Although she completed her B.F.A. at the Kansas City Art Institute just three years ago, Cristina Muñiz has been making art for more than 20 years.
It shows in the mature personal vocabulary she has evolved, fired by memories of growing up in a big Mexican-American family in San Antonio, but reaching out to encompass the broader realm of human experience.
“What I push my work towards is to a point where it doesn’t exclude anybody,” Muñiz says.
In her drawings and paintings Muñiz repeatedly returns to themes of social and economic division and the borders and boundaries that maintain them.
Her father instilled her with an awareness of these issues from an early age. “My dad was in the navy,” Muñiz said, “and I grew up listening to tales of what happened to a short Latino in the navy.”
A large charcoal stick on paper drawing, “AM Dream” (2016) is bisected into two scenes. A pristine white box at right represents a typical suburban house. At left is a construction scene, alluding to the workers who build such homes. “They’re working on someone else’s property,” Muñiz says.
Although there is a high degree of abstraction in Muñiz’s drawings and paintings, the identity of representational elements shines through.
As Muñiz explained in a statement for her recent one-person show at Project Project in Omaha, “A personal script or language serves as a surrogate for memories, events or words that I have heard in my life. Through that language, repeating marks, color and scale, I push the idea that something can be abstracted and still be narrative.”
Many of her compositions evoke a dreamy sense of place through architecture and landscape references subjected to shifting and oblique perspectives. She populates these settings with furniture, machinery and truncated figures that perform both narrative and symbolic functions.
The rows of “Xes” that recur in many of her compositions represent boundary lines: “separation, keep out,” Muñiz says. Repeated T-shaped elements suggesting fenceposts connote “protections around what you own.”
Doubling as stabilizing formal elements, rectangular shapes connoting windows, passages and doorways offer opportunity for escape into a better realm. Flurries of dashes, dots, zigzags and squiggles add texture and animation.
An image of reaching hands is a favorite motif. “The hands aim down at workers trying to reach up,” Muñiz says. Crowns signify hope; the fist represents power. Muñiz also incorporates little emblems that she calls “ownership boxes” in her compositions.
Muñiz said she senses a new sense of unity among Latinos since the 2016 Presidential election. Hatefulness becomes public,” she observed. “They make you feel you are nothing, they are something.”
Although her forms are soft, just as her handling is brushy and expansive, Muñiz’s compositions offer an adamant response. “Figures and shapes represent the powers of overcoming,” she says, “trying to push down the dark that is over the light.”
A one-person show of work by Cristina Muñiz opens with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. June 16 and continues through July 13 at Kiosk Gallery, 916 E 5th St. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Friday; noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and by appointment. For more information, 816.519.7717 or kioskgallerykc.com.