From Art

The Dancing Bear

I’ve never seen a bear dance, though I have seen one stand and sway in front of a sliding glass door. Standing on the other side of the glass, I wondered who was more curious. I knew that I was the more scared of the two of us only because the encounter wasn’t my idea, but the bear’s. It wouldn’t occur to me to get that close to a bear, but the bear decided to get that close to me.

After a few more sways side to side and then putting his paws on the glass to shield his eyes as he pressed his head against the window for a better view (he knew what he was doing), he dropped to all fours and ambled away.

Eventually, Fish and Game trapped him and moved him. I hope he lived a long and happy life. Despite his personal power, we humans are the apex predator of this planet, so I have my doubts.

That was many years ago but I still think of that bear from time to time. His eyes had a sentient and soulful quality. I titled this piece, “The Dancing Bear,”   because of his sway. I think of him as only dancing to the beat of his own drum. 

Title: The Dancing Bear

Size: Aprox 10” x 20” (check with gallery for accurate measurements)

Medium: Acrylic, pencil and charcoal on wood panel with resin

Price: please contact Terzian Gallery

Host Gallery: Terzian Gallery, Park City, Utah. (435) 649-4927

Native American Indian Man

Native American Indian Portrait of My Father

Ravens, crows, blackbirds and bats vie with each other over the central figure of an Indian man entwined into place with an enmeshment of red branches over everything. A shed horn floating above his heart symbolizes renewal, sexuality and regeneration. The red branches hold life in a particular time and space with gaps offering escape for the soul, not the body.

The flying birds and bats are creatures of the night and the day, each one a representation of one of my father’s children. No bird or bat correlates to any particular child, but to the cacophony of children he fathered. His parenting was solid at times and sporadic at other times, never consistent.

He ran from the depths of intimacy and connection that parenting offers a man, inadvertently running from himself as the decades proceeded. His children flew in every direction to seek him, sometimes waiting in the dark spaces, sometimes soaring indiscriminately towards him.

“This beach boy took one look at those men with snakes and ran,” said my late father, Joaquin Acosta, when he told me the story of escaping from his Native American male initiation ceremony in the early 1940’s. Though his mother, Catalina Ortiz, was half Native American, this fact was a secret by the time she had us grandchildren visiting her coastal home in Playa del Rey, California

During the summer he was about 14 years old in 1943, my grandmother sent my father on a train back to the remnants of her family’s ranch in Ortiz, Colorado, near the Four Corners area of the American Southwest. The final train line, the Columbres & Toltec, ending in Antonito, a few miles from Ortiz, Colorado is now a tourist attraction.

While there, he was taken to participate in his male initiation ceremony. I’m not sure of the tribe – it could have been Zuni, Hopi or Dine, he was vague about the tribe. He was entirely clear about his run.

“I ran for miles in the night until I got back to my grandparents place,” he said.

About five years later, after his death in 2004, I was sorting through his papers and found an old black and white photo of the Ortiz countryside with his handwriting on the back – “I ran” read the inscription to his mother.

In a certain sense, my father kept running the rest of his life. He didn’t run from rich life experiences or hard work, both of which he faced with a huge zest for life and overwhelming charisma. He ran from a type of accountability – the accountability he had towards his own true nature.

By the 1970’s he held executive positions in Southern California institutions and was completely enmeshed in striving to live a successful life. Part of that striving included denying his Native American Indian culture, something he commented on years later.

“I was born in 1929,” he said, “it (life) was hard enough that people thought I was a Mexican, I sure and the hell wasn’t going to tell them that I was Indian, too.”

Though it is easy from my contemporary perspective to comment on the sadness of his decisions or to judge him negatively, the reality is that I was never able to walk a mile in his moccasins, wingtips or flip-flops. He is past and his actions can only be seen from many different viewpoints, none of which involve him directly. Some of those viewpoints may even be true. We can never really know.

This is a painting about a piece of this aspect of my family history and experiences.

