Friday, June 9, 2017

Sandra Lara - The World I Live In

Sandra Lara Artist
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2017
Sandra Lara is an artist surrounded by mystery, enigma and spirituality from which she draws across her canvases a susceptible aura of emotions that contain many different variants.  One of the variants expresses deep feelings of womanhood, of feminism, and inner thoughts that belong only to women.  Another variant is the pain of living thru traumatic childhood experiences that reflect healing thru vivid colors.  Among her canvases, Lara owns her space and time.  It's the exploration of her sense and outlook on life that become the colors and voice of her collected thoughts and life experiences.

Lara is a remarkable artist that does not fit into any kind of mold or tradition of art movements.  Her acrylic work is steeped in the inner workings of lines depicted as stories of individuals and their emotions.  Collections of her work are a reminder of the precise engravings of Mexican engraver and painter Francisco Toledo who often depicted humans, animals and the dead in one cosmos.  Lara’s artwork contains surreal images with stark movement and broad, direct brushstrokes that invoke poetry and the illustration of our psyche without a designated time present.  Many of her very personal pieces are autobiographical with abstract, fantasy and in a sense Freudian elements that very well call into order the writings of André Breton.  Lara’s style can best be described as pure art with life and dreams.                

Sandra Lara - I had some happy, sad and traumatic times in my childhood.  I was very shy and withdrawn.  I was born with epilepsy which caused me to struggle academically in school but my teachers just labeled me as the “quiet” or “shy girl”, or assumed I couldn’t speak English.  I was an easy student who didn’t talk to anyone; I didn’t ask any questions when in reality I was “zoning out” or having small epileptic seizures.  I struggled thru elementary, junior high and high school, not knowing or ever being tested for learning disabilities and did not get diagnosed until adulthood.  All the while, I had a severe math learning disability and ADD.  I was bullied in school, had no friends and was academically lost.  The only thing I had was my family.  We struggled thru traumatic times losing our seven-year-old sister who died when I was five years old and two years later losing our two-year-old brother when he choked on a balloon while he was at daycare.  Our mother worked at the daycare and was there and witnessed the tragic event.  The heartaches and struggles brought our family incredibly close together and we still have a very special strong bond.  The suffering loss at such a young age made me look at life differently than others my age.  I was an “old soul” by age 10.    

LA - Life experiences seem to find a way into our daily life thru different forms of expression.  We may become artists, writers, travelers, musicians or we may become great teachers, wonderful parents, etc… But art is always a very personal form of expression.  I’m glad your childhood heartaches reflect the healing and love I sense in your artwork.  Did you always know you would become an artist? 

Lara - No, I took an art class in high school and was told by my ninth grade teacher to “give up this drawing thing” and try “homemaking" instead because I struggled drawing a pair of shoes.  In college, my major was actually in Social Work and I had to take an elective, so I chose to take a drawing class.  I struggled throughout the whole class but was guided by Kathy Windrow.  She was an amazingly patient, nurturing and talented instructor.  She saw something in my work, specifically the final project of my self-portrait and asked me to join her in her painting class.  My passion for art started after that.  Today I model Kathy’s nurturing, patient, humorous style of teaching for my students where I teach at a jail education program.       

LA - Did you go to a formal art school?

Lara - I started my formal art school training at DCCCD in 1994 at Eastfield College under the instruction of Kathy Windrow, whom I still consider a dear friend and mentor today.  Eastfield College offered an incredibly nurturing environment for me.  The Art Department was so gentle, patient, and welcomed me with open arms.  In 1999 I started taking independent studies classes at SMU under the late Bill Komodore, Robin Koch, and Lorraine Tady, who are still dear friends and presently continue to mentor me.  
Sandra Lara
Countdown to the Meltdown 30x30 Acrylic on Canvas
Photo Leticia Alaniz © 2017

LA - Are you a storyteller thru your art? 

Lara - I feel I’m telling the stories of the voiceless thru my art, becoming their voice, through my own language.  The same goes for the recent Dallas Police shootings.  Through my drawings, I’m telling the story through the brainwaves of everyone, the bystanders, officers, families, and the hospital staff.  The day of the shootings, the first day that came through my mind was “I Can’t imagine the chaos that is going on in everyone’s mind, it must be like a bunch of electrical volts going crazy.”  That’s what gave me the idea of studying the EEG drawings of brain waves and creating it into a piece of artwork. 

