Elizabeth Gómez

October 2nd, 2021

Elizabeth Gómez is a Redwood City based artist and children’s book illustrator. Part of Gómez’s practice involves designing and managing community participatory murals in both paint and mosaic. 

I first met Elizabeth during her July 2021 Redwood City Art Kiosk exhibition. Her installation, Naturaleza Muerta, was striking in the manner it pulled the audience in and then held their attention with an edgy softness—A lifesize deer and mountain lion hang upside down in the center of the kiosk. They are accompanied by a squirrel and a crow. These hand sewn creatures are made from pale, low contrast fabrics. Scatterings of thin red cloth trail from each body. The kiosk floor is covered with pink quilting and a spare grid of deep red, fabric roses. There is a feeling of being in a child’s bedroom. These layers of symbolism reveal a multi-dimensional philosophy about the relationship of humans to other animals, to profound effect. In this work Gómez brings together a blend of Louise Bourgeois construction with Sue Coe content to make her own statement about real life events involving wild animals in our suburban neighborhoods.  

Gómez has an MFA in Pictorial Art from San José State University. She has shown at the deYoung Museum in San Francisco; the Oakland Museum of California; MACLA in San José, California; and at the Mohr Gallery in Mountain View, California.

This week Gómez’s most recent mural, created with the help of many from our community, will be unveiled at the Magical Bridge Playground in Redwood City. We spoke during the last weeks of mosaic tile making under the redwoods and oaks on the back patio at Red Morton Park, the mural’s home.

Magical Bridge Playground mural, 2021

Whirligig: Let’s talk about your background. You went to San José State?

Elizabeth: I did most of my college in Mexico City where I am from. I did three years at the San Francisco Art Institute and then I did my masters in painting at San José State. I had great professors like Erin Goodwin-Guerrero and Rupert Garcia. It was an excellent program, lots of support, really nice.

Whirligig: How long have you been working in mosaic?

Elizabeth: I have been doing small things here and there but I am really a painter. I have been working with Redwood City for many years—I have done murals in the schools and parks. The city knows me as an artist that can create and facilitate public works with volunteers, with the help of the community. That is why they asked me to do this mosaic mural. I have learned a lot doing this. 

Whirligig: What are the dimensions?

Elizabeth: It is gigantic. It has more than 700 square feet of tile. 

Whirligig: You did the design?

Elizabeth: I did the design and many workshops. For example, here in Red Morton Park during the pandemic we were outdoors and indoors and outdoors again and then we couldn’t do it at all. Then, I had to transport boxes of materials to the volunteers, house to house, I would bring a new box and take competed work away. I did that for many months. It was a lot of work. Then we were allowed to work here outside again, almost a year and a half after we started. The hardest thing about this project has been the management. We have had more than 750 volunteers on this mural. Everybody is welcome. I have taught the class on how to make mosaic shapes hundreds of times now. I will be happy to see it on the wall.

Whirligig: You plan to install next week. . .

Elizabeth: We have two walls and a tunnel. We are hiring professional tile installers because it is so big and heavy. I will be there as support. I don’t know what problems we will encounter, but we will have problems. We already fixed a few things—the walls were uneven, there was an anti-grafitti sealant on one wall that would not allow the tiles to adhere, so we had to remove that.

Orange Halves

Whirligig: Tell me about your painting work.

Elizabeth: My work belongs to the Mexican tradition. I like surrealism. I like animals and nature. I like a lot of handmade patterns and decoration. I have been working on a collection called Madre Tierra (Mother Earth). They are women with the face of an animal. Very surreal. They represent the need to care for the environment. The most recent is Mother Earth Crow. She is signaling with her wings the end of the wilderness, saying “From here to here is wilderness, so you don’t build. And from here to here is for humans, so stay on the human side.” They almost look religious. They are big animals with dresses, in nature. One is Vindictive Mother Earth. She has humans in a cage. Bird Mother Earth is teaching little birds how to protect themselves against us. But all very beautiful and colorful, filled with flowers. Mother Earth Wolf is planting flowers on the pavement in Mexico City. She is taking care of them with a watering can, a nurturing Mother Earth.

