By DAVID LOPEZ
Jessica Monroe believes that nature holds a spiritual intelligence, and it is this belief that has led her to connect with the natural environment in an artistic manner.
Monroe’s exhibit, Sacred Wisdom, opens at the San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum on October 17 and runs through Nov. 27 of this year. The exhibit features her drawings and paintings on the landscapes she has encountered throughout her excursions of the Rio Grande Valley.
Originally from Edinburg, Monroe has felt a connection to nature since her childhood when she would spend days at her grandparents’ farm. Growing up in the valley, she remembers catching the fireflies that would appear at night and notes how now, those fireflies have become less and less common.
“You look at the devastation that’s happening with our natural ecosystems, and because of that I think it is the most important subject we can talk about,” Monroe said. “I genuinely worry about the world my son is growing up in.”
With worldwide reports of environmental decline, Monroe uses her craft to bring awareness to these issues by focusing on the beauty in nature rather than its destruction, a beauty that is now endangered.
“These are our sacred spaces; they offer lessons of life, death, and rebirth, of balance and continuity, and joyful moments of understanding that come from a strong connection to nature. Will we choose to honor and protect them?” she wrote in her artist’s statement.
Monroe focuses on the often overlooked and under-appreciated plants like brush and cacti. She admits that painting nature was something she hesitated in doing; not because she did not love it, but for fear of judgement.
“I stayed away from it for a long time because I thought I wouldn’t get taken seriously,” she said.
She said she remembers her days in art school when conceptual students would instead make art pieces detailing the destruction of the environment, employing satire or horrific imagery aimed at making the viewer think, or even to shock them, like arranging a pile of trash in a room.
“Every time I try to do that it feels like a false voice. I think it’s important because we’re losing it, but I also know that most people, when they see that kind of image, they shut down. But when you see something beautiful, you’re motivated to include it more in your life. ”
Luis Contreras, Director of the Cultural Heritage Museum, said Monroe’s work is as important as historians’ or scientists’ work because it documents nature in a more profound way.
“The reason I called Jessica was because she does what a historian, writer, or photographer, does but she does it with a brushstroke,” Contreras said. “The difference between the photographer and the painter is that the former does it through a monocular tool that captures the image instantaneously whereas she has to create it piece by piece, creating depth in the two-dimensional surface,” he said.
Monroe received her Bachelor of Arts from Southwestern University. She studied painting at New York University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. For over 15 years, Monroe has exhibited her work throughout Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, and taught art to students of all ages.
“Once a week, you need to spend time in this space,” Monroe advises. “I think a lot of healing can come from reconnecting with nature.”
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