Mercedes Maza glows with exuberance and a love for life, community and art. Devotion, passion and positivity are the source of her artwork. Maza is part of what she feels is a family of artistic entrepreneurs. Her art space is aptly named Art and Soul and is located in Hanalei, where she has been working and painting for nearly a decade.
It was on Kauai where Maza met her mentor and really tapped into her favorite mediums: watercolor and Chinese brushwork.
She had a whirlwind of numerous cultural experiences during her youth, starting off with living in Barranquilla, Colombia, where she was born. She moved elsewhere to live and go to school including New York and California. Today, Maza lives in Haena, and has been on Kauai for 40 years.
Maza sat down recently with The Garden Island to field a few questions.
The Garden Island: What’s it like to be part of the community of artists here? What do you think about some of the other artists in town?
Mercedes Maza: I’m so happy to be a part of this community. I’m thrilled to have Carlos DeTreaux offering the school (of art at The General Store of Hanalei.) He puts his heart, soul, sweat and blood into it. I just applaud him.
TGI: And your mentor, Waihang Lai, what was it like learning from him?
MM: I think I was really privileged to work with Waihang Lai, his wife too. I feel I was blessed to work with the best.
TGI: How long did you work with them for?
MM: For 10 years I took art classes with them at KCC. I loved it.
TGI: I hear that doing Chinese brushwork art is very strict, traditional. Don’t you have to count your brushstrokes for certain types of work, and other rules like that?
MM: Oh yes. And it was exactly what I needed. He was a taskmaster, he was strict. But I learned a lot because of it.
TGI: So what type of artwork do you enjoy doing the most? And what do you like about it?
MM: The Impressionists and my Oriental brushwork techniques. I like them because it doesn’t fill in all the blanks, it leaves the imagination open.
TGI: And as for your favorite mediums, they are Oriental brushwork and watercolors?
MM: Yes! I love watercolor. It gave me color to be able to be more diverse. The watercolor has its own spirit. The way you move the water, it will create its own painting.
TGI: Oh, that’s an interesting way to think of it. And what about the people you teach art lessons to, what are some impressions you have of them? Is there anyone that stands out in your mind?
MM: This one gentleman, he didn’t want to do it. He didn’t want to do anything. But in the end, he liked it. I enjoy bringing the joy out.
TGI: Do you ever experiment with other media?
MM: Yes. I do sculpting. I have a kiln given to me, that I use with my friend Renata. I have done some glasswork with Kathy McClelland Cowen. She used to own Cat’s Alley in Kapaa, now she has another place on the highway.
TGI: And do you collaborate with other artists a lot?
MM: I think our artist community here is like a family, even here in Hanalei between me, Mark Daniells and Carlos DeTreaux.
TGI: That’s great that everyone is so friendly in the community. Anybody else that you collaborate with?
MM: Cynthia Riedel. She’s done shows with me in the past, she’s doing painting tours.
TGI: You mentioned different activities and shows you’ve been doing. Have any shows or events coming up?
MM: I’m planning a show, I’m doing Chinese, having gone to Hong Kong, I’ve got these rice papers, they’re handmade. I’m just coming out of my cocoon, and doing more things again. I’ve been doing mini-shows. One was ocean-themed, that I did with Terry Lilley. He does photography, he also talked about the reefs and what’s going on with them.
TGI: Oh I see, so he talked about the health of the reefs, which has been big issue recently. Well, you sound pretty community-oriented.
MM: Yes, I like to get involved.
TGI: So as far as other sources of inspiration, would you say your travels have helped? Maybe made your art more worldly?
MM: Oh yes, it definitely helps to add color. It has given me ideas for adding more color to my art.
TGI: And what about where you’re from? You’re from Colombia originally, in Barranquilla. So were is that in Colombia?
MM: It’s in the northeast area of the country.
TGI: And after all your traveling you eventually ended here on Kauai, and that’s how you found your mentor, Waihang Lai, right?
MM: Yes, I did.
TGI: And I know that you were at the Artisans Guild in Hanalei for a while, too, before you started Art and Soul. How long were you there for?
MM: I was there from 1985 to 1992, until Hurricane Inkiki ended. And that’s when the guild got shut down.
TGI: Wasn’t it the rule that only certain people were allowed to be part of the Artisans Guild?
MM: Yes, only a select few. You had to be selected to be let in.
TGI: So was the Artisans Guild run by a board or a committee then?
MM: They had their own board, and the artists bring their work to this board and they either approve or reject the artist based on that. Those who got accepted were allowed to become members.
TGI: Well it sounds like quite an achievement, you’ve done so much. How long have you been here doing art for?
MM: I’ve been doing art here for 33 years.
TGI: And what about other sources of inspiration? Do you have any kids?
MM: I have one son, his name is Jonathan and right now he lives in Hong Kong. He just got transferred there, he’s a chef.
TGI: So he’s there working as a chef for a company, then?
MM: Yes, he travels and sets up restaurants for people, for Louis Vuitton, who is partnered with another company also. The send him to different places after he’s done. Before that he was working in Bangkok, Thailand for a couple weeks.
TGI: Wow, and now Hong Kong?
MM: Yes, I just visited him there. It’s so contemporary.
TGI: Some more traveling to help keep the art going!
MM: Yes, definitely. It helps me to get new ideas.