Sandoval Signpost



An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988
  Featured Artist

Jade Layva

Jade Leyva in her Placitas studio painting Natural Instinct—“A hummingbird feeding her babies, symbolizing the power of the natural instinct of motherhood”
Photo credit: —Oli Robbins

Loving Nature

Loving Nature—“She is a child of the earth holding a precious bird with love; this behavior makes her royalty among nature and Earth gives her a flower crown”—painting, by Jade Leyva

Nature's Lullaby

Nature's Lullaby—“A musical tree playing a lullaby to birds, symbolizing the soothing sound of trees in the wind that calms everything around them”—painting, by Jade Leyva

Big Bang

Big Bang,—painting, by Jade Leyva

Signpost featured artist—Jade Leyva

Painting the imagination

—Oli Robbins

It’s no wonder that birds figure prominently in the magical realist paintings of Placitas artist Jade Leyva. To Leyva, birds symbolize freedom and, like a bird, Leyva feels “really free without limitations.” Certainly, Leyva’s creative output and potential seem boundless. Growing up in Mexico City, Leyva was attracted to, and surrounded by, art, though it would take a move to Scottsdale, Arizona for her to realize and hone her artistic strengths.

Art was a permanent fixture in Leyva’s Mexican-American home. Her mother painted often and her step dad—to whom she attributes her ability to draw realistically—was also an artist. Her mother made Leyva’s cultural education a priority and would take her to see ruins, Oaxaca, pyramids, and downtown Mexico City. Leyva’s Aunt Carmen owned a successful art gallery—which carried paintings by such greats as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera—in Mexico City, where Leyva worked from the age of sixteen. The gallery was instrumental in Leyva’s artistic education. Not only would the surrealist and magical realist paintings sold there help shape Leyva’s own artistic philosophy, but the gallery also funded Leyva’s enrollment in various art courses. While working at the gallery, Leyva explains, she was “always doing something on the side that was artistic.” For example, she began creating and selling Oaxacan-inspired wood carvings.

In 2000, Leyva decided to come visit her family in Arizona. She hadn’t intended to make a permanent home in the states, but life had other plans for her. Leyva began working in restaurants and, to supplement her income and satisfy her creative impulses, made hand-crafts for her aunt’s store in Scottsdale.

Leyva’s artistic outpouring was strong and steady, but she didn’t believe it could lead to a career—that is, until she waited on a customer who would profoundly impact the course of her artistic journey. This customer was collector, painter, and restorer Bill Freeman, who Leyva had the pleasure of meeting in 2001. Their mutual appreciation for art and culture inspired many conversations and Leyva and Freeman became quick friends. Leyva eventually visited Freeman’s immense, museum-worthy collection of art and artifacts. “That was my first experience seeing Native American pottery,” Leyva recalls. “That was so new for me. I was used to all of the Mayan art, but I was like ‘what’s this?’ I spent hours looking around and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I found it amazing.” Freeman’s spirit, collection and friendship were fundamental to Leyva’s artistic growth.

Leyva began aiding Freeman in replicating and restoring pots, and became well-versed in restoration and antiquing. She noticed that Freeman, like many of his friends, was able to work as an artist full-time. She said to herself, “I better pay attention.” She began practicing and experimenting with different techniques and materials and, before long, was showing her paintings—most of which were inspired by totem poles—in a gallery in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Freeman’s collection exposed Leyva to various artistic traditions. She found that she was most interested in his assembly of Mayan art, alongside of which, in many ways, she had grown up. Before long, Leyva realized that she was incorporating elements from Mexican culture in her work.

With some coaxing from Freeman, Leyva moved to New Mexico in 2006 and the following year, reached a turning point in her art, wherein everything her mom, stepdad and Freeman taught her, came together. It was also this year that Leyva began working at The Range Cafe with bead-worker Marguerite Houle, with whom Leyva would shortly thereafter share a studio space in Bernalillo. It was in that studio that Leyva’s style grew and matured. She partially attributes this stylistic shift to the many conversations she had with Marguerite at The Range and in the studio. “It was so organic,” says Leyva, “I realized who I was.” Leyva found that her art evolved when she didn’t have to look at anything for inspiration; her ideas grew from within and flowered into artistic forms.

Leyva’s decision to attend ¡Globalquerque! in 2008 proved to be a good one. It was there that she met her current husband, ¡Globalquerque! founder Tom Frouge. Frouge was impressed by Leyva’s style and asked her to create the poster art for the 2009 festival. Honored and inspired, Leyva worked feverishly on a painting that would celebrate the festival’s multi-cultural, musical, all-embracing spirit. She completed the painting, entitled One Song, in two short weeks. Leyva’s ¡Globalquerque! commission led to a radio interview and a major sale at the 2009 event. Many more commissions, sales, and shows flowed from there. 

Leyva grew up reading magical realism, the genre with which she most closely associates as an artist. Says Leyva, “Magical realism seems unreal, but it’s just set in a different way—it’s metaphor; every time I do a painting, there’s a story.” To this day, Leyva turns to poetry for inspiration.

Hoping to encourage people to create, Leyva offers painting workshops. She enjoys experiencing the artistic process with others and does not believe in keeping her ideas and techniques to herself. “I think the more creativity you put out there, the more people become creative from what you’re doing. It’s like you’re done with your mission for the world. Why not share with others?”

Leyva’s work can be viewed in the show El Arte de Tres Amigas: Earth Dreams at Albuquerque’s Boro Gallery until June 30. Next month, from July 1 to August 3, her paintings will be featured at the Placitas Community Library—opening reception July 13.

Leyva can be contacted by emailing or calling 505-771-3166.

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