Imagine, if you can, being a small girl and wandering among the ruins of what had once been a magical place. For local Portland artist Ponciano, this was how her six year old self was introduced to the majestic sense of art that would become her life.
It all started when, as a child, Ponciano would visit her grandparents, who lived inside the ruins of El Casino Del Agua Caliente in Tijuana, Mexico. This was a very historical casino and was like the Las Vegas of its times. In the late 1920s, American and Mexican entrepreneurs joined together in order to build a huge compound and in its heyday, El Casino Del Agua Caliente boasted a casino, spa, golf and tennis facilities, theatres, all kinds of art, and art events. Celebrities of the day, such as Charlie Chaplin, Rita Hayworth and Laurel & Hardy were known to be frequent visitors to El Casino.
“As I walked through the ruins,” says Ponciano, remembering herself as a child, “I could appreciate the work, the beauty of the renaissance style art. And then in other rooms I’d see other things, more artifacts, or murals, abstractions or surrealism.”
There were some things she was forbidden to explore though, more “adult” types of work, but that didn’t stop little Ponciano from venturing out alone! And that moment is one that has stayed with her ever since …
“It wasn’t until I ventured into this hall full of debris and the next thing I know, I see [a painting of] this woman – nude – with beautiful hair just laying there. I think that ignited something in my mind. I could say it still resonates – the space and the grandness – in my work. I always seek more space as if I don’t have enough. My biggest painting is 5×6 feet – it’s been a challenge but I’m able to make it happen. I was enlightened by that for sure.”
When asked to describe her work, and what it means, Ponciano says that much of it stems from working through her emotions of dealing with her own sexuality and the barriers of society. “I think back to a time when I was going through puberty … I had always known I was different since I was little – I was attracted to women,” she begins.
“Society, family, everything forced or guided me toward the opposite gender and it was an internal debate, a struggle.”
It was a time in her life when she felt not only depressed, but felt the depression of her sexuality by religion and society. Her only escape from that was her art, so she used it as a tool for her expression.
“I tend to utilize the sexual subject because I feel it is so important and I feel it’s a sense of freedom. It’s MY FREEDOM. NO ONE can fuck with that, basically. NO one, except for me. There’s a sense of philosophy as well. It’s a gate to humanity evolving. Through sex we give birth. It’s a subject that can be magnified in many ways. A painting is no different than a book – the more you look into it the more you read.”
For instance, in Ponciano’s painting “Ultimate Pleasures in Space”, you will notice, with the center two blue areas, there is almost like something being born through there. And the huge brush strokes depict an explosion. “There are different dimensions, faces looking down into this group of figures. I invited everyone to take the time to see as much as they can see.”
And who are these figures? Does Ponciano rely on models for all of her artwork, or does she use her imagination? “I have used models. Some of them are personal events. All based on my life for the most part- reflections of my own life.”
“I get very inspired by people. I love going out to clubs, dancing. I’m fascinated by watching connections between people’s emotions and happiness. Enjoying music and life. I love seeing that. Sometimes I get very inspired by observing everything, seeing human connections and energy. It’s just beautiful. I also get inspired by a word, poetry, a new discovery, sometimes nature. I get inspired in many ways, but mostly it’s human connection that inspires me.”
Sounds terrific, but that must be awfully difficult during this pandemic when human connections and energy are completely different. So, what does that mean in terms of the creation process for Ponciano? “Right now I’ve been sketching, writing, and right before COVID I created a new painting. I’ve been trying to focus on finding exhibiting works.”
Most of Ponciano’s current work is done in oils, but she started with watercolors and pastels, and she has worked with acrylics. But oils was the medium where she said “this is the one” – she loves them for their complexity and vibrancy. “For my personal experience,” she says, “It’s definitely my favorite. I wish I would have started backwards!” she says with a laugh. But of course that’s what it means to be an artist – working your way through the different media until you fall in love.
So, any big dream projects in the works for Ponciano?
“I have this idea,” she says, “In Portland I’ve experienced pushing more boundaries, per se. And for that reason I think I want to create this triptych [a 3 paneled, often hinged, painting or relief] that’s pretty challenging because I am also expanding the scale of my work. All together it’s going to be a height of six feet by 12 feet so it’s pretty substantial … and it’s erotic. A lot more sexual than I’ve ever painted.’’
“But it’s a challenge,” she continues. “I’ve been working on 3 canvases at once, simultaneously. I’ve had some models back and forth. Then I realized I’m going to literally have to create each section of the triptych in order to achieve the visual information. It’s almost like WOW – I don’t even know how I’m going to make that happen. It’s definitely a continual struggle. I have the process in my mind because I feel like for the first time ever, I’m going to have to orchestrate or create this team. I have asked people if they could help me, to pose or sit for me in some cases, and they’re there, but sometimes it’s just the timing that doesn’t work out together. A lot of elements need to correlate in order for this to happen and that’s the challenge.”
Sounds like an enormous undertaking! We wish you luck with that, Ponciano!
As for what the rest of the future holds: Ponciano is still unsure of what’s to come of her exhibit which occurred at Sanctuary Club in March, but was closed due to COVID-19. She’s hoping to have it extended in order to have audiences experience her abstract and surrealist erotica in person. Ponciano is also working on a book which is bound to be as vibrant and exciting as she is!
Thank you, Ponciano, for talking us through your life, and giving us a glimpse into what it takes to make your captivating and expressive art.