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Artist Gina Herrera

Updated: Jan 18

Born in 1969, Gina Herrera was raised in Chicago and currently resides in California. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art Education from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In the course of her studies, she was deployed overseas in support of several war contingencies with the United States Army. While serving in Iraq, miles of mountainous trash heaps amidst the devastation of combat galvanized a life-long love of nature into an activist’s calling. Her art practice evolved to lessen her environmental footprint, and to consciously channel Mother Earth in a spiritual and aesthetic ritual drawing from her personal affinity to nature as well as her Tesuque and Costa Rican heritage. Once her final tour was complete, she obtained her Master of Fine Arts from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

Herrera has received fellowships and grants and residencies from The Harpo Foundation/Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for the Arts, Hambidge Center, Ox-Bow, Peripheral Arts Foundation, Ruth and Harold Chenven Foundation, Puffin Foundation, Kasini House Artist Lab in conjuction with 516 Arts and the Albuquerque Museum and Self Help Graphics In 2022, she participated in the Conversations in Practice Online Residency at Ox-bow, and received a grant from the Demil Art Fund for Veterans.

In 2023, she was a National Endowment for the Humanities Veteran Fellow, participating in Surviving the Long Wars 2023 Veteran’s Art Summit, where her work was on display at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Most recently, she was awarded the California Arts Council Established Artists Grant. She is currently creating and exhibiting work in galleries around the country, as well as exploring avenues for creating larger scale permanent public art projects, to bring her message of environmental mindfulness to even more people. Her first temporary public art installation was in residence at the Valencia Town Center in Santa Clarita, CA for the first four months of 2016, and from 2017-2019 an installation was on display at the South Bend Museum in South Bend, Indiana.

In 2022, her work was featured on an episode of Bel-Air on the Peacock Network. Herrera’s dedication to service extends to all aspects of her professional life – from her almost 25 years in the United States Military to educating and inspiring the next generation as an art teacher at Arvin High School and adjunct professor at Bakersfield College.

"As an artist of Native American (Tesuque Pueblo) and Costa Rican heritage, I embark on a spiritual journey of self-knowledge and reflection on the planet’s uncertain future. Through my art, I utilize natural materials and organic forms, such as branches, rocks, cocoons, and nests, as a juxtaposition to industrialization and environmental damage, symbolizing the somatic process of creation. Drawing from my experiences during my 25 years in the Armed Forces, where I witnessed the long-term effects of conflict and war, including the large-scale abandonment of ruined machinery by the military, I question my own practices and environmental impact. My artistic practice is deeply informed by my passion for environmental justice and involves spiritual and aesthetic rituals to honor Mother Earth. I engineer unexpected assemblages using metals and found materials, repurposing salvaged materials like plastics, fabrics, jewelry, domestic tools, bottle caps, and military insignia. The resulting sculptures are human-like yet mysterious and fluid, reminiscent of calligraphy or hieroglyphics. Dark humor and violent beauty are juxtaposed with a post-apocalyptic industrial energy through techniques such as welding, powder-coating, and plasma cutting. Like a scavenger, I play an active role in removing garbage from the landscape, preventing further damage. My artistic process is intuitive, letting the forms reveal themselves. Through my art, I aim to awaken individual and societal consciousness, examining and healing our relationship with Mother Earth."

Tell us a little about yourself (where you are from) and your background in the arts.

Born and raised in Chicago. I earned my BFA from the School of the Art Institute, I moved to my current location in 2004 to become a full time high school teacher. During that time I obtained my MFA after my deployment in Iraq. I have always been an artist throughout life but my life had many twists and turns. I have been a professional artist for the last 10 years.

What kind of work are you currently making?

Currently, I am plasma cutting hot roll steel and welding them together to make outdoor sculptures. I am thinking of how I can incorporate larger pieces of plasma cut steel with found materials. I am also looking into casting my foot and hand to create cement parts for future sculptures.

What is a day like in the studio for you?

One day, my dream is to become a full time artist! Since that is not the case, I go into my studio at least 3 to 5 times a week. Sometimes, I am just there to contemplate and think of what is my next thing I need to accomplish. Everyday I am on the computer answering emails, researching opportunities and posting on social media. There are days in which I will spend hours cutting, welding or finishing up a sculpture for an upcoming show.

What are you looking at right now and/or reading?

I like to research other artists and their practice. I am also researching museums and what kind of exhibitions they are supporting.

Where can we find more of your work? (ex. website/insta/gallery/upcoming shows)

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