Elmi Leodan Ventura Mata

On average, a painting emerges through ten iterations of the initial template image drawn on gessoed canvas. Essential to the process is layering heavy dark strokes that provide the skeletal structure containing glimpses of color. The layering process incrementally reveals light, as a sharp blade carves through the paint to unearth the white gesso. Although arduous, I find this painting technique both satisfying and redemptive.

Hard work is integral to my practice. Knowing that my father sweats for his bread and butter on a daily basis has forced me to directly approach the act of painting as a prerogative.

Only hard work can justify my life choice to paint.

One of my earliest artist recollections is attempting to draw on dirt with a stick. In La Joya of Matazano, our village, the abundant dirt was our playground and main vessel for childhood play and exploration. Pencil sharpeners were rare and adults weren’t fond of carving fine points on pencils with dull knives. Before scribbles from our imagination would land on paper, the red-brown from under our fingernails would tinge the crisp white sheet of paper.

My work narratives are told through figures that possess large hands. Metaphorically,
they symbolize manual labor and the hard work carried out by a disenfranchised minority in the United States of America, legal and illegal immigrants. Scattered hands gesture and move across the canvas in a rhythm, like actors on a stage playing their roles. Cadmium red earth tones titillate the eyes, while neutral browns and a limited palette are reminiscent of the tones of ancient Mayan hieroglyphs. Through the use of these warm and dark brown-red tones, I hope to communicate the taste of chocolate, the warmth of dirt and the smell of excrement. I hope the interpretation of these tightly woven signifiers and symbols offer multiple pathways to engaging with and ultimately understanding individual reality and experience.

On a larger scale, the uncovering, digging and carving of paint speak to my newfound relationship with history. That is, if one is to accept that history is always written by the winners, then presumably there are flaws with the stories recorded in textbooks. At this current stage of my career, my work is being propelled forward by voicing my personal concerns and constant questioning of the individual’s role in shaping history.