Teresa Magaña is the proud owner of VIDA Y ALMA, a one-woman business that promotes creativity through art workshops and numerous art exhibits while also paying respect to the deep rooted traditions millions of people from around the world celebrate every November 1 and 2. Dia De Los Muertos, or Day Of The Dead, is a time to gather as friends and family pray and remember those who have passed away. With these gatherings come an array of vivid and meticulate art work, from Catrinas to painted masks.
While Teresa specializes in masks that symbolize everything from traditional Dia De Los Muertos art to customized pieces, she simply has a knack for art. Recently, she painted a series of piggy banks for a contest a bank was running. Earrings, bottle caps and canvas also are fair game for Teresa whenever the creative bug bites.
After meeting Teresa at a local horror get-together last year, I was recently lucky enough to catch up with this talented Chicago-based artist to chat about everything from her work to why our mothers would get along wonderfully.
MANGLED MATTERS: It was a pleasure meeting you at last year’s Monster Mash-Up. How many shows do you attend in a year?
Teresa Magaña: It was great meeting you too. Thanks so much for the opportunity to be featured on your blog. I’m flattererd and humbled.
I try to do at least one show a month, sometimes I do two per month. Last year I did about 20. These are a combination of festivals, farmers market, and the random “Hey Teresa, do you want to set up a table at our event?”
MM: Your artwork is beautiful- vivid and mesmerizing. How did a creative hobby become a well established career for you?
TM: Thank you. This definitely did start out as a hobby. I would make examples for my kids, family and friends for our annual Day of the Dead craft day, and every year my examples became more and more elaborate. I found myself painting skulls well after November, for my own therapeutic needs, and then fulfilling orders from friends that wanted to give my artwork out as gifts for Christmas. As I began to share my work and receive lots of support and positive feedback. With all the encouragement, I built up enough confidence and motivation to begin selling my work in a more public setting. Every show or festival I signed up for went well and continues to go well. It has become apparent to me that skulls are in season all year around, and I have been able to create and offer affordable pieces of work to those with the appreciation for this type of art. That has been the evolving state of my hobby to career.
MM: Where does the name Vida y Alma come from? What is its importance to you?
TM: The name translates to Life and Soul. I decided to create this name for my artwork for two reasons. First because of the deep significance the Day of the Dead celebration. Its a celebration of the lives our past loved ones had and keeping their souls alive by speaking of them and honoring them. The second reason is because of how I live and look at my life and those around me on a day to day basis. We live running through our day to day on goings and I believe we get so caught up we forget to be still and recognize what makes us who we are in this life, our Soul. When I began to follow more of my instincts and thoughts created by my heart and soul, I noticed many things changed in my life. I strongly believe when we are in tune, or at least try to be in tune and in touch with our Soul on a deeper level than just this physical life, we are lead to where we need to be and become surrounded with the people that belong with us in this life. The skull itself is such a powerful symbol. And when decorated, a beautiful way to even further symbolize this cycle our Soul goes through. We physically live, we physically die, but our Soul, our essence lives on in some way, even if through just the thoughts of our loved ones.
TM: One of the main reasons skulls and skeletons are used during this time of celebration is to make light of and bring about a more light hearted way of looking at death. To recognize its always around us but its an inevitable part of our life cycle so we shouldn’t be afraid of it.
The symbolism of the masks I create is varied. The majority of the ones I create are designs and colors I come up with to make it look lively. When someone sees one of my skulls, I want them to be captured by the beauty of the piece before fully realizing it is on a skull. Its an interesting feeling when you know you are looking at what is traditionally a symbol of death and your thinking, “wow, look at how beautiful this is”.
I also do custom orders for people that want their piece to symbolize someone or something.
MM: Deeply rooted in your cultural traditions, you are proudly carrying on a legacy of fantastic artwork and revered heritage. What inspires you as a painter?
TM: My culture is a huge part of my inspiration. I was born and raised here in the US and have lots of Mexican-American fused traditions and beliefs. Seeing, knowing, and continually learning of where I have come from has opened me up to explore the feelings it evokes in me and bring it out through my artwork.
MM: How many skulls/masks do you create in a regular work week?
TM: There is no straight answer for this question because I don’t have a “regular” work week. And I shutter at the sound of those three words, “regular work week”, because I worked in corporate for many many years. (laughs) Ohhhhh, shaking thoughts of cubicles out of my mind now. (laughs)
Depending on current projects and shows I have coming up is what determines what I create every day. I have created 30 to 50 small skullies in one day and or two large skulls in a day. But I have also worked on pieces that have taken me a few weeks.
MM: Where do you see Vida y Alma in ten years?
TM: It has actually been a goal of mine for a very long time to open a small store/gallery/workshop space. I would sell my artwork along with the work of other local artists, have opportunities for artists to have show exhibitions, and I would also host art workshops for children and adults.
MM: As a horror fanatic, what are a few of your favorite horror films? Who is your favorite horror icon?
TM: Aww mann, there are so many horror films I’ve watched and favorited. There was one year (when small video rental stores were still around), my older sister and I made it a goal to watch every single horror movie on their shelf. We made it through every great and every bad horror film! Some favorite films are FINAL TERROR, EVIL DEAD, THE EXORCIST, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (just the first two), FRIDAY THE 13TH, SLEEPAWAY CAMP, PSYCHO, IDENTITY, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE OMEN…from gory, to psychological, to the ghostly spiritual horror movies, I like them all. Oh wait, can’t forget THE HILLS HAVE EYES, JEEPERS CREEPERS, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES… I can keep going…(laughs) I honestly don’t have a favorite horror icon. They are all so unique and special in their own ways. I love and appreciate them all!
MM: La Llorona creeps the bajeezus out of me. I’m fascinated and terrified. What are your thoughts on this mythology?
TM: She creeps me out! My mother believe it or not, traumatized me and my sister when we were kids about her. For a few years, we lived in a small town in Texas that was near a river. We had to drive by it on our way to the Drive In and of course being out in the boonies, it was pitch black and scary. She would pretend the car would stall, conveniently by the river, and tell us the story of how her children drowned and she would take the souls of children that were near by. (laughs) Yes, my mother is a horror fanatic too, and had a crazy sense of humor. I owe it to her that I have this fascination with scary, bloody, horror movies, and stories! Oh yeah, and I like to share my scary sense of humor with my kids now too!
MM: Who are some of your favorite artist?
TM: I, of course, admire and appreciate the work of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Jose Guadalupe Posada. There have been many local artists that I have seen very recently as well that have absolute talent. If I name one, I have to name them all and that list would be too long.
MM: What are some upcoming events people can visit you and your art at?
TM: My artwork is always on display at Blue Betties Boutique in the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago. The biggest shows I do are in Oak Park, Elgin, and at the Congress Theater Artopia Festivals, which are all this upcoming summer. Info on all of these are available on my Facebook page.
I would like to thank Teresa for her time. I hope you all check out the links provided in this interview to learn more about Teresa’s work as well as check out tons more photos of the awesome and beautiful work that she is making her career.