Spanning a career of more than eight decades, Luchita Hurtado’s (1920–2020) paintings, drawings, and prints have garnered renewed critical attention within the last several years, with her first survey exhibition opening in 2019. When she was only eight years old, Hurtado immigrated to New York from Venezuela. After high school she studied at the Art Students League of New York, and in the years that followed her work explored a diverse range of styles. Her noted painting series I am, Sky Skin, and Moth Lights were in large part informed by her various environments in Mexico and the Southwest and on the West Coast, where she eventually settled around 1950. In the 1970s she became involved in the women’s movement and the activities of the Woman’s Building in Los Angeles, founded by artist Judy Chicago, graphic designer Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, and art historian Arlene Raven. Moreover, as a member of the Los Angeles Council of Women Artists, Hurtado protested institutional sexism and underrepresentation of women in the art world, paving the way for new coalition-building within the arts. At that time, she also began experimenting with combining language and abstraction to produce “word-subjects” that foregrounded her own subjectivity.
Hurtado’s most recent work demonstrates her abiding commitment to environmental issues and ecofeminism. “I have a responsibility to my world, to my planet,” she asserted. She frequently engaged with political subjects through her use of text and references to natural life cycles, often fusing human forms with imagery of a simplified natural landscape. A marked departure from her earlier smaller-scale, colorful work, this site-specific mural for BAMPFA’s Art Wall commission series is her most monumental painting to date and among the last works she made. Hurtado developed this minimalist composition from a 2016 drawing that delineates the differing strata that compose the earth’s material structure. In essence, she imagined this work as a kind of wake-up call for others to assume responsibility for the planet as well. The wavering handwritten text underscores the imperfect humanity that is an essential part of our ecosystem, and the pared down composition draws attention to the elemental parts that compose the environment.