2/4/2013 3:21:00 PM Never underestimate the power
of Gretchen Lopez
Gretchen Lopez teaches both traditional and contemporary art, from portraiture and figurative painting to still life.
By Louise MacDonald Special to Kudos
A splash of vivid red! The figure of a shawled Hispanic woman, heroic and unstoppable, surges across the canvas. "I'll buy that painting!" A visitor exclaims.
"I'm a newcomer to the area, volunteering at the Sedona Arts Center. I'm not surprised at the sale. It's a vibrant piece of art. I'd like to have it myself."
Another work by the same artist is carefully placed in the space occupied by the first painting, another restless figure, moving subtly to some inner rhythm. Once more, the color is vivid, the female figure in a flame red shawl.
But the mood of the subject has subtly changed. In this painting she is thoughtful, engaged with herself. Within an hour another visitor is pacing up and down before the painting. You guessed it! The second painting is soon bought, wrapped in a package and borne out of the gallery.
Gretchen Lopez' vivid female figures spring naturally out of her past.She is a descendant of the first Spanish settlers in southern California. Her Indian bloodlines also flow from the ancient Chumash tribe that moved from Santa Cruz Island to the mainland. Myth has it that, confused by swirling mists and fog, some fell into the water and became dolphin who are now the tribe's brothers and sisters.
Her painting "Wishtoyo" (Rainbow) celebrates the Chumash belief in Hutash, the Earth Mother who brought her people to the mainland. A rainbow of color serves as a backdrop for the meditating figure clothed in white.
Lopez believes that she has been fortunate to inherit "the best of two cultures, native American and Hispanic." Her first love in painting, she says, is depicting women of those cultures. She is usually well-acquainted with her models, like her Tehua-Navajo friend, whom she has been painting for fifteen years.
Of "Spirit Dance" she says that, as she set to work, the dancer Marisha moved into rhythmic movement. "My focus was on the image of the Shawl Dancer," moving to the beat of the drum, as the aura of her culture enveloped her.
"I want to capture their culture through color," says Lopez. "Abstracting these elements gives me freedom to create. It's a passion! I love to paint!" The artist's fine-boned features glow under her pale brown skin. One imagines her brandishing her two-inch brush. But blazing color is not everything to Lopez; at home she is working on two large-scale nude paintings.
"In portraiture it's important that the face and figure emerge first, that the essence of the sitter is captured, then one can start abstracting and getting more into color, getting the paint to move around with delicious textures. Every stroke has got to count. You need to understand your subject."
Lopez also enjoys landscape painting. "The desert speaks to me. I love to paint it in an impressionistic manner. Have you ever noticed how wonderful the aroma of the desert is in the wee hours of the morning?" She mentions how swarming bees once kept her from finishing a painting.
With constant teaching, Gretchen Lopez has hardly enough time to paint. The traditional Southwestern Show at the Sedona Arts Center is coming up in April. So much work to be done! Lopez will be the featured artist.
Nonetheless, Gretchen Lopez, the artist, thoroughly enjoys teaching art. "The school is very full this winter. Just imagine! I have five advanced students and nine beginners in one class. It's a challenge to harmonize and balance the group!" The beginners are inspired by the more advanced students, she finds.
Her advice on figure-drawing: "Don't start with curves. Draw angles in the beginning of your drawing and painting experience. The way you begin is all-important."
She finds it a challenge to discover where "the passion lies" in every burgeoning artist. It is often difficult to spend enough time with each one of them. "I've learned so much from the students. For me, teaching is an enrichment!" she exclaims. Her long sleek black hair, her geranium-red blouse, her jacket of gold, her lavender glass ear-rings convert her into a subject of one of her own paintings.
Are the Hispanic-Indian women in Gretchen Lopez' paintings actually herself in various guises? Is she always painting herself, her various moods and transfigurations? One might say, "Yes, indeed." Lopez' painting is about passion; the passion comes from within herself and is necessarily imparted to her work.
Critics have caviled at the simplicity of composition in Lopez' work. So far, direct, splashy, semi-abstraction has worked well for her. "To some," she says, "my work may look unfinished. But I say to myself 'Enough! Leave it alone!'"
To grow as an artist, she will need to expand her subject matter even while continuing to paint Native American and Hispanic women. She will need to delve more thoroughly into facial structure and mood, include pertinent detail and cover the totality of the canvas without losing the passion and exuberance she feels for her art. Her subject is far from exhausted and Gretchen Lopez can envision a great future spreading before her.
This painter also enjoys indulging in Mexican crafts. "I create masks of skulls with sequins!" She cries delightedly. She creates large pillows, very popular with the public, with designs that flame into as much color as her paintings.
Despite her Hispanic heritage, Gretchen Lopez has never been to Mexico. She thinks the country is too turbulent today. But she is an admirer of Diego Rivera whose mural-painting brought Mexico to a high plane in the international world of art; she is an even more fervent admirer of Frida Kahlo, the great feminist of Mexican painting. In fact, Lopez herself is continuing the great tradition of these two Hispanic giants of the art world. But she is modest, "I'm not very smart. I'm just a painter of canvases. I can't see myself doing anything else. My life has been an exuberant experience of art!"
Gretchen Lopez teaches both traditional and contemporary art, from portraiture and figurative painting to still life. Her classes at the Sedona Arts Center on Route 89A in uptown Sedona also cover life drawing and portraiture.
Her works can be seen at Gallery One 13 in Flagstaff as well as at the Sedona Arts Center. They are included in numerous private collections both nationally and internationally and can be seen in select galleries throughout the Southwest. Lopez has been nominated for the Viola Award for Excellence in Art Education.
Lopez lives in Flagstaff with her husband, John, who is also a painter and sculptor. She majored in advertising and design at Ventura College and went on to study fashion design and illustration at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. She completed her studies at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena California.
Gretchen Lopez' website is: gretchenlopezart.com
Louise Sheldon MacDonald is a free-lance writer living in Sedona. She has been an art reviewer in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, MD for over 20 years.