Fine art

Bringin’ it all home again

Taos-born artist Jodie Herrera explores her personal roots in new exhibit

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“Taos was an incredible place to grow up as a creative,” said artist Jodie Herrera. “I never felt ostracized for being different, but instead felt accepted and comfortable in expressing myself. I was a feral creature and felt at home among my fellow eccentrics.”

An exhibition of Herrera’s work, titled “Home Bound,” will open with a reception Friday (Dec. 1), 6-9 p.m., at FaraHNHeight Fine Art, 311 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.

“I first got introduced to Jodie’s work when I saw it in Albuquerque,” said FaraHNHeight’s gallery director Gregory Farah. “I was struck with the imagery first and foremost. I didn’t know anything about her, or the kind of agenda and activism that’s behind each work, which is astonishing in its own right. What originally drew me toward the work when I saw it, was how powerful it was, how captivating. It has this almost art deco kind of sophistication and grace. She paints on wood. You can see the grain of the wood, and then there are these amazingly majestic, stylized, figurative portraits of women. Like from a fairy tale, like a fantasy — they’re goddess-like.”

Herrera described her work as an homage to the feminine spirt. “Each subject within the paintings is going through, or has persevered through, some kind of trauma in their life,” she said. “I incorporate symbolism relevant to the subjects’ interests and heritage to visually narrate their stories within the paintings. Each work is accompanied with a detailed write-up that explains the stories and symbolism used within the painting. I also paint using chiaroscuro (wide range of light and dark) to reference how a woman’s depth can only be truly rendered when her darkest of shadows are present as well as her light. I want to celebrate the beauty and resilience of the women I have the honor of working with, and hope their stories can provide a source of strength and inspiration for others.”

Art, she said, “has been my focus since I’ve had a belly button. I have never known my life to be without it. It was my first passion, and actually my first memory is of sitting on my mother’s lap drawing a series of lines, dots and circles that was supposed to be my father’s ‘portrait.’ In my dad’s opinion, it still stands as my finest work.”

Herrera spoke of the influences that have shaped her life and work, saying, “New Mexico is my world, my family, my culture. I think the only other identity that I would label myself, other than an artist, is a New Mexican. My family has been here for approximately five hundred years, and I know it will be my final resting place, leaving behind generations to come hopefully. Cuba, New Mexico, where my dad’s from, is pure New Mexican, more conservative and traditional; and Taos, where I grew up with my mother, was the wild stomping grounds of the eccentric and artistic. Cuba grounded me, and Taos taught me how to fly. My years as a youth were an interesting dichotomy, but necessary to my character and art, showing me the value in being open.”

Herrera cited her mother’s artistry and her Taos education as primary influences on her work. “My mother, Mercedes Montoya, is talented, hard-working, prolific, empowered and all-around bad-ass! She came to Taos with four children and $40 in her pocket, and in three years she had her own successful business called Casa De Mercedes. While running the business, she taught herself how to bead and to silver-smith. She had the business for nine years but decided to go back to school, where she learned pottery and picked up painting again. Since 2002, my mother has been a full-time artist in jewelry and pottery, and with absolutely all biases aside, her work is stunning beyond words, she’s the full package. I feel incredibly grateful to have such a righteous example in my life.”

She reminisced about growing up in her mother’s Bent Street shop. “I had extremely rich experiences in Taos that I like to think have forever fed my creativity. I grew up free to roam around the area, frequenting all the galleries and shops, from when I was just a tadpole into my late teenage years. I made my rounds every day and they all knew me by name. I remember feeling so inspired by it all, putting compositions in my head of all the things I would see. To this day I can see how these years influenced me creatively.”

“Beyond the freedom I had and the natural beauty I got to experience living in Taos, one thing that was very empowering was my time at Chamisa Mesa school. I’ve never heard of anything comparable to it to this day. We were a tiny school, but a large family. Our dean, Charles Bush, was the white-haired embodiment of Jesus, Buddha and Santa Claus all in one. He was patient, compassionate and wise. All the teachers there, each of them had a defining quality that guided us though our tumultuous and hormonal teenage years. The grounds were open and unconventional. If it wasn’t for Chamisa Mesa, I probably would’ve never gotten past my crippling insecurity about having dyslexia, or had the confidence to go to college, where I began my love affair with oil painting.”

Herrera is now based in Albuquerque, and said she was looking forward to showing her work in her hometown. “I’m excited, because even though I grew up here it will be my first exhibition in Taos. It feels good to come back home and share my passion that is very much influenced by my upbringing here.”

“I’m so very honored and thrilled that she’s doing a show at the gallery,” Farah said. “She’s the real deal — she’s extremely talented, has something to say, a message to get across. She wants to promote beauty and understanding and activism, and it shows not only in the work that she does, but also the way she does it. It’s thought out, and it’s great social commentary and important.”

Show will remain on view through March 1. Visit JodieHerrera.com for more information.

Editor’s note: The byline on the print edition of this story was in error. It has been corrected here.

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