Lavon Maestas in her Placitas art studio
Photo credit: —Oli Robbins
Birch 1, painting, by Lavon Maestas
For the love of art: the creative journey of Lavon Maestas
“I love being creative. It just satisfies something in my heart, mind, being.” These are the words of Placitas painter and mixed-media artist Lavon Maestas, who has been making art for as long as she can remember—since she was “an ankle biter.” She grew up in Washington in a home with walls often dressed in butcher paper—a strategy designed by the artist’s mother, who didn’t want her daughter drawing on every square inch of their home. Recalls Lavon, “every piece of paper in the entire house had sketches on it.”
Lavon “always, always, always” took art classes and, as a high school student, also expressed herself visually in a Star Trek club. Long before the days of Star Trek conventions replete with “Trekkies” decked out in character costumes, Lavon belonged to a group of ladies who would write fan fiction scripts. She was responsible for designing the costumes that corresponded with the scripts. And her friends were not the only ones to recognize her talent. The administration office of her high school proudly displayed her fine art paintings on its walls. But there was one particularly annoying side effect of being one of the school’s best artists: her paintings were frequently stolen from her cubbies. “I remember I was painting something on velvet, a very country little scene with a fireplace and a rocking chair and a cat. I came in to work on it, and it was gone.” At least these pesky robberies confirmed her work’s desirability!
Lavon attended University of Washington, where she studied nursing and took advantage of the various art classes offered. She, however, never received her nursing degree (which is a good thing considering her squeamish reaction to blood and bones) and went on to achieve excellence in a field more suited to her skills. While in college, Lavon decided to join the army reserve, realizing she could get paid more for working two days a month than she could for slaving away at a fast food joint for a week. The reserve sent her to training, which cut into the fall quarter of university classes. Since she couldn’t jump into the semester after it had already begun, she pursued a job. She had trained in drafting with the reserve, so she applied for a drafter position at Boeing. Remarkably, Boeing was so impressed with her that they sent her to a technical college to get an airline drafting certificate. Boeing did make her a job offer following the completion of her certificate, but a different company offered her a better one. Lavon continues to work full-time as a drafter and technical illustrator.
Lavon moved to New Mexico in ’83 when her first husband landed an engineering job in Santa Fe. Lavon was thrilled about the move and planned, finally, to study and produce art full-time. But due to her husband’s declining health, she discontinued her studies and returned to work full-time. The two eventually divorced, but Lavon remained in Santa Fe and found that, with a house all to herself, she finally had space—and time—for art. She reveled in the assorted fine art that surrounded her in Santa Fe, and would spend every Friday night visiting the galleries on Canyon Road with a group of friends. “It was just very inspirational,” recalls Lavon. She began taking classes and experimenting with new mediums, including monotypes. Soon after, Lavon found a drafting job in Albuquerque and met her current husband, Victor. Lavon jokingly assures me that, despite being an engineer, Victor is “quite creative.” Lavon and Victor house-hunted all around Albuquerque, but eventually fell in love with Placitas, to which they were attracted because of its slightly higher elevation, “good dark,” and stunning landscape. Since moving to Placitas, Lavon’s paintings have become “more complex,” likely due to the fact that she’s finally devoting so much time to her craft.
Lavon’s studio is teeming with not only paintings but also mixed-media pieces. She works on non-traditional painting surfaces like travertine—pieces of which were left over after a floor remodeling—and with non-traditional materials, such as cigar bands. She paints in several different styles, and enjoys realism as much as she does abstraction. Says Lavon, “subject matter that calls to me is as varied as skulls to landscapes to total abstracts.” She believes that, for a painting to be good, it must convey a great deal of emotion. “All paintings are about emotions, as far as I’m concerned.” Through color, Lavon “expresses feeling, sensuality, drama, and peace.”
She participates in the “Let’s Paint New Mexico Challenge,” a project spearheaded by painter Dee Sanchez, who posts a photograph of New Mexico online and encourages artists to create paintings based upon it. Such an assignment works well for Lavon, who often begins her process by studying photographs, from which she fashions loosely abstracted representations. It’s fascinating to see the great number of ways in which New Mexico imagery can inspire (visit www.letspaintnewmexico.com to view the challenge paintings). I’m reminded of when, back in the Impressionist era, Renoir and Monet each painted La Grenouillere, a resort for the Parisian working class. The two Impressionist masters depict the same local, emphasize the play of light, and take leisure as their subject matter. But despite these similarities, and the fact that the artists were likely sitting just a few feet from one another, inspecting their subject from a nearly identical vantage point, somehow, through color choice, shading, brushstroke, and arrangement, each painting is its own subjective impression. Likewise, viewing Lavon’s paintings alongside the others in the “Let’s Paint New Mexico Challenge” demonstrates just how diverse our perceptions are; each interpretation is subtly but profoundly original.
Lavon’s work can be viewed on her website, www.cerro-maestas-estudio.com and in her studio by appointment or on display at Arte de Placitas and Elinor Oldham’s Art and Bead Gallery in Albuquerque.