Art: ‘Universal Joy’ by Elizabeth Flores Martinez

This piece placed first for high school art submissions in the 2023 Ánimo Voices Writing and Art Competition, which invited students to respond to the open prompt “About Joy” The competition is an opportunity to motivate, recognize, and celebrate our strong student voices through writing, spoken word, and art.

Universal Joy

Screenshot 2023-04-26 at 11.51.15 AM

Artist Statement

The main subject of my piece is myself painting a universe of joy for the viewer to digest. Joy is youthful ignorance and nurturing narratives, and the process of painting led to my discovery of how to forever nurture myself. The repetition of visual metaphors such as unicorn, pegasi, a large jellyfish, and an infinite world of sea creatures, woven in a tapestry of bright comets create unity in the background. Joy is a nostalgic childhood filled with daydreams, fed to us by our guardians. Even though it’s important for us to experience and remember our childhood joy, as teenagers we must learn to nurture and cultivate our joy through the creative process.

It’s clear that joy must remain strong as we grow, represented by the focal point of the piece: an indestructible tree in the foreground, growing from the artist’s efforts. This tree maintains focus because of its size, contrasting values, and the pattern of light purple flowers and dark green leaves. The tree holds a cluster of cats, forever perched, conveying the notion that through creativity we not only can hold onto all that we’ve lost, but through painting and imagining, we can multiply our joy. Joy grows from grief. I had cats in my adolescence, yet most of them only managed to live for two years. But my cats are forever within my tree of nurture, existing not only with myself but shared with my audience. Yes, I am still grieving for my cats, but from a distance they forever give me joy and help me to continue to grow, making me happier and more optimistic. Darkness brings light. This is why the tree is dark, but the light is fighting to break through the sides as the sun rises over the horizon.

Compositionally, the tree’s long expressive lines create visual movement, connecting the joyful valley of unicorns to the imagined universe of clouds and space. The horizon’s contrasting conveys the notion that joy exists where dark and light converge. Joy breaks through when we face grief, loss, and truth. The universe and valley are interconnected through the limited color palette of blue, purple, and intense yellow, establishing additional points of interest such as jellyfish, stars, and horses. Color takes the eye on a joy ride. The sunset brings bright yellow lights and cool blue shadows, establishing atmospheric perspective and clusters of eye candy for the viewer. The large circular universe created through my brush strokes creates joy for the viewer during multiple reads. Moreover, the piece is visual because both universe and valley have visual weight: balanced from the intricate details above and below glowing stars, animals in space, shades of light and dark grass in my valley, as well as fluffy clouds, rough mountains, and implied shading of animals below. The eye is pulled into the valley by a river of change, converging with the artist who is learning to grow.

During a final read we see myself painting on a canvas, and my cats next to me, defining the joy I experience now, as I paint. I want us to think about different moments in our lives that have brought joy to us; current joy, nurture, and self-nurture. It’s interesting that I first started this idea with a simple valley to represent inner peace and my healing, but as I painted I continued to discover infinite joy. I truly hope the audience experiences the joy of nostalgia and inner peace. Each audience member deserves to rest and grow within their own value of joy, underneath a universe constructed by infinite magic.

Elizabeth Flores Martinez



Elizabeth Flores Martinez

11th Grade, Ánimo Jackie Robinson Charter High School 

Guiding Teacher: Rachel Kopera