Finding Maria Felix

Exploring beauty through the eyes of an artist

By Vanessa Herrera
Published on LatinoLA: December 26, 2001

Finding Maria Felix

As a child, she was always drawing little girls on scraps of paper. Today, Los Angeles-based artist Irene Carranza is painting women. One woman in particular: 1930's-40's Mexican film legend Maria Felix. Carranza's show "Maria Felix: A Living Legend" is a series of acrylic and pastel portraits of the Mexican film star.

But why Maria Felix?

A year ago collector Michael Via Lobos commissioned Carranza to paint a portrait of Felix. She ended up painting five. Those first pieces inspired the upcoming show.

Carranza describes her work as based not so much in content or composition, but as capturing essence, feelings. She uses primarily pastels to create paintings that highlight the whimsical, maternal, soft strength of womanhood. The warm tones and soft lines of her work offer a "visual testimony" of herself and her exploration of "feminine affirmation and nature."

But this show is different. It is not about the artist. The series documents the changing relationship between Carranza and the image of Maria Felix by showing the process of capturing Maria Felix essence on canvas.

What began as an interest in the image of Maria Felix changed as Carranza read more about the star's life. "She became more fascinating to me and I was able to find myself more. I was more emotionally connected to her than originally." This process can be seen in her work. Carranza's earlier portraits reflect her own tenderness, a quality Maria Felix really did not really have.

"I feel that none of the (earlier works) really capture what I feel she represents. It is more what I represent. It is so personal. Some of them almost feel like self portraits about me." It is not until the end of the series, that Felix strength and narcissism comes through. "Her beauty was everything. She had people falling all over her all the time. She was very outspoken about her beauty."

It is this pride in her beauty that comes through in Carranza's last work, a pastel portrait entitled "Sweet Sarrow/ Lagrimas dulces."

Felix's beauty and vanity were infamous. In film she played headstrong women, while her personal life was filled with marriages, divorces and a string of lovers. She is quoted as saying that she always picks men who love her more than she loves them, that way she never suffered.

Felix, who was always protective of her image, found out about Carranza's work and has asked her to participate in a traveling show of Maria Felix personal collection of paintings, of herself. The star owns an extensive collection of portraits of herself done by famous painters including Diego Rivera and surrealist Lenora Carrington.

This show blends Carranza's soft style with Felix's brass image to celebrate a different side of womanhood. It is a celebration of diva-like beauty and the strength of a woman that knows she's got "it." It explores different sides of Maria Felix image: from imagined tenderness and innocence, to self-absorbed beauty and man eating tendencies.

So go see the show. Then go home. Stand in front of the mirror. Paint your lips red and enjoy a self absorbed, narcissistic moment inspired by Irene Carrnaza's images of Maria Felix.

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