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Born and raised primarily in New York City, with many youthful summers spent staying with relatives in Mexico, Antonia Perez has spent most of her life engaged in art and in using art as a means of engaging community. Her Mexican machinist and inventor father and Hungarian-American abstract painter mother provided a home filled with music and art and a love and respect for culture and history. Her father, born at the time of the Mexican revolution, never threw away an object that could still be used and instilled in her a sense of conservation and respect for environment. Her own belief that everyday objects can have a life and purpose beyond their original ones stems from this upbringing. She studied briefly in academic art institutions in Mexico City and Vancouver but was primarily self-taught while involving herself in art activism in San Diego, California, painting public murals with the Chicano arts group known as Toltecas en Aztlán. Her earliest artistic influences were the Mexican muralists, the abstract modernists and the needlework artists on both sides of her family. Her work was included in Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, a national traveling exhibition from 1990 -1993. In 1993 she was awarded an Aaron Diamond Foundation Grant to paint the Patrick F. Daly Memorial Mural at the Patrick F. Daly School in Brooklyn, New York. She has painted nine privately commissioned murals and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Visual Art and Arts in Education. Perez is currently a Master of Fine Arts candidate at the City University of New York, Queens College.
My work depends on the collection of remainders. What is left after we finish using an object? The left-overs of our everyday lives are what excite me. What others might cast off, I collect. The issues in my work deal with a few central themes that have interested me for some time: repurposing discarded materials; elevating what has been considered low to a high position; needlework and handmade household objects; the domestic; quotidian pattern and design; and blurring boundaries—between abstraction and representation, between painting and sculpture and between what is considered art and what is not. Of primary concern is my engagement with materials that have been used and discarded in my own home that I find aesthetically appealing due to their color, texture or pattern. This pursuit has lead to the accumulation of sizeable collections of ephemera, more commonly regarded as trash, with the ultimate purpose of using them to make art. In 2004, a huge number of plastic bags, having collected under my kitchen sink, were the impetus for beginning a series of works using the bags and collecting used plastic bags from myriad sources. I grew up surrounded by abstract art and by knit and crocheted household items and clothing. I have spent much time contemplating the intrinsic and artistic value of the hand labor and fruits of needlework artists and artisans—whether renowned or unknown beyond their intimates. My lifelong involvement with needlework and interest in non-objective abstraction have fused via the process of crocheting plastic bags into works that invoke oversized kitchen and table ware while never totally leaving the realm of abstraction behind. With these pieces I reexamine the concept of quotidian objects and seek to transform them to high art. Included here is part of a body of work titled The Heirloom Collection. Heirloom holds multiple meanings for me as I reflect on the inheritance of the needlework traditions from both sides of my family—the Mexican and the Hungarian, and as I consider the legacies my society leaves to future generations. Each piece references a typical item found in the kitchen, usually something unassuming and unnoticed such as a dishcloth or rag, subverting the traditional concept of heirloom as an enduring object of value.
Antonia Perez 2010