About Yolanda López'

Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe
Drawing and Poster Reproduction


REPRODUCTION: What can I learn about how this reproduction is different from the original artwork?

The original drawing on paper is 32" high and 24" wide.

The drawing is also reproduced on a poster which is only 24" high and 18" wide. The image on the poster is surrounded by border and text, so the reproduction is considerably smaller than the original pastel drawing.

CONDITION: What can I learn about the condition of the artwork?

The poster and the original drawing are both in good condition.

SUBJECT MATTER: What can I determine about what the artwork depicts, if anything?

The drawing shows a smiling young woman striding forward energetically. She wears a modest, black belted, shirt waist dress which blows up to reveal her thighs as she moves forward. Wearing running shoes, she treads on the back of a small winged figure. She holds a snake behind its head in her right hand and grasps a large bordered cloak covered with stars over her left shoulder. Her dark hair seems to be bouncing as she moves forward. The figure and her billowing cloak block a powerful light source which sends an oval of light rays streaming out around her.

The poster is an announcement of an academic event.

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

In the drawing, Yolanda López covered the entire surface of the white paper with oil pastels. The opaque marks of the pastel crayon are visible throughout the drawing. She seems to have layered marks with different crayons to achieve value (light and dark) changes. For example over blue marks covering the background, she layered white marks most thickly around the small winged figure and less thickly as she moved outward and upward from the figure. She also layered a lighter gray over a darker gray to create value (light and dark) transitions in the lower part of the oval around the woman's lower leg.

A graphic designer selected the typeface and the paper stock, prepared a camera-ready original of the poster, which a commercial printer then reproduced.

Sensory Lesson Index

SENSORY ELEMENTS: What visual elements do you see?

There are many curves throughout the drawing. The pastel crayon marks break up otherwise rather flat areas of color. Colors vary from bright red, through mid-intensity blues to dull grays. Values (lights and darks) vary from pure white to pure black.

The typeface is simple and unornamented. The border around the image is a neutral color.

FORMAL ORGANIZATION: How do the elements in the artwork work together?

The composition of the drawing is largely bilaterally symmetrical, that is, the right and left halves of the image are roughly mirror images of each other. The highest contrast both in color intensity and value (light and dark) are in the center of the image decreasing in intensity toward the right and left edges of the drawing. Strong as well as gentle curves are repeated throughout the image. The color scheme is very basic, employing the values of black, white, and gray, as well as the primary colors, red, yellow and blue.

The image is centered on the poster and is bracketed by equal sized areas of text above and below.


Yolanda M. López was born in 1942 in San Diego, California and was raised in Logan Heights. Her grandparents fled Mexico to the United States in 1918. Her parents were divorced. Yolanda is the oldest of three sisters.When López was young, the family lived with her maternal grandparents. Her mother supported her family by working at an industrial sewing machine for 30 years. López moved to the Bay Area two days after her high school graduation and in 1968 became part of the San Francisco State University Third World Strike. She worked as a community artist in the Mission District with a group called Los Seis de la Raza. Yolanda López received her M. F. A. in Visual Arts from the University of California San Diego. She lives in San Francisco with her 16 year old son. Biographical information provided by the artist.


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

Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe, is one of a set of three portraits depicting the artist, her mother, and her grandmother. To the extent that the portraits are likenesses of the women they depict, they document the appearance of three women within a family.

According to Lili Wright, Yolanda López' Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe, (along with two other drawings in the series) "was López's way of providing role models, while paying homage to working-class women." "Yolanda López's Art Hits 'Twitch Meter' to Fight Stereotypes," in The Salt Lake Tribune, May 14, 1995.

The function of the poster is to announce details of an academic event to be held at the University of California, Irvine. The feminist theme of the drawing serves to illustrate the theme of the event, "Issues in Chicana Scholarship."

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

Yolanda López' grandmother, a Native American, helped connect the young Yolanda with her cultural past. As a Chicana growing up in California, López is aware of the many stereotypes of Mexicans in the United States, as well as the traditional roles for women in Mexican culture.

In an interview with Amalia Mesa-Bains, López said: "The ideal was white, and I was not. I didn't understand it in those terms as such, but I knew very well that I didn't look like that. So I never considered myself pretty or anything like that." (Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmations, 1991, R. G. del Castillo et al [Eds.], Wright Art Gallery, University of California, Los Angeles: Los Angeles, p. 137)

López' continuing community commitment includes teaching at Horace Mann Middle School in San Francisco's Mission District and service as education director for the Mission Cultural Center.