Title: My Father with His Children

Original Painting Size: 36” x 36”

Medium: Mixed Media Acrylic & Resin on Wood Panel

Date Completed: 2016

About the Artist: Cristina Acosta is a painter, writer and designer born in Los Angeles. She’s a nature girl who has lived in the mountains and ranch lands of Oregon and the desert and beaches of California.

Bears in Love, ©Cristina Acosta, 36" x 36", mixed media on wood panel

Galleries Representing Artist Cristina Acosta

Thank you to the beautiful art galleries representing my original paintings. If you see an image on this website and you’d like to see it in person, and you live near any of the art galleries listed below, they can order it for you subject to availability, or commission a piece just for you.

If you do not live near a gallery, you and/or your interior designer or architect can order directly.

Size is no object for commission pieces. As a former billboard mural and lettering artist, back in the day when those billboard signs were hand painted,  I painted 12′ tall by 24′ long outdoor billboard paintings forty hours per week. I am very comfortable creating institutional and corporate large to mural-size painting and would love to work with you.

Galleries Representing Cristina Acosta

The Grand Teton Gallery, Jackson, Wyoming:

Terzian Galleries, Park City, Utah:

Alpine Home, Tahoe City, California

Northwest by Northwest Gallery, Cannon Beach, Oregon:

Spirit Gallery (and home furnishings), Truckee, California:

Bellatora Jewelry & Art Gallery, Truckee, California:

Galleries representing artist Cristina Acosta are independent and locally owned. 

Triptych of "Young Bear and Birds" by Cristina Acosta.

New Bear Paintings

I’ve been obsessed with painting bears this year. When I was a young teenager, a black bear regularly visited our mountain home, eating the dog’s food on the back deck. The bear was trapped and relocated as it had became too comfortable with us human neighbors.

"Spring Awakening" by ©Cristina Acosta
“Spring Awakening” by ©Cristina Acosta

And our careless human ways with food and trash were corrupting the bear. One morning it leaned up against the sliding glass door enough that the frame bent in towards the house. It stood down before there was any breakage. Recalling sitting in the living room and looking up to see a black bear’s belly pushed against the sliding glass door lodged in my mind as an iconic memory.

Since that time I’ve seen bears occasionally in my travels and outdoor activities. They always fascinate and frighten me when I’ve been close to them. The times I was close enough to look into the eyes of the wild bear I felt I was seeing into another universe.

These new paintings play with those memories. The space of the painting is mostly in two layers: a surface layer that is flat and the other visual layer that the figure of the bear occupies is one-dimensionally painted.  As much as I like the visual and intellectual play of space, the metaphorical meaning is my motivation to paint the bears with this interplay of visual space. The sensation of two universes separating our beings, two types of understanding that we as humans can only imagine.


Contemporary Hispanic art Guadalupe by Cristina Acosta

Contemporary Hispanic Spiritual Religious Art

Contemporary Hispanic retablos are altars that celebrate the North American madonnas of La Conquistadora and the Guadalupe and others that Cristina creates with precious metals, beeswax, oil paint and 22kt gold glazed antique ceramic mosaic on antique wood panels.

Retablos range from 18″ tall to over 52″ tall.

Artist Statement:This religious art is my expression of spirit, ancestral family and of my faith in creation. Raised within the traditions of Catholicism, I’ve created these retablos (altars) to explore the archetypal sacred feminine in the form of the Marion figures that blend the European image of Mary with the Native American Indigenous female creations figures. I do this by presenting the traditional madonnas of La Conquistadora and La Guadalupe with American Indian symbols. As I am a blend of Spanish, Native American and Anglo, creating Marian figures that represent this blend of cultures naturally flows from me. I’ve been making altars for over 30 years and consider them a visual rendition of my spiritual practice. When I paint them, I meditate on aspects of the divine and let the image change and flow as my inspiration moves my hands.

These contemporary Hispanic retablos are part of the traditional lineage of all of my ancestors. Because I work from traditions rather than repeat them exactly, these retablos fit into a concept that is the New Mexican Spanish tradition of the ex-voto. An ex-voto is a tradition of creating an image to commemorate life’s blessing with an altar sharing the blessing. My expression of the divine feminine is my way to express my gratitude for the blessings of life.

