Originally from Chicago, my dream was to live in New York. I was obsessed with its vibrancy, energy and creativity. Of course, I had never been there before. My family didn't travel much, but I was enticed by the stories I heard. As a young student and artist, I was fortunate to have had a supportive family, visionary teachers and mentors. I came across people that were strong examples of successful, professional artists. I was involved in public art projects, free arts programs and anything and everything related to art I could get a hold of.
With a lot of resistance from a traditional, working class, Mexican family and some financial aid, I set off to this great city. I was the first to attend college in my family and was eager and determined to experience New York City. I arrived knowing no one, without fear or dismay, I was confident and ready.
I spent my time in New York City, studying, visiting museums, hearing lectures by inspiring artists like Elizabeth Catlett, Saul Williams, Vik Muniz, the late Leon Golub and Juan Sanchez, attending openings for shows at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum, El Museo del Barrio, galleries and museums throughout the city. It was the perfect time and place to explore. I worked with my professor and mentor, Ernesto Pujol who encouraged me to find my artistic language. I learned the meaning of meaning, concept and material. These experiences and more helped lay my artistic and professional foundation. In NYC, I learned what and how. I learned what I was communicating and how to express those ideas.
Shortly after I completed my degree, I make the decision of coming back to Chicago. There were various factors in making this reluctant decision. One of which, I had a good museum job lined up in Chicago. After having experienced 9/11 in NYC, stability of any kind was on my mind.
Coming back to Chicago, I realized that much had changed, much was happening and there was much more waiting to happen. I found this refreshing and exciting. I had to re-familiarize myself with this city. Through various friends and artists and with open arms, I found my way back into a very large artistic network. Chicago seemed much bigger this time. Having been gone for several years, Chicago had grown and become more prominent and more diverse.
Throughout this process, I have become heavily involved with public art, community projects and Chicago's artistic and cultural development. I have learned to proudly claim a part of this city. There is still much more to be done, much more to be explored, utilized and developed. I am proud of my artistic predecessors, those teachers that have learned to pass along a sense of artistic and social responsibility.
In Chicago, I received my first art lessons in public art, I watched graffiti writers create their pieces, and I watched the Pilsen artists paint their murals. Chicago is where I was taught to live and love art. My mentors and teachers encouraged me, included me in their artistic conversations, and they invited me their homes. In New York, I learned to defend and argue my work. In NYC, I learned what the art world really looked like; a little beautiful, a little ugly, glamorous and sometimes very simple.
I returned to Chicago because it is where my heart is. Needless to say, I left a part in New York City. Those who were once my teachers and mentors are now my collaborators. The muralists I had been inspired by and had heard about are now my friends and colleagues. I have truly gained experience of all kinds in this city. Working with already established artists gives me a much broader sense of the meaning of a professional artist, without the rock star glamour that sometimes tends to infiltrate the minds of young art school students.
I still make frequent visits to my other home, Brooklyn, and take advantage of the many arts and cultural events that NYC offers. In the meantime, I will continue to reside and work here, while I accomplish many other dreams and hope to make artistic progress with my fellow artists, friends and colleagues.
Maria Gaspar is an inter-disciplinary artist from Chicago who graduated from New York City's Pratt Institute with a BFA in Painting and Certificate in Art Education for K-12th grade. She currently works with a variety of materials and techniques, including performance, photography, sculpture, fiber arts and public art. She actively exhibits her conceptually based work in Chicago. In her work, she examines gender, contemporary machismo and beauty.