Roots and fruits
A resident of Ventura County for the last four years, Andrea Vargas-Mendoza grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in a creatively supportive environment. Her father, an artist himself, with roots in Santa Paula, inculcated Vargas-Mendoza with the value of art and culture. Throughout her childhood, she received personal art education and private art classes, some with notable artists. As a teenager, she was mentored in disciplined portraiture drawing. In addition, the visual environment of her youth became deeply influential on her painting as well as the scale of her work. “Murals decorated my urban environment,” says Vargas-Mendoza. “It created a foundation for what came later.”

‘Vargas-Mendoza’s art career was fueled by her experience in justice work and activism. “It was my dream,” she says, “the fire in my belly that drove me.” She moved to Los Angeles in 2004, where, a few years later, she participated in a memorable show that became instrumental in her artistic approach. “It was like a performance, a theatrical performance, and I created work in response to that.”

Mural, mural on the wall
For nine months, Vargas-Mendoza devoted her time to children’s literature and art, working closely with students at the Barbara Webster Elementary School in Santa Paula. A timely succession of events led to Vargas-Mendoza receiving a Ventura Arts Council (VAC) grant. She transitioned out of her role as educator, and began her plans to realize a vision of creating a large mural, “Learning Walls,” at the Child Development Center in Santa Paula, which will support children’s literacy. Her involvement with Arts for Action, a nonprofit organization that promotes, supports and maintains youth art programs through community-based involvement, facilitated her with the large wall space necessary to begin experimenting with larger scale. Arte Popular, another art collective that creates regional shows, lent an opportunity for Vargas-Mendoza to paint an 18-foot-by-50-foot mural on the exterior of the historic Gill’s Market in Santa Paula. Several artists alongside Vargas-Mendoza, will contribute to the completion of this project (also funded by the VAC) in the spring.

Out in the open
Vargas-Mendoza doesn’t adhere to expectations of the final product; instead, she enjoys the creative process, allowing herself to take risks along the way. Bold colors, schematic lines and dramatic vantage points characterize her painting.

Her drawings, in a variety of media, utilize both geometric and organic lines; female forms emerge from the labyrinth of renderings, filling the surface with energetic flair. Currently working on her series of city plein-air paintings for a solo exhibition at the Buenaventura Arts Association in March, her compositions burst with expressive hues, abstract planes and an unorthodox sense of light. Uncharacteristic of the traditionally small-scale plein-air discipline, the body of work contains 20 large-scale paintings of the Ventura landscape captured on site over the last two years.

Preserving a legacy
This month, she will be the featured emerging artist at the Museum of Ventura County’s Four Founding Fathers retrospective. Her installation piece, “Inheritance,” is a large, dynamic painting of the trestle over the railroad tracks in Ventura. The depth of the painting is a reflection of the artist’s sentiment for the history of this region. “I’m enchanted with the cultural historic legacy here,” she says. “There is a connection here, between the first road, the coast and the E.P. Foster legacy.”    

Inheritance on exhibit at the Museum of Ventura County, Feb. 26 to May 3. In Open Air at BAA opens March 5. For more information about Andrea Vargas-Mendoza, visit www.andreavargastudio.com/.

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