Women on the Move

Raices Taller's annual summer show features smaller works made by "mujeres"

Lisa Caroline Galli's big feet are on the march.

Scratch that. Make it her big shoes. For her sculpture "La Storia di Piedi," Galli has taken raw clay and kneaded it by hand into a big pair of ankle-high boots.

Colored in the warm tints of terra cotta, these boots are made for walkin', unlike the sky-high heels seen on the tootsies of a certain female quartet in the multiplex this summer. No, these sturdy shoes have traveled a hard road. Bent and scuffed and worn, they offer a tantalizing portrait of their absent owner.

I can't say for sure that they're meant to be a woman's boots, but Galli's hard-driving shoes make a nice metaphor for the long journey women have undertaken--and are still struggling to complete. They can be found in Mujeres, Mujeres, Mujeres (that's "women," triple-strength), the summer show at Raices Taller.

The co-op gallery, normally devoted to Latino art, switches to works by women artists each summer. According to Raices members Ceci Garcia and Carolyn King, who were staffing the space one afternoon last week, the annual show lies somewhere between an invitational and a free-for-all.

"A committee went through the lists of those who contributed before," King explained, and those women invited other artists, and they asked others, and so on.

"We don't curate at Raices," Garcia added. "We look for passion, cultural sensitivity and universality."

Last summer, 72 mujeres crowded their works into Mujeres, King says, but this time, the show is more manageable at 52. The change was forced in part by Raices' move to a smaller space a couple of doors up in the warehouse that's been its home for many years. And with the smaller space in mind, the organizers decreed a size limit for each piece: no more than 24 inches square.

Since prints tend to be small, the rule skewed the art pleasingly toward prints of all kinds, from monoprints to etchings. But there are plenty of small paintings on canvas and paper, a few photos and sculptures, and some mixed-media works, along with a pallid watercolor or two.

A few sculptors cheerfully broke the size rules. For "Blue: From the Chambers Series," Barbara Jo McLaughlin wrapped bright blue transparent plastic atop a chicken-wire base, in the shape of a giant flame licking skyward. Donna Stoner was even more outrageous. Her "Free Bird" is a lively female figure soaring about 6 feet high, made entirely of junkyard treasures. A wicker chair back serves as her shoulders, and carved dining-table legs make a fine set of gams. As for shoes, this bird is on roller skates, ready to rock 'n' roll.

Stoner's not the only artist using offbeat materials. Garcia does, too, in her continuing homage to working people of Southern Arizona. All the works in this fine series use real dirt from the home places she's honoring. Her new entry, the painted diptych "Homage to the Underground Miners' Rescue," incorporates "soil from Magma and BHP copper mines." The piece is quasi-religious, with two church-like arches framing small paintings of the stricken miners. In one, they're trapped in a claustrophobic tunnel, with walls and ceiling closing in. In the other, they've been saved. They're riding toward the earth's surface in a cage-like basket, heading for the light.

Melanie Yazzie, a Navajo artist who taught at the UA before moving on to the University of Colorado, invokes her home by means of an old-fashioned feed sack. Commercially printed with a generic landscape--blue sky, gentle hills, haystacks in a flat green field--the feed sack serves as the "paper" for Yazzie's print "My Story." On top of this all-American scene, Yazzie has printed stylized symbols drawn from her own Navajo tradition and the hard-edged land of Diné: a woman who looks like a piece of pottery, a prickly pear, a couple of turtles and a series of vertical pictographs.

Among the other prints is an etching and solarplate work by Quenby Bucklaew, "The Maní," that speaks to the convergence of past and present. A delicate sepia-toned Old World street scene--winding narrow alley, whitewashed church--is layered over an antique map of Crete and Greece.

Rebecca Paradies delivers a lively monoprint, a medium that typically has the artist paint on glass, and then press a paper onto the wet paint. "Red Horse" is a loose stylized work, a mere suggestion of landscape, with blue curves for sky, a slash of earth green, and a loose, lively pink-red horse at center. Sandra Wortzel makes elegiac, evocative use of a photo of a young couple from the past, perhaps the 1930s, in a collograph and solar plate called "Sultry Series 1." Printed onto thick paper that's been incised with flowers and tendrils, the young man and woman lean into each other familiarly, but they're blurred around the edges, fading into time.

Ann Tracy-Lopez blends photography and painting in her abrupt northern seascape, "Atlantic Love-Tales," while Xochitl Gil-Higuchi goes for pure painting in a Van Gogh-ish untitled oil on canvas. A bug's-eye view of a thicket, it's a dense forest of flower stems painted all in blue.

Another pure painter, Adriana Yadira Gallego, turns the conversation back to feet. A UA grad who's now visual arts director at the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Gallego had a solo show at the Tucson Museum of Art two summers ago, exhibiting painterly works pairing hands and barbed wire.

Gallego grew up on the Arizona side of Nogales, and remembers tales of migrants' hands and feet ripped by the barbed wire strung across the border in those pre-wall days. The title of her new painting, "La Llorona," refers to the weeping woman of border folklore. It pictures a woman, but only her sturdy legs and feet, and the light summer dress flapping around her knees.

Last week was a bad one for migrants in Southern Arizona: At least six border-crossers lost their lives in the record heat. Though Gallego's painting obviously was made earlier, it could easily conjure up one of these new dead, perhaps the 20-year-old bride from Veracruz who died crossing the Tohono O'odham reservation. (Her husband survived.) The woman in Gallego's painting has undergone an apotheosis as grand as a Renaissance saint's. She's still walking, but she's risen above the earth and all its woes, particularly that barbed wire, and is now striding into the sky, into a heaven streaked with gold.