Students meet the San Antonio artists bringing life to Latinx stories

Last Tuesday, students taking the Issues in Contemporary Arts course met with San Antonio-based painter Ana Fernandez and explored a joint exhibition curated at The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center’s Brazos Street Gallery.

The gallery space divides two artists’ solo shows into three rooms; each work is more colorful than the last. Figures and familiar-feeling San Antonio buildings and street corners unfold on paper, canvas and occasionally directly on the wall.

In “Narratives Invented,” Ruth Buentello paints detailed portraits of people, drawing on her own experiences and the many ups and downs of being a part of a family. Buentello’s work is intimate and references Chicano identity, mental illness, deteriorating physical health and gender roles. Buentello is a full-time public school teacher as well as an artist.

In her work, children play and lean on parents and uncles. Grandmothers hold babies and stare deeply at the viewer. A painting of a modern family at dinner riffs on Da Vinci’s “Last Supper.” Family units are constantly in motion in her paintings, displaying as much happiness as they do pain, as much exciting activity as they do mundanity.

The series “Eastside Westside” by Ana Fernandez focuses on small, Latinx-owned business in San Antonio, depicting the American dreams of South Texan people of color. Fernandez lives and breathes an entrepreneurial life herself, first as a painter and second as the owner of popular food trucks, including Chamoy City Limits. One of her biggest works depicts the seasonal Las Princesas market. Others capture street side rose vendors, gas stations and parking lots — the spaces of everyday life.

Buentello and Fernandez both attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but did not meet until returning to San Antonio. Their friendship has become a powerhouse for Latinx representation in art.

Fernandez took time to talk to Trinity art majors about her winding career path and artistic ideas. From a student who switched majors multiple times, to a desk job in California, to owning food trucks, Fernandez has known work within and outside of the art world. That spirit lives in her paintings.

“Ana dispelled the misunderstanding that young artists tend to have, that adult artists are super profound thinkers and always know what they’re doing,” said Julia Poage, a junior studio art and English double major. (Poage is the opinion editor for the Trinitonian.)

“It’s comforting to know that you can still have a life outside of art, because I worry about that sometimes. She’s confident in all spheres of her life — as a small business owner, as a painter, in her identity as a Mexican-American woman in San Antonio,” Poage said. “I’m inspired by how passionate but realistic she is about everything she does.”

Fernandez balks at interpretations of her art that deal with themes of gentrification or cultural decay.

“To me, it’s about blooming,” Fernandez said. Change and movement are a part of both the small business and the human experience.

Buentello and Fernandez’s work will be in Galeria Guadalupe through Oct. 6. On Sept. 28, both women will be giving a free artist talk at 6 p.m. in the gallery.