Denise Gracias - Faith Based Artist

Denise began to create joyful art early in her life. Crayons in hand, she drew animals, people, trees, flowers, and especially loved drawing stories from the Bible. She was surprised when teachers asked who taught her to draw, or if she practised a lot at home. She won prizes, received commissions from classmates (charging just a dime per piece). She was chosen to paint murals for a school plays. However, it was only when teachers encouraged her to become an artist that she realized this was "a gift" from God.

At times, Denise wishes she had paid heed to the encouragement and advice she received from teachers, but art was not known to be a secure career choice. So, she fell into the sciences and before she knew it, her life went on a very different trajectory.

After receiving a BSc in Psychology and Biology, Denise worked clinical research in the pharma industry, a job that catapulted her into a position to travel all over her native Canada, the USA, Mexico, and Europe. She spent 3 years in Spain and it was here that the direction of her life made some dramatic changes.

Denise describes this experience like this.

“In such an artsy city like Barcelona, with Miro, Gaudi, Picasso, etc., I could not avoid being drawn to how art enhanced an environment. What a nice distraction it be able to enjoy a Miro installation in the middle of the roundabout, while waiting for the traffic lights to change, or driving down Paseo de Gracia, and being in awe of the fairytale-like Gaudi buildings. I realized what a difference art added to my everyday life. However, it went beyond that for me. In my travels, I found myself drawn to art museums, checked out street artists, making purchases that far exceeded the space I had. It became an insatiable endeavour. It never occurred to me that my heart was trying to say something.”

A few months before her departure for home, Denise describes the big moment when she was confronted with her past love.

"While strolling through a street art market near the Gothic cathedral in Barcelona, I saw a watercolour painting that I wanted to buy. I asked the artist, a kind elderly man, how much it cost. Instead of answering, which for a 'starving' artist is odd, he asked if I painted. Puzzled and annoyed, I was about to answer, when I found myself speechless. It's like time stood still in that moment. I could see myself in my childhood, with crayons in hand, creating. I did not buy the painting, nor do I know the name of the artist/angel. But as I prepared to return to home to Toronto for good, I promised myself I would at least explore "my gift"."

Denise kept her promise and upon arriving in Toronto in 2002, she took some recreational art classes with the late Lupe Rodrigo, at the ROM, who provided the tools and guidance to explore a variety of mediums. She took classes at Cedar Ridge Creative Center with the late Jay Dampf, under whom she developed her confidence in using a variety of media.

Dionne Simpson, an established artist, mentor and friend of Denise, encouraged her to apply for exhibitions, shows, grants, residencies etc. Denise followed through and since 2017, has been exhibiting her work in Canada and internationally. She was awarded an Exhibition Assistance grant from the OAC. She completed an artist residency in Prince Edward County, Ontario and Assisi, Italy.

Denise has won a number of awards for her artwork and happily works from her art studio in Scarborough, Ontario.

Is art important?

Can a board with marks convey a message, meaning, a thought, a feeling, or provoke a reaction that speaks to many? Is this a pursuit worth time, resources, money? Is it practical? If so, why? Am I exploiting others for my own benefit, making money of the experiences of others? I continue to struggle with these questions and probably will do so for the rest of my life.

Let me share an experience I had that sometimes makes me feel better about what I do.

In the fall of 2002, I was in Avila, Spain, the last place I visited before returning home from a 3 year work commitment in Barcelona. I had wanted to see the "murallas", or walls. Even though I was Catholic, I did not know who St. Teresa of Avila was. There was a statue of her outside the walls. It was white and she was in her Nun's habit. She was looking up at the sky. I also looked up to the same sky. Something intrinsically changed in me. There seemed to be such a contrast to what (or who) she was looking at, and what I was focussed on in my own life. It was a reality check for me that set me on a journey to rekindle my faith...and love of creating art.

Without going deeper, twenty years later, my Catholic faith has become the center of my life. My life is for the most part focussed on the Sacraments, prayer, teaching catechism. Painting has been the hobby I sneak in when I get time.

I still consider myself a “struggling Catholic artist”. I struggle in so many ways. I enjoy painting so much that I feel guilty if I am painting. To me, its the ultimate be able to choose whatever size canvas or other surface I want, and choose whatever colours I want, and paint whatever subject I want. It is so exciting and liberating. How can this pleasure also be a tool to use for the common good?

I find it overwhelming that there are so many options. I still seem to dabble with various media, and my painting subject matter and styles change. While I know what I am drawn to...namely the Bible, nature, and family, I am still trying to find my niche. Hence, I paint a variety of subjects in a variety of ways experimenting with media, technique etc. While I work mostly in acrylics, I also paint in watercolours, oils, pencils, pencil crayons.