September 2016 Artist Feature: MARYROSE COBARRUBIAS MENDOZA


Maryrose Cobarrubias Mendoza is a Los Angeles-based artist and educator whose practice spans a range of materials and processes in her sculptures, objects, and drawings. Her cultural identity and immigrant experience instill objects with a particular outsider's point of view that she both honors and subverts. She received an MFA from Claremont Graduate University in 1991, a BA from California State University, Los Angeles in 1989, and attended Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design from 1984-85. She has received awards from the Department of Cultural Affairs (C.O.L.A. and the Los Angeles Artist Fellowship), Plugin Gallery, Art Matters, and the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. Maryrose is currently an Associate Professor at Pasadena City College.

Janna Añonuevo Langholz: Hi Maryrose, it's an honor to feature you this month on Filipino American Artist Directory! To start, can you tell me a little about your background and art practice?

Maryrose Cobarrubias Mendoza: Thank you, Janna, for the invitation and for this wonderful site to share and connect with other Filipino-American artists.

For a long time, I felt disconnected from my background and simultaneously non-native, since I immigrated to the United States from Manila when I was just 3 years old. Sociologist Rubén Rumbaut refers to my generation as "1.75 g," and this rings true to me, since I was born in the Philippines but have little memory of it, and was almost entirely socialized in the US.

I began drawing at a very young age and was encouraged by my teachers and by an uncle who, in the Philippines, studied to be a painter and graphic designer. My work continues to be drawing or is at least informed by drawing, even when it takes the form of sculpture, objects, or installation. My practice has developed from an awareness of how everyday objects and materials hold inherent meaning, and I have been interested in how to use this visual language as my vocabulary to make art.

JAL: How did you come to live in Los Angeles?

MCM: My parents immigrated to L.A. in 1969 and my siblings and I followed them shortly after in 1970. Our first apartment was mid-Wilshire, across the street from where the Ambassador Hotel used to be. For most of my life, I have lived in the cities and suburbs of Los Angeles County. 

JAL: Some of your pieces like Hot Dog Sandwich seem humorous in their reference to Filipino-American life and culture. My mother used to make hot dog sandwiches for me growing up. Can you tell me more about this piece and the themes that appear in your work?

MCM: I think a lot of my work has been a way to understand and process my cultural identity, which has been shaped so much by America. Last year, I was asked to participate in an exhibition titled "Between Two Worlds", and I decided to explore a childhood experience. My mom tried to make lunches that mirrored what my American classmates had. Hot Dog Sandwich is an example of wanting to fit in and not entirely "getting it". It's "American-like".

JAL: Your use of materials is really lovely, incorporating everything from colored pencil drawings to found objects and Shrinky-Dinks. Can you tell me more about the materials you choose to work with?

MCM: I am fond of exploring diverse materials since I believe each inherently conveys its own meanings with various associations to memory, culture, or physicality. In graduate school, I started working with humble materials outside of the art historical canon as a small subversive act that spoke to my interest in ordinary gestures, as in the Fluxus art movement. Currently, I still use materials in a low-brow way, but also because I enjoy crafting my own work with simple means.

JAL: Who are some of your favorite Filipino artists?

MCM: I have recently learned about the work of Filipino conceptual artist Roberto Chabet, who passed away in 2013. He seems to have informed contemporary Filipino artists such as Judy Freya Sibayan, who taught at De La Salle University and whose conceptual work I admire. I am also interested in the work of contemporary Filipino-American artists George Domantay and Gina Osterloh. 

JAL: What is the best advice someone has given you in terms of your practice, and what advice would you give to other artists?

MCM: I tend to learn more from watching how my mentors have conducted themselves in their practice than what they have said to me.

My advice is to observe the artists whose work you respect and emulate what you want to see in your own practice.

See more of Maryrose's work at: