Featured artist of the month:
Over root beer floats at The Range in Bernalillo, Julianna Kirwin
tells me how important culture and place are to her. “Bernalillo
has a history of over four hundred years. People have been here
for generations,” she says. Passing through New Mexico at
the age of twelve, she wanted to become an artist; twenty years
ago she bought the Silver Dollar Saloon on the main street with
its casita in back, and has been working out of it and fixing it
up ever since.
La Oaxaquena By Julianna Kirwin
Serigraphs reflect her love of New Mexico, and monotypes present
its mythology. Her studio is transitioning since a trip to the Havana
Biennale with a UNM art history class in 2003 “brought ideas
waiting to be born to fruition.” From the personal creative
experience she has gone toward the collective. Her efforts with
the gallery have always been collaborative: she has been involved
in creating an Art Parade with art cars, giant papier-mâché
puppets, a shower curtain show, and a toy show at Christmas. The
idea of community is important to her—she doesn’t want
to be in an isolated environment, “making art to sell to those
who can afford it,” and is distressed that a large segment
of the community was never involved in the art process. Work she
saw in Havana was experiential, and not about the object. Constructed
with limited materials, it communicated experiences of life in Cuba,
as well as Latin America and Africa. When she returned, she literally
tore down walls within the building, opening and reforming her space.
Masks By Julianna Kirwin
Julianna feels that these times demand activism on a community
and national level, saying, “Social and environmental issues
need to be commented on and reflected upon by artists, who can be
instrumental as agents for change in their community.” She
travels to Mexico every year, and will make an exhibit titled “Sin
Maiz No Hay Paiz” (Without Corn There’s No Country),
an important part of her agenda this year.
She teaches art to K-2 students for the Bernalillo Public Schools,
which is forty-five percent Hispanic and forty-two percent Native
American, with six or seven pueblos within the school district.
Her desire is to combine art with literacy, and she is earning her
MA in Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies at UNM. “Art
is like eating and breathing, and can be a wonderful partner in
the development of language,” she says. Blue corn thrives
in her courtyard, a head start on a project on Indian corn of the
Americas that will combine principles of healthy living with art,
literacy, and the history of corn. She familiarizes students with
Georgia O’Keeffe in sketching and painting the landscape,
celebrates the Day of the Dead, complete with making piñatas
and sugar skulls, and this year her students made stacks of tiny
adobe bricks from which they built houses, churches, and then plazas.
Now there is an alignment for her between work, study, artistic
expression and her love of both Mexico and New Mexico. Her goal
is to establish a community-based art program that serves children
within the context of New Mexico’s history and culture.
From printmaking, which has been a wonderful artistically educational
medium for her, she has now veered into painting and sculpture.
Julianna belongs to a Tibetan Buddhist sangha in Corrales, and recently
created thirteen papier-mâché masks of Tibetan deities
for a performance of the Tibetan Book of the Dead at the VSA Theatre
in Albuquerque. The masks were constructed from recycled objects,
using egg cartons and even pieces of pressed tin sheeting from her
“Here in New Mexico, our history is a unique blend of Native,
Mexican, and US national identities.” Julianna’s experiences
growing up in the Midwest were rich with music and art, with two
musicians as parents—and she was very aware of her father
being first generation Polish American. He used his love of music
to spark the imagination of students across the state of Nebraska,
engaging them in learning a stringed instrument. He loved collage
and Julianna’s assignments always included a collage cover
depicting the subject matter.
From her new back studio, Las Cocinitas (The Little Kitchens),
a different type of art is emerging. The adobe building behind the
gallery on Bernalillo’s Main Street will serve as the workshop
and exhibition space for Julianna Kirwin’s art, making San
Felipe Street, which was the original main street of Bernalillo,
host to two galleries (the Angus McDougal Gallery near The Range
and the workshop of Ben Forgey). Studio hours will be by appointment.
Julianna’s website is www.juliannakirwin.com.