02 December 2011

Spilling Over with Beauty: Lupita Shahbazi

No more shoes (2006)
acrylic, wax, watercolor, oil pastel
   One of art's most powerful themes is transformation, and the work of Lupita Shahbazi embodies that theme in delightful ways. 
   During the last decade, Shahbazi was known for creating dozens of fantastic acrylic images, including her Dia de los muertos  and her "blue people" series.
   "But I didn't just work with acrylic paint. I mixed acrylic with watercolor and white wax to get the right look of the background and the bodies."
   Certainly, the figures in No more shoes and Frida's Birth do have a stunning vitality to them, and when I commented on their unusual but beautiful blue tones, Shahbazi shared that she got the idea of blue skin after being introduced to Marc Chagall's work.
   "I love paintings that tell stories, and Chagall's work was so peaceful and romantic. My jaw dropped because I could really identify myself in his pieces. When I saw that he painted his people with different colors of skin than natural, I thought it was great because he wasn't describing anybody in particular. It wasn't just one type of person from one culture. It could be anybody, from any culture."
   Shahbazi's work is entrancing partly because she interestingly balances so many thoughts and emotions within a single piece. In just the two works featured here, there are deft explorations of beauty, love, despair, identity, transformation, strength, and humor.
   "No more shoes is about how difficult it can be for women to find the right shoes," Shahbazi says. "Women need more shoes than men, and since I don't wear high heels anymore, it's even harder to find beautiful flat shoes. So I came up with the idea for the painting because I was wondering how I could be free of this issue. Mermaids don't need shoes."

Frida's Birth (2005)
acrylic, wax, watercolor, oil pastel
   Frida's Birth is notable as one of the best tributes to Frida Kahlo ever, primarily because it is such a challenging task to depict Kahlo in a way that she didn't do herself in her self-portraits. Instead of focusing on her famed adulthood, Shahbazi imagined Kahlo as having already been touched with greatness in her childhood. The title doesn't refer to physical birth, but rather to a spiritual birth and the beginning of Kahlo's profound connection to life. The colors, lines, and symbols also combine in a way that recalls many of the blue depictions of Buddha which are said to embody properties of ascendant wisdom and protection.

   But as successful as she was with her acrylic-based painting, Shahbazi changed gears last year when she set up a new studio in her Chula Vista house. She now focuses on mixing paper-cutouts and found objects, while keeping her painting limited to detail work and overlays.
   "It is a different style from what I had been doing, but actually, I've loved working with paper since I was little. I used to go through my aunt's expensive magazines and cut out all the beautiful pictures that caught my eye, pictures of people, nice-looking furniture, or even just interesting color patterns. I got in trouble many times for cutting up my aunt's magazines, so finally they bought me some paper-doll books."

Nostalgia (2011)
paper cut-outs, acrylic
   Nostalgia is one of Shahbazi's new mixed-media pieces. At first glance, its strong focus on interior design seems like the work of a completely different artist, but after more careful attention it becomes clear that it is a positive step in Shahbazi's ever-blossoming expressions.
   Here again we see a lone female figure as the central focus. She is exposed and honest. She is fascinated by nature, specifically an animal of flight and transformation. And just as in No more shoes, the woman is slipping out of her chair, which might be a sign that the woman is in transition, growing too big for her space or her old ways of living. She has one heeled-shoe with the other no where in sight which affirms that the shoe-less theme might have more to do with letting go of society's expectations of women. She does have an admirer or one she admires, but he is not present which highlights that this is her time to think, to long for, to meditate, and to grow.

Seduction of the eyes (2011)
paper cut-outs, acrylic
   Shahbazi is concerned about the future of art, and she stresses the importance of art education, as well as the need for more galleries and less expensive venues for art exhibitions.
   "Before there wasn't much going on in San Diego, but now I'm seeing more and more interest and activity in different communities. It's an important issue because if we don't pay attention and support art, it will die out, which would be terrible."

   Rebirth is Shahbazi's third mixed media piece and a wonderful summation of her talents. 

Rebirth (2010)
acrylic watercolor, found objects

   Shahbazi created Rebirth for an exhibition at a friend's gallery which had burnt down in a fire and had recently been rebuilt. The main figure is a woman who is part tree, which is both a fantastic visual and symbolically rich. The woman-tree has no eyes which might signify a wisdom beyond the mere appearance of things. Her face is turned upwards for spiritual nourishment. The jewels bedecking her breast and body, as well as her beautiful coat, proclaims her majesty. Her wooded torso, and the branches and flowers extending from her head signify the burst of life and gifts emanating through her. The character has survived catastrophe and transformed beautifully, maybe not into what she had originally been expecting. She can not fly like the butterfly nor swim like the mermaid since she is rooted to dry land, but she has nevertheless become a creature of beautiful maturity, and not according to anyone else's standards, but according to her own intimate and graceful relation to nature.

[We will be sure to continue reporting on Lupita Shahbazi's amazing visual journey. She is currently busy working on a new set of pieces on the theme of Hollywood horror movies for an exhibit in Tijuana in May of 2012. For more info or to contact the artist, feel free to visit her Facebook page or email her at shahbazi_M@msn.com.]

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