About Riley Roca's
Virgen de Guadalupe


SUBJECT MATTER: What subject matter (people, places, or things) can I find in the artwork?

Riley Roca's sculpture depicts the Virgin of Guadalupe in her billowing, star spangled cloak. Her hands are in a position of prayer. Her head is tilted downward, and her left leg is slightly bent. The Virgin stands on an upturned crescent moon supported by a winged cherub.

TOOLS, MATERIALS, AND PROCESSES: What can I learn about how the artwork was made?)

Riley Roca made her Virgen de Gaudalupe in the millennia-old lost wax process. First she sculpted the figure in clay. A silicon mold was taken from the clay sculpture. After the mold was removed from the clay, hot wax was slushed around inside the mold. The wax made a hollow duplicate of the clay sculpture. The wax form was removed from the mold and retouched. The wax sculpture was covered with several layers of hard plaster called the shell. After the shell dried it was placed in an in-ground kiln, which melted out the wax. (This is why the process is called the "lost wax" process.) Molten (boiling) bronze was poured into the hollow space left from the missing wax. After the bronze cooled, the shell was chipped off and the rough bronze casting removed.

The casting was cleaned up through welding, grinding, sanding, and polishing. Roca polished some areas to give them a shiny surface. The gold parts of the sculpture, such as the border of her cloak, and the moon, are the natural color of bronze. Roca gave parts of the sculpture different colors through a patina process. She applied various combinations of acids to different parts of the sculpture and then heated the sculpture. Through this process the color was permeated permanently into the surface of the bronze. The various colored surfaces are called patinas. Roca applied a coating of wax to make the sculpture shine, and finally mounted it on a polished marble base.

The sculpture in the collection of Arizona State University's Hispanic Research Center is one of an edition of 99.

About Mass Space

SENSORY ELEMENTS: What visual elements do I see in the artwork? (line, color, shape, light and dark, texture, mass, and space)

The position of the head and the figure's raised knee turn the figure's otherwise rather frontal mass somewhat to the left. When viewed from the front, the contours (outside edges) of the mass, move in and out rather dramatically, from the curves of the Virgin's cloak to the protrusions of the crescent moon and cherub's wings upon which she stands. The deeply undulating surface of the cloak also continues in back of the figure.

Marks remain in the final bronze sculpture from the clay and wax tools that Roca used to make the original clay sculpture and to refine the wax cast. The sculpture is rich with varied textures, from the indented stars on the Virgin's cloak, to its polished borders, from the roughly textured dress, and individually textured cherub wings to the shiny polished surface of the sculpture's base.

Roca used a pinkish, brownish patina on the dress; a very light brown patina on the Virgin's face; a white patina on the cherub's wings; a greenish patina on the rough form below the cherub; and a blue-green patina on the Virgin's cloak.

FORMAL ORGANIZATION: How do the elements in the artwork work together? (For example, are parts repeated, balanced, emphasized, contrasted?)

The still pose of the figure of Riley Roca's Virgen de Guadalupe contrasts with the dramatic movement of the Virgin's undulating cloak. The curve of the cherub's down-turned wings echo the up-turned curve of crescent moon. These curves provide a dramatic, almost star-like foundation for the more gently formed curves of the figure of the Virgin.

The varied but consistently muted colors of the surface patinas add variety and, at the same time, unify the sculpture.

REPRODUCTION: What can I learn about how this reproduction (digitized or printed image) is different from the original artwork? (size, angle of view, surface texture, etc.)

Details of texture and color in Riley Roca's Virgen de Guadalupe are most visible in the largest reproduction . The varying contours of the sculpture can best be appreciated by viewing the original sculpture or its Quicktime Virtual Reality reproduction.

CONDITION: What can I learn about the condition (broken, restored, dirty) of the artwork? How did it look when it was new?

Riley Roca's Virgen de Guadalupe is in excellent condition.


ART MAKER'S LIFE: Who made the artwork? What are the circumstances of the art maker's life?

Riley Roca was born in Mexico City and has lived there all her life. Her mother is a Mexican. Her father, who moved to Mexico long ago, was born in the Bronx, New York of Chilean, Colombia and Italian parents. Thus she is an American-Mexican, that is, a Mexican of American descent. Her family is a tightly knit one.

An significant event happened in Roca's life on her important fifteenth birthday. Her mother gave her a Guadalupana (a metal bearing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe) telling her to carry it with her always. Roca's mother explained that the Virgin of Guadalupe is the patron saint of the Americas, that she united the indigenous people of Mexico with the missionary state, and that she united the mestizos (persons of mixed Hispanic and Amerindian ancestry) after Mexican independence. She went on to explain that the Virgin has the power to bring together the very rich and the very poor. She expressed her wish that the Virgin of Guadalupe would bring Riley unity of mind, heart, and soul.

