Posts in Making Art
Studio Sunday: Karen Navarro

Our Studio Sunday interview this week highlights the work of photographer Karen Navarro. Learn more about what inspires her colorful, figurative images, her creative process, and the motto that keeps her going in tough times! You can also view two of Karen’s works in ‘Faces & Figures’, a group exhibition presented by PxP Contemporary.


With a background in fashion design, Argentina-born artist, Karen Navarro, works with a highly stylized aesthetic in a diverse array of mediums that includes photography, collage, and sculpture. Her constructed portraits, as she describes it herself, are known for the use of color theory, surreal scenes and minimalist details. Navarro’s work expresses self-referential questions that connect in a much larger scale to ideas of construction of identity, societal expectations and the understanding of the being; prompting a discourse about the subconscious will to comply with the contemporary societies' canons when these are in fact misleading. Similarly, Navarro explores in her work femininity as a cultural construct.

Navarro has lived in Houston since 2014 where she completed the certificate program in photography at the Houston Center for Photography. In 2018, Navarro was awarded a scholarship at the Glassell School of Art | The Museum of Fine Art Houston where she studied analog photography. Most recently, she received the Artadia fellowship in 2019.

Navarro's work has been exhibited in the US and abroad. Her most recent shows include ones at the Elisabet Ney Museum in Austin, TX (2019), Presa House Gallery in San Antonio, TX (2019), Melkweg in Amsterdam, The Netherlands (2019), Museo de la Reconquista in Tigre, Argentina (2018), The Union in Houston, TX (2018), and Houston Center for Photography in Houston, TX (2018).


Driven by an insatiable curiosity about understanding the self and the resulting human behaviors shaped by social norms. Furthermore, understanding the role of social norms in the construction of personal and social identity, my work seeks answers and proposes questions that may not yet have a predetermined answer.

Through the use of color theory, surreal scenes and minimalist details, the constructed portraits, as I like to call them, recreate a character that usually doesn’t have an identity. My photo process blurs those lines of identity by disguising, hiding and covering the faces. In the performative photographs, often times, the characters are isolated in a serene environment. I believe photography allows me the expression of self-referential questions. By expressing personal worries, my work appeals to connect these ideas to a much larger scale of ideas of construction of identity, societal expectations and the understanding of the being; prompting a discourse about the subconscious will to comply with the contemporary societies' canons when these are in fact misleading.

When did you first become interested in art? 

I first became interested in art while doing a photography assignment for an art class in high school. But I would say that I grew up surrounded by an artistic environment, my grandmother was a dressmaker and my grandfather, who I didn't get the chance to meet, liked to draw. I remember spending my childhood days with my grandmother in her atelier. And, I think that was what led me to study fashion design and then photography. My fashion design training had a strong art program. I gained a general overview of art and history but it wasn't until I came to Houston that I started to get more interested in the contemporary art world and the art scene.

Tell us about what inspires you creatively.

My inspiration comes from different sources. Color, lighting and shadow from the everyday can inspire a mood. I usually use these moods to approach new artwork and link it to philosophical ideas, self-referential questions, or something else in what I believe in and I want to share. Looking at artwork and specially from the Surrealist, Renaissance and Cubist periods brings a lot of inspiration. I'm interested in the concept of identity so I explore it in many different ways. Photography for me is about creating conversations, making relevant a topic that may be only relevant for me. It's about inviting people to question along with me. My work doesn't offer answers because I don't believe in absolute truths. And, in the in-between of this dichotomy of not believing in absolute truths and having an opinion at the same time is where I position myself every time I approach a new body of work. Inviting you, seducing you through a highly stylized image to reflect on topics that may challenge our social notions.

What is your process like?  

Usually, everything starts on the sketchbook, then I pay a visit to the warehouse to buy some painting to paint the backdrop wall. After that I go to the thrift store to get some clothing and some props to prepare for the photo shoot. In my performative photographs I create characters, for this reason I meticulously arrange the elements in the scene. Although, while in the photo shoots I allow myself to get creative and try new things, I don't stick entirely to the sketchbook. 