La Conquistadora with Dine Spider Woman and Puebloan Corn Maiden by ©Cristina Acosta
La Conquistadora with Dine Spider Woman and Puebloan Corn Maiden by ©Cristina Acosta
Guadalupe with Crown - The World is Her Heart
Running Mediation - The Feminine Divine by ©Cristina Acosta
Guadalupe with a Tear by ©Cristina Acosta
Our Lady of Czestochowa by ©Cristina Acosta
Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta by ©Cristina Acosta
La Sirena Azul The Blue Mermaid by ©Cristina Acosta
Guadalupe by Cristina Acosta
Guadalupe with Child by ©Cristina Acosta
La Sirena Verde The Green Mermaid by ©Cristina Acosta
Eve and the Tree of Knowledge by ©Cristina Acosta
Conquistadora at the Center of the Universe by ©Cristina Acosta
Our Lady of the Winter Snows by ©Cristina Acosta



California State Bear Flag paintings by Cristina Acosta

2015 New Paintings of Animals and Plants

Woodland Series: Mama Bear and Cub with Crows
Woodland Series Raccoons by Cristina Acosta
Desert Series: Desert Tortoise with Prickly Pear triptych
Desert Series: Jack Rabbit and Ocotillo by ©Cristina Acosta
California Series Desert Bighorn Sheep
Woodland Series: Chickadee by Cristina Acosta
Woodland Series - Bird by Cristina Acosta
Ocean Series: Otter with Sea Star by Cristina Acosta
California State Bear Flag paintings by Cristina Acosta

A lifetime spent living with nature in the mountains or coast has come to full circle when I moved to the Southern California desert this year. Inspired by the three West Coast climate zones that have nurtured my life, my new series of paintings is divided into three themes: Desert, Woodland and Coastal.

In the same way that the past and contemporary segments of my life all fit together to form today, I’ve designed these paintings to all fit together. Like tiles on a backsplash, the similar sizes and shapes of the paintings and the color palette choices encourage many different paintings to be put together. A 2′ or 3′ square painting can become a mural that could fill an entire wall! If your wall is not terribly big, you may want to mix a few 12″ wide paintings into the mix and create diptychs and triptychs.

When I look at these paintings I see things from my past experiences: years in my tile business, my experience as a billboard mural painter; years of drawing every animal that walked onto my old ranch in Oregon; years of nordic ski racing, stand up paddling on rivers, lakes and ocean, and horseback riding. Put them all together and they add up to these paintings. They flowed out of me so easily that I made 43 of them this past year and realized I had a new series.



California Series Desert Bighorn Sheep

The Desert Sun, Palm Springs Artist Series

Marilyn Chung and Rosalie Murphy, journalists with the Desert Sun in Palm Springs, California, put together a wonderful series  of videos and articles about artists in Palm Springs. The writing and videography is lovely and I feel so grateful as well as a bit flattered to be part of the series.

Last week, the Desert Sun featured artist Tolley Marney, a steel sculptor. On the roster are: Terry Masters, a plein aire landscape oil painter whose masterful paintings of the urban and natural desert landscape are breathtaking; and Rose Rosendo, a feminist mid-century modern artist who came of age in the 1960’s, and me – Cristina Acosta. It’s a wonderful series introducing Coachella Valley, California, readers to the variety of local artists.

Mid-life and older artists have lived a commitment to the physical and spiritual practice of creation across decades. Artistic and career success comes and goes on a variety of levels, but the commitment to engage with the world through art continues despite the changes within our minds and hearts and the world around us as time ticks by. I am so blessed to know so many artists and writers and to have lived a life in their presence.

Check out the Desert Sun newspaper. And thank you.


Contemporary Hispanic market art La Conquistadora with Dine Spider Woman and Puebloan Corn Maiden by ©Cristina Acosta

La Conquistadora New Book by Amy Remensnyder Features Acosta’s Retablo of La Conquistadora – Dine Spider Woman – Puebloan Corn Maiden

Passion for the subject of the Virgin Mary as La Conquistadora supported by scholarly discipline and historical clarity makes Amy G. Remensnyder’s new book, La Conquistadora – The Virgin Mary at War and Peace in the Old and New Worlds, the current masterpiece and go-to book on the subject of La Conquistadora, New Mexico’s patroness and the oldest Marian figure in the United States.