A number of years later, two teenagers mugged Roca at gun point in a park in Mexico City. They robbed her, but when she asked that they not take her Guadalupana, they returned it to her. Roca considers this her own "little miracle."

Roca has studied art in England, and Savannah, Georgia, as well as in Mexico City. She has exhibited largely in Mexico.


FUNCTIONAL CONTEXT: What can I learn about how the artwork was used?

For Riley Roca art making is both a personal and religious, as well as an artistic experience. She has said: "For me that foundry is a temple. When I sculpt that is how I am able to revere my God--through sculpture. When people ask me what is your religion, I never say I am a Catholic. I always say I'm an artist. Roca has said: "This is the piece that united my search for God with my search for my identity, or what it was that I was going to do. (December 12, 1998. "Latina/Latino Artists Discussing Their Works: II," 1848/1898@1998: Transhistorical Thresholds Conference, Arizona State University)

Roca has written: "I created this piece for my own self discovery and for other people, of all nationalities and cultures, who are sensitive, who seek answers and look within." (personal correspondence with Mary Erickson, December, 20, 1998)

CULTURAL CONTEXT: What can I determine about what people thought, believed, or did in the culture in which the artwork was made?

Riley Roca is a Mexican, proud of her ancestry, religion, and heritage. When comparing her culture with Chicano culture she has said: "Unfortunately, I think it [Mexican culture] is a little bit submissive--Mexico is a country where you lose a lot--a country that has lost a lot of territory. We lost power. Every time there is a devaluation, you lose lots more than just money. And in a country where there is so much lost, the Virgin is our way of winning. Because even though we are not winning on a material level we're winning spiritually." (December 12, 1998. "Latina/Latino Artists Discussing Their Works: II," 1848/1898@1998: Transhistorical Thresholds Conference, Arizona State University)

Roca has said: "I think we're still women. Women are women -- men are men. Our roles are our roles. I don't have a problem with machos as long as they're not for me. If they are protecting you, if they are being men--men and what they are really good at, I think that's great. I think that as women we need not to become like men. All our [artist] role models are in Mexico. They are men except of course, Frida Kahlo, and she was all messed up, so she wasn't really a model. Diego Rivera. Wow. So I don't want to become a man. I want to be the best woman sculptress that I can be." (December 12, 1998. "Latina/Latino Artists Discussing Their Works: II," 1848/1898@1998: Transhistorical Thresholds Conference, Arizona State University)

ARTWORLD CONTEXT: What can I learn about the art ideas, beliefs about art, and art activities that were important in the culture in which the artwork was made?

Riley Roca's father is a professional artist, primarily a landscape painter. As a child Riley did her homework in his studio. She has said that her father has been her strongest teacher.

Roca earned a bachelor's degree and graduated summa cum laude in art history from the Instituto de Cultura Superior in Mexico. She has done social service at the Diego Rivera Mural Museum and has studied art at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia, and at Cambridge University in England. Her work has been exhibited at a number of locations in Mexico. Her work is in several permanent collections, including the Anthony Robbins Research Center in Los Angeles and the Pietersburg Museum in South Africa. A Virgen de Guadalupe from the edition described here was presented to the Pope on his 1999 visit to Mexico City. Her work has been reviewed in several magazines.

Roca has done over 50 three-dimensional artworks, mostly in bronze.


MAKER'S INTENTION: What can I learn about why the maker wanted the artwork to look the way it does?

"I wanted to portray the Virgen de Guadalupe in her humanness. She is not a Goddess. She is an enlightened human being but still a human being--a woman. Her pose shows her reverence to God and she contains many symbols--the constellations in her robe, a belt indicating her pregnancy. She is standing on the moon showing how she is stronger than Quetzalcoatl. I did not include the rays of sunshine she usually has around her for two reasons: 1) aesthetically I wanted the piece to naturally block the sun and use natural sun rays to add beauty and mystery to the piece; and 2) the rays of sunshine symbolize the unity between mind and soul, a gift that I discovered through the creation of this piece and so I exclude this symbol and kept it within myself. (This was her gift to me.) I also tried to show her as a beautiful woman with fine features to show that she is a mestiza, not indigenous and not Spanish." (personal correspondence with Mary Erickson, December, 20, 1998)

"I wanted to bring her down to humanity--make her a human figure. My last name is Roca, which in Spanish means 'rock.' And so I wanted her to feel like something tangible, like something of the earth, something sculptural. And, so I replaced the clouds with a rock." (December 12, 1998. "Latina/Latino Artists Discussing Their Works: II," 1848/1898@1998: Transhistorical Thresholds Conference, Arizona State University)

What can I determine about how the person(s) for whom the artwork was made (for example, a patron, user, or other viewer of the time) understand it?

