Painter Javier Chavira, who has a show opening at the Contemporary Art Center of Peoria, explores the notion of beauty as a superficial artifice and as a deeper appreciation stemming from issues of social justice. His subjects are imbued with dignity and spirituality. He often uses religious symbols from his Catholic upbringing to give subjects a saintly quality.
Painter Javier Chavira, who has a show opening at the Contemporary Art Center of Peoria, explores the notion of beauty as a superficial artifice and as a deeper appreciation stemming from issues of social justice.
His subjects are imbued with dignity and spirituality. He often uses religious symbols from his Catholic upbringing to give subjects a saintly quality.
William Butler, executive director of the Contemporary Art Center, was part of a group show in Chicago when he first saw Chavira's paintings.
"His work is just astounding. Such emotional depth and iconic imagery from Catholicism. His portraits are of ordinary people but he raises them to a level of sainthood. The sacred and profane are joined together in real life," Butler said.
"He is a technically amazing painter. He paints in an old Flemish style that is rich and layered with deep shadows and light hitting his subject."
Chavira earned a bachelor's and master's degree from Governors State University in the University Park area of Chicago. He also earned an M.F.A. in painting and drawing from Northern Illinois University and is now an assistant professor of art at Governors State University.
"Society epitomizes beauty in a superficial way. My work comments on beauty on the surface and beauty that comes from another element," he said, noting that some of his work uses beads and baubles from hobby stores to symbolize a cheap and plastic notion of beauty compared with something more meaningful.
For subject matter, Chavira is drawn to people, sometimes relatively unknown people, who have made contributions to humanity.
One of his portraits is of Mukhtar Mai, a Pakistan woman who was gang raped in her rural village in a clash among local clans. She refused to be shamed into silence and refused to commit suicide as was the custom after this kind of honor revenge. Instead, she took her assailants to court in a case that dominated Pakistan headlines for months and also gained the attention of the international press. She won her legal battle and used some of her financial settlement to open a school for girls.
Chavira has also painted the image of Maria Elena Moyano, a Peruvian community organizer who worked with women and children. She was killed by the insurgent movement Shining Path. She was machine-gunned down at a rally in 1992 before her two children, and her body was blown up with dynamite.
Most of Chavira's paintings are of women. However, in one he depicts Chico Mendes, a Brazilian unionist and environmental activist who organized against destruction of the rain forest by cattle ranchers. He was murdered in 1988.
"As an artist, I have a role. I don't make art for myself. I want to make art that speaks and informs," Chavira said.
He has also made murals which he calls "direct communication with a mass audience."
Chavira said, "I'm telling untold stories in order to keep them alive. I honor people who have fought oppression and exploitation. ... Some of these are ordinary people doing extraordinary things but as a society our focus is often on the superficial not the important."
He will have about 15 pieces in the show. All are for sale.
Chavira studied "technique mixte" with Patrick Betaudier and now uses this technique with several layers on a tempera base to create a luminous quality to his work.
He will be in Peoria for an artists reception from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 12. Also present at the reception will be Adrienne Risby and Suzanne Shafer-Wilson who have work opening at the Contemporary Art Center.
Risby is primarily self-taught and lives in Peoria Heights. She will have a dozen pieces in a body of abstract work on Ra, the Egyptian sun god. Her pieces are for sale and range from $100 to $900. The work is primarily acrylic with stains that give an aged patina. This is her first show at the Contemporary Art Center.
"I'm a spiritual person. I did mostly portrait painting but over the past few years have turned to abstract and figurative abstract painting," she said.
She credits friends for helping her continue to work. She is on a fixed income because of degenerative disk disease, but receives a steady supply of paints and canvases from fellow artists.
"I always thank my friends. If I get up in the morning and know it's going to be a bad day, I start painting. It's terrible to be in pain all the time, and painting helps me focus on something else," she said.
Risby is exhibiting with Shafer-Wilson who currently works in wire needle lace vessels made with copper and precious metals.
Shafer-Wilson has a bachelor's in art education and a master's in art from Northern Illinois University. She is a former art teacher at Streator Township High School.
Clare Howard can be reached at (309) 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.