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Sun Sentinel

June 22, 2012

Juggling family, work  l  Artist Patricia Schnall Gutierrez's works tackle duality dilemma.


By Colleen Dougher - Correspondent: Sun Sentinel

"Self Portraits With Polka Dots" encompasses nine black-and-white photographs, each showing artist Patricia Schnall Gutierrez standing in a hallway between the doorways to her bedroom and her art studio. Wrapped in a weighty cloth that trails behind her, she's surrounded by digitally added circular and oval dots. The dots — in orange, purple, yellow, aqua, black and green — represent the cheery facade of a woman trying to balance family and career.
"What's on the surface is not always what's underneath," Gutierrez says of the work that hangs in "Women's Perspectives," a group show running through Aug. 24 at Miami's Dina Mitrani Gallery. "There are demons that all of us have in those dark moments at 3 in the morning when we wake up."
For Gutierrez, these demons were about the guilt she consistently felt over not spending enough hours on her art or her family.
"I was taught when I went to school during the feminist movement, that we can do it all," she says. What she learned, after getting married in 1976 and having the first of three children, is that we can't do it all as perfectly as we might like.
More than three decades later, that remains at the core of her works, all of which explore the stereotypical roles women assume as mothers, caretakers and professionals and the resulting consequences.
"I grew up in a very traditional family," she recalls. "Suddenly they were looking at me like, 'Well, you're a good artist, but you'll do that on the side and raise your family.' So I was constantly battling these two passions."
She juggled parental duties with teaching art, painting, exhibiting when she could, and later opening a gallery with friends. But her gradual journey  back to the full-time art career she'd begun establishing at age 21 would take years.
"It wasn't until my kids were educated and out of the house practically that I could say, 'OK, I did my part and now it's time to go back,'" she adds.
In 2008, Gutierrez left the New York suburbs for Miami, where she eventually took a studio at Bakehouse Art Complex. Trained as a painter, she began delving into mixed-media, multimedia, films, installations and performance. She also began reviewing her older works, such as the photographs at the heart of "Self Portrait with Polka Dots," and building on them with new perspective.
"I sincerely threw out all the rules, stereotypes and career paths of what an artist was supposed to do and totally dove into just doing what I wanted," she says.
Her work has been exhibited in more than 20 shows since January 2011. "Organic Female Forms," her installation featuring six steel wool forms atop white boxes, is part of the All Florida Juried Competition and Exhibition at the Boca Raton Museum of Art; while her "Domestic Duality" series is on exhibit as a mini-solo show at Florida Atlantic University's John D. MacArthur Campus Library in Jupiter.
Gutierrez works in multiples because she know she's not alone. Many women relate to her work, such as Marina Font and filmmaker Rhonda Mitrani who collaborated with Gutierrez on "2407 Ave. The House Inside My Head." The interactive installation, which debuted at Wynwood Art Fair in October, includes a 10x10 house with a split-screen projection inside featuring their video performance and audio interviews with women who discussed having spent half their lives doing laundry for their family. One, Gutierrez says, was on her deathbed,
"We put our heart and souls into it and we're now taking it to different interested museums and institutions."
Gutierrez continues finding new ways to express the same themes, but doesn't pretend to have answers to the difficult decisions faced by women juggling careers and family. "I don't know what the right thing is," she says. "I just know that this is where we are in society in 2012 and asking, where do we go from here?"
As for Gutierrez, "I've finally gotten to a point in my life where it's really good. I have a wonderful family and now I have this wonderful career that's flourishing."

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