Many of Alynn Guerra's striking, black-and-white, block-printing works feature eerie, yet somewhat comical skeletons -- a staple of Mexican artwork. Yet, the artist of Mexican descent refuses to be typecast as a "Mexican artist."
"I'm very proud to be Mexican, but I want people to understand that my work is an expression of my thoughts -- what I see, what I feel, what I read, what I learn as a person, not just as a Mexican person," she says. "At first, I refused to do skeletons at all because of that, but then they just came, and I couldn't stop it. The last thing you want to do as an artist is stifle yourself. So I just let it happen."
"Letting it happen" has been the 35-year-old's artistic experience since setting up shop in her Grand Rapids Tanglefoot Studio in 2005. Skeletons, of course, are far from her only subjects. Corn and seeds, introspection, procrastination, barefoot walkers, trees and rivers and lakes and myriad of other images make up her work. She has created thousands of prints, carved from wood blocks, inked, pressed and hung to dry. As Guerra tells it, art was far from her first career choice as a child, but a high school scheduling snafu changed her path.
"I wanted to take a science class, but I signed up for it too late and it was full, so I had to take art," she says. "When the teacher and the other students saw the way I could draw, and I learned myself the way I could draw, I found out that art was what I should do. Until then, I really hadn't thought about it at all."
Scores of art lovers of all economic means are thankful Guerra cultivated her talents at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. Some of her art, available at her studio and her website
, can be purchased for as little as $10. The larger, more detailed and more extensive pieces are $80 and up, but the fact that "regular people" can buy her art is one of the main reasons block printing is Guerra's medium of choice. She calls it "democratic art," available to the majority of the population, not just the elite. This philosophy is evident in her sales approach, and it pours through in her artistic expression.
Farmers' causes are the focuses of her "Seeds and Corn" collection. In fact, before she began gardening and planting as a young woman, she says her art was "technically good, but it really had no meaning." As her hands dug into soil, they also found a way to produce a message.
"My art took on a meaning," she says. "I found out about genetic modification, dumping the market with cheap seed, how many indigenous communities regard corn as sacred, how corn has been cultivated in this continent for 8,000 years, and so much more. Suddenly, my art started carrying a message for the first time."
That message was greatly influenced by the work of Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada, a 19th Century cartoonist who doubled as a political commentator. As Guerra learned more about Posada, she found she could use her work to express her thoughts on social injustice.
She says the aspects of block printing -- its bold, expressive lines, its rich and ancient history of spreading information to all people -- are what attracted her so strongly. It helped her see the world, and her relationship with it.
"I create art to help me understand and assimilate my everyday life tribulations," she says. "I create art when I feel I need to create a message."
Guerra will take that message to several shows and exhibits in the coming months, including "Graphic Protest," from 4-6 p.m. on Jan. 13 at Central Michigan University Gallery; and MAJIC, Musical Arts for Justice in the Community, on Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. at Bethlehem Church (250 Commerce Ave. SW). More information is available on Guerra's website
The upcoming events will allow her to do what she enjoys most. Guerra craves the company of people, the interaction, the energy. Through her art, she finds what she needs.
"I love going to the art shows and talking to people who are buying my work, or even the ones who don't buy but are just looking," she said. "I love telling them why I did a certain piece, or why I might do something, or how I did it. I get such a feeling when I look in their eyes and they seem so fascinated.
"My art brings me so much joy, and the fact that it allows me to be with so many people is one of the things that I enjoy most."
Jeff Barr loves stories, to hear them and to tell them. He can be reached at [email protected]
Alynn Guerra (4)
Prints by Alynn Guerra (4)
Photographs by Brian Kelly -All Rights Reserved