Page 21 - the Noise October 2017
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en calaveras, veras
dia de los muertos de emma gardner
martAnne’s Burrito Palace is a favorite spot for locals and out-of-towners alike to get a taste of Flagstaff’s unique Southwest culture along with a side of some fantastic food. The house-made salsa and generous servings are as much of a draw as the original artwork that covers almost every inch of wall space, all of which is created by one of the mountain town’s most acclaimed artists, Emma Gardner.
Born in Philadelphia to a family of painters, she says, “both my maternal and paternal grandfathers made their livings as visual artists. So, when people told me I couldn’t be an artist, that I wouldn’t make any money at it, I ignored them. I figured if both my grandfathers could do it during the Depression, why couldn’t I do it in the ‘80s?”
While she was deeply influenced by the artists in her family, she was not able to learn from or collaborate directly with either of her grandfathers. “My mother’s father died before I was born and my father’s dad died when I was four, so I never painted with him. He was employed by the WPA during the Great Depression. My mother always made sure there were art supplies in the house for me and the three sisters I grew up with.”
Ms. Gardner’s work is a rich tapestry of historical reference, religious symbolism, and pop culture iconography. She is best known for her depictions of the Dia de los Muertos calaveras. “I use skeleton images more as a symbol of our humanity rather than as a macabre image to scare people,” she says. “To me, it is more of a reminder we are all mortal and should make the most of our lives and live each day to its fullest. I think I was attracted to the imagery first from learning about the Day of the Dead in Mexico. They seem to be celebrating life, not running from death.
“At the time of the year where many cultures in the world believe the veil between the living and those who have passed is at its thinnest, they join with loved ones on the other side to celebrate with them once again. In some places, a chair is placed at the dinner table for loved ones to share the holiday feast with the spirit of the departed.”
This sense of celebration of the dead and their lives, rather than fear of death itself, is immediately apparent in Ms. Gardner’s work. With lipless grins, most of the figures repre- sented in her work are engaging in joyous activities, sometimes riding a motorcycle with long, flowing hair trailing out behind, imbibing at a feast with fellow skulls, or even singing a torch song on stage.
“I feel like this form of ancestry worship is important in a time when we are not valuing our elders as much as we could. We are social animals, and we would not have all the abun- dance we do today without all the hard work and knowledge given to us from those who have come before us.”
Referring to her work as a blend of mysticism and pop surrealism, she mainly uses acrylic paint on wood or canvas and finishes many of her pieces with stunning vintage frames. Presently, she is working on a mural at Northern Arizona Yoga Center, where she is paint- ing an image of Ganesha, the god of new beginnings, in a traditional Nawari style.
“I love the idea of art that is provocative to people. I think that as artists, it is important to present images that are somehow transformational. Through the use of fantastical images, I hope to encourage people to discover more about the physical world in which they are living ... my art asks more questions than it answers.”
You can also see her work at the Bordello in Jerome, and this month at the Gallery in Williams, where she will be live painting on Second Saturday, October 14. Later that night, witness the fantastic environment she helped create for the “Fairies and Goblins” Masquerade Ball at the Green Room. She also offers painting classes at the Dark Sky Brewery every second Tuesday of the month at 6PM. You can learn more about Ms. Gardner’s projects and work at | the NOISE arts & news | OctObEr 2017 • 21

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