The Immigrant Experience—On Canvas


Brown is the color of warm dirt beneath the feet of children running around the mountaintop village, where people rise earlier than the sun. And, when the sun recedes behind the highest peaks, the brown people blend back into their mud-built homes. This is the vision in the mind of Elmi L. Ventura Mata, the latest artist to be seen at the Maria Neil Art Project, as he approaches his work in the exhibition Marching Ahead Off Beat.

“Since arriving in the United States, I have felt as if I had been thrown into a meat grinder. During this puzzling journey, in pursuit of the ‘American Dream,’ one either prevails as a new person or becomes hamburger meat. Resiliency is necessary for survival—and when participating in the grand tradition of painting.”

Elmi L. Ventura Mata is a Salvadoran-born painter who expresses his experience as an immigrant in the U.S. through the narrative he portrays through form and color. Growing up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Ventura Mata saw art as a means of escaping life in the inner city. This exhibition provides us with a snapshot of the life of an immigrant in the U.S. In today’s political climate, immigrants are seen as either murderers and drug dealers or as hard-working, family-oriented people who hold a vital place in our society. Ventura Mata gives us a chance to see this issue on a very personal level through his intriguing and emotional work.

His paintings are viscerally engaged with the nuanced representation of Latin American people in and outside his adopted country. Figurative painting allows Ventura Mata to weave narratives that spell out the concerns and ideas of his brown brothers and sisters. A limited palette allows viewers to reconfigure their disposition to really meet the people on the canvas.

His American journey has taken him from Boston to New Jersey to Cleveland and, now, Philadelphia. Upon graduating from high school in 2012 with a New Jersey Governor’s Award in Multidisciplinary Art, Ventura Mata enrolled in the Cleveland Institute of Art. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in painting and drawing in 2016, with the Grand Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts from the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio. He currently lives and works in Philadelphia as an MFA fellow at the Tyler School of Art of Temple University.

Changes at Maria Neil

Marching Ahead Off Beat is a perfect metaphor for the next phase of the Maria Neil Art Project. The gallery as you know it will close with this exhibition. The Maria Neil Art Project won’t be going anywhere though. We’re taking a break from maintaining a bricks-and-mortar space. As anyone who has ever run a commercial gallery will tell you, it isn’t the easiest business to be in. However, Adam and I love the work we do and we don’t want to abandon it. Maria Neil will be “popping up” at various places around town with special exhibitions and programs. We intend to continue our mission of showing the work of emerging, underrepresented and little-shown artists, as well as encouraging the collection of local art. We’ll still be selling art, going to fairs and doing what we can to get the art of Cleveland artists into the homes and businesses of collectors everywhere. Oh, and we’ll even come up with a few new surprises too.


Opening Reception 5 – 10pm Friday, September 1

Exhibition and Gallery Closing Reception 5 – 8pm Saturday, October 14


Maria Neil Art Project

15813 Waterloo Road

Cleveland, Ohio 44110