‘Eye Candy’

Gina Marí Garcia will present her recent work in “Eye Candy” at The Art Studio, Feb. 3-23. Photo by Andy Coughlan

Gina Marí Garcia’s solo exhibition mixes colorful confection with spiritual soul

On a cool January afternoon, Gina Marí Garcia is working hard, smearing paint on a variety of surfaces.

“I have this terrible habit — I’ll work, work, work, for months before the show and then, maybe a month or two before the show, I’ll paint over everything, start all over fresh,” she says. “I get it all out, and then I’m more clear when it’s time to create. It’s ready to go, and I’m just tweaking — we still have some more time.”

The petite artist is preparing for her exhibition “Eye Candy,” which opens with a free reception from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., Feb. 3, and will be on display through Feb. 23.

This is Garcia’s first solo show at her “home.” She said her first interaction with The Studio was in fourth grade when TASI founder Greg Busceme and long-time tenant Suzanne Garrett would come to her school as part the Beaumont school district’s Young Audiences program.

“I would go crazy and say, ‘Miss Garrett is here.’ I would look at her long hair and all her bracelets and know the art lady was there,” she says. “I guess I always wanted to be the art lady when I was little; that’s what I was always draw to — and now I get to be the art lady, and it is super fun.”

Garcia is an “Art Studio Kid.” When she was in sixth or seventh grade at Odom Middle School, Busceme visited to do a clay demonstration.

“I went and talked to him, and he said, ‘Come over, we’re always looking for people to help,’” Garcia says. “My friend’s mom was a tenant — we were over at the White House Building then — and we went and I found that’s where I wanted to be and that’s what I wanted to do.

“And then life happened and the plan changed, like it tends to do.”

Garcia got married and had children. Until she was 30 she says she was just being a mom — it was a different life. Then, when she was 31, she left her husband.

“It was a very traumatic breakup and I was like, ‘What am I going to do with my life — where am I?’ I tried to be very pure of mind — where was I happiest?” she says. “When was I happy without requiring something out of another person or from the world or materialistically? And I thought being at The Studio and having so much support without having to ask for it.

“So, I came home.”

Gina Marí Garcia works in her studio space. Photo by Andy Coughlan

Garcia’s work is abstract, and she lists Jean-Michel Basquiat, Willem de Kooning and Robert Rauschenberg’s assemblages and collages among her influences.

“I don’t work on canvas. I work on wood — I’m very rough,” she says. “I don’t really use brushes. I use palette knives. I use cardboard. I use my hands, big brooms — whatever I find around that can make texture and get more paint on the piece than on me.”

Anyone who has seen Garcia at work knows she fails in that. As she focuses intensely on the work, the paint covers her hands, sometimes streaking across her face as she sweeps her hair back whiles builds the images layer upon layer.

“I am a disgustingly dirty artist, so I don’t want people to see the grossness of my paint station and my brushes,” she says, giggling. “I didn’t even know about brush care until I worked at Painting with a Twist. I didn’t even know that was a thing. I just threw them into a big bucket and when they got so terrible I got new ones.”

This show is not only a literal return to where Garcia grew up artistically, but also a spiritual journey back to when she was in her late teens.

“I went back to my youth and started thinking about what I liked when I was young,” she says. “I was watching old skate videos, surf videos and (listening to) lots of post-punk music. Everything I’ve created people are going to really enjoy because it’s all very eye catching  — which leads to ‘Eye Candy’ being the name of the show.”

After Garcia’s divorce, The Studio seemed like the perfect place to find herself.

“I thought, I am going to go to a place where all the men are either too young or too old for me,” she says, laughing. “I am going to a place where I am absolutely safe — I am going to The Studio.”

In 2011, while helping Busceme set up for a show, she met The Studio’s new tenant, who was also a musician.

“I said, ‘Oh my god, is that Greg Landry?’ I used to sneak out my window to go see him play at the Nocturnal Lounge when I was 14 or 15 years old.”

Landry offered to let Garcia use his space to create her own work.

