The Life of an Artist, by Elida S. Perez, 3/26/04.

Her lifetime was cut short by ovarian cancer, but ovarian cancer didn’t stop Gloria Osuna Perez from creating countless paintings and ceramic works of art every precious moment she had left. Born in California in 1947, she was the daughter of migrant workers, and a revolutionary by heart.

Based on her resume she acquired a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1973, but was mainly self-taught as an artist. She worked with acrylic on canvas from 1967-1978. Some of her early one-woman shows were at Merrill College, University of California at Santa Cruz.

According to her journal, after having taken a break from clay, the artist rediscovered her passion for the medium in 1977 while taking a ceramics class at the Southwest Arts & Crafts Center in San Antonio, Texas. It had been eight years since she had worked with ceramics so she made it her goal to continue working with the medium.

She was a determined woman and despite being a stay at home mother of four children, she was able to realize her dream of creating a pottery business. Her studio was in the garage of her house, and Pottery en Español was the name of her food-ware line. This was both a creative outlet and a source of income for the artist. Her pottery was a unique combination of the Mexican (Spanish and Indian) cultures with a contemporary twist. The line included salsa servers, tortilla warmers, personalized mugs and much more. She used oatmeal, iron blue, hazel and honey-luster glazes for her work. Though she started out small selling her work at local craft shows, the demand for her work grew. Eventually she distributed her pottery line to stores throughout Texas, New Mexico and California.

After several years of working with clay exclusively Gloria’s passion for canvas work resurfaced. In 1990 her urge to paint proved extremely lucrative. Her paintings were shown at the Lincoln Arts and Cultural Center that year, and in 1993 she had a burst of creativity and produced twenty-eight paintings that were shown at the Chamizal National Memorial, Los Paisanos Gallery. In the years to come she received several honors for her work including the Mid-America Arts Alliance Fellowship in 1994, the Yellow Rose of Texas in 1996 as well as having the opportunity to present her painting “Ana” to then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention.

“Coyolxauhqui – Madre Cósmica,” was the artist’s most ambitious project. She began her work in 1995, inspired by a trip to Mexico City, where she saw the original monolithic stone of the Aztec Moon Goddess at the Templo Mayor. She did extensive research on the topic, and decided to create an installation of the stone, including ten paintings of women that had an impact on their communities both from Mexico and the United States. The artist then created a clay facsimile in her own interpretation of Coyolxauhqui to strike curiosity in the eye of the viewer. Each woman was directly connected to the tile piece by the Aztec year of their births and deaths located on a button of their blouses or earrings.

A painting of Gloria by Gaspar

When she began the project she hadn’t realized the magnitude of this challenge. Limited on time and kiln space she had to create individual tiles that could easily fit and be more manageable. Her first few firings were not a success. The first tile she made was of the earring, which cracked in the kiln. The second round was the head and the sixth serpent of the stone, which she allowed to dry an entire month before firing. Those pieces exploded along with some of her food-ware items. Finally, she decided it had to be something she was doing wrong. It dawned on her that she was trying to fire the tiles that represented the moon goddess by day.

To prove her theory, she loaded the kiln strictly with Coyolxauhqui tile pieces, and fired them at night. After making that correction the tiles ceased to crack and explode. She concluded that in order to be successful with this project she would have to treat the myth of the moon goddess with more respect, and that meant firing by night when it was her time to reign. The Aztec myth reveals that during the day her brother the sun god reigned and destroyed her by crashing her body into the earth where her blood mixed with the earth and gave birth to mankind, her children.

It was very difficult for Perez to decide on only 10 women because there had been so many strong Mexican women who had made an impact on their communities. It was her intention to make the identifying drops of blood that connected the women to the tile pieces interchangeable for future exhibits where she would feature different women as they emerged and rose to prominence.

She completed the project and it was shown at El Paso Museum of Art in January, 1996. This was the same year she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. When they told her she had only six months to live, the passionate artist displayed the same determination in battling the disease as she had completing her project. The installation was a huge success. It combined her ability to represent the Mexican and Chicano cultures with her rich colors and abstract images that reach into the heart of the viewer. The women she chose are painted with looks of power and dignity. The exhibit demands that the viewer ask questions as to why and how the connection was made between the moon goddess and those women, and what it represents.

Perez’ work represents the humanity of her culture with the care she took in each painting, wanting to transcend the anonymity of a social sub-group into self-reflection.

The installation has been exhibited at several El Paso galleries besides the El Paso Museum of Art, it has also traveled to the University of San Francisco and was later used in conjunction with a curriculum designed for students who visited the exhibit with help from El Paso Independent School District. Both Mesita and Cielo Vista Elementary Schools participated, as well as Ross Middle School and El Paso High with great success.

After completing this project, the artist continued to work up until the last year of her life. Where the experts told her she had only six months she took three more years. One of her final pieces was a version of The Virgin of Guadalupe that is now located at the University of San Francisco. She passed away June 25, 1999; but she left behind a lifetime of artwork. Part of which was shown in a tribute to the artist at the Adair Margo Gallery the month of her passing. Everything she did was creative; her life itself can be considered a work of art. For Gloria Osuna Perez, she lived and breathed it.