Friday, February 17, 2012

Sitting for Margaret Garcia

Melinda Palacio at the studio of noted Chicana artist Margaret Garcia

photo by Michael Sedano

What was supposed to be an hour of looking at possible cover art for my new poetry book turned into a two-day inspirational experience with noted Chicana artist Margaret Garcia.

The excitement began as Luis J. Rodriguez sent off a series of emails in anticipation of Tia Chucha’s presence at the AWP conference in Chicago February 29-March 3. Buried in the details of dinners, panels, and off-site readings was a single sentence where Luis mentioned he would put together a flyer announcing my new poetry book, How Fire Is A Story, Waiting as a Fall 2012 Tia Chucha Press release. My experience with Bilingual Press left me open to publication delays. I was pleasantly surprised when Luis asked for information for the Northwestern University Catalogue, the umbrella publisher of Tia Chucha Press. Instead of a publishing delay, my book would be out on schedule, if not early.

Here’s where note taking comes in handy, whether it’s on your phone or in a little notebook you carry in your purse, I prefer the latter. Thanks to Luivette Resto’s La Palabra poetry series, I often check out what’s happening at Avenue 50 studio in Highland Park. I jotted down the exhibit, “Brushes with Fire,” featuring Margaret Garcia’s work. Of course, the little piece of paper with the title of Margaret’s painting is long gone, but I remembered Margaret’s name and her exquisite work. I carried this information with me even before my poetry manuscript found a home with Tia Chucha Press. The positive comments the cover of Ocotillo Dreams has received prompted me to make cover art decisions a priority.

I tried the phone number for Margaret Garcia and was pleasantly surprised when the artist herself answered, and even more delighted when she invited me to visit her studio. More thrilling was when Margaret suggested that I needed a more personal cover for my poetry book, a portrait, of me. An email to Luis Rodriguez gave the go ahead for the project. I was going to have my portrait painted by Margaret Garcia for the cover of my new poetry book.

The artist’s studio on North Figueroa in Highland Park is on a busy street, next door to a mechanic and tire place.

Garcia grew up in East L.A. and would’ve been a contemporary of my mother, Blanca Estela Palacio, who also studied art and was very interested in local murals. As a child, I accompanied my mother to many art museums and street corners where she would photograph East L.A. murals for her research. She and Margaret would’ve gotten along famously. Even though I’m not an artist or an art history major, when Margaret talked about the painting techniques of Picasso and Vermeer, I understood where she was coming from. It wasn’t a stretch to realize that much of Margaret’s painting philosophy applies to writing.

More than a portrait session ensued over the next two days. We shared stories as Margaret attempted to discover as much about me as possible. Garcia explained,

“The portrait reveals who you are. The likeness captures the essence of you, inner beauty. The personality shines through the manifestation of the work.”

Then Margaret quoted Picasso, “ A painting is never finished, only abandoned,” a maxim that easily translates to novels and writing.

What impressed me most about Margaret is her ability to work quickly and her desire to foster young artists in her community. She doesn’t fear competition; rather, she creates opportunities for fellow artists. Her sense of community and desire to lift up Chicana artists is why she decided to paint an original portrait of me, rather than license a piece from her collection. “The poetry is about you,” she said. “Your book cover should be personal, should reflect you.”

* A photo of the portrait by Margaret Garcia and cover of How Fire Is A Story, Waiting will be previewed on La Bloga soon.

Margaret Garcia’s numerous art commissions, fellowships, and exhibits include the Los Angeles County MTA Universal City Metro Station, the J. Paul Getty Trust Fund for the Visual Arts Fellowship, the Watts Towers Arts Center, and the current group show, “Breaking in Two: A Provocative Vision of Motherhood at Santa Monica Art Studios, a walk through with the curator and artists will take place Feb. 26 from 13-3pm at 30206 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica CA 90405. Margaret will be in attendance. She’s very proud to be part of the exhibit that features her esteemed mentors. “I am in this exhibit with Ruth Weisburg and Margaret Lazzari, two of my former senior advisors from USC,” she said. “I was blown away by their work. The depth is profound in Lazzari’s work whereas Weisberg’s work is effervescent.”

"They Dream Together" by Margaret Garcia on view at the "Breaking in Two" exhibition.

Upcoming events for "Breaking in Two" at Arena 1 Santa Monica Art Studios:

Feb. 26, 12-3 pm Walk through with curator and artists.

March 17, 3-5 pm Mothers on Motherhood Dance and Spoken Word Performance.

March 31 2-5 pm Panel discussion the social and esthetic implications of Motherhood: a scholarly interaction.

April 14, 6-10 pm Exhibition closing celebration.

In print this month:

The Mas Tequila Review is out and feature two poems by Melinda Palacio.

Eleven Eleven features a prose piece I wrote about my grandmother.

Hinchas de Poesia features, “Sin Vergüenza Swagger,” a poem inspired by the trip I took last February to visit relatives in Panamà.

Fellow Bloguero Daniel Olivas and I will be on a panel at AWP, please see for more details.


Margaret Garcia said...

This was also a wonderful experience for me. Loved meeting you and sharing our histories. Makes life rich.

leslie dinaberg said...

How exciting. Sounds like this was a perfect serendipitous way for you to come together. I can't wait to see the portrait.

Luis Rodriguez said...

This new poetry book by Melinda Palacio, "Fire is a Story, Waiting" is amazing. Tia Chucha Press is honored to have this as a fall 2012 release. Northwestern University Press is our distributor and they handle all bookstore, library, and institutional sales. Thanks to Margaret Garcia for painting Melinda for the book--great work as always. We will also be at the Associated Writing Program Conference in Chicago from Feb. 29-March 3 to promote TCP poets and Melinda's new book.