Strength of the Invisible Queens

Artist Lark Calderon-Gomez explores the royalty and resilience of women, past and present, in Urgency of Life at Sanchez Contemporary Gallery.


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Lark Calderon-Gomez uses the women of her ancestry for inspiration in her art.

Photo by Dave Strauss

When you stare into the faces of the women whom Lark Calderon-Gomez paints, you will become exposed. The subjects stare back at you, their gaze soft but intense, their lips full and pursed in near-perfect ovals with expressions that are at once sensuous and solemn. Their vulnerability will make you vulnerable while their resilience will summon strength from deep inside you that you never knew you had. They will speak without speaking, like the voices of your ancestors silently transmitting their history.

“These paintings are about me, about you, about the struggle of life in this country today,” said Calderon-Gomez. “Everybody has their trials and tribulations. Art is my way of dealing with them.”

Calderon-Gomez’s latest solo exhibition shows her adeptness at dealing with the tumultuousness of present times, transforming darkness into bold, glimmering images of women. Many of her paintings were inspired by the Women’s Marches that took place in the wake of the year’s presidential inauguration. They portray women cast against a stark gray background with elaborate golden-leafed headdresses evoking a sense of stateliness and royalty. The contrast is evocative.

“I feel like women today have to deal with so much misogyny and adversity,” she said. “To me, every woman should feel like a queen, be appreciated for their true strength and who they are.”

The women of Calderon-Gomez’s ancestry—most notably her mother and her paternal grandmother—play a core role in her artmaking. Their hardship and tribulations as well as their perseverance and triumph, the way that they move through the world, provide endless inspiration.

“My mother was as a single mom raising three kids on her own, working full time while trying to date and keeps the bills paid. Maybe to society she is something else, but to me, she’s a queen.”

Born and raised in California, Calderon-Gomez recalled having to move around a lot as a child while her mother struggled hard to make ends meet. Yet she credits her mother, also a gifted artist, for having instilled the wonder of art in her and her siblings at an early age, making it a permanent part of their lives.

“I was always fascinated by my mom’s still-life paintings, and I’d ask her lots of questions. When I was 7 years old, she set up an easel next to her and invited me to paint. Growing up, we always had a set of art supplies in the house.”

Later in her life, Calderon-Gomez grew closer to her Guatemalan-born father and came to know more about his family roots, the social and political history of Guatemala, and the life of her grandmother.

“Julia is my muse. She left an abusive relationship and her family’s inheritance and immigrated here from Guatemala in the 1940s, working mainly as a seamstress in a sweatshop in LA. To society she was invisible. But she was really an elegant, beautiful, strong-ass woman. She would probably think her story was a common one, an insignificant one, but to me it’s huge and full of life and still relevant today.”

Calderon-Gomez entitles her latest installation Urgency of Life, inspired by a poem from the band Morcheeba: “Urgency of life, love, the heat of the soul, warm breath to keep the demons on their toes. Everything seems to go faster and become more important daily, whilst at the same time becoming harder to fathom.” 

Harder to fathom, indeed. But Calderon-Gomez’s art cuts through the unfathomable, the speed of life, and invites us to pause and to see the quiet fortitude of the figures she paints.

“One person’s invisible cleaning lady is another person’s beautiful queen. I am so awed by these invisible people, their strength. I want to think that a little bit rubs off on us when our time comes when we face challenges. I hope I can rise to the occasion.”

 

Lark Calderon-Gomez’s exhibition Urgency of Life opens Nov. 11 and runs through December at the Sanchez Contemporary Gallery, 1951 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. The gallery, owned and operated by Maria and Tim Sanchez, focuses on support for Bay Area Chican@/Latin@ artists and other underrepresented artists. A portion of the sales from the exhibition will go to Planned Parenthood.

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