Since my work is evolving and I am working on new mediums, like collages and soon sculpture, my process changes according to the work I am doing. For example in my last series of collages "El Pertenecer en Tiempos Modernos"  I added laser-cutting, 3-D printing, and embossing.

Describe your current studio space. What is most important about it or one thing that you can’t live without in your work area?

I like to call my studio ‘big white box’. I love the high ceilings and how airy it is. Natural lighting is something I can't live without. My studio has small window that faces the top of a tree. I enjoy looking at the the wind blowing the tree with the sky on the background. During the mornings the sunlight is very beautiful. For me, my studio is my sacred temple, everything has to be in order and be very minimal for me to be able to concentrate.


What is one piece of advice that has stuck with you or a quote that you think is especially meaningful?

My motto is from a Spanish saying, Persevera y triufarás, which translated literally into the English language means Persevere and you will Triumph. If at first you don't succeed, try and try again. 

Are there any exciting exhibitions, projects, or collaborations going on this year that you’re currently working on or will be soon?

Yes! There are two things I‘m very excited to share. I'm currently working on some sculptures that explore the notion of body and beauty. It’s an extension of my body of work “Soft Objects”. I’m currently at the first stage, but am very excited about it!

I’m also organizing and co-curating a show called “Alternate Pathways”. The show celebrates Houston’s cultural diversity and has received a grant from the city. The show opens on October 19th 6-8 PM at 2315 Union St, Houston, TX 77007⁣⁣. 

Artist Feature: Nelly Tsyrlin

Create! Magazine is pleased to introduce the work of abstract and figurative artist Nelly Tsyrlin. After graduating from York University with a Bachelor of Arts, Nelly continued her studies in classical painting at the Repin Academy of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Although at first glance her style of work may seem anything but academic, she actively employs all the pillars of a traditional art education, with an emphasis on color, harmony, and drawing.


I work in short series inspired by both profound and mundane experiences. My artwork is created by painting on glass and transferring the imprint to paper using a technique called Monotype. Each artwork is original and utterly unique. Each mark placed on paper is permanent, leaving no room for error and creating a sense of intimacy and exploration. My work is often spontaneous. It is not pre-sketched or designed. I find that without strict boundaries I am able to create a finished product that is truly honest.

We’re excited to hear about your new series! What can you tell us about ‘Compositions in Color’?

The following images are selections from a body of recent works created over the course of 2019 mainly as conversations in color. My theme color is Payne’s gray - I love it because it is neither blue nor black and yet it is both. I love to wear it and I love to work with it as its temperature is cool enough to compliment any warm and bright color on the color wheel, such as hot pink or my other favorite, Indian yellow. In addition, it always works equally well with neutrals like raw sienna and yellow ochre.

Learn more about Nelly’s work by visiting her website or following her on Instagram!

Photographs of the artist by Daria Perev.

Studio Sunday: Curtis Anthony Bozif

We have an exciting Studio Sunday interview this week with Curtis Anthony Bozif! He is a Chicago based artist who has a solo exhibition of new works currently on view at the Evanston Art Center. The show opened on August 17th and will run through September 22nd.

Find more of his art on his website or on Instagram @curtisanthonybozif

We are pleased to have featured you in one of our previous issues, but you've got some new things going on now to share. How has your work developed in the last few years? What are you creating now? 

I think my work has undergone a kind of distilling since last we spoke. A simple observation would be that the paintings have become more monochromatic and less compositional; more textured and less graphic. I’m focused on building surfaces and less concerned with what I’d call picture making. To this end, I’ve been using a lot of metallic and iridescent colors. They have a sheen to them that accentuates the texture and surface of a painting; its physicality. Metallic and iridescent colors  shimmer. This causes the appearance of a painting to change relative to where you’re standing when you look at it. As you move around, the angle at which the surface absorbs or reflects light changes; the color shifts. A certain part of a painting may be obscured by a bright reflection while another part may appear to fall into shadow. In a sense, this kind of painting is hard to see. It’s hard to know. 