LA - War and Peace are two opposites that seem to bring out human emotions and empathy.  Do you think your art reflects your ideas and opinions on the modern world we live in even among tragedy?

Lara -  The drawings I’m currently working on are about the tragic shootings the Dallas Police suffered on July 7, 2016.  It’s hard to believe it’s almost been a year!  I’m creating drawings based on the brainwaves of everyone involved in that tragic event.  Many people were affected directly; the families of the victims, the nurses, the bystanders and of course the officers. 
Sandra Lara
Brain Activity: The Aftermath 7/7/16
20x20 Ink on Khadi Paper
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2017

LA - Throughout history, there have always been tumultuous times.  Ever since humans started living in communities and started competing against each other or against other tribes.  The difference is that in our lifetime it seems as if it’s just all the more tragic with weapons of mass destruction.  It’s a scary time we live in.  

LA - Does the world today or social issues that are unjust upset you?  How does that reflect on your artwork?

Lara - I work with incarcerated women at the Lew Sterritt Jail in Dallas and I collaborate with an incredibly gifted director, producer, and writer named Cynthia Salzman Mondell.  She has a project called Sole Sisters in which the female art students in the jail education program share their life struggles with their artwork.  Sole Sisters is a women’s empowerment project that asks the ladies when the last time they felt like a woman and to create the kind of shoes they wore.  I can honestly say I have sincere empathy for many of these ladies.  I know what it feels like to be ignored, labeled and bullied.  I feel a sense of responsibility to help these women who are at their lowest point in their life by teaching them how to express their emotions thru art.  I want to help them find some sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and value to their life.  I feel so honored to be a part of this project.  It compels me… I can’t hide or blind my eyes and soul to the heartache and social issues we experience today.  I’m not an intellectual, a graceful speaker or a polished leader.  But I am an artist.  My creations will be my voice and let the world see things from my point of view. 

LA - What are your spiritual beliefs and practices.  Do you connect with a greater source or a spirit keeper?

Lara - I was raised as a Baptist, but I can honestly tell you that I have respect for all religion.  I think every religion has something beautiful to offer to the world.  I do pray to a bigger entity, but I don’t believe I have to go to church to pray.  I pray to my God in private.  I pray for peace, I always give thanks and I know I have a purpose.  This directly takes me to my beliefs in life.  My philosophy is to simply treat everyone with kindness, respect, and compassion.  I believe that if someone helped you at a very trying time in your life, be kind enough to help someone else out.  I believe we’re on this earth to help each other.  To show compassion to those who society has cast aside like worthless garbage.  To teach everyone that they have a voice.  It may not be a vocal voice but thru art they can release their feelings and emotions and remain silent no more.    

LA - Our family is our connection to our hearts and to the past of our ancestors.  They’re the ones that give us a sense of purpose.  Did your parents support you to become an artist? 

Lara - Yes, I’m very blessed that my parents have always supported me as an artist.  My family is my direct connection to my canvases.  I feel very proud of my family.  I have an amazing support system.  Being an artist is not the easiest profession in the world (and expensive) but they always support me no matter what.  We have been thru some of the most tragic and traumatic times any family can experience.  The tragedies did not tear us apart, they brought us closer together and bonded us.  I’m incredibly proud of my family.   
LA - What kind of subjects do you mostly paint?

Lara - I paint mostly about emotions.  But I represent the emotions of humanity and the force of suffering, the loneliness and the inner passion.  I have been compared a lot to painter Michele Basquiat so I can honestly say that his work has had an influence on my work because of the beautiful poetry and language that he uses in his work and the way he speaks to his audience.  Certain challenging episodes in my life have led to my creation of pieces like ‘Birds That Put The Bullies in the Box’ and ‘Countdown to the Meltdown’.  Both pieces are about my childhood memories of being constantly bullied as a child and about the heartbreak that came with all of those challenging times. 

LA - Does heritage have a place in your art?

Lara - Yes, I’m very proud to be a Latina.  Often times, the colors in my work are bright bold colors.  I create drawings that are very tribal.  My painting ‘She Warrior’ stems from my love of Kachina dolls.  My parents told us to never give up.  We are indigenous people.  We are warriors and we are survivors.  

Sandra Lara
Graduation: The Spirit of the Dancing Ladies
30x30 Acrylic on Canvas
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2017
LA - What has been a highlight of your life and career?

