An Artist Reimagines Life and, in the Process, Reclaims It
Luis De Jesus, Los Angeles
through October 30, 2021
Written by Lorraine Heitzman
If the luminous colors in Karla Diaz’s paintings seem familiar, perhaps it is because they are reminiscent of the ubiquitous flyers seen in Los Angeles in the eighties and nineties posted on every light post and street sign leading into Hollywood, their eye-catching rainbow gradients luring you to clubs and dance halls for punk bands or house music. An even earlier association might be the liquid lollipop colors baked into Shrinky Dinks, the polystyrene craft that only seemed toxic. As the background to her autobiographical paintings, Diaz’s palette sets a tone for her current series that is both fanciful and innocent, although the memories recalled are neither childlike nor necessarily whimsical. Sometimes they are quite the opposite.
In the back gallery at Luis de Jesus, the artist has filled the space with dozens of watercolors and a few acrylic paintings that depict both fantastical and commonplace events from her life. This body of work was made after Diaz had a stroke four years ago, and so it seems appropriate that they recall in scope and style the naivete and narratives of ex-votos, the small paintings on tin that are made to offer thanks to Catholic saints after a vow is fulfilled. Created in part to regain her health and combat insomnia, the artist initially posted her work on social media accompanied by anecdotes of their origins, whether from dreams, popular culture, or personal experience. The stories are charming, but even without the text the paintings provide a vivid glimpse into an imaginative life. This illustrative aspect is part of Diaz’s strength, as she is able to communicate the heartfelt truth of her stories relying solely on the imagery and whatever the viewer may glean from her titles. In Insomnia there are self-portraits of the artist at different ages, street scenes, portraits of panaderias and quinceañeras, as well as gun-toting female truckdrivers. All are treated with affection. Schoolyard fights, aliens, fires, death, and the devil are represented beside images of healing, watching television, sleeping in the park and fire-eaters. Mexican folklore and life in the United States are intertwined, as they are in real life when cultures inevitably co-mingle.
Whereas some artists flaunt their materials with abandon and you find yourself mentally tallying up the cost of the materials rather than appreciating the art before your eyes, Diaz does no such thing. The light application of her watercolors and acrylics, the pure, brilliant colors, and her method of painting, like filling in lines in a coloring book, all conjure up an amateur artist working from a beginner’s watercolor set. But do not underestimate those qualities. As the root of the word amateur suggests, this work is done for the love of it, and all these attributes add to the meaning and substance of her work. Insomnia celebrates the range of human experience and in particular, the triumph of this artist’s spirit to face all that life offers.
Karla Diaz: Insomnia
September 4 – October 30, 2021
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles