Q&A with...Maria Esther Magallanes, who engages with immigrant, artistic community

DARIEN — A beacon of hope and guidance.

That’s what Maria Esther Magallanes, 52, feels when she sees a lighthouse, a structure she’s become fascinated with ever since her arrival in Darien more than a decade ago.

The Mexico City native meshes this New England charm with her Mexican roots, evidenced in a mural she painted for Building One Community, the immigration help center in Stamford formerly known as Neighbors Link Stamford.

Q: How long have you been painting for?

A: I’ve been painting for more than 20 years. I have a background in graphic design from the Ibero-American University in Mexico City and I’ve devoted myself to painting ever since.

Q: How did you get in touch with Building One Community?

A: I was talking to Michelle Saldivar from the Building One Community center, telling her I wanted to do something with my art and to help people. One day she called me and said she had something for me: They wanted my help in painting a mural.

Q: How did the idea for the mural come about?

A: First we did a survey since this was a community project and we wanted to hear the community’s ideas.

We talked to many of the volunteers from the King School and many of the people who go to the immigration center for their ideas. Based on the information we obtained, I started working on the drafts and outlines for the final work.

The original painting I made is now hanging in the immigration center office, which is the one we used to project on the wall and painted by the number. What I mean by that is that we divided the painting with numbers and then painted in order.

I gifted the original painting to the center. The whole process took six months. We finished in May of 2015 and the last time I went was to change the design of the logo.

Q: How did the interest in art come about?

A: I did graphic design and then began painting with acrylic on canvas.

I came to Darien about 13 years ago and began painting again. My father is a musician and so my family has an artistic side to it.

Q: What are the differences between Mexico City and Darien?

A: Well, we’re talking over 6 million people against 20 thousand and so it’s a different way of life, different way of thinking. I enjoy both very much.

My whole family is from Mexico City. I have a daughter Sofia, who is a junior at Fordham (University), and Jose Maria, who is a freshman at Berklee College of Music. My husband is Jose Marti.

We went back to Mexico City about two years ago but go less and less.

Q: What did you want to express in your mural?

A: The mural is based on immigration. The lower-right part represents the neighborhoods and the people — this part is the city, principally Stamford.

Many of my paintings involve lighthouses. Ever since I came to New England I’ve fallen in love with them and they represent hope and guidance. All these people who are here are those who leave and come from their homes, there’s a lot of color, and this is the musician who sees them and tells their stories through music because it’s part of our culture. All of this represents the different facets of immigration and I used a style called deconstruction to express it. It has always been my style and I’ve always worked with acrylic on canvas.

This project was fascinating and I would love to do another one because of the energy it sparks as a result and because it involves everyone in the community. I loved working with the people and designing the project.

Q: What’s your work like?

A: I work by series, especially when I like something for an extended period of time. I’m working on a series of doll paintings right now, about seven of them. Some years ago I did a similar thing.

It takes me about six sessions of four hours to complete a painting. A small and big painting take about the same time for me.

I just sent a painting to Switzerland; someone from there wanted one. I have clients here in Darien but also Mexico City.

I start out the series but each painting evolves and changes. The lighthouse series has various styles and I like the doll series as well. I’ve had two exhibits at the (Darien) Library. Grove Street Plaza in the summer, I was in their 3rd annual art show.

Q: How did you become involved with the library?

A: I’ve been at the library for a year and half. I began as a volunteer when I asked if I could help and they welcomed me.

Six months in, they asked me if i wanted to do a bilingual story time and I worked with Claire Moore, the head of Children and Teen Services at the library. My children are now in college but I talked to Claire and told her that I wanted to work and they offered me a part-time position.


ct.com ; @hjuarezrocha