Seeing in Color
By Kylie Cooper
Colors make up the images we know and remember, but they also elicit strong emotions. Red evokes passion, orange conjures up energy, yellow brings happiness, blue emotes serenity and trustworthiness, and purple bathes us in luxury and romance.
Regardless of the medium, artists consider how colors interact before beginning a new piece, understanding that each creation will stimulate emotions. While our featured artists have different artistic styles, color connects them all like a piece of thread sewn through patchwork.
For Mayra Zamora, color is all she has ever known. “I’ve never been afraid of color,” she says, “that’s all I see.” The 31-year-old Chicana artist has created a brand identity which relies heavily on her use of color. This is evident when you glance around her living room, which she calls a vault of sorts. Tons of her pieces reside proudly on the walls, each work featuring a vibrant arrangement of colors telling a bold story. “As grotesque as this sounds, I would love to make someone throw up one day because of all the color,” she says, laughing hysterically while being completely serious.
Zamora’s culture plays a big part in her art. “I went to Mexico City about two years ago and visited the Anthropology Museum there,” she says. “I was seeing all this history and heritage, and it was filled with color. It gave me this odd type of reassurance. I knew what I was doing because it was in my blood already. It’s the reason I am the way I am.”
Gilbert Cantu’s relationship with color wasn’t an instinctual one. He battled with it for a while. Up until two years ago, he had really never used it in a piece. Now, his oil portraits of pop culture icons burst with color, but his work didn’t always look this way. “I lived in this black and white world,” Cantu says. “I used black and white so much in my works that my teachers used to wonder if everything was okay in my personal life.” He laughs and proudly states that he isn’t afraid of color anymore.
He recalls a dream that became a defining moment in both his artistic career and life. In the dream, he is attending an art show at The Art Institute of Houston, where he received his degree in graphic design. As Cantu stares at a large painting of Jesus, a man tells Cantu the painting is his own. Cantu can’t believe he painted this work with such vibrant colors jumping off the canvas. “I woke up and knew immediately that this is what I am supposed to be doing,” he says.
Much like Zamora, Amanda Flores, a 37-year-old abstract painter, approaches color like a second language, allowing it to be the subject of her compositions. “When I look at things in everyday life, color is always what jumps out at me first,” she says. “It is what I notice first about everything.” She uses color for balance, placing different hues and shades in her work, hoping to make her viewers feel at ease. She’s aware that the emotions she feels while creating will show in her work.
“When choosing colors, I do things that make me feel good, and in turn, I think that makes other people feel good as well.” Flores says. “I hope my art brings people happiness,” she says. “Wherever or however they are viewing it, I just hope it makes them happy.”
Jack Wood, a 28-year-old painter and woodcut printer, describes his use of color as a story of ferocious joy. While he allows the basic rules of color theory to shine through his pieces, he also combines pigments to tell a story. Working primarily with pure colors straight from the tube, Wood creates organic pieces, which represent joy for him. “The colorful skies of twilights and dawnings, they are evocative of the always lurking possibility of change,” he states. “Nothing in this world is given or constant, every moment differs from the next and I try to describe this affect with bright, undiluted colors and manic marks.”
Additionally, Wood enjoys spray paint, especially the transparent varieties popularized by graffiti. “I frequently use spray paint to find my way into a painting, to suggest the general space of color.”
Each of the four artists also explained how they became interested in art.
After growing up in the small town of Tivoli, Texas and starting her formal education journey at Incarnate Word University, Zamora felt an itch she needed to scratch. She moved to Corpus Christi with her sister and enrolled at TAMUCC as an art major. She has memories of painting as early as age four and always knew she was supposed to be an artist. Today, Zamora is hard at work creating beautiful pieces in various forms. For quite some time now, her artwork has adorned large panels of the Art Center of Corpus Christi, in addition to murals on the sides of buildings, and various other places both locally and in California.
Ironically, Cantu’s interest in art was sparked when his first grade teacher told him drawing wouldn’t take him anywhere. “She said I couldn’t do it. People think art can only be a hobby and that you have to get a real job,” he says, recalling the day his teacher crumpled up his drawing of a turkey. While he focused on graphic design after school, in 2007 he began pursuing more traditional art tactics. Before making the transition to a realism painter, he primarily worked on mixed media collage. After deciding he wanted to concentrate wholly on painting, he dove deep, teaching himself all the ins and outs of paint mixing, brush types, and various methods. Now, he solely works with oil on canvas. He describes the connection he feels to the old masters. “Technology hasn’t really changed much when it comes to painting,” he says. “You still paint with a brush on a canvas—granted you don’t have to crush your own pigments anymore, but I just feel this connection to the past when I use oils.”
Flores bounced around several states before landing in Arkansas where she received her BA in Fine Arts with an emphasis in painting and drawing from Arkansas State University. She didn’t make her way to Corpus Christi until 2006. It wasn’t until teaching art for a while and having her first child that she decided to pursue painting full time. While Cantu has phased the concept of collaging out of his work, Flores is beginning to phase it in. Her abstract painting style combines shapes, texture, and, most importantly, color in order to create exceptionally eye- pleasing compositions. She plans to maintain her current style and add the method of collaging into it. Each piece of paper she collages with she paints herself. “It adds this definition and depth to the piece that I just love,” she says.
The ever so bold and colorful work of Keith Haring flipped a switch in Wood’s mind in seventh grade and left him captivated. “I remember being blown away, watching him so confidently writing on the subway walls in the midst of the busy New York stations. I started copying his figurative style immediately in all of my notebooks,” he says. Wood recently completed his masters at TAMUCC and is prepping for a nine-week residency at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. There he will live communally with 65 other highly skilled artists and learn from a faculty comprised of some of the most resonant voices in contemporary art.
While each of the four artists view colors similarly, they each look for inspiration in different places. For Zamora, her inspiration is flooded with her culture. The heritage she is proud of comes through in her work, and she uses the label of Chicana artist as a way to represent what she identifies with and is proud of. For Cantu, inspiration comes in the form of positivity. He realizes it sounds cliché, but he is always drawn to people who are living their life in positive ways, filled with love and light. Flores finds inspiration from within. Her thoughts inspire her to create, and she often uses words in her pieces as a form of structure in order to begin a new work. As for Wood, inspiration isn’t something he necessarily believes in; he believes in problems instead. He likes to think that he is continually creating better problems for himself though art.
Similar to a kaleidoscope reflecting numerous shapes and colors to create a cohesive pattern, each of these artists use an abundance of color in their work to form unified compositions. Where the rest of the world sees ROYGBIV, they see analogous color schemes and certain shades of blue producing a feeling of home. They each use color in their works in such ways in order to not only tell us a story, but makes us feel something, without us even knowing it.