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Art & Life with Stephanie Mercado

Today we’d like to introduce you to Stephanie Mercado.

Stephanie, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I grew up in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles a predominantly Latino working-class neighborhood. As a child I spent all of my time in my mother and grandmother’s fabric store, surrounded by patterned fabric, vibrant colors, lace, thread, and sequence. Costume jewelry lined the display cases accompanied by handmade goods knit for babies by the local ladies, while gaudy dresses purchased from Downtown LA’s fashion district dangled from the ceiling. The business next door was a carpenter who made handmade furnishings. My grandfather’s family business was in upholstery. As a child, I was surrounded by creativity, craft, and skill – but I did not have access to arts education. I first saw someone paint while watching PBS. Bob Ross was my introduction to painting at the age of 15. I decided I wanted to learn how to paint, so I bought myself a paint set and started making terrible landscapes and happy little clouds. I decided to pursue Fine Art in college, taking classes in art history, painting, printmaking, ceramics, metals and everything I could get my hands on. In the summer of 2006, I was awarded a merit scholarship to study painting in Florence, Italy through CSU Summer Arts, which changed my life. I knew then that I wanted to commit my life to the arts, and managed to find work managing a print shop, assisting artists and later on as a gallery director. I’ve been working as an arts administrator while maintaining my art practice since 2009.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I use different media to make work, that includes painting, printmaking and fabric sculptures or costumes. My paintings are primarily portraits of women. The themes have morphed over time from depicting quirky socio-political critiques of the American Dream and pop culture to portraits of maids. The maids have taken over my printmaking practice, and I have begun to make images of women in classic black dresses with white collars. The maid first appeared in one of my large paintings as a quiet, unseen character at the very edge of a painting, stealing a slice of cake from a banquet table, while a posh party took place in the background. She resonated with me, and I began to realize that I identified with her more than any other characters I had painted. I began to explore her narrative. The maids have become an archetype for women who get work done, who are underpaid, underappreciated and overlooked. They represent characters who may be put into a box, but have boundless spirits and are multi-dimensional. Their profiles and flatness make them seem as if they could be pasted like flies on the walls. Although they only have one eye, they see everything and they say nothing. Their silence alludes to conformity and the cultural belief that it is wiser to be subservient than to speak one’s mind and risk losing one’s job.

The maids tell a story about power, class, and human relationships. They explore themes of subjugation and the nuances by which people try to maintain their identity, dignity, and independence. Each figure is caught in a place between reality and a world that is deformed and shaped by the people who control their environment and their livelihood. The printed maid series are relief prints, individually carved, hand-printed, incised and collaged together. I have printed and incised thousands of prints to make colorful collages with diverse narratives. The Flourish series began as a bouquet of paper flowers being held by a vessel with maids pushing each other forward around the vase in a Sisyphean manner. The bouquets transformed from flowers to household items, with an explosion of maids blossoming, growing and prospering from the vessel.

As a printmaker, I also like to print on textiles. As an artist who grew up in a fabric store, making dresses for myself at the age of six, I also use my sewing skills to make textile-based sculptures. One of my special projects was a faux Louis-Vuitton plastic-wrapped loveseat in homage to my grandfather and the upholstery trade. The loveseat was constructed with hand-pulled silkscreen fabric, wrapped in protective plastic alike the plastic wrapped furniture of the 80’s and 90’s. It was a commentary on protecting one’s valuables, however uncomfortable it may be. I hope my work makes people question their beliefs, their values, but most of all I hope my work makes people think.

Do you think conditions are generally improving for artists? What more can cities and communities do to improve conditions for artists?
Conditions for artists today have become more complex. One one hand, there are more opportunities for artists to work in the arts and maintain an art practice. Los Angeles’ art world is growing, and there are more galleries and organizations willing to show artists work. Social media platforms and websites like Instagram, Patreon and Saatchi, have made it possible for artists to act as their own agents and make a living doing so. But these opportunities also feel like a lot of noise at times. It can affect one’s mental health to be on these sites and not see the kind of engagement one hopes to have.

In that sense, the noise has made it harder for artists not to compare themselves and their practice to others. The city of Los Angeles can invest in artists through grants, specifically micro-grants that are slightly more attainable than the larger city-funded grants that feel impossible to get. The city can also invest in more public art like the art found at Metro stops and open the opportunities to artists who do not already have public artwork. I appreciate that Voyage LA is featuring artists on their platform and I look forward to seeing the positive impact and influence it has for artists and the arts in Los Angeles.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
My work can be viewed in person at Hooks-Epstein Galleries in Houston, TX or at my studio in Boyle Heights. Appointments for studio visits can be made via email or through my website www.stephaniemercado.com. This year, I have exhibitions scheduled in Haugesund, Norway, Venice, Italy, Dallas and Houston, Texas. People can support my work by sharing this article, following me on social media and letting their friends and colleagues know about my work.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Eric Minh Swenson (portrait of me), Gene Ogami (artwork)

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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