Prodded by large numbers of students who are the first of their families to go to college, and by community and civil rights organizations, the universities of Southern California have become increasingly attentive to issues of concern to historic and continually evolving Latino cultures, which are becoming an increasingly larger portion of the population of Southern California.

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

In her childhood Yolanda López' uncle provided her with art supplies and encouraged her. Lili Wright, "Yolanda López's Art Hits 'Twitch Meter' to Fight Stereotypes," in The Salt Lake Tribune, May 14, 1995.

When she graduated high school López writes "I had no idea how to go about studying for a career in art. In my senior year I had tried to get into mechanical drawing or drafting but was turned away because girls were not allowed in those classes. I didn't know how to start, although I did know art was taught in college. With the help of a teacher I enrolled myself in junior college." Statement provided by the artist.

López earned a B. A. in painting and drawing from San Diego State University in 1975 and an M. F. A. in visual arts from the University of California, San Diego in 1978. Yolanda López is associated with the San Francisco Chicana/o Art Gallery, Galería de la Raza. Her solo exhibition "Cactus Hearts/Barbed Wire Dreams: Media Myths and Mexicans" appeared at the MACLA Center for Latino Arts in San Jose, at the San Francisco State Student Union Association and La Raza Organization in San Francisco, at the Galería de la Raza in San Francisco, and at the Galería Posada in Sacramento. She has had other solo exhibitions in San Diego and Fresno. Her work has been included in many group shows throughout California, as well as in Connecticut, Tennessee, Virginia, Kansas, New York, Arizona , Columbia, and Mexico. She has worked in many media including poster art.

Yolanda López' work can be seen as part of the feminist art movement, however, within that movement it has been significant not only as the art of a woman, but specifically the art of a woman of color. "For women artists of color--despite their concern with women's issues--ethnicity more than gender has shaped their primary identities, loyalties, and often the content of their art. Also from the start the women's art movement has been dominated by Euro-American leadership....Thus, despite the many efforts and good intentions of white women in the arena of political art, racial separation and racism existed de facto within the Feminist Art Movement from the beginning." Yolanda M. López and Moira Roth, 1994, "Social Protest: Racism and Sexism," in The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact, New York: Harry N. Abrams, p. 140.


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

According to Kathryn Blackmer Reyes, writing about a more recent image by Yolanda López , López' "wish is to tell those in power that people who have been in the margins have risen up to take their own power." (Noticias de NACCS, Spring 1997, p. 12)

In a statement provided by López, she writes that it [Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe] is "an investigation of the Virgin of Guadalupe as a powerful female icon." In the year the drawing was made, López wrote "Essentially, she [the Virgin of Guadalupe] is beautiful, serene and passive. She has no emotional life or texture of her own.....Because I feel living, breathing women also deserve respect and love lavished on Guadalupe, I have chosen to transform the image. Taking symbols of her power and virtue I have transferred them to portraits of women I know....As Chicanos we need to become aware of our own imagery and how it functions. We privately agonize and sometimes publicly speak out on the representation of us in the majority culture. But what about the portrayal of ourselves within our own culture? Who are our heroes, our role models?" "Yolanda M. López Works: 1975-1978," San Diego, 1978.

Viewer Lesson Index

ARTWORLD VIEWER UNDERSTANDING: What can I determine about how the viewer, patron, or user understood the artwork?

Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe can only be fully understood by people who are familiar with the traditional image of the Virgin of Guadalupe [LINK to "Artworld Viewer Understanding" section of the Q&A for the Virgin of Guadalupe by the unknown artist of the School of the Laguna Santero -- not yet written as of 8/7/97]. Amalia Mesa-Bains offers the following interpretation of The Guadalupe Triptych (series of three portraits) of which Yolanda López' Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe, is a part: "López restates the Virgin of Guadalupe by removing the traditional figure from the halo of rays and replacing it with powerful images of family and self. The traditional icon is customarily portrayed as a passive and submissive figure. López's Guadalupes are mobile, hardworking, assertive, working-class images of the abuela [grandmother] as a strong, solid nurturer, mother as a family-supporting seamstress, and daughter as a contemporary artist and powerful runner. This repositioning becomes both satire and provocation, while retaining the transfigurative liberation of the icon....The art in this series does not simply reflect an existing ideology; it actively constructs a new one. It attests to the critique of traditional Mexican women's roles and religious oppression in a self-fashioning of new identities." (Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmations, 1991, R. G. del Castillo et al [Eds.], Wright Art Gallery, University of California, Los Angeles: Los Angeles, p. 137)

