Maria Brito is a visual artist who moved to the US 21 years ago and Loudoun 10 years ago from Venezuela. Her paintings and collages have been described by her mentors as “a mixture of modern impressionism, fantasy and nature, the use of overlapped figures, and oneiric images.” She often depicts plants, animals, and other life found in nature. Brito recently had two exhibitions displayed at Brambleton Library in Ashburn titled “In Contact with Planet Earth” and “Look What I Found in my Garden.” I recently interviewed Brito to discuss her work.
In your own words, how would you describe your art?
I think it’s kind of unique in the way I express nature. Mostly all of my plants, even my collage, [are] from my imagination and not copying the reality outside. I have this feeling for the vibrancy in nature, but these images came from myself.
What first got you interested in being an artist? Since I was a child, I liked to draw and paint, so [art] was with me my whole life. While I was studying architecture, I was still interested in that. I used to take some of the subjects in my career in how to deal with art, too. And, even when I graduated, I continued my studies in Visual Arts, Cultural Heritage, and Museography. I grew up in a house with a lot of paintings because my father used to display and sell art from Venezuela and [other] Impressionist artists. To look at all these paintings [was] like having a mini gallery in my home. My mother was a painter too.
How does your upbringing/your culture reflect in your art? I think I can reflect with color. I noticed when I moved from my country, especially here, that the use of color in art is different. The Hispanic culture expresses a lot of vibrancy with more strong colors like red, yellow, blue, maybe more “pure” colors. The other thing is this interaction, in my case, with plants and nature. I grew up in a house with an interior garden. It had two patios with plants, one in the kitchen and one on the back of the house. The plant’s house was everywhere. Many houses in Venezuela are open to what is happening outside. In our country, in Venezuela, the houses are open so the air flows inside and you can see nature. You can feel it. You can smell the plants, too. In my case, because I have this connection with part of this culture with the garden plants, and even the fruit trees–we have a lot of fruit trees–they are reflected in my artwork.
That’s really cool, how there’s gardens everywhere. Yeah yeah, it’s hard for me. For like a year [when I moved], I was like, “Where is a garden with flowers?” Another thing that was difficult to understand at first here is why, when people have these gardens and I have my garden, I couldn’t see the butterflies around or the bees. And this is because of this excess of pesticides here that we don’t have in my country. I used to play with the grasshoppers, butterflies, cicadas, and the bees, so I was missing these. We are connected to, in a certain way, to nature.
Do you have any favorite childhood memories that you remember? Being outside in the garden is one of the happiest [memories]. The other one is [sharing time] with family that I miss a lot because I don’t have my family here. And more than the childhood, is a memory of the time [and] the weather in my country and the blue skies. I miss it a lot. It’s warm; it’s a warm country.
Is there anyone in particular that you get your inspiration from? Not really. My mom was a painter, and it was so common for me since I was child to look at her painting, but I don’t know if I can call this like an inspiration. I see art as ways of expression, you know, now that I grew up. Some certain people want to talk, certain people want to make videos and make movies, and other people just paint; and this expression of your insides [makes] you feel good. You have this feeling that you need to do something with your hands. You’re kind of putting your feelings on your canvas.
So, I guess, in a way, you would say that you’re inspired by yourself? Yeah. I could have some inspiration from my mom and from all the paintings that were displayed in my parents house, but they were very common to me. So, more than that, it was these feelings, I mean, that made me draw and paint since I was a child.
Do you have a favorite piece of art in this exhibition [“In Contact with Planet Earth” or “Look What I Found in my Garden” displayed in Brambleton Library] or that you’ve just done ever? I exhibited [this artwork shown to the right] in a gallery recently in Venezuela–Maracaibo is the city. This, at that time, [felt] like the most important painting I made, and it’s one of the biggest that I have done. I don’t know why [but] it’s like a treasure for me. I don’t know if I could [make] it again. And it’s like when I see it now I see the movement; I see life. And I think I was working with art therapies at one time in a workshop and then I discovered that maybe the holes [in the leaves painted] had to be with something in my life. Everything is reflected in a painting, a certain way, that from itself. So, at this time, these holes mean many things, I believe.
