reflections (on drawings)

Headed out to downtown Mesa to visit the Mesa Arts Center, with Dolores. Currently they’re showing two contemporary artists who draw, on paper.  Because I teach drawing, the snail mail invite I received, caught my attention. The postcard hangs in my studio until this morning, when I take it down to look at it again.

As I sit writing about the visit, I recall noting the glass, as I walk into the individual galleries. One artist, who works large-scale uses regular reflective glass, and the other, whose work is smaller, uses non-glare glass.  If I didn’t know we were viewing drawings, I could guess by the protective glass.

We enter the gallery where Vincent Valdez’s Stations are hanging. One quick glance at the large, black charcoal works on paper and I’m pulled in. Figurative. Dense. Dark. I take the whole room in, I glance at the artist statement, and then I begin looking at individual drawings. There are 10 of them, total. I understand Valdez is referring to The Stations of The Cross, that are present in every Catholic Church, and depict the final hours of Christ’s life. These artworks depict a boxers final days. We see the boxer being escorted down the isle to the rink, preparing to fight, eventually  there is a knock out, a lifeless form, and then the boxer rises. Ready to go again.

The figures are large, looming, and striking, in a charcoal rendered environment, speckled with various characters. Valdez skews a few of the compositions within their frame, and with the title as support, we (the viewers of the artwork) become the audience, we become the mob.

I realize much later, I know his work.  I clearly remember Valdez’s series of Pachuco prints, at the El Paso Art Museum, years ago.  His work was part of the traveling Cheech Marin collection. I loved his work then, and I love it now. Though the imagery is very different. He’s young, clearly skilled, and clever. What he does with the figure, space and charcoal…is incredible.  I can’t get a good shot…because these are large and dark drawings as I said, and they’re behind glass. The flash distracts. Fact is, because the works are covered with glass the viewer (myself, in this case) is always reflected and present in the image.  This only  adds to the experience of being a witness to the boxers final hours.

Though I like all the work for varying reasons, my favorite drawing is the lifeless body of the boxer as it lies on a table.  The horizontal, larger than life figure. is stunning. His laced boots, along with the rest of him, is at eye level.  My least favorite is the suggested risen boxer.  Compared to all of the work, this figure is portrayed life-size or near so. Perhaps unlike the Christ, the boxer is brought back down to earth.

The back gallery holds Chris Rush portraits.  the show is titled Stare. And stare closely, we do. Upon entering you might think you’re looking at paintings.  The work, along with the space has a warm, intimate quality about it. Especially in comparison to what we just saw. Again, all the works are drawings, mostly Conte′. That they look like paintings is deliberate, I realize, as I read the artists statement. Rush paints people of various ages, with either physical and/or mental disabilities. He places them in compositions familiar to anyone who’s studied art history. Rush’s subject matter is oddly beautiful and the subject oddly dignified. The surface is sensual, even the paper is wonderfully worked. The quality of the entire exhibit is completely inviting.

If you’ve taken a drawing class with me, you should take the time to visit these exhibits. You’ll be familiar with all the materials and you may be stimulated by the work.

Before we leave the Mesa Center for the Arts, I drop by The Store.  I don’t see Andrea, the manager56. The store carries my lithograph, and a few of my prints. They have new things in there…always a good experience to see what’s happening out on the east side of the valley. Dolores and I enjoy the experience.

you rock!

Joe Willie Smith and I first exhibited our work together in 1995, at the Arizona Artists Here and Now exhibit, in the Nelson Fine Arts Center.  Since then our artwork has crossed paths on numerous occasions. I’ve always appreciated his creativity.  We finally met while members of eye lounge.

This summer I was asked to participate in a fundraiser at the Mesa Arts Center. Artists were asked to paint hub caps.  I was not all that excited to do this. I don’t creatively connect to cars, nor car parts…I resisted. Eventually while having a dinner gathering and setting my table, I got an idea for how I might approach the hub cap.  No strong content, just pure and appropriate design. I just have to say, I didn’t like painting on metal either. I grumbled throughout the process. But I was satisfied with end result (below), and eventually with the entire experience.


Talavera Hub Cap, Monica Aissa Martinez

I dropped into the Mesa Arts Center the day after the opening.  The exhibit titled Wheels and Ink ran in conjunction with two larger exhibits.  I walked into the gallery and saw all the hub caps, including my own, sprinkled across a back wall.

But my attention was drawn to a side panel where a multi-media work hung.  Sound drew me in that direction. I approached and I noticed a hub cap. A hub cap turned into  an instrument!  The work was positioned in front of video, of someone playing the stringed hub cap. The sound was visceral, it was an experience all on its own. As I looked on, I noticed the person in the video. It was Joe Willie Smith! I watched mesmerized. Hub cap turned into string instrument…video of artist playing the contraption…and the sound…the sound…internal and raw.  I got a rush of adrenalin in the way that I get when I look at exciting art work.  It was intelligent and creative.  Joe Willie you rock!


It set the tone for how I experienced the rest of the exhibit.  I carefully observed how each artist re-presented the circular metal form.
It also set the tone for how I came to my studio the next few days. This is what art should do…I kept thinking…form and content.

  • Capture attention in a unique way.
  • Incite thought.
  • Bring one into the moment.
  •  Inspire a new way of seeing…a new way of doing…a new way of being.

This will set the tone for how I approach this sort of invitational, in the future. Take me out of my comfort zone, I’ll not grumble next time.


Joe Willie, is not only a visual artist but he’s also a musician. He really does rock.  He let my husband try out his drums recently. Eddie gave it a try.

I now (as of a few years ago) have a Joe Willie Smith painting that resides in my dining area.
…never tire of it.

Joe Willie teaches a multi-media course, “Urban Field Studies: The Art of Finding” at Phoenix College.

Wheels and Ink opened on Sept 12, and will run thru Jan 4, 2009.  The work is for sale with 25% of the price of the art going to MAC, 25% going to Free Arts for Abused Children and 50%  to the individual artist.

You can read about all the exhibits at the Mesa Arts Center Blog.