanted different outcomes in our lives.  He did marry someone else shortly after that so I don’t think he cared who he married.  Later I found out he was really in love with my roommate rather than with me.  I found a letter many years later where she said no and never.  I’m so glad that went south.  I think in my generation girls were encouraged to marry and many of my classmates married young.  Some are still happily married but others have been divorced.  I think that in today’s time, it really doesn’t matter whether you’re married or not.

Religion: God’s Nature

I was a Catholic girl going to a Baptist College.  In my circle of friends most of them were preacher or missionary kids.  They were usually from overseas countries I would have only dreamed of what they were like.  I would always ask my mother what was past the ocean that was before me and her response was, “Look it up in the encyclopedia that we’re still paying for.”  Anyway, I was always asked where I went to church by my classmates.  I guess where you went to church was a big thing, so I would say I’m catholic.  One day I decided that I was tired of answering so I changed my response.  I said, “I go to the church of God’s Nature.”  They would never ask where it was, which I was grateful for.  As I get older and as an artist I feel that I’m in God’s presence every time I see a bird, a tree, take a walk to process my thoughts, see a baby, or children playing freely, or gaze at the clouds.  I feel the presence mostly when I paint or write words or thoughts.  This to me is my most spiritual time of my life.  Maybe it’s because as artists we at times have to sweep the floor of thought and it might not be so pretty that we need our spiritual self to be present.  This is my balance and sanity.

Leaving a career in psycology to become an artist

Before art I was working with the Dallas Independent School District in the migrant program.  I was assigned schools that I would visit to find out if they had any migrants that were coming from places such as Michigan, California, Florida, etc. places known for migrant workers.  I would visit their homes, with the parents of the students to find out if they had done fieldwork.  I really enjoyed meeting some of the parents in their homes, they were always friendly. It was like living in a small town drinking coffee with them and getting to know their children.  The problem was that I was not happy with my work situation so I left. I had always liked art, I’ll always credit my mother for that.  She would make stick figures on handmade coloring books.  She would tie them up on pretty strips of cloth from flour bags.  They were usually remnants from a dress she had made for me.  Or she would use the metal from the coffee cans.  Those were my first tools.  Even though I studied psychology and sociology and had a good job, I left all of that behind and in 1986 I followed my passion and started doing artwork.  I attended a community college and then the Alexandria Art League School.  I started with printmaking which I found most interesting.  At the Discover Graphic Atelier housed with Art League School I studied under the guidance of Japanese printmaker Alan Kaneshiro.  Kaneshiro and Penelope Barringer were the founders of the Atelier.  I later developed an allergic reaction to some chemicals I was using so I went back to painting.  I still do some printmaking using drypoint.  This is not work that I exhibit much so not many people are aware that I work in this media.  I was young and thought it was no big deal to look for another career, what I didn't know was the profession I had chosen was not an easy one.  But it was worth the sacrifice. I cannot imagine doing anything else.

A therapeutic technique: “The design is all in my head”

Most of my artwork is designed in my head first. I actually think of all that goes into the artwork, every line, color, movement, the whole design, which is therapeutic for me.  By the time I go to my surface it’s 90% completed.  I never make sketches or preliminary drawings before I paint.  That’s not to say that I might not decide to add something else to it but it’s almost done. This is because my mind is like a ticker tape that runs rapidly across and the images are picked out and placed in the artwork. I put some back and sometimes keep the images. It’s like that when I write, very fast. There are some images that stay for a long time and then alter into other images. I have created paintings that have a repeated image, over and over. I once did an art piece with an image of small blue squares and a sun in each square, one after another on one huge paper.  I created others with different patterns but in the same style, although I found these to be the most exhausting pieces I had ever done.  

Avoiding the human face

I avoid making faces in most of my paintings.  The face expresses emotion and I like the viewer to associate themselves with the image with their own interpretation. Sometimes the viewer will comment about the image reminding them of their grandmothers, mothers, someone that they know or knew in their lives. This makes me feel like it has touched them in some way.  It’s always a good feeling, when they can relate to an art piece.  I started with paintings of women in rebozos doing different things but never showing their faces. It has been mostly flat painting with not much depth.  They were very colorful.  One day I woke from a dream of laying on the ground looking up at the sky and a red wall. I thought the ache in my hands was enough to have me start a new series. Later it was just clouds, not the whole sky as I saw it but just snippets of the sky.  One day last year I start to bring them all together but this time the red was a box on a table that sat in a field. No chairs around the table but one chair in the far distance. I found this thought and its transformation very moving because it said to me that I was bringing them all together. Making on image a part of another, like an embrace.  It’s a spiritual reunion.  It made me shed a tear when this was finished.  I still look at the image and find much narrative and creative narrative is always in my work.  Something that leads to a thought.  This is because I feel that my artwork is a thought in transformation. It’s always on going.  I use bright colors to bring it alive, to make it speak, to express my culture.  I once worked with a woman that was elderly, Mrs.K. Doolin.  Every time I worked with her we had a fresh bouquet of flowers, beautiful flowers of all colors.  She and I would sit and work with soft pastels.  I would get carried away with my usage of color, until one day one of her nurses, a caregiver said that I shouldn't use too much color because Mrs. Doolin was spending time looking at my artwork and not doing her art piece.  In other words I was being a distraction.  So I toned it down, as much as I enjoyed working with Mrs. Doolin it was a paid job.  One day I’m working away and she stops her work and is looking at me, when I asked if she needed a color or another paper she said no. She then said there is no bright color.  Mrs. Doolin sometimes had trouble articulating but this was one time she had no trouble telling me what she saw. So I went back to using my bright colors. Nothing was said about that again.  On the last time I worked with her she was on her hospital bed at home. I was working on one single rose. The nurse had turned her towards me and by that time she was going in and out of sleep.  I kept working.  All of a sudden out of nowhere she said "you make things dance".  That is the way I want to remember her.

