Practically MAGIC

Mexican painter Jade Leyva speaks about migration and climate change through metaphor

As told to Ashley M. Biggers Photography by Gabriela Campos



Santa Fe New Mexican


Born and raised in Mexico City, Jade Leyva immigrated to the United States more than two decades ago. After growing up in an artistic family, she found her voice after an unlikely detour for a painter: pottery restoration. Her award-winning paintings — she’s topped the Contemporary Hispanic Market acrylic/oil painting category several times, and her artwork appeared on the market’s 2018 poster — root in magical realism and center issues of migration and our collective relationship to Mother Earth. Orange-winged monarch butterflies known for their 2,500-mile journeys often flit through the Placitas-based artist’s paintings. “I want to raise awareness that migration exists among all beings in nature,” she says. “Humans are also inclined to migrate to pursue a better life.” In other works, maidens’ never-ending braids intertwine with flowers, agaves, or prickly pear cacti — human and nature becoming one. Here she revisits her artistic journey and Contemporary Hispanic Market’s role in it. What brought you to the United States? I moved to Scottsdale, Arizona. I had family who had a business there. I learned English and worked for them a little bit and life got in the way, and I’m still here 23 years later. . . . Every time I finish a piece of work, I feel so excited to show it to somebody. I feel like I’m bringing my home here. How did your artistic mentor shape your work? In Scottsdale, Bill Freeman [1926–2012] became my mentor and taught me how to do pottery restoration. He welcomed me into his studio and allowed me to learn from him. It was only after I moved to New Mexico that I found my own style and began painting things out of my imagination. Why were you drawn to magical realism? I come from a very multicultural family in Mexico City, very well educated, people of books. Magical realism is a theme in literature. Gabriel García Márquez is known as the father of magical realism, but he was inspired by Mexican author Juan Rulfo. It’s the use of metaphor, but related to and interpreted through your own experience — that’s the realism. For example, I may paint a deer with flowers Jade Leyva will be in Booth 12 during Contemporary Hispanic Market. The market runs concurrently with Traditional Spanish Market: 8 a.m.–5 p.m. July 29–30. Entry is free and open to the public. The market is located along Lincoln Avenue, near the Santa Fe Plaza. Around 130 artists sell their creations there, including ceramics, fiber, jewelry, glass art, watercolors, metalwork, drawings/scratchboard art, pastels, photography, sculpture, oils/acrylics, furniture, woodworking, hand-pulled prints, recycled found-object art, mixed media (including musical instruments). Today it is the largest contemporary Hispanic art event in the country. coming out of its antlers. That’s a true statement. Deer can only grow their antlers because they eat grass and flowers to nourish them, but it’s a metaphoric way of depicting what happens in nature. What’s your creative process? That’s another part of how magical realism comes in. I get surprised a lot of times. I have a general idea. Then I start working and things happen. I have recurring themes, like bees, braids, and women, but if I have something I like, I do it again. I love to paint embroidery because it’s very meditative — I painted a mermaid with an embroidered tail. I start with a blank canvas and see what happens. How do you represent your Indigenous heritage in your work? I love depicting women with braids. They are a symbol of identity. The braids are always wandering off the edge of the painting to leave room for imagining what’s outside of the painting. Why do you incorporate Mother Nature into your work? I think all artists have a responsibility to record what’s happening in today’s times. People’s understanding of nature and how we’re one with it is necessary because of climate change. Depicting people as one with nature is my humble way of suggesting we’re part of it. How do you still incorporate pottery restoration techniques in your paintings? I grew up in Mexico going to different archaeological sites — Maya, Olmec. Mexico City’s museums are like the Louvre of the ancient world. I’ve always been attracted to the ancient look of things. Pottery restoration was always interesting because we used patinas to create a feel that a lot of time has gone by. I apply those same patinas to my paintings. They are modern but have an older look. How is Contemporary Hispanic Market different from Traditional Spanish Market? Contemporary Hispanic market showcases everything from cutting edge and really contemporary to pottery and Day of the Dead–themed art. I think the variety that exists makes it very special because there are all different kinds of art in one space. I think a lot of times when we say we’re Hispanic, people expect to see one particular thing. We’re out of the box and expressing ourselves in a variety of ways. I think people visit both — and it’s good to have both. There’s an element of choice. What role has the market played in your art career? It’s been 16 years that I’ve been doing art full-time. I’ve been participating in Contemporary Hispanic Market since 2016. I look forward to it every year. I’m not New Mexican, and I didn’t identify as a New Mexican Spanish person. But the way they’ve received me has been amazing. I’m glad to be part of such a vibrant community of artists. This market erases all those boundaries.