Artists on Coping: Maria de Los Angeles

During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.


Madonna of the Roses, Acrylic on Canvas, 36 x 48 inches, 2020

Maria de Los Angeles is a multidisciplinary artist who addresses issues of migration, displacement, identity, and otherness through her drawing, painting, printmaking, and fashion. She holds an MFA in Painting & Printmaking from Yale School of Art (2015), a BFA in Painting from Pratt Institute (2013), and an Associate Degree in Fine Arts from Santa Rosa Junior College (2010). In 2015, she was awarded the Blair Dickinson Memorial Prize by Yale University for her art and role in the community. Recent exhibitions include a solo show at the Museum of Sonoma County, and group shows at Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland, Oregon, and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Her work has been featured in Hyperallergic, New York Magazine, and Hellowgiggles.

AS: How are you coping?

MDLA: First I went through shock–is this really happening? Now here we are, not knowing when we will be beyond this health and financial crisis. It’s hard to predict, so we’re taking one day at a time, living our lives with as much freedom and hope as possible, while following advice to keep everyone healthy and safe. Also staying connected to loved ones online and by phone.


Mother & Child #3, Acrylic on wood panel, 7 x 5 inches, 2020

AS: Has your routine changed?

MDLA: We are pretty active, but are limiting our time outside. My teaching job is now online and a mural project with Harlem seniors has been postponed. Trips we’d planned through June 2020 have been cancelled, as museums and schools have closed.

We’re juicing daily and being good about what food we make, enjoying our time en casa as much as possible. My work tends to be large, but right now in my studio I’m making small pieces on wood panels given to me by my friend Jim Spitzer, a local Santa Rosa artist who passed away a year ago. I painted on them in 2012, but recently painted over these images that seemed muffled versions of my current intent. I’m happy with the new work.


Small painting, 2020

AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?

MDLA: Frustrated, but optimistic. There’s so much learning about how to change our habits and the way things are done. But we are resilient, so enjoying little things like walking and the occasional bike ride for exercise. When I feel overwhelmed, I walk into my studio and work on a small painting.


Small painting, 2020

In the last month, I also started making 5” x 7” paintings on wood panels inspired by the Retablo tradition. At the center of each is a mother and child, in my thoughts especially those in detention centers or separated from their children at the border between the United States and Mexico. I like the concept of the embrace, and often have a mother holding a child or young person, while helicopters circle around them, as small characters who could be ICE agents or border patrols arrive. These characters often appear in my larger works, but this time I decided to make them more prominent.


Small Painting, 12 x 12 x 2 inches, 2020

I’ve included the landscape or garden as a setting, and show a series of figures running while holding hands. These are a metaphor for migration, and also for the circle of life and basic humanity. They are skeletons, but don’t necessarily mean darkness, but are a way for me to talk about joy, life, death, ancestors, transition, movement, journey, and basic humanity. They contrast with the center figures who, held together by embrace, evoke a feeling of serenity, love and lasting peace.

Other inhabitants of my painting sometimes reference past experiences of the characters, and other times allude to future events. I show various narratives happening at the same time, at different levels of importance. I like the meaning in my work to unfold slowly, with people discovering elements and moments they didn’t see at first. I think about time, and the time needed to fully take in the emotional and psychological impact of a painting and it’s story.


Heaven in Bloom, Acrylic on Canvas, 66 x 83 inches, 2019 (currently on view at the Colorado Fine Arts Center)

AS: What matters most right now?

MDLA: Our main goal is to stay healthy and maintain positive energy. Staying positive really matters. Art and good living habits are a way to stay happy.


La Virgen de Guadalupe y el Indio, 54 x 72 inches, 2020 

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

MDLA: I’m optimistic because humanity is resilient. But this is a wake up call to be more in tune with nature and work toward a healthier planet, with a national healthcare system for the good of all people.

Catherine Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer based in New York. She wrote the introductions to Meryl Meisler’s two books, and is currently working on an oral history about recent changes in photography.