BY MICHELLE PAYER | PHOTO: AARON LURIE
Yvonne Pfeiffer is living proof that women can have—and do—it all. Meet the native Guatemalan and world traveler whose paintings represent her passion and her sisterly connection to all women of the world.
Artist Yvonne Recinos Pfeiffer is hard-pressed to describe herself in a mere few words. Like many artists, she is an amalgam of contradictions, expectations and the childhood experiences she had growing up in Guatemala, a place she describes as a “Third World nation” and “one of the most illiterate countries in the Americas.”
“I don’t know how to answer that question of ‘Who are you?’” says Pfeiffer. “I am so many things,” she explains. “I am family; I am nature; I am art.” The word “executive” isn’t mentioned in the description, although she aspired to reach top business echelons since youth and has been an executive most of her adult life. The exotic, petite artist is much like a superhero: disguised in an elegant brocade blazer by day; the rare woman in a male-dominated field; and a senior vice president at a global risk and insurance brokerage firm who sheds her daily corporate armor and transforms by night into smock, vibrant colors and pastel chalk to immerse herself in art.
Although Pfeiffer is self-taught, her talent is proof that family genes are strong. Her uncle, Efrain Recinos, is considered a national treasure in their native Guatemala as a muralist, sculptor, engineer and architect.
With a genetic predisposition toward visual art, Pfeiffer naturally drew as a child and won a few local competitions; however, a product of divorce made an arts vocation too unstable for her mother’s taste. “When I broached the subject of an art career, my mother said, ‘Do you want to starve?’” recalls Pfeiffer. “She asked herself, how can I change the direction of Yvonne’s life to break the cycle of women in Guatemala and make sure my daughter is successful and independent?” Thus, as with many children of immigrants, began an unceasing pressure to study, progress and defy stereotypes. The expectation became the young Pfeiffer’s personal mission, leading to academic accolades and culminating in her becoming one of only seven recipients in Guatemala to receive a Fulbright Scholarship to attend Missouri’s St. Louis University.
Art may have taken back seat, but Pfeiffer’s visit to her first “real museum” at St. Louis University awoke her artistic passion. It was the first time she saw Monet’s Water Lilies and it became one of her favorite haunts. “At 22, I discovered impressionist art; I began drawing again and finding little outlets to practice my art,” she says. Still, her trajectory was set in global risk and she was on an upward path with the firm.
Fueled by the passion of what she had discovered at St. Louis University, Pfeiffer visited every international museum while on business in Florence, Rome, Paris, London, Vienna, Milan and Madrid. She drew and experimented further, but with a high-power career, a husband she met at university, and children born in rapid succession, it fell farther down the priority list. Yet, when her husband accepted a job offer in Puerto Rico, Pfeiffer decided it was time to explore art full-time. She studied, visited museums, followed curators, took creative painting classes and wrote about the great masters she had seen in Europe. She obtained her master’s degree in art history from California State University and started to explore with acrylics, drawing her favorite subjects: faces and the human form, which continues today. When the family returned to South Florida, Pfeiffer dove headlong into art, accepting commissions, showing at galleries and developing the pastel style she calls “magical realism,” with a focus on the human figure and capturing the essence of Latin American culture.
One theme is The Year of the Bee. “The central idea is to bring forth the idea of the importance of bees in the lives of human beings, as creators of flowers, fruits, honey and this association with women as having the fruit of life in humanity,” says Pfeiffer. “This puts women like a flower; it is an invisible chain that binds the action of bees as saviors of the world and cross-pollinates women—flowers—for the fertilization of life,” she says.
In her Skeleton Series, each woman has a piece of her skeleton exposed that “reminds us of the shortness of our life and the steps we take toward the end of our journey,” says Pfeiffer. One figure has her trachea exposed symbolizing her inability to speak. The piece with Frida Kahlo has the legendary artist holding her heart in her hands “because that is what we do as women,” explains Pfeiffer. Others in the series represent passion, loss and loneliness. “Most of my art is connected to women, our contribution to the world, and statements of what we can and cannot do,” says the business executive/artist. “We have a lot of history to tell.”