Are you familiar with the gorgeous cut-paper creations of New York-based multi-media artist Elsa Mora?
Although she is a multi-disciplinary artist — photography, ceramics, jewelry design, painting, illustration, bookmaking — it was her stunning papercuts that first caught my eye about five or six years ago.
Originally from Holguín, Cuba, Elsa grew up poor, the fifth of eight children. Though she was exposed to many of life’s harsh realities at an early age, her MO for survival has always been the ability to envision her own reality, using the resources at hand.
When she was 16, she learned her birthday was actually May 9 instead of May 8. Apparently her mother preferred the 8th because that year it was Mother’s Day. This discovery changed Elsa’s thinking — she decided she could be whoever she wanted to be.
Growing up poor taught me a series of important lessons that I will always treasure. I learned that the most precious possession that you have is your mind. I also learned that creativity and imagination could solve any problem, whether it’s a material problem or an emotional one.
Did you know that in 1939, Georgia spent nine weeks touring the Hawaiian Islands? She was commissioned by the Hawaiian Pineapple Company “to create two paintings to promote the delights of pineapple juice.” Though she loved the time she spent in Hawaii and painted flowers, waterfalls, and feathered fish hooks, initially she refused to paint any pineapples.
She found the sharp and silvery fruit quite strange and beautiful. She wanted to live nearby so she could study it up close.
But the pineapple company would not let her . . .
Instead, they presented her with a pineapple. Georgia was disgusted. She did not want to paint the fruit now that it had been picked, and she would not let anyone tell her what to paint.
Georgia was just being herself — committed to painting what she saw, as she saw it, in her own way, so that is precisely what she did.
Amy and illustrator Yuyi Morales have done a brilliant job of presenting this little-known chapter in Georgia’s life, a rare instance in which she allowed her art to be used for commercial purposes. Despite the pineapple problem, Georgia was fascinated and intoxicated by Hawaii’s unique and varied land and seascapes — lush flora, interesting lava formations, mountains, gorges, waterfalls, beaches, caves, streams, and of course, abundance of tropical blossoms. She thrived in this natural paradise, as she explored remote areas in Hana, Maui, and strolled along the black sand beaches on the Big Island with her trained eye fixed on unspoiled vistas of singular beauty.
Amy’s lyrical, sensual text and Yuyi’s evocative acrylic paintings rendered in textured jewel tones (forest/moss greens, fuschia, aquamarine/prussian blues, fiery oranges, earthy browns) beautifully echo the iconic artist’s creative spirit gladdened by a place of pure enchantment.