Gladys Roldan-de-Moras follows her heart to create beauty in a wanting world
By Bonnie Gangelhoff
This story was featured in the June 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art June 2014 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
In 2010, when Meredith Plesko invited Gladys Roldan-de-Moras to be a guest artist in the annual Texas Masters show at InSight Gallery in Fredericksburg, TX, she had only seen the artist’s paintings online. A fellow artist had recommended that Plesko consider Roldan-de-Moras’ work for inclusion in the show. Plesko recalls that when the artist’s two figurative paintings arrived, she was awestruck. “I can still see the paintings. They made a lasting impression on all of us. We asked Gladys to be a gallery artist on the spot,” she says.
As this story was going to press, Roldan-de-Moras was hard at work in her studio completing about 20 new works for her first solo show at the gallery. It opens in October and features mainly figurative works that depict women in small or intimate moments as well as at public events, such as Mexican rodeos called charreadas. The San Antonio-based artist is known for her colorful, impressionistic figurative works that often capture various aspects of her Latin culture, heritage, and traditions. The past few years have been rewarding ones for Roldan-de-Moras. In addition to her upcoming solo show, she received the Best of Show award in 2012 at the American Impressionist Society show held at Eckert & Ross Fine Art in Indianapolis, IN. Last year she took home an award of merit from the same prestigious show held at M Gallery of Fine Art in Charleston, SC.
Although the painter is known for works that spotlight Latin culture, stepping inside her studio, the first thing a visitor notices are the unmistakable sounds of opera wafting through the air. Roldan-de-Moras says she enjoys painting amid the strains of favorite operas such as Puccini’s Turandot. And she admits that she likes her music loud. “Music lifts my soul,” she says.
In fact, the artist says that music plays a major role in her work in several ways. For example, possessing no special fondness for titling paintings, she frequently borrows inspiration from her favorite composers. Her still-life paintings TOSCA and NESSUN DORMA are examples of pieces that refer to works by Puccini. When she likes a particular musical piece, she plays it over and over again, and then on the back of the painting, she inscribes the exact music, movement, or recording that inspired the artwork. If she is painting a still life, objects related to music may also appear in the tableaux. For example, in NESSUN DORMA a poster for the opera Turandot is depicted along with pink roses and various shiny brass vessels and vases. The title of the painting refers to a famous aria from that opera.
As visitors take in the rest of Roldan-de- Moras’ studio, they notice more references to her love of music—an array of musical instruments, including a violin, mandolin, saxophone, trumpet, and guitar, punctuate the space. And in a back corner by a north-light window sits an easel with the beginnings of a painting that features flamenco dancers—a work headed to her upcoming show.
For subject matter, she is also casting her painterly eye on popular events in the Mexican and Mexican-American communities known as ezcaramuzas. Loosely translated to English, ezcaramuzas means “skirmishes.” Young girls and women, ranging in age from 11 to 25, don gaily colored, ruffled dresses and ride horses sidesaddle in a rodeo-type festival. The “skirmishes” involve participants performing various tricky, often dangerous, routines in these competitions that take place in American cities across the Southwest as well as in Mexico.
Although she often sketches and takes pictures of the young women on location, she also keeps a cache of costumes in her attic, ranging from historic Mexican folk dresses to authentic flamenco dresses, which she purchased in Seville, Spain. She uses the dresses in her life-painting sessions. Her nieces and daughter often pose in the costumes.
Roldan-de-Moras traveled a more circuitous route than most to a career in fine art. As a child growing up in Monterey, Mexico, she remembers an early fascination with art and beautiful things. Like many future artists, she drew and painted, and she also began to dream about becoming an artist someday. But her family was very traditional and conservative, she says, and her parents strongly discouraged art as a career. Her father, an engineering professor born in Colombia, went so far as to say art was for nonintellectuals and people with low IQs.
At 16 years old, an excellent student, and wanting to please her parents, Roldan-de-Moras enrolled in medical school. Art dreams were cast aside, at least temporarily. As the years passed, her medical interests evolved into a possible career as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. In retrospect, she thinks that her choice of specialties was the result of the creative artist in her soul trying to surface in some way. “I have always had an eye for beauty,” she says. “In medical school I was interested in correcting deformities for people who had been disfigured for some reason, maybe a child born with a cleft palette. I thought that this is where I could express my creative gene.”
After six years in medical school, love and marriage intervened. When she was 22, Roldan-de-Moras dropped out of medical school, married, and in 1984 moved to Austin, TX, where her husband was in an engineering doctorate program at the University of Texas. But she still clung to her parents’ dream for her and eventually earned a degree in biology with the hopes of returning to medical school. She next enrolled in a master’s and doctoral program in biology, but life intervened once again, and her first son was born.
By 1990 Roldan-de-Moras says she realized that all she really wanted to pursue as a career was fine art, and she enrolled in life-drawing and painting classes at the Coppini Academy of Fine Arts in San Antonio, studying with Janice Yow Hindes. Suddenly, Roldan-de-Moras recalls, a huge window filled with opportunities opened before her. She met other painters at the academy and heard about workshops around the country.
Although she began taking workshops with many top artists, she says without hesitation that figurative painter Daniel Gerhartz remains the greatest influence on her work. Roldan-de-Moras studied with Gerhartz for 12 years, most often at the Fechin Institute in Taos, NM, where he frequently taught week long workshops. Students painted all day, and at night they gathered for communal dinners. Because Gerhartz knew Nicolai Fechin’s family, they brought out masterworks by the renowned artist—ones seldom seen by the public. “Besides Dan sharing so much knowledge and technique, we were exposed to great art,” Roldan-de-Moras recalls. “What I had thought was good art was raised up. The workshops were like taking a graduate course in painting.”
The experience also turned her into a bookworm, and these days she possesses an extensive library of art books in her studio, with a concentration on Spanish and Portuguese painters—in particular Joaquín Sorolla, an artist she admires for his sense of light and shadow, flowing lines, and simplicity of brush strokes. Like Sorolla, Roldan-de-Moras evokes a romantic sensibility in her work. “I like classic poses,” she says. “I do have women on horses, but they are wearing ruffles,” she says. “I try to paint the beauty I see around me. There are so many ugly things. There’s already enough suffering in the world. I want to paint something lovely, so that when I’m not here any longer, people can enjoy my work.”
Roldan-de-Moras recalls that for nearly 25 years, throughout her fine-art career, her father pressed her to return to medicine. Although he passed away last year, the artist says he finally offered her an olive branch of concession. In 2012 when she heard that she had won the Best of Show award at the American Impressionist Society show, one of the first people she called was her father. When she told him about the award, she recalls, he was overcome with emotion, and he said, “Well, I guess this is what you are meant to do.”
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