Working while listening to old country western music and poetry

I try to stay with the flow of my thoughts. So far I have had probably five series that I have worked on.  One is the women, two the red walls, third the clouds, fourth is printmaking, fifth sculpting. Sometimes I get caught up in working in one series for a lengthy time and then don't come back to it for a while. I like finding new ways in translating my idea, my thought thru these methods mentioned. I once had a work sculpture that I had designed and it took me 20 years for it to become a steel sculpture. I teased that it took me 20 years to give birth to it. I like to design and I have pages of designs that will someday come into fruition.  When I paint I like to listen to music or poetry.  Not many people that know me know that I like the old country western music, George Strait, Dolly Parton, George Jones, etc.. When listening to poetry I like Robert Hastings, Sylvia Plath, Ezra Pounds, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Pablo Neruda, and Borjas, etc. I never can remember anyone of the works but I can listen to the same one as if it were new to me.  Except for the Robert Hastings poem The Station and even then it is only a frame that I remember. Sort of funny because I listen to them over and over again.

Her thoughts are like a ticker paper, they run endlessly

I sometime write when I am not painting.  I again say that my brain and thoughts are like a ticker tape, they run endlessly. I think there is medication for that right?  LOL!  But I take advantage of these moments.  Sometimes they’re sad times and I work thru thoughts by processing them with words.  I tend to suffer or have moments of depression and so I have found, that for me, writing or painting helps a lot.  It doesn't always go away but it just helps me deal with it.  I had serval journals full of writings and images going back to my childhood that were stolen by a semi-friend that had schizophrenia.  One day he found out where I lived and came over.  I had asked a neighbor to join us being that I didn't want to be alone with him because he was not taking his medications and sometimes that was not a good thing.  While my artist friend and I were in the living room he went to the bathroom and ended up in my study taking my journals in his trench coat.  I was so devastated to find out later but was afraid to confront him.  He was a great person who spoke many languages, quoted great poetry, and was a math genius.  He was part of a coffee group that I had joined every morning at the Madeleine Café.  Yet when he was not on meds he was not himself and could be mean.  Later I found out he died in a fire while living behind a gas station, a sad situation. I did find out that he had the journals because he told others that he they were his.  This was before computers.  A life was taken in those journals…  The funny thing is that he also took all the labels off anything in my pantry.  So I would laugh every time I had to open a can.  Oh well, so it goes.  I do have plans to someday publish my own poetry or stories. I have some poems that are written about certain paintings and maybe I could combine both. I would love to do a book in clouds and red walls.  I really don't have regrets because all that has happened in my life is meant to be or a lesson in life.  There are times that I should have gone south and went north but what I found by going north was an adventure.

The glass mosaic medallion at the DFW International Airport and other public sculptures

I’m proud of most of my work because it takes so much out of me emotionally to create that it’s a miracle that they get finished.  But I guess the public art is something I’m proud of.  I love that so many people look at it on a daily basis.  The glass mosaic medallion at the DFW International Airport gets seen by thousands of people. The Lake June and Rowlett DART Stations also get seen many times over.  The sculpture at the Dallas Latino Cultural Center which people see as they are sitting at the light or driving by.  It doesn't matter if they know who created it, what matters is that they’re there for others to see to experience, and hopefully they remember it at some point.  They are like my children, you want them to shine, to be enjoyable while they’re out of your site. They’re there so that many years later my own family can see them and know that part of their bloodline created that art design.  Hopefully they will not forget me as part of their ancestry and they’ll be proud of where they came from.  And as for dreams for the future, I want to create more public art pieces, more images, and write more poems.  I have wanted to go to different parts of the world and paint under different light.  I want to see different skies and clouds and how they affect the painting trying different methods.  

Artist Viola Delgado
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2016
Viola Delgado’s paintings and public large scale sculptures are a heritage that she will continue to contribute to.  She finds inspiration in the simple aspects of life and the changing moods of the scenery that surrounds her.  Her body of work forms an indelible scene of the narrative she portrays thru vibrant colors and simple stories which we can all relate to.  The dream state of her own omniscience has remained strong and directly nurtures her unique imagination which we can all appreciate thru her work. 

Delgado's murals can be found at the Latino Cultural Center, Dallas; Stevens Park and Tolbert Elementary Schools, Dallas; the Dallas West Library Courtyard; the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Station; and Vickery Village/Buckner Baptist Children's Home, Dallas.  One of her extraordinary medallions is located on the Departure Concourse of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.  

 Written by Leticia Alaniz © 2016