María Fragoso is interested in the act of looking. The figures in her paintings, too, are constantly engaged and engaging in this act. They are looking directly at the viewers, who are looking at them, both active and passive in a locked reciprocal gaze with the audience. Fragoso’s work is confrontational this way, but it also invites close observation. Through her work, Fragoso investigates the idea of investing time in looking as her paintings have a slow unveiling; they both reveal and conceal their content through careful details. The profile of painter María Fragoso recapitulates her newest body of work, exploring how her grotesque yet beautiful paintings cultivate a personal sense of empathy and curiosity.
Mexico-based artist Maria Fragoso is fascinated with the intrinsic need for human connection. Her figurative paintings and drawings explore how people relate with each other, centering on visual cues and bodily performances that communicate, for instance, the feeling of tender touch, the sound of a mouth spouting saliva like a water fountain, the soft press of a tongue, the smell of sluggish air, the sweet taste of fruit. In her surreal representations of feminine figures, Fragoso emulates the feelings and sensations that define how we exchange love through as well as inside our bodies.
“I am influenced by my everyday life, conversations, things I see on the streets such as food, spaces, colors, but mostly by people. I like observing their behavior and interactions, this informs the psychology of the figures in my work. I try to give them and their atmosphere the weight of certain emotions, instincts, perceptions, and personalities.”
Art has always been central to Fragoso’s life. The daughter of a children’s book illustrator and an architect, she began drawing at the age of two and carried a sketchbook with her wherever she went throughout her youth. In 2019, she earned a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art and has since held residencies at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Yale Norfolk School of Art, the Vermont Studio Center, and Palazzo Monti. Growing up, Fragoso found inspiration in Otto Dix, Francisco Goya, and Giotto, among other artists. Most of all, however, Fragoso drew inspiration from the experience of walking through the world with an open mind: to her, the act of looking and remembering are essential pillars of artistic discovery.
Having spent most of her life in Mexico, Fragoso was naturally drawn to Mexican history and contemporary art, which sparked her interest in figurative painting. At the same time, conservative views regarding sexuality and class in Mexican society motivated her to respond to these topics creatively and translate them into her own narrative that infuses humor, criticism, and love. Art, for Fragoso, helps her to navigate coexisting and often contradictory realities in her world because it allows her to visually convey feelings that may be difficult to express otherwise.
After moving to the United States, her visual narrative towards her work amplified as she interacted with a diverse community of people who shared similar experiences as her, allowing her to become more confident in her identity. She recalls, “I think my relationship to Mexico is very personal and emotional. And my relationship with the United States has a healthy distance. Which offers a special kind of freedom but the question of belonging becomes really important and complex for both cases.
Whenever Fragoso has new ideas for a painting, she takes notes and makes quick sketches. Most times, she already has a mental image that she has been planning for a while, but she refers to these preliminary sketches when she is trying to build an atmosphere or composition. Oftentimes, she photographs her friends and arranges the images as cutouts and collages as references or preparatory drawings. The figures in her photographs and drawings are central to her work, often serving as the basis for her paintings.
Read the full interview in Issue 3.