Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, painter Marta Sánchez is inspired by traditional Mexican folk art expressions. Sánchez is recognized primarily for her retablo paintings, an offspring of traditional Mexican prayer paintings.
The artist, earned a MFA in Painting from the Tyler School of Art, Temple University, and a BFA in Painting from the University of Texas at Austin. She teaches at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Tyler School of Art and the Springside School.
HOY EN DELAWARE – How did you become an artist?
MARTA SÁNCHEZ – Becoming an artist is just a matter of doing it often and having art as a part of your everyday life. I became an artist because that was (and is) a means of expression I needed. It was therapy for me. It not only comforted me when times were difficult as a child, but it also became a way I could sort out what I saw in the world. While a writer will write his thoughts down or a singer will voice out the emotions in tones, I needed to create art to figure out how I felt about what was around me. Art is a visual way of problem solving, a visual formula to an equation. The only necessity required to become an artist is to have the passion to create without letting anything interfere in your process.
HOY – Where do you look for your inspiration?
M.S. – In the beginning of my art studies, I looked at the great masters of the Renaissance and French impressionism. Later I became interested in Latin American Artists. My earlier interest refers to when I was a child and had only European art to look up to. It was not until I was in college that Latin American Art was more accessible. I always had a very rich cultural upbringing with folkloric art around me but the high art and folkloric art did not converge until much later in my career.
These days I am impressed with all kinds of art and disciplines. It is all so interwoven. Anything is possible in medium and mixed disciplines. So long as there is a clear point to it, it’s possible. Nowadays our society and art experience is more global. When I look at work in art magazines and on the Internet I see that art can be made from a scholarly background or from a self-taught perspective.
I have always felt close to the tradition of retablo art because it was about mankind. Retablos were small and large testimonies of small and large miracles. It also raises up ordinary people. I wanted to record my family and friends and raise them up and validate their existence. I wanted to raise them to high art. As a Chicana, I feel it is my duty to use my art for the people and make works that tell a story about justice when it is necessary. My most recent inspiration is just recording small precious moments. I am blessed to see many precious moments and record them through in my still life and in the natural world all around me.
HOY – You have a degree in Art. In your work, how much is inspiration and how much is hard work and a good knowledge of Mexican Art?
MS – I think it is the combination of both inspiration and hard work. With my BFA degree in painting I was given the opportunity to incorporate all sorts of information based on the liberal arts curriculum. You have to keep up with the status of things you are passionate about. Politics, art and the social climate of Mexico, and the art it produces are all very important to me. Mexican art and its artists have an ongoing dialogue with the art of Chicano/a art. The difference is where one was born –Mexico or the United States — and how we deal with discrimination.
Our similarity is that we both share working history of Mexico and its culture. The University of Texas at Austin has a very good Latin American collection and publishes many great books on all aspects of Mexican culture.
You live in Philadelphia but you born in San Antonio, Texas. Is it difficult to live so far from your roots? It is hard, at times, to live away from home. I miss the seasons, family celebrations and the everyday aspects of being with my family. Sometimes I feel a small amount of isolation — the kind you feel when you come from a different city, state, or country. Everything is regional: people respond to the climate, land, and life style each region offers. I find that I have a larger family of Latinos/a and friends for all over Latin America and the Caribbean. With the roots we have, we all sometimes feel that isolation and longing to be home. I am grateful for organizations like Taller Puertorriqueño, which adopted me into their community when I needed them most so many years ago.
I miss my larger family in San Antonio very much and only get to visit once a year. First it was due to the poor Texas economy in the 70’s due to the oil market. Then I got married and started a family. Somehow I have managed to stay in-touch and remain connected with family, artist friends and organizations. The distance gives me a different perspective than my friends there. My perspective is one of longing and looking from the outside in.
HOY – What do you prefer? To be a painter who teaches art or a painter who works in her own studio?
MS –On any given day I could switch from working in my studio to teaching. They both have enriched my life. The studio is a place to dive in, creating with endless possibilities. To teach is to share that ability with someone else and sometimes gain even more by doing that. Let’s just say that If I had to choose, I would say my studio. I could be happy just painting, but not happy just teaching.
Now your works are in private and public collections, but how did you feel the first time you sold one of your pieces? Do you remember that moment?
I can remember the first big painting I sold was at the Mexican Museum in Chicago. I was so happy I photocopied the check and sent a copy of it to my parents to see. It was great to know someone valued my work. I was also happy because it was a painting of my Grandmother’s living room, ‘La casa de Sra Estela Muniz’. Someone else saw the beauty in my grandmother’s aesthetic, her interior, a living room with a hallway that offered a peek at her porch, her dog and garden. The image was a part of my memory of my grandmother’s home from a child’s perspective. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ great novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude” was one of my inspirations. I was living in Rome at the time I made this painting, and I was also influenced by the art there.
