Treasures from the Vault: Connie Arismendi

Sachi Yanari-Rizzo, Curator of Prints & Drawings

Connie Arismendi was born in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1955. At age eight, Arismendi’s mother took note of her daughter’s facility for drawing and nurtured it. Her mother’s creative spirit radiated in sewn dresses, curtains, and furniture covers that decorated their home. The artist fondly remembers shopping with her mother and being captivated by the beautiful bolts of material at fabric stores and watching her sew. 

Arismendi received her BFA in 1982 from the University of Texas at Austin, which was followed by an MFA in 1986 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Through her art, Arismendi has sought to discover and explore her identity: her father was Filipino and her mother was Mexican American. Despite this, she learned little Spanish or about Mexican culture at home from her parents. 

In college she first encountered traditional Mexican retablos [devotional paintings that incorporate iconography derived from the traditional Catholic Church] and milagros [religous folk charms that are traditionally used for healing purposes and as votive offerings], and she quickly integrated elements of these devotional images into her art.  Carmen Lomas Garza left a strong impression on the artist after seeing an exhibition of Garza’s work in 1980 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Garza is a Mexican-American painter known for her stories taken from her childhood growing up in Kingsville, Texas, particularly striking was an altar to Don Perdito Jaramillo, a well-known curandero (healer). 

Arismendi has created architectural installations, mixed-media sculpture, and delicate drawings on draped, diaphanous fabric that reflect the influence of her mother. She is attracted to materials that have an ethereal quality and her work tends to touch on nostalgia, memory, transformation, and the fleetingness of life. Her subjects float between physical form and the invisible spiritual realm, and bear a connection with nature. She hopes to elicit an emotional response from the viewer, explaining, “My primary concerns are with the fragility of the body and the resilience of life. I have a strong desire to believe in something eternal. Sometimes, I am lost in contradictory feelings of hope and despair, but creating art helps me clarify what I believe.”[i] 

Arismendi’s El Arbol de Mi Vida (The Tree of My Life) is a memorable work that was featured in the exhibition of a San Antonio art collector, Joe A. Diaz, entitled ¡Arte Caliente! at the FWMoA in Fall 2006. The work takes on the form of a candelabrum as well as a tree, more specifically, it becomes a family tree. The branches bear images of family members that were drawn in fabric and embedded in wax, reminiscent of votive candles used in the Catholic faith. 

Installation view of ¡Arte Caliente!: The Joe A. Diaz Collection, November 18, 2006-January 21, 2007, Fort Wayne Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of FMWoA.

This work also calls to mind Dutch still life paintings from the 16th and 17th century that were contemplative works on mortality. They contained symbols that reminded the viewer of the fragility and transitory nature of life on earth. Material objects, including partially consumed candles, decaying fruit, skulls, time pieces, and fading flowers were common subjects.

The tree form harkens back to her experience seeing the large-scale candelabrum in Milan Cathedral and her personal interest in the intricate, ceramic Trees of Life created by artisans from Metapec, just outside Mexico City. The finite existence of a candle becomes a metaphor for the impermanence of life as both are mutable and fleeting. While the transience of life permeates the piece there is the promise of future generations of family.

Visual associations between the body and nature are found in the museum’s La Vida (1995) and Ladder (1998), both screenprints created through Sam Coronado’s Serie Project at Coronado Studios in Austin, TX. In La Vida, verdant tendrils grow up alongside a human figure in profile that contains a burning flame. Similar to working with a translucent material, like sheer fabric or candle wax, Arismendi is able to create an atmospheric effect by spattering green and red inks on the paper’s surface. The resulting stippled forms are hazy and indistinct, so much so that the various shapes shift alternately back and forth into focus between human body and handled vessel. 

A screenprint, the yellow background folds into the oranges, reds, and greens that make up curling, branch-like tendrils. In the center, a tall vessel holds a burning flame.
Connie Arismendi, American, b. 1955. La Vida. Screenprint on paper, 1995. Museum purchase with funds provided by the American Art Initiative Capital Campaign, 2013.44.2. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

In Ladder, a stylized plant is surrounded by tiny hash marks that nearly gives visual form to energy or its life force. The plant grows inside the outlined profile of a head, topped with a wreath of plant life. Plants can become potent symbols of rebirth and regeneration as they follow nature’s cycles. 

A plant grows out of the inside of an outlined profile of a head, which is topped with a wreath of plant life.
Connie Arismendi, American, b. 1955. Ladder. Screenprint on paper, 1998. Museum purchase with funds provided by the American Art Initiative Capital Campaign, 2013.47.3. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Our paper today is typically made of wood pulp; but, in earlier years it was made from cotton rags. Ladder, however, is printed on papyrus, in which thin strips of the plant are layered at right angles and pressed creating the visible grid pattern that contrasts with the fluid screenprinted lines. Papyrus paper was used as a writing and drawing support first in ancient Egypt, but then in Greece and Rome. In Ladder, this history of the support extends a primordial quality to the work. Papyrus is somewhat translucent and looks woven, and in those ways share an affinity with fabric.  

Arismendi’s work has been included in numerous solo and group exhibitions, and her work is in the collections of Art in Embassies, Art Museum of South Texas, Mexic Arte Museum, and University of Texas at San Antonio. She has completed public art projects in Austin and Fort Worth, sometimes in collaboration with fellow artist Laura Garanzuay. Today, Arismendi also hand-paints custom kettlebells.

Come see these, and many other prints, in person when you visit Sachi here at FWMoA in the Print & Drawing Study Center, Tuesday-Friday 11am-3pm or by appointment.

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