“He’s always been very encouraging,” she says. “He said, ‘Just come watch me work.’ And when I watched him work I would do little things on the side, and those little things people seemed to like and responded to. Everything was all there to start again, to start painting. It was like I could just jump right in. I didn’t have to go looking for supplies or anything. It was just all at my disposal.”

Gina Marí Garcia in her space at The Art Studio. Photo by Andy Coughlan

Garcia was offered a small show at Victoria House’s High Street Gallery, then she showed at a group show in Leesville with other TASI tenants, followed by a solo show at Finder’s Fayre. She also had a pop-up show at The Parlor in Austin.

“Finder’s Fayre was wonderful,” she says. “I sold a lot of work so I was able to create for a while without having to do anything else.”

Garcia and Landry’s art collaboration moved into a life collaboration, and the pair will marry in February.

“We were on a very slow track for that,” she says, laughing.

Garcia’s art has evolved from small drawings and paintings to large abstracts on multi-layered surfaces, a process that has evolved over time.

“The more you do, the more you figure out what you like,” she says. “For me, it has always been more spiritual. I am able to lose myself. When I am able to feel the piece, and I know someone else can feel something, then I know it’s done, it’s ready for viewing.

“I love layers, and I could keep going for days. I like to rip things apart and tear into those layers. It’s all an evolution. When I start a painting and get going it can go on forever.”

Garcia works on multiple pieces at once, shifting from piece to piece as the mood takes her.

“I like to get a nice thickness about my paint, and I don’t like to wait — I’m not a very patient person,” she says.

Garcia uses acrylics and airbrush paints, as well screen-printing inks. She likes to use a variety of paper manipulation, such as tissue and magazine. She also uses muslin, cheesecloth and tulle, although this show will focus more on painting.

“It’s almost like, if I don’t do it every day I feel ill,” she says. “I’ve got to get it out because it’s already in there, and it’s got to be transitioned onto something. And it’s also spiritual because it’s therapeutic — I feel at ease. I’m a very hyper person, an excited person, and that’s the one time I am able to focus and concentrate. When (my friend) John Rollins came to photograph me, he said, ‘This is so intense; you’re freaking me out.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ because I am never quiet and still. So I guess that is my quiet and still — it’s my bliss, it’s my happiness. I don’t feel the need to be the person that I am most of the time. I can just be. It’s like speaking without speaking, without words.”

Garcia also lists Alexander Calder’s mobiles among her influences and is drawn to sculpture.

“I actually really enjoyed when the Picasso sculptures came (to Houston),” she says. “I guess I loved the sculptures. When we went to Washington, I was drawn to the sculpture gardens. I love the form, I love everything about it. I love to build giant things, I guess, so I’m even more drawn to that.”

For this show, Garcia is building surfaces that are irregular and that add a three-dimensionality to the paintings.

“My work always feels, when I’m making it, that I want you to pay attention, so this time I am adding three-dimensional things that are coming out at you,” she says. “Everything has a little more shape, a lot more movement.”

Salvador Dali’s influence is found in Garcia’s process.

“His work is so beautiful, and his mind is just amazing — just even the little things that I read are so interesting and useful,” she says. “I like the thing he said about taking the little tiny naps — I’m a person who loves naps — just taking little tiny naps for that creative boost. When you wake up from that state between awake and asleep you really are vulnerable and childlike. Sometimes I do come down (to The Studio) and lie around for a bit — it gets kind of intense up there (in my space).

“When I work I get so emotional for myself. I don’t really like to sell my work very much because they’re so much a part of me I don’t want to give them all away.”

Garcia says she hopes that visitors to the show will see the paintings as more than simply “Eye Candy,” despite its name, and connect with the work on a deeper level.

“I want (viewers) to feel something, feel emotionally connected to something in it or something they see in it, something they feel towards it. Even if they don’t like it, at least they’re having a reaction. I would rather they feel something than walk by it and feel nothing.”

Watching Garcia work, the intensity and passion are clear. The paintings are as vibrant as her personality.

The Art Studio,, Inc. is located at 720 Franklin in downtown Beaumont.

For more, visit www.artstudio.org.

Andy Coughlan, ISSUE editor

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