Dissatisfied by traditional methods of putting brush to canvas, Yvette Mayorga creates paintings that push into a third dimension by building thick, icing-like layers that are literally caked onto the surface of the canvas. Impossibly ornate and almost sickeningly sweet, her work channels the extravagant excess of the Rococo era to critique our state of American excess and consumption.
However sweet, Mayorga uses unsuspecting pinks, candy-colored motifs and childhood references to make it easier to digest the hard truths revealed within her frosting. In her series “High Maintenance,” she cleverly uses the playful constructions of the nineties childhood toy Polly Pocket to critique notions of space and control, with the ever-present border patrol guards that appear in many of her works. Influenced by the politics of the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, Mayorga’s work invites us to look into these built spaces, reminding us that patrolling is controlling—and if we are the onlooker, what role are we taking on through this act?
Mayorga instinctively blends aspects of her background to create her politically charged work: a background in painting and sculpture and her family histories and experiences. By applying pastel-colored acrylic paint with frosting pipe bags, she references her personal history, as her mother was a baker and both her grandfathers worked at Chicago’s Tootsie Roll factory. Mayorga’s labor-intensive process echoes family history: “I’ve had the privilege of being born here, but seeing life play out differently for my family members that are undocumented and also just by being a young person with my parents traversing the world and experiencing that with them really made me want to critique the injustices they have been through.”
In recent paintings, Mayorga infuses Rococo motifs onto ornate and lavishly embellished vessels inspired by eighteenth-century American “century vases” that traditionally depict historical scenes. Gold chains, emojis and brightly painted fingernails adorn Mayorga’s urns, topped with her signature icing texture. Once again, she disrupts her own iconography with patrol guards figurines. Once realized, you can now see the vase for what it really is: an urn, a vessel holding loss. These vessels that at first glance seem frivolous and decorative now hold the weight of an urn’s grief, possessing a powerful and subtle picture of violence.
Mayorga’s urn paintings were showcased at the end of 2019 in her first solo exhibition, “A Part of US,” at Geary Contemporary in New York City. Since graduating with an MFA in Fiber and Material Studies from the School of the Art Institute in 2016, she has shown her paintings and installation work all over Chicago and beyond, in places like the National Museum of Mexican Art, EXPO Chicago, and the Vincent Price Art Museum in California. Through May 10, a lifesize double portrait of her and her grandfather titled “F is for Ice, 1875-2018 (After Portrait of Innocent X, c. 1650, Diego Velázquez)” is in the exhibition “In Flux: Chicago Artists and Immigration” at the Chicago Cultural Center. She’s been awarded grants and residencies ranging from 3Arts, ACRE Projects and the Terra Foundation and, most recently, her work has been acquired by the DePaul Art Museum where it will be on view this fall. (Christina Nafziger)