LocationAlhambra , CA United States
Surrealist painter Ixchel Marina has taught art for 27 years. At the end of July, her business, the Art Studio, on 230 W Main Street closed after five years. Her building was bought out by investors — the same reason for the closing of her two previous art studios, which were also on Main Street in Alhambra. She shared that building with Marini Music and other arts-focused businesses that closed after the building’s sale.
Even with the closing of her studio, Marina’s passion to teach students of all ages will not be deterred.
“For me, my work is not work; it’s fun,” Marina said. “It’s exciting — you can see when somebody is successful and they’re shining — it’s like this glow.”
Born in Colombia, Marina, 52, moved to Mexico City with her family and completed high school within two years, she says. She started college at 16 years old to study classical guitar and later studied visual arts at La Esmeralda, the renowned art school in Mexico City, where her teachers were the students of Frida Kahlo.
In the early 90s, her family immigrated to the United States where Marina worked at a variety of private schools and art academies before opening her own art school.
Marina teaches techniques of mixed media using different materials: charcoal to ink, clay, papier mâché, watercolors to oil paints — even homemade mediums of coffee and tea. She learned how to make her own paints, canvases, brushes and other supplies because resources were limited when she was young.
“Once you know how to [make supplies], it’s really easy to understand how the materials are going to behave,” she said. “Then you can just bring to life incredible possibilities. You can go to the extremes, because you know what’s going to happen.”
Lately she has been using recycled materials such as cardboard, windex bottles and used tea bags; she encourages her students to take part in this recycling art.
Kitty Lew, 61, who works in real estate property management, has been attending Marina’s classes for 14 years.
“Marina’s primary concern for her students, especially children, is to provide an environment for creativity, give instructions to independent thinking,” Lew said.
Marina asks her students to decide what they want to create, giving them responsibility for their decisions, and she advocates the idea that knowledge takes away fear. Her students receive assignments — not the type where they “sit there and do,” but “thinking homework” that consists of questioning what their artwork will be composed of. Marina asks her students to take notes on their thinking. When they are finished thinking, she will discuss it with them, make a plan, and “attack the plan.”
Adult instruction is somewhat different than children’s instruction. At first, the adults often have prejudgments, Marina says. If a student makes a “mistake,” Marina will sometimes make one too — on purpose— in front of them. She doesn’t consider making a mistake something bad, instead she sees it as a discovery.
“If you’re gonna engage in something, just go for it. Worst can happen is you fail. You try again,” Marina said. ”You know the world keeps rotating, nothing is set in stone.”
Some of Marina’s former students have gone on to pursue a career in the arts. Ashley Kakazu, who joined Marina’s class as a child, is now in her third year of graphic design at ArtCenter College of Design.
“I truly believe that I wouldn’t be here today without the aid of Ixchel,” Kakazu said. “She taught me to take risks, and more importantly, gave me the confidence to pursue a career in the arts.”
The best lesson that Lew has learned in Marina’s classes is that your identity is more than just work.
“Certainly, work and finances are important but [work] does not define you,” Lew said. “Our life journey has twists and turns; you can survive it by keeping an open mind, by standing up to express yourself.”
To Marina, being an artist is not only having skill; it is transmitting an idea out to the world.
“I like to do things where people stop — everything else around them completely stops,” she said.
Once Marina has an idea and the process for the idea, she “attacks the process.”
”I can see the process like a screen, like I’m in a movie theatre,” Marina said.
Marina is planning to have an art show in September, with the Creative Arts Group in Sierra Madre. Despite the closing of the Art Studio, Marina is still taking students who are interested in learning fine arts at her studio in San Gabriel. To contact her, visit theartstudio.design.
Daniel Flores is an Alhambra Source intern and a junior at Alhambra High School.