Toria Maldonado Gets Tough and Tender in Figurative Depictions of Family

Toria Maldonado Gets Tough and Tender in Figurative Depictions of Family

Long Beach artist Toria Maldonado works with figurative painting and digital illustration. Their work centers on the intersections between their dual cultural background and identity as a “queer non-binary Trans person.” Maldonado’s tender paintings of family members and revealing self-portraits explore powerful connections between siblings and parents, individuals and the community, and the artist with the self.

Not Real Art Artist Of The Day Series

With roots in Mexican and Japanese culture, and their fluid gender identity, Maldonado is no stranger to rejection. After receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Art from California State University, Long Beach, with an emphasis in Illustration, Maldonado often felt unwelcome in the art world and in spaces in general. Being part of a community that is “grossly underrepresented in a white, patriarchal, hetero-normative society,” is challenging in terms of healthcare, housing, and job opportunities. But instead of focusing on conflict, their work resonates with intimacy as it describes the bonds between key figures in their life. Maldonado’s frank self-portraits show a deeply committed artist in a state of creative development and flux.

The illustration “Families Belong Together” is based on a photo of Maldonado’s late father holding their toddler cousin. The piece is cropped in close to emphasize the protective bond between an adult and child. The text at first seems mainly geared towards immigration and the importance of keeping families at the border intact. But losing their father at an early age without knowing if they would have been accepted as a “queer, non-binary child,” opens a larger discussion. As Maldonado traverses personal boundaries and embraces their multi-cultural heritage, these tough but tender paintings explore poignant relationships between family members on a literal and figurative level, and stress the importance of being true to oneself.

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Toria Maldonado — Artist Statement

Torie Maldonado. Headshot
Torie Maldonado

I make work based on connection: to my community, to my culture, and to myself. I use my work to embody the push and pull between representing myself and the life around me. Currently, I’ve been focusing on my relationship with my queer identity and gender expression, and how that relates to my Mexican-Japanese American culture. Some of my most recent portraits reference specific family members to represent these different layers of identity. I find it difficult to break away from these ideas regarding self, identity, and community – they have become intrinsically inherent in my art practice.

Depending on the subject matter, I employ different methods such as collage, printmaking, or photography, when creating a painting or drawing. The motivation behind my art-making is typically prompted by certain ideas or issues I fixate on to either engage, challenge, or understand. During the beginning stages, I make sketches, decide between painting or drawing, and consider how material will affect the context. Color is an essential step in my process; I explore specific color palettes to signify tone or use as symbolic imagery. The colors I choose reference underlying meanings, much like the objects I incorporate: fruit, plants, clothing, everyday objects, etc. This exploration helps me illustrate the concept of finding connection through things, places, and people. The means in which I explore this construction, the deeper I delve into my need for connection. With my work, I achieve an understanding of myself: how I cope with loss. My upbringing and the aftermath of my father’s death left a tremendous impact on how I view the world. This heavily informs my art practice, and makes it difficult for me to relate to others without talking about things like addiction, trauma, or loss.

“Victoria & Dad” speaks on my struggle with losing my father at a young age, and the inability of knowing whether he would accept my identity as his out queer, non-binary child. Creating this portrait allows me to hold space for myself — to feel, to grieve, and to release. Created in similar fashion, “Mothers" depicts a different perspective. The portrait of my mother and maternal grandmother shares the relationship of a mother and her daughter, and their own individual relationship with motherhood. The photo collage underneath paint resembles layers of cathartic and conflicting feelings about family.

It is in my nature to question and challenge things and the people around me. This translates easily into my work; often providing a critical look at mainstream media and contemporary politics. Works like "Families Belong Together," a direct response to our current administration's xenophobic immigration policies, prompt me to not only make connections with my community, but to urge audiences to think critically about their political stances and personal prejudices. Both of my self-portraits, "Tough and Tender" and "Outgrowing Your Past Self," touch on the importance of queer and trans visibility and the need for self-expression. My portraits demonstrate the vulnerability behind honoring one's truths, despite society's constant exclusion and erasure of queer and trans folks of color.