Whirligig: Those are in acrylic, oil?

Elizabeth: I love to paint old style, oil on wood, because with painting in glazes it becomes very jewel like and medieval. You can touch the colors. 

I’ve also illustrated many children’s books. I just finished a book on El Salvador, ABC El Salvador.

Crow Mother Earth at the Edge of the Wilderness

Whirligig: Are there specific artists you are inspired by or look too?

Elizabeth: Sometimes I am a bit sad that the person most known here is Frida Kahlo. When you see Frida’s work it’s not only Frida’s style, but it is Frida’s style on top of the Mexican tradition. Her work makes a lot of sense within Mexican art. When she was painting there were a lot of women painting. For example Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo. There was a magical group of women painters that had this surreal, folksy, decorated, colorful work. I really like their work. Because I grew up in Mexico City it was normal for me to visit Frida’s house or see a show of Remedios Varo and other artists from that time. I don’t try to do what they do, but I like the visual language they were using. My own work is always about nature and the environment.

Whirligig: Would you say that you are mostly inspired by female artists?

Elizabeth: I would say that I really like their quality. I don’t want to generalize, but with Mexican women artists there is something that is, to use a trite word, feminine—care taking, nurturing and smaller—that I like. The famous male Mexican artists are very grandiose, “Industrialism came to save us! The workers will save us!” Full of big ideas, but with little heart. I like works with more heart. I am not saying that men cannot do this, just historically in Mexico it has been the case that women pay attention to heart.

Lion Fountain

Whirligig: You exhibited sculpture in your Art Kiosk show. 

Elizabeth: I do a little bit of everything. I have created three installations with ideas of nature and animals. At the Oakland museum for the Day of the Dead I showed dead animals. I made a coal circle . . . where it is clean the animals are alive and flying. Where it is dirty the animals are dead. 

Whirligig: What is it about working with animal symbolism that you hope to communicate?

Elizabeth: I sometimes feel that we humans do not believe that animals have the same right as us to be here. That we are more than they are. That we own this place. After all of the facts telling us this is not the case, global warming. . . I want to be a voice for animals, even if it is a small one, saying “We are here. We belong. This is also our earth.”

Whirligig: So you grew up in Mexico City . . .

Elizabeth: Yes. I did most of my formative years in Mexico. I came here after I got married. I have been many years now here in California.

Whirligig: How is it to be an immigrant here in California?

Elizabeth: Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not so much. Especially if you are from Mexico. My husband is from Argentina and he does not cross too many people with stereotypes about what an Argentinian is. Maybe they know about the tango. . . But if you are from Mexico the stereotypes are very, very, very strong. Sometimes when I encounter someone who knows only that I am from Mexico and nothing else about me, I feel discriminated against. For example, people who don’t know me immediately assume that I am not educated. They talk to me as if I didn’t know things. This actually happens a lot. I am not saying that everybody needs to be educated, but oh my gosh, they speak to me in such a way that I want to say, You know I have a graduate degree you don’t have to talk to me as if I don’t understand things. 

Whirligig: Because of your accent?

Elizabeth: My accent for sure, and then they ask me, Where are you from? And I say, Mexico. In my life in California I have been hired at least three times as a babysitter—I would be with my children and they [some stranger in public] would assume I was a nanny. It was hard for me to convince these moms that I was also a mom and not the nanny. They would ask questions like, “The children speak Spanish to you?” And I would say, Yes. Then they would say, “That’s wonderful. Other nannies I know speak Spanish to the children but the children do not speak Spanish back. Do you have a driver’s license? How much do you charge?” They would be so surprised to find out I was the mother and not the nanny. Some assumptions are stronger than you think. In daily life doors can close easily because people have very strong stereotypes about what a Mexican is. I moved to a new neighborhood and the next door neighbor told me, “I don’t want to be discouraging but Mexicans are moving here.” Things like that happen here and there and everywhere. It always surprises me because most people are nice and good. But those who are rude and not nice. . . they don’t know me, I don’t know them. . .

Whirligig: Part of it is being a woman. . . 

