FARMINGTON – From a distance, the art pieces look like soft scratchings of pencil on paper, short lines filling space, etchings shaping a jawline and filling the soft curve of an eye.
But as you draw near, the lines reveal themselves as short hairs that weave in and out of the canvas to create the image of woman staring back at you.
Rosemary Meza-DesPlas first began experimenting with sewing her hair into her art pieces in 2000. While it started off with an offhanded comment from a friend, she said she was drawn to the idea and challenge of a new art form. Meza-DesPlas, who had never sewn, began experimenting with canvas materials and needles.
An exhibit at San Juan College showed part of her experimental journey as an artist. The exhibit spanned the past 20 years of her work and included graphite drawings, hand-sewn human hair drawings, mixed media work and a piece Meza-DesPlas drew directly on a wall of the gallery.
The exhibit – “Marks, Strokes, and Scribbles: A Survey of Drawings – ran until March 27 at the San Juan College Fine Arts Gallery.
Meza-DesPlas said she has been drawn to the dichotomy associated with hair. In one context, it can be seen as “luxuroius, flowing and beautiful,” but in another it can be seen as repulsive. “It’s the context that determines people’s reaction to it,” she said.
To collect her medium, she said she uses her fingers to comb through her hair in the morning and at the end of the week sifts through what she has gathered, labels it and stores it. The exhibit at San Juan College showed how her process and use of her hair has evolved and developed in her art.
Meza-DesPlas also is exploring incorporating her own gray hair in her drawings. The different color has allowed her to explore new materials and canvases to work with. On display at the exhibit was a work in progress featuring her gray hair.
Read more of Liz Weber’s stories from New MexicoMeza-DesPlas said she is fascinated with drawing because it’s universal. “All you need is a pencil. All you need to do is leave a mark.”
Meza-DesPlas was born and raised in a suburb of Dallas, and she said, like all artists, her background has seeped into her artwork. Her primary focus is on the female experience in a patriarchal society, with influences coming from current events, pop culture and social media.
A theme of an earlier exhibit focused on how women shooting or holding guns are sexualized in Hollywood action movies.
She added that a lot of her influences come across as more symbolic because it “opens up more avenues for interpretation.”
She and her husband – who works at San Juan College – moved to Farmington in 2016, when she decided to focus on her art full-time. She was previously a professor in Texas for 16 years. She said the transition to full-time artist has allowed her to slow down and really focus.
“There’s more time to research and explore ideas,” she said. “The process isn’t as rushed.”
The exhibit pulls from projects and themes Meza-DesPlas has explored, and which have been exhibited in Chicago; New York City; South Korea; China; and France.
Since the exhibit spans Meza-DesPlas life as an artist, she said it is a unique opportunity to reflect and study her influences and recurring themes throughout her pieces.
“It’s fun to see the connections, to see how certain pieces are talking to each other across time,” she said.
The exhibit also gave her an opportunity to reflect on how society has changed in the past two decades. While she said there is no lack of issues affecting women and an ongoing imbalance in power, she has noticed a difference. “In the last four years, there’s been more (art) shows with sociopolitical content challenging different issues,” she said.
The piece Meza-DesPlas drew directly onto the gallery wall is a drawing of hairstyles worn by the suffragists. She said it’s a way to look back at the different waves of feminism and the “ancestry of anger.” While it took her a couple days to draw it, at the end of the exhibit the piece will be painted over.
“I’m leaving my mark wherever I go,” she said. “It’s still there, hidden.”