After almost being kidnapped in Venezuela nearly four years ago, Alejandra Camargo and her husband moved to Dallas to escape a social and economic crisis.
“It happened in 2009," she says. "I was with my best friend, these guys block our car, and this guy with a black mask was pointing at us with guns. My friend just dropped off and then we heard thousands gun shots, but we escaped and thank God nothing happened to us."
Camargo says the conversation around kidnapping in Venezuela is a normal one. However, she misses her home country deeply.
“It was never in my plans to leave and make my life in another country," Camargo says. "It was a very tough decision to leave everything behind: our work, our family and our friends. But we didn’t have a choice. We saw no future and no present. Every day was a struggle, and I was living in fear.”
The burgeoning artist found a safe place to live and create in Dallas, and despite being mugged several times in her home country, she still manages to paint pictures that portray “The Energy of Happiness,” as she calls it.
“Emotions can be transferred from one entity to another,” Camargo says. “I choose to paint only things that provoke or awake positive emotions, because I think that my paintings can become vessels of happiness. There is too much sadness in the world, and I don’t want my paintings to reflect that.”
But the turbulent times in Venezuela are still seen through symbolism in Camargo’s work.
“I decided that in all of my work people will have their eyes closed,” she says. “This will be the case until Venezuela becomes a free country again. Only then I will open their eyes.”
Camargo entered the Dallas art community full force, painting her signature style on any surface the city would allow. Earlier this year, one of her murals in Oak Cliff was even the center of a hot City Hall debate, which fortunately ended in her favor. In even bigger news, Coors Light made a short film covering her first-ever solo art show at the Liliana Bloch Gallery in Dallas last year.
“Living in Dallas has been very inspiring,” she says. “There are so many amazing artists. Also there is a lot of support for the artist community and so many opportunities.”
Camargo’s other major public works include a mural in front of Serious Pizza in Deep Ellum and “B” and “G” letters near Goodfriend Beer Garden & Burger House, commissioned by Visit Dallas.
Camargo was born in Miami but raised in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, where she later earned a degree in graphic design from El Instituto de Diseño de Caracas. She has spent time in both San Diego and Mexico absorbing art and the English language. But painting is only part-time for the Venezuelan artist. By day, she is a digital art director at Publicis Hawkeye agency in Dallas. In fact, Camargo has been working in advertising for more than 10 years now.
“I have achieved a great balance between my artist and agency life and I have done it due to sacrifice, hard work and passion,” she says. “My experience as art director has influenced and enriched my art work tremendously and the other way around, as well as given me more channels to express my work.”
Growing up, she worshiped the works of Vincent Van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Pablo Picasso, but during adolescence began to identify more with other Venezuelan artists including Rayma Suprani, Armando Reverón and Carlos Cruz-Diez (some of whom she says are featured at the Museum of Geometric and MADI Art in Dallas).
“There is one specific piece or art work that has become the biggest symbol of the ‘Venezuelan Diaspora,'" Camargo says. “That is a Cruz-Diez mosaic art work on the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Venezuela, because almost every Venezuelan that leaves the country through that airport always takes a picture as a way to say goodbye to the country.”
Camargo says all of these artists, experiences and cultures have influenced her work in many different ways.
“To understand me you need to understand my story,” Camargo says. “Coming from such a rough situation to a country filled with endless possibilities has had a strong influence on my work and me. I paint about happiness, about the good things in the world, about being kind and generous, even though sometimes it is so hard to see the good in things.”