Elizabeth: Yes. But why don’t they just ask me what I think rather than thinking I don’t know anything? Sometimes people start sentences like, “Here in California, we. . . “ immediately making me the other. I’ve been here 30 years. I can say, We in California. . . 

I like so many things about Northern California, but when I face those discriminating people I don’t like it.

Whirligig: I’m sorry that is here.

Naturaleza Muerta, at the Redwood City Art Kiosk

Elizabeth: People don’t know that if you have an accent you are asked a lot, Where are you from? How long are you staying? If it were a neutral question . . . but when you are asked that on a weekly basis it makes you feel as if you don’t belong, you don’t belong, you don’t belong. It makes you feel there is a wall around you everywhere you go. Now when they ask me, I ask them, And where are you from? Tell me about. . .  We all are from somewhere, even if we didn’t cross a border. I try to be light about it but I wish it wasn’t the case.

Whirligig: You’ve been working on a two plus year project. What will you do after?

Elizabeth: The park has asked me to make some individual animals. It will be only me in my studio. I will have control of everything. I am looking forward to that. Then I will paint. I have loved doing this, but it was a lot of heavy lifting.

Whirligig: It’s an important project.

Elizabeth: I love that we have so many community members taking part, and also, if someone came to a workshop and made a piece of the mural, it is included. I didn’t get rid of anything the volunteers created. I kept my promise, that “if you learn to do it, you are a part of the mural.”

Whirligig:  Do you think there was anything in your upbringing that made you particularly tune into non-human animals?

Elizabeth: My grandfather was a farmer. He could barely sell his cows because he loved them. He named them and the chickens and the pigs. When buyers came to take them, he had so much trouble. They followed him like dogs. He was a bad farmer in that sense. I think growing up with him I fell in love with the animals just like he did. Growing up in Mexico City, nature was so devastated by pollution, 20 million people in one city.

One day, everywhere I went, there were dead birds. Something was happening in the air or poison. Walking to school that day was one of the most important days of my life. I realized it was not a normal day. This was human induced. I think I became an environmentalist that day. Later we heard it was a paper factory that did not have proper air filters. They polluted the air. The birds died. . . It really welded a before and after for me.

Whirligig: Do you have a spirit animal? Is there a particular animal you are closest to?

Elizabeth: Not really. I strongly believe the earth would be better off without us. We are the extra animal.

Whirligig: Agreed.

Magical Bridge Playground mural, 2021

Elizabeth: Even sharks and insects have a right to be here. I’m a little bit of Buddhist in that sense. Everything that is living has a right to be here.

What makes me really happy is that I have found many paths to follow and they have taken me to incredible places that I never thought I could go or do. My parents were very sad when I told them I wanted to be an artist. But I am so happy that I am. A perfect day for me has art and nature. I have lived my life like that. And Northern California is a beautiful place and people respect nature here. People are also more open. I know that the Bay Area is the right place for me. Here I can blend in. California has a very nice collection of Asian art and Latino art and Californian art and good food.

Whirligig: How are you feeling now that the mural is up and complete?

Elizabeth: It was a tremendous amount of work. I am exhausted. I am happy.


Whirligig Interview by Nanette Wylde.
All images copyright and courtesy of Elizabeth Gómez.
Elizabeth Gómez’s website.

Minoosh Zomorodinia

July 28th, 2021
A Week Living Art, 2015

Minoosh Zomorodinia is an Iranian-born interdisciplinary artist and curator working in time, space and the natural world. Her current art practice involves nature walks which are documented via smart phone app. The resultant maps are then made tangible via a variety of both old and new technologies. There is an edgy, accessible humor in much of her work—this she calls “the abstract absurd.” In actuality, Zomorodinia uses all aspects of her making to parse and comment on current critical issues including borders and territories, colonialism, immigration, culture and identity, stereotyping, relations of the self to the environment, the power of technology, and the art world itself. Her work is both layered and engaging—smart, funny, and often visually exquisite.