What kind of studio space are you working in? What is important for you to have in it? 

My wife and I recently moved into a new place here in Chicago. I now have a whole room dedicated to my studio. Definitely the most important thing for me to have in it is space. Because I make relatively large paintings, I need to be able to step back and see the whole thing at once. I also need to be able to move around and see it from different distances and from different perspectives. When a painting gives me trouble, this has always proved helpful; looking at it from a different perspective. Sometimes the hardest way to see a painting is to look at it head on.

Another thing that’s important is light. For me, this has always been the most frustrating part about setting up a new working environment. Balancing natural light with artificial, the temperature of the light, the intensity, and where to position the lights to reduce glare, I still haven’t figured it out. I‘ve never be completely happy with the light in any of my studios.

One last thing I’ll mention is my old CD player. It’s a simple stereo boombox I got when I was in high school. I’ve had it with me in all my studios. At the Kansas City Art Institute, Northwestern, and the string of different places I’ve had since then. I think music is important to a lot of painters because painting is a solitary activity that requires a lot of time and attention. Having something to listen to can help prevent loneliness, help you pass the time, and help you to focus. Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of Steve Reich, Ingram Marshall, Third Coast Percussion, and the soundtrack to Werner Herzog’s film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, composed and performed by Ernst Reijseger. I think of the repetition and layering that is so characteristic of this kind of music as analogues to the repetitive mark-making and layering in my paintings. This has helped me to think about my process in some interesting new ways.

How do you maintain a consistent schedule with your creative practice? Do you have certain habits or routines that you follow?

The first thing to mention is I have a nine-to-five job. Any consistent schedule, unfortunately, has to be worked around that. In his book, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, David Lynch recounts Bushnell Keeler’s expression: “If you want to get one hour of good painting in you have to have four hours of uninterrupted time.” Like Lynch, I agree with this statement, but the exact times, one or four hours, doesn’t really matter. The point is that excess time is essential. It’s essential for play and for accident and for chance, but sadly, uninterrupted time is very difficult to make happen. 

So weekends are precious to me; I’m usually up by seven. I’ll make a pot of coffee and read for an hour or two before I start painting. Research has always been an important aspect to my studio practice and reading is a big part of that. For instance, I just completed a series of paintings inspired by the Great Lakes. Over the course of making this work I read dozens of books on the subject. In my research I discovered an author named Jerry Dennis. He’s based out of Traverse City, Michigan and has written extensively about the Great Lakes. I found I had a strong affinity for the way he often approached the lakes, which is to say, on a geological time scale. I was so taken by his writing that I reached out to him and we developed a correspondence and that’s been really rewarding. In a way that’s not easy to describe, I’ve always thought of painting as a way of thinking; a way of knowing, but so too is poetry, music, history, and science. Learning how people who work in other disciplines approach—and ultimately come to know—the same things you’re dealing with in your own work can help to develop a more complete and nuanced understanding of those very things and, of course, your work.

Coffee and reading wake me up and help me to focus, after that, I’m ready to paint. I try and make this a quick and painless transition. It’s important to me to be able to walk into my studio, grab my tools, and immediately get to work. Here, I’d like to quote Lynch again. In the same book as before he writes: “It’s crucial to have a setup. [...] So that at any given moment when you get an idea that you have the place and the tools to make it happen. If you don’t have a setup there are many times when you get the inspiration, the idea, but you have no tools, no place to put it together and the idea just sits there and festers. Over time it will go away. You didn’t fulfil it and that’s just a heartache.” Today, there are so many distractions vying for our attention, there’s so much noise, to have the time and space to dedicate to your work and where you can focus, and what Lynch calls a “setup”, is so important. 


What is one piece of creative or business advice that you would give to your younger self? Is there a quote or mantra that is especially meaningful to you right now? 