Here’s an excerpt from Remensnyder’s Introduction:

La Conquistadora by Amy Remensnyder book
La Conquistadora by Amy Remensnyder book with Cristina Acosta image of Conquistadora

“This exploration of the passions that Mary aroused centuries ago is written in the hopes that modern historian, as well as people of other faiths or of no faith, might better understand historical circumstances in which people of diverse cultures and religions lived in proximity It asks how the language of the sacred could both underscore potential differences between people and help to smooth out those very differences. While the answers of men and women of the past bear the stamp of their times and places, there is much to be learned from their successes and failures, for these same questions starkly face our own world.”

I came in contact with Amy Remensnyder when she researching her La Conquistadora book. She had found my retablo titled, La Conquistadora / Dine Spider Woman / Puebloan Corn Maiden and contacted me regarding my inspiration and intent creating the image. The image is on page 367 of her book, La Conquistadora – The Virgin Mary at War and Peace in the Old and New Worlds. 

Remensnyder also included selected passages of our interview. Here’s an excerpt:

“…..For a bold contemporary artist like Acosta, she offers a space for thinking about genealogical mestizaje. 

Acosta explains that her own ancestors “were among the original Spanish colonist in the Southwest.” She even grew up hearing her grandmother “continually claim to be pure Spanish.” But Acosta confesses that she has come to regard her grandmother’s words with skepticism. She describes something that she says her grandmother new well: her grandmother’s sone – Acosta’s own father  ‘ “made Indian regalia” and would dance the  “old dances.” It was in memory of her father, a man who danced in Indian dress yet was the son of a woman who boasted undiluted Spanish blood, that Acosta created her Conquistadora…..”

There is more. During the ensuing time since our interview, family members did DNA tests and confirmed: my grandmother was half American Indian. I feel like that intuitive knowledge informed all of my life. My conviction at the age of 5 that I was an Indian (I was just sure of it) was finally confirmed. But I did not paint my image of La Conquistadora from confirmed facts and historical accuracy, I painted her from my intuitive self and my sense that this Marian figure needs to have an image of her created that melds the American Indian female sacred figures with the Spanish (European) Marian figure into a vision of parity. That parity that I feel in my blood regardless of the “blood quantum” restrictions and perceptions that are used to justify behavior.

I highly recommend this book, it is wonderful:

La Conquistadora – the Virgin Mary at War and Peace in the Old and New Worlds, by Amy G. Remensnyder, Oxford University Press, ©2014, ISBN 978-0-19-989298-3,  978-0-19-989300-3


Paint Happy by Cristina Acosta

Paint Happy! Learn to Paint Art Book by Cristina Acosta

Learn to paint with acrylics and draw with the ease of a child, regardless of your age and experience with my book, Paint Happy! It’s been years since North Light Books published it in 2002 and again in 2004. You can still find copies on Amazon. Painting is an old craft, therefore despite changes in materials available, many of the techniques used today are similar to painting and drawing techniques human-kind has used for thousands of years. So — Paint Happy! is  still relevant. Yea! It’s also makes learning to paint fun and easy to start. Making art is a spiritual practice as well as a physical activity, so it won’t always be easy. I’m not going to lie. It can be a schlep. It’s been both for me – easy and flowing as well as tedious, scary and frustrating. Overall, it’s the joy of my life.

Are you encouraged to paint?  Here’s the introduction from my book, Paint Happy! My daughter is now in college and we are both making art. Life has been good.


Paint Happy! Introduction by Cristina Acosta:

I painted for many years before I realized that I was chasing a myth. Somewhere along the way, I came to believe that to become a good artist, I needed to acquire an ever increasing knowledge of methods and techniques. My attention to technique garnered me a job as the production artist for a billboard company.

After a couple of years painting billboards, I could copy any image given to me in any style, from simple cartoons to photo-realism. By that time, the holy grail of technique seemed disappointingly empty. I had given nearly all of my attention to developing the skill to paint whatever I wanted and very little attention to discovering what I really wanted to paint.

