Local artists Mario Garza and Carolina Flores don’t just paint pictures of people, they tell their stories.

Their work, which aims to spotlight the inspiring “everyday” people and their experiences, is currently on display in a joint-exhibition Nuestra Gente: Celebrating People Past and Present at the Texas A&M University-San Antonio’s Centro de Artes in Market Square, 101 S. Santa Rosa Ave.

“Nuestra gente” translates to “our people,” and the unique, diagonal setup of the show allows both artist’s to occupy their own space, with their respective interpretations of the theme meeting in the middle for a side-by-side comparison.

Local artist Mario Garza's portraits are of everyday people he met on the streets of downtown San Antonio. Photo by Camille Garcia.
Local artist Mario Garza’s portraits are of everyday people he met on the streets of downtown San Antonio. Photo by Camille Garcia.

Despite clear distinctions in style and presentation – Flores paints with oils and Garza uses mixed media – both artists’ collections remind the viewer to slow down and take notice of the magic that lies within people, places, and experiences, especially those that seem ordinary or mundane.

“People walk around with blinders. They’re focused on either work or business or their family, which is understandable, but they’ve got to open their eyes to humanity,” said Garza, who photographs, and then paints, the faces of people he encounters in downtown San Antonio.

He credits his experience backpacking through Europe – where he spent much of his time on the streets or sleeping in transit stations as a young man –with allowing him to connect with those “everyday people” in the city who are often unnoticed or ignored like construction workers, public transit operators/riders, or the homeless, to name a few.

“I want people to pay attention to these people,” he said.

Just as Garza highlights the inspiring qualities of people, Flores does so with everyday life experiences which can become so routine that their magic and importance are easily forgotten. In her bold and colorful paintings, Flores celebrates her humble, “ordinary” upbringing as a Mexican-American girl in small town Fort Stockton.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“We were poor, but we had everything that we needed – clothing, food, good parents that kept us clean and sent us to school – so we were rich in that but not rich with money,” she said, pointing to a painting of her childhood home. She lived next door to her abuelita and spent most of her time with family, something she said isn’t as easy to do in big cities.

“I remember sitting in the back of my parent’s car as a little girl and I felt so wholesome like ‘Who has all of this?’ Not everybody does.”

Flores has a master’s in fine arts and her own studio. Her art – which reflects decades of work – is reminiscent of Van Gogh or Fauvism. All of her subjects are her family members: her sisters, her parents, her abuelita, some with large, detailed portraits that portray their unique characteristics that Flores loves most. Other pieces were inspired from stories told to her as a child.

She paints them, she said, out of appreciation, and because it is her duty as a Chicana artist to combat the misleading media portrayals of Latinos as only “drunks, thieves, or murderers.”

“We are not the sum of the five o’clock news, we are so much more,” she said. “Somos gente con dignidad, inteligente, trabajadores – we are dignified, intelligent, hardworking people.”

Local artist Mario Garza says he sometimes paints auras around his subjects. Photo by Camille Garcia.
Local artist Mario Garza says he sometimes paints auras around his subjects. Photo by Camille Garcia.

Garza, who is now a full-time artist after a career in human resources, also goes against the grain by spotlighting those often regarded as outcasts in society. Over the past two years, he has connected with more than 30 subjects, listened to their stories, and expertly conveyed them to viewers in his detailed portraiture.

“The idea was to get these very tight portraits of just their faces, and I wanted them to look at you because I wanted whoever sees them to feel as if they were staring at (them),” Garza said. While he paints his subjects exactly as they are, he adds other elements like graffiti behind them to symbolize the urban setting of his portraits.

Many people are surprised to pique Garza’s interest.

"Man with Red Bandanna" is artist Mario Garza's version of Jan van Eyck's "Portrait of a Man in a Red Turban," one of Garza's favorite pieces. Photo by Camille Garcia.
“Man with Red Bandanna” is artist Mario Garza’s version of Jan van Eyck’s “Portrait of a Man in a Red Turban,” one of Garza’s favorite pieces. Photo by Camille Garcia.

“This guy when I first met him he was like, ‘Wow, you want to (take) my photo?’” he said, pointing to an image of a construction worker with a red bandana. The piece reminds Garza of a localized version of Jan Van Eyck’s Man in Red Turban, one of his favorite portraits. He and the “man with the red bandana” went for a drink after Garza took his portrait.

“Sometimes you pass by these people and you never notice them,” he said, but most of the time they just want someone to listen to their story.

The collaboration between Garza and Flores is thought-provoking and beautiful, not only because of their artistic skill but because of their ability to tell the stories of culture, tradition, and real-life experiences in San Antonio.

“This is a celebration of people, past and present,” Garza said. “It’s rare that you get an exhibit that is focused on that kind of idea.”

The free exhibition runs until Sunday, May 8. For more information, click here.


Top image: Local artists Mario Garza and Carolina Flores stand where their collections intersect in the middle of the room. Photo by Camille Garcia.

Related Stories:

Second Saturday Lifts Up Local, Latino Art

McNay’s ‘Made in Germany’ Exhibit Highlights Texan Ties to Germany

Leading Western Artists Come Together for Briscoe’s ‘Night of Artists’

A Modest Proposal: Move the ‘Mission Drive-In Mexicans’ to the Museo Alameda

Camille Garcia

Camille Garcia

Camille, a San Antonio native, formerly worked at the Rivard Report as assistant editor and reporter. She is a freelance writer based in Austin, where she is getting her master's in Latin American Studies...