There is muse in melancholy, and it feeds Felicia Gabaldon’s work. “My style was born out of longing for home,” the young artist says. Gabaldon left New Mexico for the Bay Area five years ago and says that “the first year was really rough; I thought it was going to be all fun and games, an easy change, but it was really difficult. I felt like I had left a lot behind.”
About two years into her relocation, something changed. "I would go back home and I would get waves of nostalgia," she says. "One day it receded, and this body of work was born and I felt like I had my style."
Gabaldon proudly displays her desert history in her artwork. Her paintings feature a variety of subjects, plucked from amongst the sand and cactus. Wolves and rabbits dance across her canvases—which are often not canvas at all, as she prefers to paint on wood—in revolutions of sunset tones and flowers. In others, women are featured in portrait form, profiles filled with Southwestern textile patterns or the partial anatomy of birds of prey.
While it's easy to see the Native American influence, the emerging painter says that particular part of her ethnicity does not entirely explain her process. "I try to express to people that I am obviously mixed race; I am Hispanic, my last name is Spanish; I am from New Mexico, from a very old family," Gabaldon says. "My intent with my work is to express the beauty of all of those cultures, and not to single one out and say that I am more one than the other."
Her identity does cast a net of inspiration for her work. "It's very important to not negate your history as a person," Gabaldon says. "I am trying to express multiple identities and reclaim my roots by expressing these cultures, which is why my work blends Catholicism, Mexican folk and the Native American Indian aspect as well."
Presenting multiple identities in life may not be as easy as it is in her work, however. "People are always like well, you know, I'm not brown enough to be Chicana, but I'm not white enough to be this," she says, explaining a few dubious glances she received at the annual Indigenous Fine Art Market (which only allows Native American participants) last year.
IFAM is the younger Native art market that occurs each August, concurrent with Indian Market on the Plaza. IFAM was born in 2014 in the aftermath of a disagreement that divided the higher-ups of Southwestern American Indian Arts (SWAIA), the nearly 100-year old institution that produces Indian Market. With an emphasis toward inclusion and a broader idea of what can be considered "art," IFAM has quickly gained on its older and more established competitor.
For her part, Gabaldon drops pins on inspirational locations throughout her life: a trip to Bali through UNM's art program, or her first few months in Berkeley. "When I moved out here to the Bay Area, I was pretty much still experimenting with things," she says, "and graffiti … the idea of collaging and layering, inspired me, and a lot of graffiti artists do denim jackets."
Gabaldon has painted seven denim jackets since she had the idea for making her art wearable. All the jackets were commissioned, as Gabaldon likes them to be one-of-a-kind. She brought two jackets with her to IFAM last year and, she says, "they sold within the first hour, on the first day; it's like wearing a painting on your back."
And denim jackets aren't something you can necessarily see at both art markets. SWAIA's Indian Market has more rigid guidelines about traditional artworks, whereas Gabaoldon says that IFAM is "definitely a little bit more modern in the way it is approaching new artists, not necessarily that they are young, but they are ranging in work [and] people are going there to see the difference in art."
See Gabaldon's jackets, original paintings on wood and prints at IFAM, or a selection of her originals on wood at Beals & Co. in an upcoming group show titled Transitions in Traditions, opening Aug. 20.
Indigenous Fine Art Market (IFAM)
9 am–5 pm Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 18-20. Free.
Santa Fe Railyard,
Market and Alcadesa Streets,
Transitions in Traditions
5-7 pm Saturday, Aug. 20. Free.
Beals & Co.,
830 Canyon Road,