Zomorodinia earned an MFA in New Genres from the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). She has a Masters in Graphic Design and a BA in Photography from Azad University in Tehran. She is the recipient of a Southern Exposure’s Alternative Exposure Award, a California Arts Council grant, and a Kala Media Fellowship Award. She has received residencies at Headlands Center for the Arts, Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists’ Residency in Michigan, I-park Foundation in Connecticut, Local Language Residency in Oakland, Santa Fe Art Institute Residency, Djerassi Residency in Woodside, and Recology in South San Francisco. Zomorodinia has exhibited locally and internationally. She volunteers for Southern Exposure Gallery’s Curatorial Council and is a board member of Women Eco Artists Dialog. Zomorodinia currently lives and works in the Bay Area.

We spoke in the studio at Recology, where Minoosh is resuming an artist residency interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minoosh Zomorodinia Integration with Nature
Integration with Nature, 2010

Whirligig: A great deal of your work has a focus on the body in nature—often your own body which is shrouded, wrapped, blanketed, responding to external elements. Why the body? Why your own body?

Minoosh: There are different reasons to use the body in my work. First, I want to acknowledge that my friend, Tara Goudarzi, generously accepted to be a model for the Destruction of Nature, Destruction of The Human Being as we were traveling together.

One reason to use the body is expressing self. I spend a lot of time in nature, it’s an extraordinary experience and inspiration for my practice. My mind opens and I see things when I’m in nature. I search for spirituality in nature and some sort of psychology for finding positive energy. I have been wanting to illustrate this feeling in different ways.

Another reason is to dematerialize and use my body as a signifier to lived experience as well as illustrate identity. I believe using my body offers a variety of contexts and perceptions. Employing my body in my work somehow represents time and space, especially in my performance installations. I consider my body as a sculpture—I make myself vulnerable to challenge the perception of the female body, and represent culture and religion. I want to emphasize a political perception from a Muslim woman’s body and how it’s been interpreted in the world.

Whirligig: Are you thinking of specific interpretations of a Muslim woman’s body? Can you explain?

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Ever Rodriguez / La Feroz Press

September 22nd, 2020
Ever Rodriguez and Gabriela Valencia in the studio of La Feroz Press.
Ever Rodriguez and Gabriela Valencia in the studio of La Feroz Press.

Ever Rodriguez was born and raised in Mexico and has lived in California since the early 1990s. He writes prose and poetry on themes related to his experience, including immigration, biculturalism, music, language and nature. Ever is a pragmatic writer for whom the common becomes the special as a way to contrast the abject against the normal.  His education includes a B.A. in Spanish Literature and a M.A. in Library & Information Science from San José State University. He has worked for the Stanford University Libraries for the past 25 years. Ever’s letterpress studio, La Feroz Press, focuses on handmade editions with original texts and translations. His work often has the intention of amplifying the voices and concerns of his marginalized community.

Although we live a short bike ride apart, we conducted this interview via email while sheltering-in-place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whirligig: What is the history of La Feroz Press?

Ever: La Feroz Press officially started with this name in January of 2019. We had been working under the name of Taller de Tinta y Texto since 2015, which was the time when our printing press project really took shape. It is wise to say here that when one has the intuition or the wish to do something, one has to follow up with at least one decisive action that would move further towards that direction to really get started. 

For me, the decisive action that put me on the printing track was taking a letterpress class. This allowed me not only to learn the basics of letterpress printing, but it also laid out the challenges I would need to overcome in terms of space and equipment, and it put me in touch with the printer and bookmaking culture and communities that would inspire me to fully embrace this activity.

Out of such initial inspiration I was able to create a space for myself at home where I could potentially house a printing press and other essential equipment. For years our one-car garage was filled with unused furniture, souvenirs and unwanted items, so one day I just decided to get rid of all of it and remodel the space to make room for a printing studio.  

Once I had the space, I started itching to find me a press. At first, I was looking for a hand press, but those are as rare as they are expensive, and I even started looking at the possibilities of making my own wooden hand press. I figured that if Gutenberg’s contemporaries were able to build those presses without the tools we have today, I should be able to build one press half as good. I found and bought a book entitled The Common Press, by Harris and Sisson, which has drawing plans and notes about the construction of the Franklin hand press, owned by the Smithsonian Institution. But I deviated from that adventure for a different alternative.

