Not Everything Is Illuminated: New Mexico Artist Sheds Light On Complicated Lives

New Mexico Artist Sheds Light On Complicated Lives

5 min read
Not Everything Is Illuminated
“Angelica” (Images courtesy of the artist)
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Art has been part of Jodie Herrera’s life for as long as she can remember—literally. Her very first memory is of drawing her dad, and she credits her first experience of love to a time her mother made her a paint palette with the color teal. It’s her favorite color to this day. She says, “I’ve always felt intense and passionate and in love with art and painting, and I’ve never had any other identity than artist.”

This intertwining of emotions and artistic techniques comes through loud and clear in her works, which incorporate the sometimes tumultuous biographies of their female models. The opening reception of her new show
The Shape I’m In is Saturday, Nov. 22, at Tractor Brewery, Wells Park (1800 Fourth Street NW).

While her works may look whimsical at first glance, a dense matrix of symbols is embedded within. The semi-photorealistic “Angelica,” for example, features two nude females who are in fact the same person at different stages of life. The background version is timid, slouched over, holding a Swiss Army knife, while in the foreground she is confident, poised and holds a tattoo pen. Herrera explains how the model used to be in a dark place and would cut herself, but as she grew older, she redirected some of those same impulses into a career as a tattoo artist. (Some of the models prefer that their stories be kept secret, but this particular woman is very open about her situation as part of her healing process.) Slashes of red on the past version contrast with splashes of blue for the other. The wood it’s painted on is significant as well, tapping into Herrera’s idea of “how beautiful it is to be exposed and raw, which also has a correlation with the nudity I present.”

She makes extensive use of chiaroscuro, which she defines as dramatic lighting. Throughout her work, the models are often lit on one side while remaining in shadow on the other, all of which is connected to her theory of femininity. She rejects the typical portrayals of women in the media and art, which are either dehumanized sex symbols on the one hand or innocent symbols of purity on the other. When those are the only options, it’s “one-sided and feels very empty and incomplete.” She strives to portray a woman as a holistic person with light and dark and complexity and change. “Our shadows make us beautiful as women, and we shouldn’t have to hide that,” she says.

In addition to paintings, her signature pieces are her light boxes. She takes a vintage suitcase, cuts out a hole, attaches one of her framed prints and lights the box from within. These pieces tie together many of the themes Herrera has worked with throughout her career as an artist: illumination, femininity, notions of what’s inside a person (their “baggage”), as well as movement and change.

Herrera’s artistic sensibilities were formed very much in the crucible of New Mexico. Her ancestors are a mix of indigenous and Spanish people who have lived in this area for the last 500 years. Herrera herself has traveled around various parts of the US and Europe and studied art from around the world, but for her there’s no other place like New Mexico.

Her artistic development proceeded from these origins, albeit not always on the normal path. She learned anatomy from drawing the models in
Lowrider magazine—all she had available to her at the time, she says. Then while earning her BFA with honors from UNM, she dropped her painting class three separate times despite having been an illustrator all her life. The subject’s stature intimidated her, and it wasn’t until the fourth go-round that she was able to jump that hurdle.

The show (which is free of charge) promises many diversions, even aside from the puzzles of interconnecting symbolism in Herrera’s work. DJs Cloudface and Boogaloo will keep the tunes pumping throughout the night, and at 7pm there will be a dance performance by Opal Moon. A secret performance will follow. Herrera would not say what it was (because that’s how secrets work) but did reveal, “It’s going to be really awesome, I’ll tell you that much.”

It’s also her birthday.

Come help make it one to remember, and bring blankets, jackets, backpacks and sleeping bags. Not because it’s going to be a sleepover (sadly, the event will end at midnight), but because there’s a drive to collect these items run by Health Care for the Homeless, an organization that services 7,000 people in Albuquerque each year. And because in exchange you will receive three raffle tickets with a chance to win art created by numerous talented artists, including one of Herrera’s own trademark light boxes.

The show’s title itself holds layers of meaning. On the literal side of things, there are the geometric figures and feminine symbols like circles and triangles, which at times surround the models she paints. And then more figuratively, there’s an exploration of what sort of shape these women are in, how they’ve come to be who they are in all their intensity and shadows, their inner and outer beauty.

The Shape I’m In opening reception

Runs through Jan. 22

Saturday, Nov. 22, 6pm to midnight

Tractor Brewery, Wells Park

1800 Fourth Street NW


Not Everything Is Illuminated

“Bones and Bows Illuminated”

Not Everything Is Illuminated

“The Blue Tara”

Not Everything Is Illuminated

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