My formative years were spent in far flung locations throughout the United States and Europe. During my artistic grounding, I became increasingly immersed in the Chicano/Latino/Mexican-American arts and the indigenous communities – experiences that have informed my cultural perspectives and, by extension, my art practice.
It has taken my entire artistic career to fuse an image that defines my multicultural experience of the world and my place in it. Like most of my contemporaries I was taught the finer points of the Western classics, art and architecture, but later found myself living and creating in a milieu where symbols of beauty and culture were manifest in a decidedly alternate circumstance.
Make ‘Em All Mexican leads you down an ironic path to find yourself confronted by some of the most difficult questions of our time, “Do race, color, and class define our status in the world?” “Is it possible to be a part of and earnestly contribute to multiple cultures simultaneously?” “Does color and class define our understanding and appreciation of culture?”
Several years ago, I made a series of trips that included a visit to China as well as to New York and several other major cities in the U.S. It is my custom to include museums and galleries in my itinerary to get a sense of what is happening in the national and international art scene.
On these trips I noticed a growing trend from the mundane to the fantastic—sculpture made of pre-produced objects, wildly untamed images created from found objects put to fascinating new uses, photographic collages combining digital work and hand drawn forms, and images that juxtaposed seemingly contrary cultural symbols and icons.
After seeing these works and hundreds more, my thought and creative processes began to shift. I found myself ruminating, “I’m a person of the world. What would the world of contemporary images look like from my own personal Mexican-American, Chicano lens?” I found myself furiously painting directly on antique photographs and figurines to deconstruct iconic images to create an America that included me. I began aimlessly browsing antique malls to find images that I could “call my own.
The Make ‘Em All Mexican series carries a strong electric charge. To some viewers, the images are hyper-political; for others, they are emotional portals to a past remembered and sometimes forgotten; and for another group, they are just down right hilarious. The series is definitely strange and unfamiliar. Recently on television sculptor Richard Serra stated that the work of the artist is not necessarily to create the unique, but rather “the unfamiliar.” I have re-created a familiar world to create a new unfamiliar image, one that is unfamiliar to everyone that’s not Mexican….
After creating the Make ‘Em All Mexican – MEAM (2011—2016) series of sculptures, handmade books, and manipulated aluminum sublimation prints, I was still interested in “keepin’ it brown.” The original MEAM series was realized on repurposed antique objects, photos, and book pages. That work tended to be detailed, complex, gaudy, and over-the-top, and, going forth, I wanted to produce a cleaner, simple image. For the next series I decided to focus on simpler, entirely abstract works on canvas and paper.
The first question was, “How do I translate the MEAM message to a two dimensional painted surface?” I went through several experiments, with unhappy results. Some of these experiments were based on personal memory and catharsis. But all the while In the back of my head I was ruminating about “brown electric portraits,” using small squares of different shades of brown, harking back to my earlier series, “The Electrics” (2008—2010).
In another part of my head I was thinking about data. The Los Angeles Latino community is always talking about Latino numbers and how the population is growing by leaps and bounds. The consensus is that the growing numbers should equal growing prosperity and influence. MEAM had been based on the politics of color and class. So The Brown Dot Project continues this question by asking if the growing numbers are changing our attitudes about color and class.
I finally realized The Brown Dot Project by bringing together the painting style employed in “The Electrics” (small squares of color) with Latino statistics and thinking about how abstract painted works could talk about these numbers and their influence on our perception of race and class. Then I thought of doing grids of color based on Latino data – little painted squares. But I wasn’t eager to take this approach; honestly, the thought of painting a zillion tiny squares was going to be a boring and exhausting process.
I needed to find a surface with the squares already in place. One day, as I was shopping for art supplies, the idea of architectural-grid vellum suddenly came to mind. The idea of small squares with painted dots based on numerical value was the resulting image.
The “brown dot” abstract image of these Latino data numbers emerged after several trials and errors. Once I had the grids and began dividing them into quadrants I realized that a pattern was appearing. This was what clinched The Brown Dot Project. Experimenting with formal variations based on Latino percentages and numbers happened more or less automatically, coming out of my experiences with indigenous weaving. The first images recalled American Indian and Mesoamerican blankets and weavings and ancient ceremonial sites. The abstract images appeared because I was forced to create new variations. Mondrian, Chuck Close, Agnes Martin, Charles Gaines, and other grid-oriented modernists came to mind.