Lara - I was asked to be represented by the prestigious art gallery Mary Tomás.  It was such an incredible day for me.  It meant my work had some value to it and it gave me a sense of worth.  Another highlight of my career is being able to work with Emmy Award director Cynthia Salzman Mondell.  It has been such an honor to be working with an incredibly talented woman.  She has been a great mentor and dear friend in my life.  My dreams for the future are to have my work in galleries not only here in the United States, but internationally as well.  When I see a glimmer of hope in their eyes, that is my inspiration.  
Sandra Lara
Past: Transition: Present
Commissioned for Sole Sisters Project

LA - Where was your first art exhibit?

Lara - I was very lucky to have such incredible teachers at Eastfield College (DCCCD) and they introduced me to the art world very early in my life as a student.  I had my first art exhibit in 1995 for the Día de Los Muertos Show at the campus gallery. 

LA - Do you like music?  Does music influence your work?

Lara - Music plays a significant role in my life.  I listen to everything.  I’m a pretty eclectic person.  In my work, it depends on what I’m painting or drawing.  If I need to draw or paint something with lots of detail, then I listen to very soft music.  If I need something that needs very broad brushstrokes, lots of colors, then I go with something more upbeat.

LA - Music as an art form inspires us and it also heals.  What’s your studio setup and what’s a typical work day for you when you paint?

Lara - I don’t drink or smoke or prepare a special meal.  I don’t think of food much when I’m working.  I prepare mentally by making sure I have a very quiet moment.  I have ADD, so I call my friends and family and tell them I’m about to begin work so I ask them to not disturb.  To best manage my ADD I strive to have some form of routine every day.  When the routine is disrupted or something is off my whole day is off balance.  So I go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time.  I get distracted very easily when I work so I put on my headphones, start painting and go for it!  But when I do come out of my studio, every now and then I like to bake delicious brownies that my family just loves! 

LA - What motivates you to keep painting?  

Lara - I fell in love with art many years ago, it woke up a soul that had been hurt, heartbroken and bullied for so many years.  I paint with a pure heart, emotion, sincerity, and intuitiveness.  My art is my voice.  My art is the voice of those who suffer and the misfits.  My art is my freedom and my sanity.  I’m a very simple person.  I don’t consider myself an intellectual because to me an intellectual means you are superior and I don’t consider myself superior to anyone.  Yet at the same time that doesn’t mean I will be inferior to anyone.

LA - What inspires you the most?  

Lara - Working with the incarcerated population; I work with women, men, young 17-year-olds and those that have been diagnosed with a major mental disorder.  On the first day of art class they walk in with their head down, thinking they can’t learn because someone or life itself has broken their spirit and label them as stupid, dumb or lazy.  Oftentimes it turns out about 90 percent of these broken human beings have a learning disability and are incredibly talented, smart and creative.  They simply need a way to channel their strengths in a positive way. 

LA - What has criticism on your work been like?  

Lara - I have heard things like, “Can you draw?”, “Do you practice voodoo?”, “You need serious counseling”; and on the other hand, I have also been told that my work is incredibly soulful, emotional and highly sophisticated.  I listen to all criticism and learn from it.

LA - Many people will ask what’s the purpose of art.  Why create?  Why do we write?  I believe art is life and it’s the mirror of our humanity.  It transports us to different corners of the world and in different times.  

LA - Is there a city in the world that you feel is best suited for you?

Lara - I haven’t had the opportunity to travel much, but I hope to one day.  I have gone to New Mexico.  It was breathtaking and calm.  Dallas is very hurried and always on the go.  If I could pick up my family and move to another city it would definitely be New Mexico.  

LA - New Mexico is one of my favorite places in the world too!  There’s so much mystique and that’s one of the many reasons why it attracts so many artists from all over the world.  They go for a visit and stay there to live.  And that very mystique is a calling to pay attention to the calm and quiet, to nature and to spirits past.  Is there a person in history living or deceased that you would have liked to have met and what would you tell them? 

Lara -  I would like to talk to my deceased cousin Norma, my grandfather Pedro, my sister Cynthia, and my brother Oscar.  I would tell them that the anguish and pain I suffered when losing them has given me the ability to help others through their pain with art.

LA - You are your art and I’m very proud to know you.  Gracias Sandra!

Sandra Lara is represented by Mary Tomás Gallery
Contemporary Art Dealers of Dallas CADD
Mary Tomás Gallery

For more information of The Sole Sisters Film Project: