media & biography

Overheard Conversations: The Art of Maria Lobo

By Michelle Gibson, Vancouver, Canada

Asked about what she hopes people experience when they encounter her paintings, Maria Lobo pauses, smiles mysteriously and offers: “Undecipherable. Sensual…like when they eat something yummy, or hear a really interesting piece of music.” In fact, the sensation is all of those alluring things, perhaps in no small part because of Lobo’s own unique history. She is, without question, a true citizen of the world.

Born in colonial-era Hong Kong, Lobo’s ancestral mixture is undoubtedly unique to her family, and decidedly “undecipherable.” Maria and her siblings are British, Chinese, Timorese, Portuguese, Macanese, Malay and Jewish. As she grew up, Maria felt drawn to explore beyond her Hong Kong upbringing, and has subsequently embraced a multitude of other cultural influences through her art training – which has taken her to the United States, Italy and Spain- and through present day family life: she currently lives with her husband and two children in San Francisco.

As a result of this extraordinary infusion of perspectives, it is no surprise that Lobo’s work combines numerous techniques and materials – old, new, Asian and Western – to create a confluence of layers, patterns and symbols from a multicultural perspective. Maria’s work appears to have selectively adopted avant-garde aspects of American and Spanish art and blended these influences with Chinese concepts.

While both Chinese culture and technique inform her art, this presence often functions as merely a subtle undercurrent relative to the more obvious influence of American abstract expressionist painters, Bauhaus architectural sensibilities, and modern European design elements. Like a contemporary conductor working with old world sounds, Maria compares her unique art to musicians playing ancient instruments “to make modern music.”

Floating silhouettes, tumbling oval rings, patterning, and Escher-like negatives spaces challenge the viewer to visually sink into the paintings and wander through. In doing so, they are invited into Lobo’s very personal – and yet universal – exploration of who she is and where she came from.

Lobo’s paintings reflect a struggle to find a balance between chaos and order. Her paintings live in the tension created between things-gentle, calming, peaceful, restorative and things-uncommon, raw, visually challenging, even painful. This ephemeral effort toward a lively balance continues ceaselessly for many of us in our daily lives, which may partially explain what makes Lobo’s work so compelling.

The expression of Maria Lobo’s search for self in a world where East and West progressively merge is beautifully interwoven throughout her art. It can be seen in the warmth and passion of her rare use of colour and texture intermingled with the restrained, disciplined, repetitive use of patterns and shapes. She sees her work as “creating stories” and revealing “secrets about me” – and about others, too. Maria describes the intricate layers she creates as “overheard conversations;” the mysterious text in the background functioning like a murmur that one can’t quite hear, allowing the listener/viewer to make up their own interpretation of the experience, drawing us into her world, seducing us into reflecting on our own layers of ancestral secrets and continuing evolution.

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