J. Leigh Garcia

Site: www.jleighgarcia.com IG: @j.leighgarcia

J. Leigh Garcia (Mexican-American, She/Her)
Vigilantes. 14"x20" Screenprint. 2018

1. Tell us about your background. Do you feel your culture or upbringing has had an effect on your work?
Because I am biracial, a seventh-generation Texan of European descent on my mom’s side and granddaughter of Mexican immigrants on my dad’s, I have always been hyper aware of race. I never looked quite like my white maternal family and I never looked quite like my Latinx paternal family. Growing up between two races and two cultures has been difficult in terms of my identity development, but I've found art to be a successful way to process this duality.

2. How would you describe your art? Style? Preferred medium?
I make work about racial equity, biraciality, and undocumented immigration in relation to Texas history. My work is typically printmaking-based, I often work in screenprinting, relief, intaglio, or lithography. For the most part, I would describe my work as loud, bold, colorful, and political.

3. What motivated you to become an artist? What inspires your work?
My parents are both musicians, and growing up, they always encouraged me to express myself creatively. In fact, when I was four years old, my Dad and I shared a collaborative sketch-book. I remained interested in art throughout middle school, and in high school, was fortunate enough to attend an arts magnet high school, Booker T. Washington HSPVA in Dallas, where half of my courses were in studio art. It was amazing! When I took printmaking in my junior year with my high school printmaking teacher, the late, great Ms. Kutscheid, I immediately fell in love and decided printmaking was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Injustices pertaining to racial equity and politics inspire my work. When I hear about the unfair working treatment of undocumented immigrants, how the Trump administration has put immigrant children in cages, and the death toll of immigrants crossing the Mexico-U.S. border, it compels me to bring attention to these issues. However, when making this work, I am confronted with my own privilege and half-whiteness. Recently, in response to much of my undocumented immigration-focused work, I have shifted my conceptual framework to explore biraciality in relation to these events.

4. Have you ever integrated topics of identity/race/social justice in your art? If so, how?
All of my work for the past five years has explored identity/race/social justice. I began by making work about undocumented immigration of Latinx people, specifically between Mexico and Texas. Because my grandfather crossed the Rio Grande undocumented in the 1930's, undocumented immigration is part of my ancestral heritage, and I consider myself a biproduct of this phenomenon. However, in response to making this work, I have experienced what I call "half-white guilt." While I identify as a person of color, I am privileged in my half-whiteness, education level, citizenship, and familiarity with white culture. In my more recent work, I explore my biraciality as a half-white, half-Latinx person. Am I the oppressor or the oppressed? Where do I fit within Texas history and the residual racial discord that has resulted from major events in Texas history such as the Mexican-American War, Battle of the Alamo, Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and Bracero Program

5. In what way(s) do you feel art has the power to create change?
I often wonder if I should have become an activist, lawyer, social worker, or politician in order to make more direct change towards racial equity and the protection of undocumented immigrants. However, I've come to realize in my time as an artist, that there are things that activists, lawyers, social workers, and politicians can not do that artists can. On the surface level, art can draw in viewers with beauty, and leave them wanting to know more. However, on a deeper level, art has the power to communicate emotionally and spiritually. Art can visually communicate in a way that viewers may have never experienced before, waking them up and inspiring them to ask questions of themselves, thus inspiring change.

6. Tell us about your experiences as a student in K-12 art education. Did your k-12 experience have a direct influence on your decision to continue as an artist?
Throughout my K-12 education, my relationship with art fluctuated in correlation with my teachers. My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Ash, was really supportive of my artwork, she even nominated me to draw the cover of our K-6th grade phone book, which I did. However, when I reached 5th grade, I had a teacher who told me I was not good at drawing. I took a few years off from making art because my confidence was greatly affected, but had an 8th grade history teacher who fostered an environment of creativity that renewed my interest in art. I applied to and was accepted into Booker T. Washington HSPVA in the visual arts cluster, and from there, my arts education flourished. Because I attended an arts magnet high school, I was introduced to an abundance of art mediums at a young age. This experience gave me a head start to my career in art. I often wonder if I'd be where I am today if it wasn't for my education at this fantastic public magnet school.

7. What was your favorite art lesson as a K-12 student?
In my junior year of high school, our phenomenal printmaking teacher, Ms. Kutscheid organized a collaboration between her three sections of printmaking. Each student carved a 22"x30" woodcut that connected to the pieces next to it through organic linework. After all the woodblocks were carved, we printed them on canvas that was stitched together and displayed as an installation at the Dallas Museum of Art. Not only did I have my first museum exhibition through this project, but I also collaborated with others for the first time through art.

8. What is one message you want to give to art educators?
Diversity is a gift and a tool. Encourage your students to find what is special about themselves, and let that shine through their work.

9. What is one message you want to give to art students?
To all the art students out there, I hope you know that when a teacher pushes you, they are doing it out of dedication. I learned the most from the art teachers that challenged me to do better, to think more critically, and work harder. You may not like being pushed in the moment, but I can guarantee that it's for your own good. Take note of how your teachers push you because once you graduate, you'll have to push yourself.

Catching Flies. Screenprint, relief print, rubber band, cardboard. 2019
Bendita Sea el Agua. Screenprint with embroidery & punctured holes. 2019
Date of Interview: 08/14/2020 Interviewed by: Paula Liz