HOY – What are the “cascarones” and what are their origins?
MS – Cascarones are egg shells that are filled with confetti. It it said to have been introduced to Mexico by the Emperor Maxmillian’s wife’s Carlotta. There are a few listed historical accounts to the history of the Cascarones in Mexico. Here is the one I chose for my web site:
HISTORY OF THE CASCARONE
The origin of cascarones (the word means “egg shells” in Spanish) is a little muddled. The cascarone stems from the Italian Renaissance when Italian gentlemen would fill emptied eggs with beautiful perfumes and scented powder to give to their beloved. As with the piñata, the Italians allegedly got the practice, via Marco Polo, from the Chinese, who filled the eggs with powder. The practice of making hollowed-out, surprise-filled eggs moved from Italy, into Austria, France, and then to Spain.
Then in the 1860s, Carlotta, the wife of Emperor Maximilian, introduced cascarones to Mexico. In Mexico, people replaced the perfumed powder with confetti. It was then when Mexicans labeled the egg shells “cascarones”, which derives from the word “cascara” which means shell. In Mexico, they showed up at many different celebrations, especially Carnaval. From there, they headed north into what we know as California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
HOY – You have painted many retablos and many prayer paintings, how did you decide to paint “cascarones”?
MSI started painting retablos while in undergraduate school and graduate school. I loved their narrative and earnest approach to painting. It was my connection to my indigenous roots. It was art with a spiritual purpose. I started to paint cascarones at first just to share with my friends. I missed my family, and in the spring, I would make the cascarones and surprise my friends by sneaking up on them and breaking them over their heads. It was actually interesting to see grown adults smile and try to get back at me with a cascarone. Something wonderfully childlike would transpire between everyone that participated.
After I shared them with friends for a while, I decided to sell them and pick a cause for children since cascarones were for kids. At the time, the HIV/ AIDS epidemic was having a big impact on families that needed not only financial support, but also unconditional acceptance and love. That’s why I created Cascarones por la Vida.
To make art that helps others, to have art have a function, that was and is my motivation for the cascarones. I wanted o help someone, to acknowledge and show them unconditional love while demonstrating an uplifting pride in my culture. The cascarones art project is a positive expression of Hispanic culture in a time when the mass media portrayed Hispanics in a less positive way.
I am interested in mentoring Latino/a college organizations interested in the Cascarones Por la Vida grassroots project as a service project. I will be working with Twitter as well. I would love to have a Latino/a college organization incorporate this project into their service program. It would not only offer a chance to work with kids, seniors and the art community it would also keep HIV/AIDS awareness alive on their own campuses and communities.
Please contact me if you would like to participate in a cascarone workshop or want to volunteer. I have a cascarones page on my website that contains photos of the Cascarones mission and projects as well as HIV/AIDS facts for kids.
HOY – Your next project?
MS –My next art project is to paint many small works on paper and tin –mainly still lifes and narratives. I have a children’s book I am illustrating, an exhibit in the fall of 2011 at Taller Puertorriqueño, and a community project in conjunction with my Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award. I will also be in a traveling European exhibit that will focus on immigration in America as well as another traveling show Chicanitas: Small Paintings from the Cheech Marin Collection scheduled to be at the University of Notre Dame.
Anything else you want to add? Other than making and sharing art with the community, I am deeply concerned with the need for the Hispanic community who are in a position to do so, to support the arts. Donating to cultural centers, buying art for their collection for public areas are some ways that people can promote Latino art. Some of these may also be considered a charitable contribution, and a possible tax deduction.
As a population, Latino buying power is very strong for the overall economy. Despite this economic presence, the Latino/a collector is still a minority on the national art scene.
The Latino/a consumer can enrich our culture even more by paving a wider path for Latin American art, raising it up to the forefront, not only validating its existence, but also creating a strong market for it.
Right now the economy is tight for so many people. It is a good time to buy art at a good price, enriching your lives as well as the lives of others.
If you have any questions about this topic, I will be happy to assist with this. I participate in a few art organizations that promote art in the City of Philadelphia and beyond. While inliquid.org is a great site for art and has some Latino/a artists, there is also NALAC the National Association of Latino Artist and Culture (www.nalac.org). This is a national arts organization that reaches many disciplines and Hispanic artists.
Facebook: cascacarones por la vida
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