National nonprofit Women’s Caucus for Art awarded LA local Linda Vallejo as one of five women chosen for the 2022 lifetime achievement award.
“I’m really grateful to be in such great company, and it’s wonderful to be remembered for a lifetime of creativity,” said Vallejo, who previously worked at Self Help Graphics. “It’s a beautiful thing to be remembered and to be accoladed for years of hard work.”
She is a lifelong artist who has taken on many different forms of art throughout the years. Vallejo teaches at her company A to Z Grant Writing when she is not in the studio. She has permanent works at the Museum of Sonoma County, East Los Angeles College Vincent Price Museum, National Museum of Mexican Art, Carnegie Art Museum and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Print Department, as well as online works at UC Santa Barbara, California Multicultural and Ethnic Archives, and UCLA Chicano Study Research Center.
“I started painting as a child, and I’ve been painting all my life,” Vallejo said. “In high school and college, I was an actor, musician and a painter. Then I went to graduate school to be a professional artist and graduated in 1978. Ever since then, I’ve been involved with art on all kinds of levels all over the nation and, in some cases, even the world. It’s been very meaningful to me my whole life, and I’ve made a major dedication to it. It defines who I am.”
Founded in 1972, the Women’s Caucus for Art fosters social activism and education through art and is dedicated to making sure women are recognized for their contribution to the arts. Through this recognition, the organization helps provide leadership, networking and exhibit opportunities for women in the art world. The lifetime achievement awards are given out annually to women who have made a significant impact.
Vallejo is a Mexican American and said that while she never sought out to make a sociopolitical statement, the nature of her work and perspective makes it so. While she is an artist, Vallejo has spent decades studying Latino, Chicano and American Indigenous communities, and that is evident in her art. The project that caught the attention of the Women’s Caucus for Art was Brown Belongings, which is inspired by her personal experience as a woman of color.
“I’ve spent the last 40 years making art, showing nationally and in all different kinds of spaces, but also going back and studying my roots, studying a lot about what it means to be Mexican American or Latino in the United States today,” Vallejo said. “My most recent portfolio (Brown Belongings) is about that. I had 125 of all different types of works that talked about the politics of color and class.”
She described having an epiphany when looking at salt and pepper shakers of pilgrims, thinking about who really helped who for the first Thanksgiving. So, she decided to paint them brown. This was the beginning of her collection.
“I went crazy, and I bought $3,000 worth of pricing antiques and made all the presidents brown, made a whole bunch of movie stars brown, made Marie Antoinette brown. Everybody, everything, even Elvis Presley. Everybody got made brown,” Vallejo said. “It was to begin a conversation of what would happen. Can you imagine what the music industry would be like if Elvis Presley had been a Mexican? So, once you change the color, it just changes the entire implication of culture, class power and access on its head.”
Some of her most popular works include a nearly lifesize bust of Superman made brown, which Vallejo said made a Latin American man nearly cry when he saw it, and told her, “It makes me feel like I could be a hero, too.” Vallejo’s collection also has a brown Lady Justice, brown mermaid and a brown Mona Lisa. She admits some of the images are a little funny, which she thinks is an important part of the project. Her goal is that the exhibit will be a conversation starter for difficult topics like race, power and status.
“(The goal) is to begin a conversation, to begin a dialogue about what it means to be a person of color in the United States today,” Vallejo said. “To share our thoughts and insights with each other, and to begin a dialogue about this on multiple levels and have a friendly dialogue where people with difficult questions are respectful to each other and are kind to each other as Americans.”