Storyboard: Maria Rendón

Why am I me?

I used to ask my mother, “Why am I me?” Even as a child, this strange, existential question ate at me. Throughout my creative path, I’ve continually asked myself, am I a craftswoman? An illustrator? An artist?

I was born and raised in Mexico City. As a kid, my schoolmates and I would take field trips to see murals in the city center. One day, a particular mural in the Chapultepec Castle caught my eye. It was done by Juan O’Gorman. He captured major happenings in the history of Mexico through his work.

I remember looking at that mural and thinking, somebody has crafted a story purely from their mind, and it’s right here in front of me. I was only eight or nine years old at the time.

I studied graphic design at Universidad Anáhuac in Mexico City. I had heard through a friend that ArtCenter was doing a presentation about the school somewhere in Mexico City. My friend who ended up attending said that ArtCenter was the best school of its kind in the world, and that anyone who was serious about graphic design or illustration should go there.

I applied to ArtCenter during my third year at Universidad Anáhuac. I didn’t immediately get in, because I didn’t score high enough on my English-language qualification test. Being the stubborn Taurus that I am, I finished my graphic design education in Mexico City, worked freelance for a couple of years, applied to ArtCenter again and was accepted.

When I arrived at ArtCenter, my brain was still mostly fixed on design. However, I was curious about the Illustration Program. I took a communication design class with Hal Frazier, who implored me not to switch from Graphic Design to Illustration. He saw a skill set in me that I wasn’t even aware of at the time.

It comes back to that question of self: Why am I me? My entire career, I’ve been trying to answer that question. Part of the process involves the translation of feelings or psychological concepts into a medium that everyone can comprehend. I still feel like I’m searching for the perfect way to get those ideas across, and I don’t think I’ve “gotten there” yet.

One of the major motifs that fuels my work to this day is the idea of loss. I was married to Dwight Harmon, one of ArtCenter’s most beloved teachers. We were married when he died. Both of my parents have died. I’ve lost work. I’ve lost time. I’m still trying to figure out how to channel the idea of loss into my work without sugarcoating it and also without it coming across as too somber.

My husband, Robert Giaimo (who studied Advertising at ArtCenter), says that when people meet me, they think I’m some calm person who doesn’t get ruffled by things. That’s because it’s all there beneath the surface; there’s turmoil and existential questioning and wondering who I am and why I do what I do. That’s just how I’m wired.

I start every day with exercise and a good meal before I go into the studio at about 11 a.m. or so. I don’t have a computer in the studio. Sometimes I’ll hold on to my cellphone if I need to document the work. Otherwise, I like to limit connection to the outside world. Nothing disrupts my studio time. There is a sanctity to that period alone that I cherish and value deeply.

I’ve always considered ArtCenter a kind of third family. I taught there for about 12 years, teaching students who are both enthusiastic about learning and serious about pushing themselves to the limits of their capability. More than anything, though, ArtCenter implored me to continue asking, why am I me? – that question I’ve been asking nearly my entire life.

And what’s the answer? I guess I’m still trying to figure that out. I may never get there. And you know what? That’s totally fine with me.

Maria Rendón
BFA 92 Illustration

Throughout my creative path, I’ve continually asked myself, am I a craftswoman? An illustrator? An artist?

Maria Rendón
Support ArtCenter

Create possibilities for students at ArtCenter and amplify their impact on the world.