From near-death to masterpiece: Gabriela Leyva's 'Heaven on Earth' unveiled at Oakton College

The artist’s near-death experience inspired the works in the exhibition

Embark on a captivating journey illuminating Gabriela Leyva's artistic odyssey sparked by her profound near-death experience (NDE). The “Heaven on Earth” exhibition, hosted at the Oakton College Koehnline Museum of Art from May 9 through June 28, promises to captivate audiences. Meet the artist at a public reception on May 9 from 5 — 8 p.m.

“We are honored to host Gabriela Leyva's 'Heaven on Earth' exhibition at the Koehnline Museum of Art,” said Nathan Harpaz, Ph.D., manager and curator of the museum. “Leyva's works offer a profound meditation on the nature of existence and the human spirit, inviting viewers to explore the depths of their consciousness.”

In the exhibition, Leyva draws inspiration from a powerful NDE experience she experienced in 2004. After the dramatic event, Leyva made significant adjustments in her life. She quit her business career and became a therapist. She also started to meditate, practice yoga and create art. It was not until 2017, that Leyva shared her NDE openly with friends, clients and family and saw the positive impact her story had on them. She decided to express the feeling of connection with the universe in her paintings.

“Wisdom,” oil on tulle, by Gabriela Leyva. Courtesy of Oakton College

The series featured at Oakton stunningly captures the artist’s yearning to rediscover the connection of heaven on earth. Although several pieces were shown publicly in recent years, the exhibition features the full scope of 11 works spanning from 2018 to 2024.

Leyva draws inspiration from various spiritual teachings, including the wisdom of the Buddha and the insights of contemporary meditation advocates such as Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. Her paintings explore themes of forgiveness, compassion, joy, and integrity, inviting viewers to embark on self-discovery and awakening.

Using a unique combination of oil paint on tulle, Leyva conveys a sense of weightlessness and luminosity in her works, encouraging viewers to contemplate the essence of human connection and the divine.

For information about the Koehnline Museum of Art and its exhibits, please visit

“Joy,” oil on tulle, by Gabriela Leyva. Courtesy of Oakton College

Gabriela Leyva was born in Mexico City and moved to Chicago in 2012. She obtained two master’s degrees in clinical mental health counseling and human development from DePaul University and Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City, respectively.

Leyva is a Gestalt psychotherapist who specializes in working with children and families. She is also certified in positive psychology. By combining her passion for psychology, meditation and art, Leyva helps her clients create a new understanding of themselves and explore their vulnerabilities, fears and strengths through artistic expression. She is certified in mindfulness and meditation under the teachings of Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. She uses meditation as a tool for self-discovery and to connect with the images she paints.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.