For a few years, I taught college drawing and painting classes. While the students gained “the basics” I noticed that for most of them, consistent academic study didn’t seem to encourage innate joy and enthusiasm for painting. I knew that if I didn’t teach any basics my students would be adrift, eventually becoming frustrated by their lack of ability to correctly mix the colors they needed or to understand what they saw in a painting. I thought that there must be some way to teach artistic skills without getting in the way of a student’s unique vision of the world.

Surprisingly, my epiphany came with the experience of motherhood. By the time my daughter, Isabella, was eighteen months old, she was painting every day with me. Watching her, I couldn’t help but notice that her experience of painting was entirely different form mine. She painted with complete abandon. She was never hard on herself. In fact, when she finished a painting that she really liked, she’d put her brush down and clap and cheer! If she didn’t like, it, she quickly pushed it aside and moved on! She never tried to paint like anyone else (especially her mother!).
Whenever Isabella finished a painting, she would show it to me. I’d look at the piece and very clearly tell her what I admired about it. Her natural style of learning augmented with my minimal positive insights enabled her to learn quickly and define her won style.
During Isabella’s toddler years, I was so inspired by her obvious happiness while creating that I decided to take an hour or so each day and paint in the same fashion. The more I opened my mind to painting with the attitude of a child–albeit a very “experienced” child! – the more my work evolved. Within a few months, my style of painting had completely changed. My work flowed so naturally that the images seemed to paint themselves. I became passionately excited to rediscover that creating could be so simple. My images reflected my joy, and “paint happy” was born! Learning to paint happy was the key that opened my creative soul.
Whether you’re a new painter or an experienced artist looking for new energy in your work, you will enjoy learning to paint happy. My book guides you to connect with your playful inner spirit while you learn the basics needed to become technically proficient.
I don’t intend for you to permanently paint images in my style. My style is the result of my particular life experiences. You may wish to copy my exercises as closely as possible, then taking what you’ve learned, immediately create an image of your own. With practice, your innate sense of design and personal style will develop.

So open this book and enter a world of color. Follow along with your paintbrush in hand, and chapter by chapter the beauty of the world around you and within you will be revealed through your painting.
Enjoy and Happy Creating,


Paint Happy is out of print. Used copies of Paint Happy by Cristina Acosta are available on Amazon

  • Paperback: 110 pages
  • Publisher: North Light Books; 2 editions (August 2002) (2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1581801181
  • ISBN-13: 978-1581801187
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 8.5 x 0.4 inches
Cristina Acosta Drawing Charcoal Mural on Paper

Drawing is the Foundation of My Art and My Bellwether

“Drawing is the foundation of painting,” goes the traditional spiel. I’ve always loved drawing and I am the type of artist that keeps the drawing part of a painting going for a long time, often drawing back into paintings as I go.

During the three decades I’ve been an artist, my style has varied, but every style is marked with drawing. Drawing is present in my current Woodland series: Incised marks run through the paint or on the layers of resin. My Paint Happy series is alternating layers of acrylic painting with gestural lines of hard pastel. The oil painted passages of my Madonna Retablos series are also incised with drawing.

Pen portrait of Tripp by Cristina Acosta
Pen portrait of Tripp by ©Cristina Acosta

Across the years and styles I’ve developed, drawing has been a consistent presence in my work. I used to draw constantly, carrying a little notebook everywhere I went. That habit has ebbed as I’ve focused on the craft of writing. So now the little notebook I still carry with me is crowded with notes and not much in the way of drawings.

When I first noticed the trend from graphic to words in my notebook I took note. The drawings became less and less and most of the lines I made twisted into the shapes of letters. It’s been like this for few years.

5 min Gesture Sketch Bellydancers by Cristina Acosta
5 min Gesture Sketch Bellydancers by Cristina Acosta©

Just this summer it started to shift back a little when I started focusing on painting again. Drawing as a process is my bellwether. It shows me my shifts in focus and interests often before those shifts have reached my conscious mind.