In January of 2015, I found a small press for sale online. The press was not ideal, and it was certainly nowhere near the Franklin hand press, but it was an inexpensive alternative that would get me started. So I bought it and the next day I drove to Los Angeles to pick up a midsize (14 x 24) Morgan Line-O-Scribe proofing press. This was the very first piece of equipment that I owned, and it came with a little bit of awful metal and wood type, but that satisfied the itching.

I experimented with that proofing press for about one year, and then Matt Kelsey—printer and owner of Camino Press, in Saratoga, California—told me about a Chandler & Price (C&P) 10×15 platen press that somebody was selling in Gilroy. I decided to buy that press, and a few printer friends helped me pick it up, bring it to my garage and install it. Mark Knudsen and Kim Hamilton made beautiful wooden feed boards and a treadle for it, and other printer friends gave me some tools and made me feel welcome to letterpress printing. 

The acquisition of this C&P press gave me added impetus to get more serious about letterpress. I acquired both new and used metal type and other essential tools and items through friends and referrals, and then I started to get more adventurous with printing and designing other things beyond postcards. All along, my wife—who I call Gaby—had been supportive about my new adventure, and I think that when she saw me purchasing that big, old C&P press and hauling it into our garage, she realized that my temporary craziness had turned into long-term seriousness. I think she was happy but surprised and concerned all at once. Once Gaby realized that these old devices and tools were here to stay, and she saw how excited I was about them, she got excited as well and started making lemonade with my lemons.

LFP_ZoombiesCard

A couple of years passed, and in 2017 our friends Linda Stinchfield and Kim Hamilton gave us a beautiful Griffin etching press, thus helping me to expand my horizons to allow for more and better relief printing, which now includes linocuts and occasional woodcuts. Finally in June of 2019, I was lucky to bid on and win a Vandercook SP15 press at a local auction and that is now part of La Feroz Press.

By then I had taken several letterpress printing classes and I even earned core letterpress diplomas from the San Francisco Center for the Book on both the platen and the cylinder press. So far that is the story of La Feroz Press, which is still in the making.

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Judith Selby Lang

November 16th, 2019

Judith Selby Lang

Judith Selby Lang’s website states that she “is an artist committed to the creation of positive symbols and life-affirming images to help energize the conversation about social, political and environmental issues.” This is a perfect description of the uplifting and transformative nature of her multi-dimensional art practice as well as a reflection of her demeanor and personality—creative, positive, life-affirming, energetic, and openly communicative about critical concerns that affect us all.

Lang’s work includes artist’s books, mixed media objects, and a wide range of projects using plastic debris collected from 1000 yards of one beach on the Northern California coast. Lang has an extensive exhibition history. She currently has a large scale beach plastic installation in The Secret Life of Earth: Alive! Awake! (And possibly really Angry!) at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland; and will be showing in The Great Wave: Contemporary Art about the Ocean at the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek, California in early 2020. Her current project is creating a wedding dress made from recovered plastic bags for exhibition in Castaways: Art from the Material World at The Bateman Foundation in Victoria, British Columbia, which opens in Spring of 2020.

Lang has a BA from Pitzer College and an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies in Creative Arts from San Francisco State University. She spent many years teaching art in a variety of North Bay (California) venues before turning her focus to the studio full time. With a barn full of beach plastic—washed, sorted and boxed—collected over the years, Lang has an immense body of work, both independent and collaborative, which reflects our times while engaging viewers from all walks of life in conversations regarding possibilities for improving our environment.

We visited on a bright fall afternoon in her rural Forest Knolls studio, just a short drive to Kehoe Beach.

Whirligig: How did you come to art?

Judith: Defining myself as an artist was a long time in coming. I thought I would never have the patience to be an artist. People have this preconception that art is a wild and spontaneous activity but don’t know that after the flash of inspiration sometimes a long and tedious effort is required to realize the vision.

I grew up in a family that was art friendly. My dad and mom both painted. We went regularly to the art museum. In 1962 my parents took me to the Dallas Museum of Art where I saw Andrew Wyeth’s painting That Gentleman.