You call yourself an “artist-activist.” What causes are close to you? I was a human rights activist for my country, Venezuela, for five years. What made me close was the suffering there. It’s just a repressive regime that is [oppressive] to the part of the population who don’t want to follow and, you know, it is hard. And then, with my artwork, in [a] certain way, I’ve been like an environmental activist too because I [had] this feeling about the importance of nature since I [was] a child.
I’m very sensitive to what happens around me with the forest, with the plants, you know. For example, it’s happening in Loudoun. The deforestation is going so fast that it hurts me, and I even was involved, this year, in one of the causes here to save a river. Some housing development was going to destroy and pollute the river. [The Loudoun Board of Supervisors] didn’t realize that the people [were] going to get together. I kind of move the people in a certain way. I used social media, and the hashtag #SaveGooseCreek [which I placed] on my car as well. Maybe people [were] looking at this weirdo with the car with the #SaveGooseCreek but when they [Googled it], they could find [out] what was happening. People worked together. And it was good. I felt so good about what I did. It was a little stressful but we did it; we saved the river.
Now, I’m trying to make people aware in the county [that] suddenly–I don’t know why–the supervisors said, right now, that we need more housing and [some supervisors] are making zoning changes and not respecting any more of these natural areas. So, people have to be aware of that. We cannot let every green area or forests or little pieces of forest [be] left to be destroyed. We can develop the county and the housing in a different way to respect nature, and there is a way to do it. I’m an architect, and I know I can do it in a different way. So, if people work with that, they don’t have to destroy so much.
Do you have any websites or organizations or something you just want to tell the readers of the magazine about your activism? I use social media a lot because people are getting informed right now through social media, and it’s even easier than [going] door to door telling people what is happening and calling people. You just put [it] in social media and create the hashtag. Especially in Facebook, there are a lot of Loudoun community groups. So you can send the information to all these Loudoun community groups–I managed to do this–and then people read and learn about something that can happen to a green area in the county.
Do you ever listen to music while you’re painting? No, I like silence. I love silence. I don’t need it. I don’t know. I cannot be connected with the noise. Even when I walk–I like to hike–there [are] people that like to put the airpods with the music. I cannot do it. I need to be connected with [what] is around me and the sound of the planet. No, not the music. I like music sometimes, and I [liked] this more when I was younger, but right now I prefer silence.
Are you reading any books right now or watching any shows? No. Sometimes I watch, the type you know, maybe the romantic stuff, these things. I graduated as an architect, so I like design. Right now, I’m looking at one about houses, in other countries especially. The architecture is different than here.
I heard you mentioned you like to go hiking. Do you have any other hobbies that you like, besides hiking? I like cooking, and I used to write about Venezuela and gastronomy, the typical foods. I had a website, and even some of this writing was published in some digital magazines some years ago. I love it: cooking and writing. And when I graduated, I [had] some certification about inventory and research on cultural heritage in my country, so I relate that with the gastronomy, with food. So, these sites I have about Venezuelan food have a research tool that is free for the public. Every recipe has historical research that talks about where this kind of food or plate came [from] and how it took some characteristics from my country and ideas from my country. So this was one of my hobbies. Still, I like to cook a lot. Gardening, too. I love plants. Right now, I like butterfly gardens. I’m trying to do my gardens without pesticides, with native plants and flowers.
Do you have any advice for upcoming artists or activists? I believe, as I told you, that art is not just the decorative stuff, just to be placed to decorate a space. I believe that the artists have things to say through the artwork. And the artists and activists, they can show some of their feelings about the cause they are following or a message. It is a good opportunity to give a message to the people who like to observe the art. It’s not all only color and figures or something to decorate the wall. It’s more than that; there is something that you can say through that. So if people have the opportunity and have a cause inside, inside the person that want to talk to the public, they can use this art to do that. And there are several, many I think, artists that are doing this right now. I have a cousin in New York that is passionate about political and human rights issues, and when she paints, it’s about that. It’s very strong. You can do very strong things with activism and art.
I was very grateful to talk to Maria Brito Visual Artist. For more information, visit mabvisualartist.com and on Instagram @mabvisualartist. Brito also currently has art on sale at Annemarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center (13470 Dowell Rd. Solomons, MD 20688) available until January 1, 2022.
Article and graphic design by Sydney Nguyen