By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 8, 2023
ATLANTA—Artist Myrtha Vega sees the handiwork of God in the centuries-old glaciers and icebergs, each as unique as when she paints a person’s hand.
In her latest solo exhibit, wall-sized paintings depict glaciers and icebergs in glorious blues and whites. The artist’s skill with acrylic paint reveals the beauty of the ancient ice formations.
Similarly, she sees the Creator’s work in even the smallest of things. She observes it in the birds and trees in parks and gardens, where she sets up an easel. It cannot escape her when she sits on a train, observes landscapes, architecture and people, and sketches postcards in ink of family trips.
Now in her 90s, the world continues to inspire her to make art.
“The beauty is all over,” said Vega. “It reaches the concrete, you know, you can look at the concrete and see where it’s worn out and all that and you can see art.”
Vega discovered her passion for painting later in life, finding fulfillment beyond her work as an architect. Her style developed over time, starting with realistic portraits and evolving into a more imaginative approach.
One of her touches is to paint landscapes without the color green. Georgia has so much green it becomes boring for her, so she portrays landscapes in vibrant reds and oranges. She said the goal is to create lively paintings expressing feelings, not just copy a landscape.
“I wanted to see autumn in the summer with all the colors, you know, the fall colors in the summer all year round,” she said.
Her latest solo show was at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Georgia, called “Selected Glaciers and Icebergs.” She had a showing there three years ago as part of its “Celebrating Georgia Artists of Hispanic/Latin Origin.” Her next scheduled exhibit is of the glaciers and a retrospective in May 2024.
Spreading her wings
Growing up in an artistic family in Cuba, Vega was influenced by her mother and aunts’ creative talents in sewing, baking and other pursuits. She studied architecture at Havana University but fled her native country for safety in her 20s during the political turmoil of the 1960s. Upon arriving in the U.S., she took jobs in Florida before a scholarship allowed her advanced study of architecture at the University of Michigan. After earning her master’s degree, she worked at the World’s Fair in Montreal, Canada, in 1967. She pursued a career as a landscape architect and interiors architect.
Vega and her husband, Richard, an attorney, raised three children after moving to the Atlanta area in 1973. The Vega children attended Immaculate Heart of Mary School and Marist School.
Later, she took evening art classes as her children grew and developed her painting. She enrolled at Georgia State University to further study art. In 1991, Vega started exhibiting her work in local galleries and alternative spaces. This marked the beginning of her professional art career.
“It was creative the same way architecture was because I love design. But this was with colors and also the freedom to do what I want without having to please a client,” said Vega. “I kind of spread my wings, doing different things.”
Her studio fills the basement of her midcentury ranch home, close to DeKalb County’s Lakeside High School. It is a time capsule of her close to 30 years of art. Her methods are acrylic and mixed media. She draws almost daily with pen and ink and keeps a sketch book with her.
The paintings cover the walls, while scores of others rest on the floor, tucked away. Tubes of acrylic paint sit nearby, along with buckets holding dozens of paintbrushes. Vega said she must work to keep her workspace clean, or the messiness is distracting. Nodding to her age, Vega now sits and props the painting on a desk when working.
Vega wants her glacier series to testify to these landscapes existing, as many glaciers are shrinking with climate change. In starting her work, she researched glaciers, including a cruise to Alaska, where she stood in the bracing cold to see the works of nature.
She said the paintings are not to make a scientific statement but to be signposts for posterity.
“Well, when I’m gone, and the glaciers and icebergs start disappearing, my paintings will be there, will be the testimony that these living entities were here because my paintings are here,” said Vega.
Faith is intertwined with her art. She believes her painting is a gift and a calling from God. Her family are longtime members of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, where some of her work is on loan to adorn parish office walls. For years, she was the art director at the parish’s annual Hispanic Festival.
Painting can seem like a spiritual experience, she said.
“I just want to paint them because I think they are beautiful, and I think it’s a gift because sometimes I’m painting and, and I just pray.”
She would feel like a disappointment if she did not nurture these God-given talents. If she starts to feel her work is too frivolous considering the issues facing the world, friends from Bible study remind Vega her vocation is to paint so others feel inspired to look at the world.
“It’s a gift that I received from above,” she said. “I’m not thinking that I’m important or anything like that. I’m just acting upon the gift that I have received. It’s almost like an obligation.”