I find myself studying a variety of sets of data, including topics such as the number of Latinos in any given city or state, the national number of Latino executives, the number of Latinos involved in the American Civil war. The amount and kinds of data are inexhaustible! The works have grown in size from 9 square inches to 24 square inches to 36 square inches. As an example: The Los Angeles (48.3% Latino population) 24 square-inch images entail 48,400 total squares (100% of the field), with 23,377 dots (48.3%), or 467 sets of 50 dots + 27 additional. Counting squares and dots, completing the corresponding mathematics, and “dotting” the page takes hours of concentration on both topic and execution.
Extended Artist Statement PDF
Peter Frank, art critic, curator, and poet who lives and works in Los Angeles said, “Vallejo is not a frivolous thinker, nor – clearly – is she an offhand worker. For all the light-hearted imagination invested in The Brown Dot Project, with its fanciful forms and rhythmic patternings, these paintings on vellum address serious issues – issues about the present and future of the United States and its relations with the rest of the hemisphere – in a dramatic form that does not fly below the radar of the average viewer. ”
George Lawson, George Lawson Gallery, states “As the MEAM series matures, as it gets past the joke, which is essentially a fulcrum, and into the incredibly long lever that is Vallejo’s imagination, the seemingly inexhaustible variations on the theme manifest themselves as a pliant language and a tool for examining the function of art in our culture. Vallejo asks questions about the source of an image’s power, and the role images play in securing and perpetuating social hierarchies. she is asking what if…what if you wandered out tomorrow evening and the northern star had shifted south, and the constellations in the pantheon sky of art history set a whole new course charted by a whole new set of navigators? What if instead of all roads leading to Rome, they led to Mexico City?
William Moreno, former director of Mexican Museum, San Francisco, and curator, states, “The focus of Vallejo’s newest suite of works titled Make ‘Em All Mexican, is anything but subtle. Conceptually-informed, poignant and ironic, she melds populist cultural conventions and racial politics into an edgy brew, adroitly tapping into that nebulous space between anger and laughter.”
Armando Duron, Chicano art collector, states, “The pieces have a whimsical quality about them, one that allows those who choose to view them exclusively through the lens of whimsy a way to continue laughing. Vallejo has used satire and wit to make her point. She has not constricted the works within a purely political prism. Indeed, they exude pathos and irony, commentary and comedy, parody and ridicule. Vallejo shows us how much room there is for all these points to converge within just one image. Viewers will find the other paths that make sense to them. But you will gain a much deeper understanding of the work if you do not over think it.”
Karen Mary Davalos, Professor and Chair Chicana/Chicano Studies Department, Loyola Marymount University, states, “Vallejo has produced a provocative new series that re-appropriates Western and American icons. Using widely recognized images, such as Hollywood celebrities, Norman Rockwell paintings, Victorian figurines, classical European portraiture, and the school primer, Dick and Jane, Vallejo repaints the figures as Mexicans. From one perspective, Vallejo creates the fear of every anti-immigration activist and recolors the world with brown skin and black hair and eyes. Vallejo conceptually performing two critical acts, first she defaces the work that she recolors, and second, she takes the image (and its history, power, and meaning) and changes it for her own purpose.”
Gordon Fuglie, Director and Head of Curatorial Affairs, Central California Museum Association states, “Amidst the roiling national debate about American identity, veteran California Latina artist Vallejo creates a realm in which US popular culture is overlain with a Mexican-American sensibility. Gleefully raiding the world of classic commercial images of middle class WASP life, Vallejo gives common American icons a new sabor or flavor. The result is the satirical series Make ‘Em All Mexican. In 2010, Vallejo began acquiring numerous popular 20th century collectables, as well as appropriating vintage commercial imagery from the internet, stocking her studio with these materials in order to “make ‘em all Mexican.” A year later, Vallejo is well on her way to producing a compelling body of work, combining various media, juxtaposing incongruous forms to create images and objects not only peculiar to the artist’s Latino heritage, but also resonating across racial and social lines.