Toria Maldonado – Grant Submission Works

Toria Maldonado. Tough and Tender, 2019
Tough and Tender, 2019
Self-portrait, oil on canvas
48 x 36 inches

My self-portrait describes the experience of my non-binary identity. Leaving my figure partially nude represents strength in vulnerability and the dysphoria I have with my chest. My figure gazes directly at the viewer while standing in front of hanging passion flowers against an abstract background of yellow and violet. Because passion flowers are double-sexed and typically yellow, white, and lavender in appearance, colors associated with the non-binary flag in the LGBTQ community, I included them to symbolize this connection. By redefining masculinity and femininity, this self-portrait honors the notion of rejecting the gender binary by allowing myself to embrace the fluidity of both.

Toria Maldonado. Outgrowing Your Past Self, 2020
Outgrowing Your Past Self, 2020
Digital illustration
14 x 11 inches

This piece is part of an on-going series of illustrative self-portraits that embody my personal journey with self love. The simple act of cutting hair is a powerful visual reference for self-expression and empowerment. "Outgrowing Your Past Self" symbolizes the need to outgrow the parts of yourself that no longer serve you. The colors used also reference coming to terms with my trans identity.

Toria Maldonado. Mothers, 2021
Mothers, 2020
Oil and collage on canvas, 2020
40 x 40 inches

"Mothers" depicts my mother and maternal grandmother, painted over family photographs. This portrait symbolizes the matriarchs' relationship with each other and their individual journey of motherhood.

Toria Maldonado. Families Belong Together
Families Belong Together, 2019
Digital illustration, 2019
12 x 18 inches

Families Belong Together" is a digital drawing that depicts a relative clutching the body of a toddler. Derived from a family photo of my late father and my baby cousin, I wanted to capture the intimacy between family members and the importance of keeping contact. The gesture of a parent or relative holding an innocent child symbolizes security — an extension of what "families belong together" means. Being ripped apart from their families and forced into detention camps in horrendous conditions is a reality for so many immigrants who are undocumented. "Abolish Ice" is seen in the upper right hand corner of the image to show support and solidarity for undocumented immigrants of color.

Toria Maldonado. Victoria & Dad, 2019
Victoria & Dad, 2019
Oil and collage on canvas
32 inches x 28 inches

This portrait of my late father and I as a newborn incorporates collage, sourced from various old family photos. This creates not only a commemoration of my father, but a family quilt that showcases snapshots meant to revisit childhood memories. Because of my father's passing, I have struggled with the uncertainty of his acceptance over my queer and trans identity. By weaving my mother and siblings in my painting, their images symbolize the support I desperately seek from my father. My painting serves as a place for nostalgia, acceptance, and commemoration.

Toria Maldonado – Artist Bio

Toria Maldonado is a multidisciplinary visual artist from and currently based in Long Beach, California. Their pronouns are they/them. They work primarily with figurative painting and digital illustration in their practice but all of their work centers their cultural background as a Mexican-Japanese American and how that relates to their identity as a queer non-binary Trans person. Their current body of work focuses on complex issues surrounding self, identity, and community.

In 2019, they received their Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Art from California State University, of Long Beach, with an emphasis in Illustration. Their work has been exhibited in Sur:biennial’s 2019 "Generational: Local Latinx LGBTQIA Artists" group exhibition at the Long Beach City College Art Gallery and at Brea Gallery’s 2020 "Made in California" exhibition. They are a visual artist in multiple artist pools such as: Arts Council of Long Beach, Metro Art LA, and Latinx 4 Social Movement. Currently, they are freelancing with Nalgona Positivity Pride and its online boutique "Seeds from the Flesh." Additionally, Toria will be creating new works for their upcoming solo show,Tough to Be Tender (TBD due to COVID-19).

Toria Maldonado on the Web And Social Media

Here is where to find out more about Toria Maldonado on the web and social media:

About the Artist of the Day Series

All artworks have been published with permission of the artist. Our "Artist of the Day" series is a regular feature highlighting artworks from the 100's of grant applications we receive. The "Not Real Art Grant" is an annual award designed to empower the careers of contemporary artists, and this is one way we honor all entries we receive. Find out more about the grant program here.

Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis

Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis is a writer, photographer, and former New York gallerist based in Richmond, Virginia. She has a masters in fine art, a BA in Russian literature, and is earning a masters in nonfiction writing at Johns Hopkins University, AAP.