Breaking down walls with wallpaper art

By Andrea Miller

Local painter María Lezón has traded in her canvas for wallpaper in her latest exhibition at Gallery 101, where she marries gigantic images of stereotypical Spanish symbols with voluptuous women.

The painting entitled “Wallpaper,” which measures 11 by four metres and took a month and a half to complete, is her biggest work to date.

The development of the piece is a joint effort between Lezón and Jessie Lacayo, the director and curator at Gallery 101.

“We were talking about the idea of doing a mural-sized painting and I did a gallery visit with María and she showed me some of her pieces,” says Lacayo. “She has such gestural marks when she’s painting . . . that [we thought] wouldn’t it be great to see something that’s really large.”

Lezón grew up in Spain and has been living in Canada since 1990.

Having spent her 20s here and graduating from the University of Saskatchewan with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, she says she considers herself very much Canadian – even if others do not.

“I’m very interested in stereotypes and how people perceive other cultures. Like, whatever I do here, is because I’m Spanish. It kind of irritates me but then I do it on purpose. I like to play with perception.”

In today’s world of hyphenated identities, people cling to what they know when defining others, says José Sanchez, who teaches Spanish film at Carleton University and Spanish language at the University of Ottawa.

“In Canada, we still associate ‘Canadian’ with a series of stereotypes. What happens with some multicultural artists [is that] they don’t fit into the WASP-y definition, that sadly, is still associated with being Canadian. Then, it becomes the stereotype of the nationality of where the artist is coming from, his or her origins, even if it’s second or third generation,” says Sanchez.

“People need to realize that a national identity is not organized around the old values but that is constantly being shaped by the people that inhabit that country.”

But Lacayo says that Lezón is able to transform the exoticism of her Spanish heritage into a creative, challenging force in her paintings.

“She’s able to create characters and costumes that seem as if they are ‘ethnic’ or from Europe or other parts of the world but they’re also inaccurate. We bring an assumption that they are somehow authenticated because she’s from Spain. But, if you go to Spain, women don’t dress like that, says Lacayo.

“Her rendition of the images are very much aesthetically connected to a sense of ethnicity. And I think she plays with that.”

Investigating stereotypes is not the only theme running through her work.

“There is always a domesticity issue. It’s very autobiographical. I study women, humour and the political. What better way to deliver a message than through beauty and humour? You can almost say anything. You have an image of a beautiful woman and by the time you know what she’s saying, you’re already attracted.”

Lezón’s spontaneous style of painting, which often finds her adding pieces to create a collage effect, speaks to the endless interpretations her works offer.

“I just paint. I let myself go and I trust that everything that I’ve read and know will come out of me somehow. So, I’m as surprised at the outcome as anyone else. I don’t have an agenda, so there’s a million ways you can read it.”