Pura Cruz is a Puerto Rican feminist artist who grew up in East Harlem but now lives and works on Long Island. Inspired by, among other things, her childhood experiences, her family, New York City, Long Island, Wonder Woman, and feminism, Pura believes that “any painting is a dialogue. You make social and political statements with your work.”
This painting “Native New Yorker” was driven by her love, appreciation and pride for New York. She owes her street smarts and independence to New York City. She thinks it’s important, especially for women, to fend for themselves and live in the city for at least a year. “There’s electricity in Manhattan, there’s just something, especially about the art circle…” Being raised in the city, Pura says, forces one to learn street smarts.
She moved from the city to Long Island in the 1970s because she thought it would be more conducive to raising her three daughters. “I’m happy, but maybe “Native New Yorker” was a way of holding onto the city.” The woman’s face in Native New Yorker features the numbers of all the streets that Pura lived on. “What a beginning I had…I’m so happy with that little picture because I really feel that the city is where I got my roots and I became who I am. I still have the city in me. I always will.”
Pura describes her child-self as a tomboy. “Other kids read Nancy Drew, but I was reading Wonder Woman. Looking back, those comic books had a great influence on me, particularly when it came to the role of women. In the neighborhood I lived, most women, including my mother, were very submissive. I saw this daring woman that could do anything, could stand up to the criminals, who had such power. It moved me, it moved me to the point she became not only my idol, but my mentor.”
Her creative process is spontaneous and organic: “Most artists’ work starts weeks, even years, germinating in their subconscious. Then it bubbles up at the time that you are ready for it…I play with the pencil or brush. I am searching…Sometimes I make happy mistakes. It is gestural. I really don’t have a formula.”
Now, decades later, Pura is rediscovering Wonder Woman through a painting series which she calls “Lost and Found.” She also has an ongoing series of paintings and sculptures, “Broken Guitars”, made from varied materials and found objects, and influenced by her father’s death. As a child, her father, she notes, “helped his family financially by playing a small guitar in Puerto Rico. I wanted to hold on to my heritage and pay tribute to him.” Why “Broken”? Because he’s no longer here.”