Lifting up women, finding ‘grace’ spanning decades of work in art exhibition at Mesa College

Lifting up women, finding 'grace' spanning decades of work in art exhibition at Mesa College
galerie jumelles
Art Galleries and Museums

Galerie Jumelles

Galerie Jumelles is an online Art Gallery founded by Sierra M. Bretz. Inspired by the French language and lifestyle, Sierra closed her business and her life in the US in 2021 to move to France to promote French Artists.

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Artist Grace Gray-Adams returned to San Diego Mesa College this month in a display of her artwork on the campus where she was among the school’s first students when it opened in the 1960s. From earning degrees in sculpture from San Diego State University, to teaching art and computer graphics at a number of local colleges, she brings a selection of artwork she’s created from 1976 to the present in “Glimmers of Grace.”

Inspired by wanting to find the “glimmers of grace” in everyday life, the pieces reflect her feminist point of view — from honoring girls who suffered the abuse of a priest in the Catholic Church, to the raw wedding night perspectives from different brides, she approaches her work with fearlessness and a pride in her womanhood. As part of the exhibition, on display through Oct. 26 at the Mesa College art gallery, she will also give a talk from 5 to 6 p.m. Oct. 26 at the gallery.

Gray-Adams, 77, lives in Solana Beach and has four children. She took some time to talk about “Glimmers of Grace,” her interest in the way people are informed by their spiritual imaginations, and the time she marched during the Civil Rights Movement.

Q: You’ve been working as an artist for 50 years. What was your introduction to art making?

A: My dad and I would make clay figures and study nature, like rocks and tropical fish. One day, when I was 14 and a freshman at Rosary [High School], a girl next to me was drawing and she used her finger to produce shade. That observation changed my world. I would spend hours in my room drawing with a regular No. 2 pencil on the card stock that came from my father’s starched shirts. He was a bartender in high-end restaurants. My parents were alcoholics, and I found peace in drawing the faces of girls crying. My mother asked my aunt, Zona, who was an artist, to look at my drawings. She told me to keep all my drawings and date them. I still have those drawings.

My senior year, about five or six of us left Rosary to go to Hoover High. For most of us, this was our first experience with public school. I took my first art class. When my father went to find out if I had enough credits to graduate, they told him I didn’t even need to be there, I had more than enough credits. He ran into my art teacher who told him I needed to go to college. She made him promise.

I graduated early and started Mesa College on the first day the campus opened in February 1964. My first drawing teacher told me that I started his class with a degree of talent, but I was leaving with the same amount of talent. So, he gave me a D.

When I started at San Diego State, there was a great group of students and wonderful professors. We learned to craft ideas rather than materials. I still work like that. I get an idea of something I want to say, then I figure out how to build it.

Q: Can you talk about your introduction to feminism, specifically in identifying as a feminist?

A: My mother was an actress and her actress friends called themselves “the dirty dozen.” I went to Rosary High, an all-girls Catholic high school. I’m comfortable with women. I entered San Diego State College in the spring of 1967. My friend Patti told me about the consciousness-raising groups the women had started and she wanted me to go. Those groups moved into exploring the creation of a women’s studies program and then the committee was formed July 1970. I’m still in weekly contact with the co-founder, Carol Rowell. At that time, I worked in the geology department and the retired Navy guys who ran the area I worked in asked me what I was up to and I told them that, besides making sculpture, I was on the women’s studies committee. They laughed and asked, “What are you girls going to do, bake cookies?” I doubt they would say something that rude to a guy working on the Black studies department or a guy working on the Chicano studies department. Times were changing and women were demanding equality. Soon, we all moved into communes and continued the work of the revolution.

What I love about Solana Beach…

I live close to the Del Mar dog beach. I can walk there and watch the dogs playing in the surf and then look up and see a magnificent sunset. That is a pure description of a glimmer. Down the street is the famous Belly Up Tavern where I have seen many old blues stars. Bonnie Raitt brought a lot of the old guys to the Belly Up. I saw Erykah Badu before she was a star. Etta James was a regular. Jill Scott also played there before she was a star. George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic with Bootsy Collins was always fun to see.

Q: When you are described as a “feminist artist,” what does that mean to you?

A: Everything. It is who I am. I’m not afraid or ashamed to be a woman. When I was young, I made work that was big and black so you couldn’t discount it because it was made by a female artist. I made work that you didn’t know it was made by a woman. Today, I’m proud that my work reflects my femaleness.

Q: One of your pieces addresses the sexual abuses in the Catholic Church. Can you tell us a bit about this piece?

A: I have had a long-time interest in the spiritual imagination and how it informs the psychology, sociology, and theology of women. Most of us began to form our spiritual imagination during childhood using fairy tales, myths, and children’s stories. For many, early religious training has a profound effect on shaping the spiritual imagination.

To grow spiritually as adults, we must re-encounter this childhood imagination, taking only the truths imbedded there and free ourselves from the distortions of a child’s memory in order to form a mature and useful spiritual imagination. This process is forever damaged if clergy misuses their position of trust. The choirgirls I went to grammar school with suffered this violation. They lost that part of growing up that I value so much. Their spiritual connection will always have this thorn to tackle before it can flow.

The healing quality of holy water is the formal source of this work. I was building a series on this idea when I was told about my friends and their damaging encounters. This piece was and is dedicated to the choirgirls of Holy Spirit Parish.

Q: You also have a video celebrating the 12th-century nun, Hildegard of Bingen, who recorded her numerous prophetic visions in writing, was a poet and composer, and is considered a patron saint of musicians and writers. How did you learn about her? And what is it about what you learned about her and her life that inspired you to center one of your pieces around her?

A: One day, Hildegard found a chest in the convent — it was full of white silk. She wanted to make her nuns dresses out of the silk, but that idea caused such a commotion that she settled on the idea of veils instead of the dresses. The white silk veils were encrusted with jewels, and they wore them on feast days and religious holidays. Hildegard was criticized for the flashiness of her sisters. She held that, ‘Who could better reflect the inner brilliance of God’s love out into the world then the Brides of Christ?’ She was so brave and brilliant at a time when women were not considered full humans.

Q: How would you describe the way your work has evolved over the years?

A: My work evolves with how I grow spiritually. It also evolves with technology; but what really pushes it is intellectual curiosity.

Q: Why has it been important to you to include interactive or participatory elements in some of your projects?

A: That is a good question. I’m a storyteller who uses anything I need to tell the story. I’m very interested in process. To me, the process is part of the story. Bringing people into the work invites them into the story and makes them part of the story.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: When I was a suicidal 18-year-old, my Aunt Zona told me I could be anyone I wanted to be. She said, “Pick an identity and pretend you are that person. One day, you will become that person.” Today, that is known as, “Fake it until you make it.” Wise Aunt Zona saved my life with that advice.

Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A: I marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago on July 26, 1965. I knew my parents would kill me if they knew, so I didn’t tell them. It was a continuation of the Selma march, one week before [President Lyndon] Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on Aug. 6, 1965.

Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.

A: Start at the beach, then go to the San Diego Zoo. After the zoo, go to the Museum of Art, and finish the day with a stroll through Balboa Park. Next day, a trip to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Later, a hike through Torrey Pines Park.

This content was originally published here.