Lucy Lippard, writing about López' use of the Virgin of Guadalupe claims that "La Lupita [the Virgin of Guadalupe] has become a Chicana heroine, representing, with Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, the female force paralleling male heroes like Emiliano Zapata and Diego Rivera." (1990, Mixed Blessings, Pantheon Books: New York, p. 42.)

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

The Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe is a strong feminist statement about the power of women, as well as a potentially controversial reinterpretation of a traditional Catholic icon. For example, López presents a runner treading on the back of an overturned angel rather than the traditional angel ushering in the Virgin with upraised arms. People (Chicana and otherwise) who are not sympathetic to feminism, or traditional Catholics may understand the drawing quite differently from some other viewers.

According to Lili Wright, Yolanda López' "Guadalupe work was, to say the least controversial. The print shop's workman refused to photograph the work, saying 'You can mess around with my woman, my car, anything. But you don't touch my lady.' When the images appeared in the Mexican magazine Fem, vandals trashed several Mexico City kiosks and the magazine office received bomb threats. At her opening reception, López's friends acted as body guards.

'People either really were excited and loved it or were disturbed by it,' she [López] said. 'That's when I knew I was on to something. It hit the twitch meter.'" "Yolanda López's Art Hits 'Twitch Meter' to Fight Stereotypes," in The Salt Lake Tribune, May 14, 1995.

The Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe is familiar to many in the Chicano community because it has been reproduced so often. For Chicano viewers López' reference to the Virgin of Guadalupe is likely to be immediately obvious. This image of the Virgin is said to have appeared to console and instruct a Mexican Indian, Juan Diego, just a few years after the fall of the Aztec Empire. The image is revered by many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. Viewers from other cultures, who may be less, or not at all, familiar with the traditional Virgin of Guadalupe icon, may not readily recognize the visual reference.

Yolanda López' Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe is on of the best known images in feminist Chicano art. It is not surprising that fifteen years after it was made, it was selected to promote a conference on Chicana scholarship.


STYLE: How does the artwork look like other artworks?

Yolanda López' drawing, reproduced on the poster, shares characteristics with many Chicana/o artworks. It had clearly recognizable subject matter and traditional drawing techniques (for example, the suggestion of volume by use of gradual changes in value [light and dark]). Also the Virgin of Guadalupe is an image favored by many Chicana/o artists.

The poster with its centered image and simple typeface, follows a traditional graphic layout design.

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

Yolanda López has been motivated by her negative reactions to stereotyped images of Mexican and Mexican-American men and women in the popular arts and commercial images in the United States.

Although the drawing reinterprets the image and therefore its meaning, Yolanda López' self portrait included subject matter characteristics drawn from a centuries old tradition of representing the Virgin with oval halo, a winged figure, a star-spangled cloak, and even the suggestion of a crescent moon. See New Mexico retablo of the Virgin of Guadalupe

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

The theme of women's roles unites Yolanda López drawing, with many artists of different cultures. Among these artists are Chicana/o artists such as, Carmen Lomas Garza, Luis Jiménez, and Ana Laura Garza; Mexican artists such as Frida Kahlo, José Guadalupe Posada, Alfredo Zalce, the unknown painter of the Portrait of a Lady, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz; and American artists such as Mary Cassatt, Alice Neel, Bettye Saar, and Cindy Sherman; and historical European artists such as Judith Leyster, Artemisia Gentileschi, Elisabeth Vígee-LeBrun, and Kathë Kollwitz.

The theme of artistic reinterpretation of earlier artworks unites Yolanda López' reinterpretation of the Virgin of Guadalupe icon, with Luis Jiménez reinterpretation of traditional pieta images, with Salvador Dali's reinterpretation of Leonardo's Last Supper, and with Celia Alvares Muñez' appropriation of El Greco's Toledo in her work, Tolido.