Meet The Artist: The Magic Realism of Cecilia Mendoza
The oversized, hyper-realist depictions of timepieces created by painter Cecilia Mendoza, a.k.a. @ceciliaismyname, first caught our eye on Instagram, where she regularly posts pictures of her work and her process.
There is something dreamlike about this Italian/Argentinian artist’s images, so we should not have been surprised that her horological works were also influenced by one of Argentina’s most celebrated writers, Jorge Luis Borges. Borges was a magic realist, and many of his best-known stories, like the “The Secret Miracle,” deal with themes of time. And like Borges, Mendoza mixes the real and the fantastic.
Most of all, Mendoza’s work leaves us wanting to see more. So Watchonista reached out to her in her current home in Genova to ask more about her art and message.
“I started to draw from a very young age,” Mendoza told me. “At the age of 9, I already made realistic portraits. But I never imagined that I could be an artist. So, I studied law and international commerce in Buenos Aires and worked on things related to this until 2013/14.” At that time, she reread the Borges’ stories and said about the experience, “Something inside me somehow pushed me to start painting.”
Because Borge’s themes include time, the circularity of time, artistic creation, and artistic appropriation as inspiration, she began a project that showed how the writer was inspired by other authors while, at the same time, influencing a new generation of musicians, filmmakers, writers, and painters.
She started with a series of portraits but eventually wanted to explore “time” as a subject. “When I read about Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona, I was amazed by the story,” Cecilia recalled. “After reading and researching more about vintage watches, I realized these timepieces were perfect for working on a series of paintings.”
Mendoza started big: “In this first series, there were only vintage watches on 80 x 80 cm canvases.”
“I like to work with symbolism,” she added. As a result, her idea of using a square format for this series then fragmenting the subject was designed to make the viewer complete the painting by mentally closing the circle of the watch case.
But there is more to the subject than meets the eye.
“In the case of vintage watches, their beauty lies in the fact that they are a window to our past generations, allowing us to be in contact and see what they were looking for, what interests they had, and what points we had in common,” explained Mendoza. “Throughout the history of watchmaking, we can see a constant search for innovation, precision, and utility. Watches evolved according to the different needs of society, and those needs, in turn, were intrinsically related to time.”
Continuing, she said: “I also think it’s beautiful that events or moments in human history are sealed in the design of some vintage timepieces, such as the Cartier Tank design that was inspired by the tanks of the First World War.
“I think they have become more than a tool to measure time; they can make us reflect in many directions and capture different stories from love stories to hero stories like the Moonwatch. They are the perfect muse for an artist.”
Part of Mendoza’s magic is taking micro-mechanics and making them macro. Not just in the physical size of her canvases but also in placing these horological images into a bigger picture.
Of course, the first step in her process is deciding which watch to paint or draw: “I believe in inspiration. That’s why, every day, I go out for a walk in search of colors in the sea or the mountains that I can integrate into my palette.” Then she added, “Whether I use oils or pencils, my color palette changes with the season. I try to put in my artworks the colors I see in my day-to-day.”
Before she figures out size and format, she’ll sketch and make color studies. Although she does commissioned work, most are part of a series of interconnected pieces for exhibition.
Mendoza works mainly with oils in her paintings and drawings, explaining: “Although my work is hyper-realistic, I try to work with different textures and color combinations that offer a different dimension to each artwork.”
We asked Mendoza about the challenges of working with such intricate subjects. In particular, what was the most challenging watch to represent?
“I thought that A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Striking Time was the most difficult watch to draw due to the fonts and different textures of the dial.
“But I’m currently working on a large format drawing of the calibre L951.1, which I’m finding extremely difficult.”
Still, she added, “I’m enjoying every step.”
Finally, as is the case for many artists, social media has become a big part of Mendoza’s message.
We discovered her work through Instagram’s watch fam. And she has also discovered many watch stories through the passionate community of enthusiasts online.
“On one hand, Instagram gives my work more visibility and allows me to connect with the watch community, which I am so grateful for,” Mendoza said. “I have met many amazing people like Anthony from @watchbooksonly and many great watch artists.”
However, she does have a realistic take on the platform: “Instagram has a logarithm, and post visibility depends on a lot of things that I don’t want to focus on. So, I post at my own pace.”
Gallery shows and recommendations from past clients also make up a good deal of Mendoza’s commissions.