“She went into Cartier with a baby crocodile and three bags full of precious stones, handed it to them and said ‘make it quickly before he gets big enough to bite you.'” Javier Avila lights up as he explains how Maria Felix came to own her famous croc necklace. She’s one of the muses in his “Be My Icon” exhibit, a show dedicated to the women who inspire him in art and in life. “They helped me evolve and gain the confidence I needed in order to be myself. I have a deep connection to them.” This connection is so real that Avila got into the habit of pairing Josephine Baker with Maria Felix. To his surprise the two were former lovers, a discovery made to him by Baker’s son. “When I told him about the collection I didn’t expect him to know who Maria Felix was. Apparently Josephine and her were together for 6 months.”
Javier Avila is a proud Mexican native and a passionate creator. He moved to New York in his 20s to explore his gift and found himself struggling with depression and drugs. “I was going through a really dark time in my life and the only thing that helped was painting these ladies.” The Supremes, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie O, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Cher, Madonna and J Lo are part of the icons he credits for overcoming his challenging circumstances and tapping into self-empowerment. He found solace in not only their success and charisma, but also their feminine attributes – that uncanny ability to be fragile and fierce at the same time.
The women Avila selects have their own halo of success and distinct personality. He incorporates this in his art, bathing them in light and twinkling stars to give them divine status, painting them with fine lines and features to exude their inherent feminine qualities, and utilizing vibrant colors, a commanding pose and piercing gaze to emphasize their insurmountable strength. Their discerning attributes are folded into the paintings through symbolism and minute details.
All of this effort places the unifying theme of admiration at the forefront. “Maria Felix was trans-formative and really mastered creating herself. I incorporated the crocodile in this painting because in Mayan theology it represents death and rebirth, eternity. Her earrings include the number 8 because she was born and passed away on her birthday April 8, at the age of 88. That number also represents infinity. She was incredibly powerful.” His knowledge of Maria Felix is extensive. In fact Avila is credited with helping to organize and curate the first-ever tribute to the film icon in New York alongside The Mexican Cultural Institue, NoMMA and the Cervantes Institute.
To close the show, there’s a collage of the artist enveloped by his personages. A young Avila is at the center of this whirlwind of inspiration. I see it as a reminder that although I can tap into these women for inspiration and strength, I am ultimately invited to become my own icon and consult myself for personal devotion. In his own words: “I believe that we are all talented, we are all beautiful and we all have something to contribute.”