Riley Roca's work has been praised in the Mexican magazine, Tecamachalco which judged her new ways of interpreting traditional motifs as examples of "art of the new millenium." One of her pieces (a Mexican parrot made of paper, clay, and other materials) is in the permanent collection of the Pietersburg art museum in South Africa. Mexican officials who arranged to receive the Pope on his 1999 visit to Mexico City, identified her Virgin de Guadalupe as a singular work of art to be presented to the Pontiff.

The curators of the 1848/1898@1998: Transhistorical Thresholds Conference identified her Virgen de Guadalupe as the most appropriate icon for the entire conference and highlighted it as such on the conference website. This was due to several reasons including the high praise that the work received and its appropriateness for a conference that commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Mexican-American community as the result of the 1848 signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in the (then) town where the Virgin was first recognized and the original image of Her continues to be displayed. Roca's piece was recognized for its contemporaneity within the parameters of traditional religious iconography, its depiction of the human qualities of the Virgin herself and her accessibility to the Mexican population, and its masterful rendition of the cherub as both a heavenly figure and a popular figure who evoked Mexican and Chicano vernacular culture.

CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING: What can I learn about how the artwork was understood within the culture in which it was made?

As Riley Roca explains the traditional meaning of her Virgen de Guadalupe, she refers to symbols understood by many Mexican viewers. "[The Virgin] is wearing a little band around her waist, which is a maternity belt that the indigenous people used to wear to show that they were pregnant. Her womb is the center of the universe. For women--at least in Mexico, I think pretty much all over the world this is still the center of the universe. The gold fringe [border] around her cloak symbolizes her royalty. The reason she is standing on the moon is that the moon symbolizes Quetzalcoatl. It is to show she is strong with Christian faith; it is stronger than this pagan god. Underneath her is a little cherub holding her up. The cherub looks very strange; he's sort of like a little boy; he's sort of like an adult. The reason for this is that if we're to be able to access heaven then our souls have to be like little children. She looks very human, that is what unites her with the Mexican people. To begin with, she is a woman, when you grow up in a country like this [Mexico] you see such reverence. It brings a lot of things home." "Latina/Latino Artists Discussing Their Works: II," 1848/1898@1998: Transhistorical Thresholds Conference, Arizona State University)

Roca has explained how she believes her Virgen de Guadalupe reflects her culture: "To begin with this woman is dark skinned like the people of my country and has many of the symbols used by the Aztecs in their codices, but she has fine features, like a Spaniard. In this combination she has united the Spanish and the indigenous blood, the foundation of my culture. In Mexico, Guadalupe is regarded as the national treasure. Our patron saint is Mexico's way of winning in a land that has suffered so much loss. She symbolizes spirituality over materialism, which is all important for a third world nation." (personal correspondence with Mary Erickson, December, 20, 1998)


STYLE: How does the artwork look like other artworks?

Riley Roca's Virgen de Guadalupe shares many qualities with the long-standing tradition of European figurative sculpture. Ancient Greeks made figurative bronze sculptures, as did Renaissance sculptors. The tradition of religious figurative bronzes has continued to the present.

INFLUENCE: What can I learn about how earlier artworks influenced this artwork or about whether this artwork influenced later artworks?

With her degree in art history, Riley Roca is familiar with the long tradition of bronze sculpture in the Western artworld. She identifies her father and Diego Rivera as artists who have influenced her work. For her professional certification as an artist by the Instituto de Cultura Superior (Mexico City), she presented a thesis on Diego Rivera, "'Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central' como metáfora de la identidad mexicana" ["'A Sunday Afternoon's Dream on the Central Alameda' as a Metaphor of Mexican Identity."]

THEMES: What general ideas help connect this artwork to other artworks?

Many Chicano and Mexican artists have reinterpreted the theme of the Virgin of Guadalupe through the years. The image is an icon in both cultures. Interpretations range from traditional religious representations, such as the panel painted in the School of the Laguna Santero to radical new interpretations, such as Yolanda López' feminist version or Enriqué Chagoya's ironic contemporary version.

© 2001 Hispanic Research Center, Arizona State University. All Rights Reserved.