We had the good fortune of connecting with Gina Herrera and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gina, would you say you are following and pursuing your passion?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is also yes … but with anything heart-driven, it’s going to look different than anyone might expect. Passion isn’t an achievement. It’s a state of being connected, and wanting to stay connected with your heart and soul. Making art is something that my heart and soul demand. Some of it is inspired by my love of nature. Some of it springs from, and echoes my cultural heritage. Some of it is therapeutic – working my challenging thoughts, anger and struggles into something that feels positive. My artmaking process is a deeply personal ritual, in which I aim to serve and honor Mother Earth both by engaging in scavenger-like practices to remove detritus marring the landscape and using these same objects to awaken consciousness in others by animating their continued presence. But every day, and every season is not the same. Some days are spent in the studio, experimenting, building – making the sculptures. But other days, I’m gathering … thoughts, found objects, new ideas. I feel the constant need to be in connection with nature. I’m also an art teacher, so some days I’m communicating – sharing and listening to ideas about art. All of this is part of the process. It is fantastic to take a chunk of time and do nothing but art. I don’t get to focus like this all the time … but it’s important that it’s not never! Residencies have been critical for me professionally. The quietness of mind, the focus on work, the opportunity to connect and commune with nature is EVERYTHING. Fellowship is good too – I have made some powerful connections at past residencies. The residency I was planning to attend this summer has been pushed to next summer … so I’m still hoping to find something for this summer, or just find a way to carve out that kind of focus in my everyday life. Do I feel I get to pursue my passion as much as I think I possibly could? Maybe not. Have I reached all my goals? Not yet. But I do think it’s important to take every baby step. I think it’s important to stay nimble in my artwork – pushing myself, experimenting. A few grants received in the past few years enabled me to get steel and welding equipment to help create work that, while balanced, reflects the precarious lack of balance I see in our culture, in our connection to the Earth. I’m exploring incorporating ceramics in some of my new work. I’m excited about what’s next.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I have always felt a strong affinity for nature. Growing up in Chicago, I found the most beauty in the trees, the singing birds, the sky above. As a visual learner with a multicultural heritage, I have been influenced by my father’s Tesuque culture and my mother’s Costa Rican heritage. While cultural art fascinates me, experiencing beauty of great European art collections while stationed in Germany early in my military career inspired my professional pursuit of art. While serving in Iraq, amid the devastation of combat, I was moved by seeing miles of mountainous trash heaps. I viscerally experienced the global extent of the systematic destruction of the planet, exploitative, unsustainable, and perhaps worst, careless, unconscious, accidental. This led me to question my own practices, hoping to lessen my environmental impact. I began to build three-dimensional forms out of discarded and natural objects. I am engaged in an aesthetic and spiritual ritual to channel and honor Mother Earth, to seek connection and communion with a power greater than myself. Everywhere I go, I gather materials, finding inspiration in my surroundings. Like a scavenger, I play an interventional role in removing garbage from the landscape, preventing it from doing further damage. I am also drawn to natural materials and organic forms — branches, rocks, cocoons, nests. My process is meditative and intuitive – each step revealing a new aspect. Figures emerge, in gravity defying postures on the brink of movement, alive with possibility. Their haunting spiritual presence reminds us they have not gone back to the earth, but asks us to question our connection with our world and the choices we make in our daily existence. My greatest objective is to awaken individual and societal consciousness; to examine and heal our relationship with Mother Earth. Recent residencies and awards include the Harpo Foundation Native American Fellowship at Vermont Studio Center in 2013, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in 2015, a United States Veteran Fellowship to attend the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences, Ox-Bow Summer Arts Faculty Residency, and a grant from the Ruth and Harold Chenven Foundation in 2016, and a 2017 grant from The Puffin Foundation and 2018 Norman Levan Summer Grant for Bakersfield College Faculty. In addition to my gallery work, I have begun exploring public projects. A two-year installation is currently on display at the South Bend Museum in South Bend, Indiana. My dedication to service extends to all aspects of my professional life – from my almost 25 years in the United States Military to educating and inspiring the next generation as an art teacher at Arvin High School and adjunct professor at Bakersfield College.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
I love hiking in the Malibu area. Vasquez Rocks is also amazing. I like walking around Newport beach. Gallery 825 has an amazing community, and I love going to openings there!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would be nowhere without the support of my amazing parents and husband. I’m so grateful to have a childhood that exposed me to art and culture, and parents who wanted me to listen to my heart and go for it! I’m also grateful to have supportive husband who not only understands but loves and celebrates my creative pursuits.