Meghan Hendley-Lopez
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Visual Vernacular: Artist Lorena Morales

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Lorena Morales, “Home,” 2016.


Lorena Morales, along with artist Lauren Salazar, are both exhibiting at one of Houston’s longest running art galleries, Hooks-Epstein Galleries. Gallerist and owner Geri Hooks has paired together work that pushes the boundaries of the conventional contemporary and elaborates in narratives of personal and emotional reflection. In this two-part Visual Vernacular set, we speak to each of the artist about their exhibition and how their thought processes behind the work intersect with each other.

First up in this two-part installment is local artist Lorena Morales. Taking the colors, vibrancy, and memories of her home land of Venezuela, Morales molds traditions into amazing abstracts. Definition of lines, shape, and perception tell the tales of home and what happens when that foundation changes. Pathway to Nowhere or Anywhere is a visual plummet into depths of melding color and sharp edges all communicating together from piece to piece. Morales elaborated on her exhibition and what her experience in Houston has been like.


FPH: What was your artistic training like? How did your culture/family upbringing shape your work?

Morales: I grew up surrounded by art. My mother was an artist and owned an art gallery in my native Maracaibo, Venezuela, known to us as “the land beloved by the sun.” I took art classes from resident artists, but never considered seriously pursuing what I considered a hobby.

When I started doing my own work, I wanted it to be different. At first, I painted rows of flat houses, reminiscent of those that I remembered from Venezuela: small squares with one door and one window. They turned into piles of houses, whirlwinds of buildings. It was the process of adaptation. I was bringing a part of me to my new home.

I also wanted to depict the sunny, tropical weather. Everything there is about the sun, its rays, and the vibrant contrast of colors. I drew lines that became symbolic of the sun filtering through shutters, lines of shadows. Later, I drew large circles to represent the sun, and they became pinwheels, flowers, and fireworks. I wanted to show the optimism of the people there.

Still, I wanted my paintings on canvas to have more depth and more action. I started experimenting with Plexiglas and found that, if painted correctly, it could cast shadows and reflect light. It took a while to perfect this process. It is very technical and highly controlled. I need to follow all the steps. If there’s a mistake, it goes in the trash.

Despite the rigid creation process, the pieces burst with energy and life. I explore the changing light of day, the energy of new beginnings and the passing of current realities.

I want to express change, possibility and potential in my work. Today, I create sculptures that can be disassembled and rearranged, and paintings that vary depending on the lighting in the room and the angle of the viewer.


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Lorena Morales, “The Other (La Otra),” 2016.


FPH: In this body of work in the exhibition, how does the concept of home play out?

Morales: Living in Houston as a U.S. citizen has changed my perception of home: is home where I live now or is home where I am from? My work explores this journey of finding my way home. Through this journey, emotions and memories from my native home intersect with current emotions and memories from my new adopted home. Recollections of familiar sounds, everyday scents and recurrent images from both places become abstract as they come together within me. There is nostalgia contrasted with joy and expectations.

Using abstract geometric and organic forms, I explore the intersections of these feelings and memories. As the light changes throughout the day, casting shadows and shifting its focus, a myriad of colors and color relationships are generated. By exploring these intersections of color and light, narratives related to my new mixed cultural identity are revealed.


FPH: What materials do you use in your work and how do they intersect to tell the narrative of your personal journey?

Morales: Because this work is related to the journey of finding my way home, I proposed a visual passage through works that represent my memories, my current emotions and my expectations by using vivid colors, different materials and geometric shapes.

I started to create the works in the exhibition Pathway to Nowhere or Anywhere eighteen months ago by building the wall installation with the same name. The installation came from an elaborate process that lasted at least six weeks to finish. For me, it was a meditative process that allowed me to deal or assimilate my new condition as an American citizen and question myself about the concept of home. By cutting, painting, and punching holes, by sewing together small rectangular Plexiglas pieces, my memories, current realities and expectations reunited in my mind.

My abstract memories are symbolized by applying Gouache/Oil and small pieces of colored Acetate and/or painted Plexiglas on paper.  Paper for me denotes a traditional art material to paint on that I can relate to memories. As a teenager in Venezuela, I used to draw portraits with soft pastels on paper.

The titles of my works on paper derived from a recurrent memory I had growing up in my native Venezuela. I remember coming back everyday from school, siting in the dinning room during lunchtime and chatting with my siblings and parents with a TV on somewhere in the room playing a Latin American Telenovela. This is why all of these works have titles in Spanish from Latin American Telenovelas.

Expectations and uncertainty are revealed through the use of spray enamel on shaped Plexiglas fragments represented by paths and labyrinths that open up possibilities and change. For me, Plexiglas signifies the future. Transparent Plexiglas pieces allow me to apply color in certain areas and leave others unpainted in order to explore the relationship between light and shadow, color and space.


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Lorena Morales, “The Calm Waters (Las Aguas Mansas),” 2015.


FPH: What kind of balance do shapes and layers provide in your pieces?

Morales: My visual vocabulary is deeply influenced by geometric abstraction and kinetic art. Many Venezuelan artists embraced both movements during the 50’s, particularly optical and kinetic art. These artists contributed to forging a path for art in Venezuela, inspiring new generations of artists and intellectuals to this day, including myself. I found myself communicating through colors and shapes. Balanced or unbalanced forms and colors materialize over the surfaces intuitively as a reflection of my thoughts and emotions.


FPH: Unlike other creative methods, you create using “reverse painting.” What is the definition of this and how does it play out when creating your pieces?

Morales: The process of creating the Plexiglas paintings is related to the one that makes a “reverse painting.” Usually, I have a concept or preconceived idea about what I want to communicate. However, when I start cutting, the design comes intuitively. I don’t draft sketches because I need to experiment directly on the Plexiglas in order to get what I am looking for.

I start with simple tools, like a ruler and an exacto knife.  I order the Plexiglas sheet covered with masking paper, which I use to create the design (cut out). When I have the design cut, I remove the masking paper in the areas where I will apply the paint, leaving the others covered.

Because this is a reverse painting, I must cut the design (arrange the composition) backwards.  The same is applied toward the spray-painting process.  I must start from the foreground, building to the background. Sometimes, the colors at the front of the piece differ from the ones on the back, as I paint in thin layers and build the colors I want.


FPH: Do you think nostalgia and joy go hand in hand for this exhibition or are they two separate entities? How do you display them in your work?

Morales: Nostalgia and joy go hand in hand and are intrinsic in my artwork. They are on display in every combination of colors I applied, in the relationship between lines and shapes. They appear and disappear every time light changes in the environment. They may shift positions, but their presence is still perceived in each piece by the relationship between materiality and immateriality.


“Pathway to Nowhere or Anywhere” runs through July 2, 2016 at Hook-Epstein Galleries (2631 Colquitt). This Saturday, there will be a Q & A Session with Lorena Morales and Lauren Salazar conducted by Dr. Anna Tahinci, Department Head of Art History at the Glassell School of Art, and Kathryn Hall, Curator at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. Mingle and champagne beginning at 2:00 pm. Q & A Sessions will follow at 2:30 pm. RSVP at 713-522-0718 by Friday, June 3 for a number of seats will be available on a first come, first serve basis.