Malia Gomez is a contemporary artist currently living and working in Houston, TX. She had her first solo exhibition, Ad Astra Per Aspera, at the Museum of the Southwest at the beginning of 2022. Her work, Wonderland, was selected for inclusion in the Texas Biennial at the McNay Art Museum with the Filipinx Artist of Houston. Apart from being in a group show at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and receiving a commission from Italian gin company, Engine Gin, her work has been featured in various publications including New American Paintings, All She Makes Magazine, and The Staff at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.  

Painting by Malia Gomez

Artist Statement

Humans remember the past as better than it was. A form of self-preservation. A comfort. An incentive to continue living. I am inspired by obvious totems and designs from the 1960s, 70s and onward, such as the disco ball, floral patterns, and neon lights. Nostalgia and escapism have begun to emerge as conceptual underpinnings in my work as the healing vehicles for trauma. Both are practices which can make one feel a sense of temporary safety in a world of disarray and darkness. Evil must not become our deliverance from evil for darkness is merely where the light hasn’t been yet. Without dishonoring the emotional burdens we carry, how can humanity transmute darkness and become the light that doesn’t fade?

My pieces have become totems for trauma. Perhaps the best medicine for our grief is the ability to indulge in our imagination, even for a brief moment. My intention is to provide a sensory experience for the mind, to stimulate the senses and offer the overwhelmed brain of modernity, a moment of solace, a breath through the repetition of light and color. By echoing the ambience and energy of a nostalgic decade, I create realities that are more pleasurable to escape into than the unfavorable circumstances that often follow us in life, a form of denial which serves as a healthy stage in any healing journey. The ability to compartmentalize pain then becomes an act of love and self-respect.

Further echoing the virtual realities we construct and deconstruct to survive, the combination of digital and traditional mark making in my paintings blurs the boundary between the real and surreal. When we don’t know the way forward, we look back, taking comfort in the familiar before soldiering on into the unknown, humbled by the daunting reminder that every human walks a path as difficult and complex as another. Indulging in our most beautiful daydreams becomes a means for survival, renewal, and rebirth.  

Painting by Malia Gomez

When was the first time you felt like you were an artist?

At the beginning of my third year in university, I dropped out of my pre-med track degree plan, thinking I would become a psychiatrist. In my time away from school, I made a commitment to explore all possible things related to creativity. My first three paintings included a lion, a galaxy, and a reproduction of a vintage pin-up girl dressed in hula attire. It was like learning a language I didn’t know I was already fluent in. When you have such a realization in life, nothing stops you from going about the business of developing such skills into something greater.

What would you say is the underlying thread that connects your work?

Escapism. I have created various bodies of work that are visually different from one other. Because of this, my previous answer used to be light as it was the most prominent and unifying formal element found in my work at the time.  

Nostalgia and escapism were themes a curator I was working with had pointed out to me. I confirmed his observations by disclosing my penchant for escaping into my own fabricated realities. Realities which are largely inspired by the ambience of a different time, place, or decade echoed through formal choices such as light and color.  

In my world, escapism is a healthy, albeit temporary, option to navigate and survive our lives. For it is through escapism that our brain receives a necessary breath, a moment of being untethered. It’s been a constant goal within me to facilitate a space where one can practice mindfulness and become acquainted with their own consciousness.

What is the most satisfying part of your practice?

Connecting with other people. It’s certainly satisfying to finish a piece and enjoy the high of completion, which can last for weeks, but like all things, the high is impermanent and eventually fades. What I enjoy now is the connection I make to other human beings. My work is deeply rooted in what it means to be human, comprehensive of the savory and unsavory elements. I gain tremendous fulfillment from validating the thoughts and emotions in other people through my work. All any human being desires is to be seen and heard for who they truly are, as they present themselves to the world. My work is beginning to serve a purpose greater than myself and establishing this life line with the rest of the world is by far the most satisfying part of what I do.

Tell us about a turning point in your artistic journey and/or career.

I made a big pivot with the body of work shown in this catalogue. I held onto the idea for many years, to paint figures against ornamental, sublime backgrounds and finally dove into this body of work during a very introspective moment of my life where I began to feel insurmountable grief after the death of my father, leaving a psychologically abusive relationship, and having my privacy extremely violated by a co-worker. I was finding myself anew amidst the crises and chaos which seemed to eclipse my life at the time.  

I have always been my own alchemist and choose to transmute my suffering into work. Themes of grief developed and continue to develop in this new body of work titled Good Grief, displayed in this magazine. It’s an examination of and an homage to denial. Denial is a healthy part in every healing journey, one that shouldn’t be rushed as it is the most protected your brain will feel until one navigates the bumpy path to acceptance.  

If you could show your work anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

The United Nation’s World Health Organization has previously stated that art is a powerful prescription. Working alongside an organization of this magnitude would be a dream come true. Developing therapeutic art programs for the general public with a focus on mental well-being is certainly a necessity in our culture as it stands today.

Of course, I also understand the question. It would be a dream come true to have an exhibition at the Menil in my lifetime as it’s been the space where I’ve experienced a great deal of peace and inspiration in my time living in Houston.

Malia Gomez