The painting drew many to the museum—there were long lines with stanchions and velvet ropes to control the crowds. Was it because curious onlookers wanted a glimpse of a painting of a black man? Mind you it was a simple scene of a black man seated, in dusky light, in a moment of repose. It’s of Wyeth’s neighbor Tom Clark. To me it seemed a radical move for the museum to exhibit a painting of a black man especially at a time when segregation still existed in the South. I remember water fountains with signs for whites only, for blacks only. This was 1962, years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Perhaps it was the shock to the public that the museum had purchased the painting or maybe, it was, as I would like to think, that there was tremendous interest in seeing a masterwork by a great American artist. Either way there were people, lots of people waiting for their turn to view the painting.

The line moved slowly in a kind of reverential prayer and when it was my turn I stepped up in front of the painting to gaze with wonder not only at the power of the image but also the incredible finesse of the brush work. Something in my young heart was deeply moved. At that moment I made a commitment to art. I made my pledge to become an artist. That an image could have such an incredible impact on me and the people who had come to the museum was something that I too wanted to accomplish. On that day, at age twelve, I knew that I wanted to do something that would make a difference—to make art that would shine a light on injustice in the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Felicia Rice

January 19th, 2018

Felicia Rice, well known for her fine press work and collaborative books, celebrated 40 years of Moving Parts Press in December with a solo show at Felix Kulpa Gallery in Santa Cruz, California. Rice has worked with notable Californian artists and writers including: Francisco Alarcón, Elba Rosaria Sánchez, Juan Felipe Herrera, Enrique Chagoya and Guillermo Gómez-Peña. As Moving Parts Press, Rice has received the Rydell Visual Arts Fellowship, Elliston Book Award, Stiftung Buchkunst Schönste Bücher aus aller Welt Ehrendiplom, and grants from the NEA, CAC and the French Ministry of Culture. With Perseverance furthers: Moving Parts Press 1977-2017. Rice celebrates her history as printer, publisher, artist and collaborator. We visited the gallery to experience the work, talk about making books and working with other creatives.

Felicia Rice portrait

Whirligig: You started Moving Parts Press in 1977 as a printshop in downtown Santa Cruz. How did you come to letterpress?

Felicia: When I was a kid a friend’s mother had a letterpress in the family room. It was a little table top pilot press. I can remember standing in the room and seeing it, and maybe touching it.

My folks were artists and teachers: my mother was a sculptor and kid’s art teacher. I grew up in her art classes and was exposed to all types of fine arts. My parents were founding members of the Mendocino Art Center. My father was a mosaic artist in the Art and Architecture movement in San Francisco working with Lawrence Halprin. He did pool bottoms and walls. Later he made independent fine art animated films.

The critical point came after I had left home. I was living in Berkeley around the corner from David Lance Goines’ studio and letterpress shop. My mom accidentally sent me one of those San Francisco Chronicle Weekend Edition articles on “Letterpress Printers of the Bay Area.” Adrian Wilson, Jack Stauffacher–there were about five of them. She accidentally sent it to me instead of my older sister. So I’m reading this thing and looking in the window at what’s going on around the corner. I started thinking this might be something I could get into. It didn’t necessarily mean I had to stay with it. I was 18 or 19 and thought maybe I could learn more. I went to Laney College which had a print and graphics program. The instructor said, “If you want to be a printer you need to get into computers.”

It was a time when there was a lot of support for crafts. A lot of my peers who grew up in California were carpenters or in the trades, which were highly respected. And the newspapers listed a lot of jobs for printers; so I thought I could be a printer. I could get work. At Laney there was some old letterpress stuff, but there was mostly this idea that one would go on to computers. It was interesting. I had also taken a printmaking class in Oregon around this time. I thought I could go to school for this but if it was just a fluke I could change my mind and do something else. I started looking around for print programs. There wasn’t really anything going on in the Bay Area. I came down to Santa Cruz with a friend to visit the school, and a friend of my friend said there was a press in the basement of Cowell College dining hall. So we went down there and there was this beautiful letterpress studio with a Vandercook, type and floor to ceiling windows with a gorgeous view of the bay. That’s how I got started. Jack Stauffacher was teaching.

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