I would tell my younger self to ignore, or mostly ignore, his grad school professors. It’s important that what you’re doing is enjoyable. I’m talking about the physical act of making art. What you do with your hands and eyes when you make art, is it enjoyable? What you do with your body, do you like doing that? It’s something that rarely gets discussed in art school. For example, when I was at Northwestern, I started making video art and my professors responded positively to it, but looking at the world through a camera, staring at a screen, and clicking a mouse all day made me really depressed. I ultimately stopped making art.

Similarly, I’d tell my younger self to think hard about the sustainability of his studio practice. By that I mean: is what you’re doing, are the ideas you’re engaging with, are they generative? Do they foster a healthy curiosity? Or, are you backing yourself into an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual deadend? If making the art you’re making is no longer enjoyable, or healthy, if it’s just paralysis, dread, and boredom that you feel upon entering your studio, then you should probably be doing something else.

Finally, you have a show coming up - can you tell us about the details and any other events you have lined up for the rest of 2019? 

My solo show, Great Lakes, at the Evanston Art Center, runs from August 17th to September 22nd. As I alluded to earlier, this work is the culmination of a year long effort—through research and careful observation—to engage with the Great Lakes and to translate these experiences into the paintings.

One way I’ve tried to do this is by thinking about the lakes in terms of their scale. By scale I mean their size relative to the human body; their time relative to human time. People often try and describe the Great Lakes by listing a bunch of figures like: they contain one fifth of the surface liquid freshwater on the planet. This sounds like a lot, but of all the water on the planet, only two and a half percent is freshwater. So what does one fifth of two and a half percent mean? It means that the freshwater in the Great Lakes, as a natural resource, is both abundant and exceedingly rare. Similarly, we think of the Great Lakes as being very old; melt water from the end of the last ice age, but this melt occurred just 12,500 years ago, while the last ice age lasted almost a 100,000 years and the earth, it’s over 4.5 billion years old. On a geological time scale, the Great Lakes, like human beings, just appeared. Reconciling these time scales is impossible. If painting is a way of knowing, these paintings have been a way for me to know the Great Lakes, but to know the Great Lakes can often times feel like an exercise in abstract thinking.

One of the ways I’ve tried to translate the irreconcilability of these scales is by making relatively large paintings built of dense layers of minutely-sized, seemingly random marks across their entire surface. It’s my hope that this kind of scale and intensity suggests a vast, infinite space, and unknowable depth. As I mentioned the last time we spoke, I’ll often employ sticks in lieu of paint brushes when I’m working. This technique, along with embedding different materials like sand and iron filings into my paints, creates a highly textured surface that can often times feel more natural than human made; like the surface of a rock face. Layers of thin glazes and metallic and iridescent paints enhance these textures by catching the light, they shimmer, obscuring the image, and for this reason these paintings can be hard to see. I’m interested in the tension between the depth created by these layers and the flatness that’s emphasized by the sheen of the iridescent surface. You have to negotiate the way the light is interacting with the surface in order to see past it, to go deeper. It’s not unlike looking at water. 

Create! Magazine introduces RijksCreative, an initiative from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

We often get questions from our community from people who are interested in art, but are wondering how to get started. Whether you are a practicing studio artist, a passionate hobbyist, or even if you’ve never picked up a brush, we always love to recommend looking into free online resources to take your creative skills to the next level. To this end, Create! Magazine is excited to share a series of art tutorials on the YouTube channel, RijksCreative, an initiative from the Rijksmuseum, a renowned art museum in the heart of Amsterdam.

About RijksCreative

As part of an initiative that brings both greater awareness and appreciation of the vast collection of masterpieces exhibited at the Rijksmuseum, the RijksCreative YouTube channel allows you to delve deeper into the style of prominent figures throughout art history. On RijksCreative you’ll find how-to videos in which art teachers from the museum demonstrate the steps to creating compositions like Rembrandt or painting self portraits like Van Gogh. Each video explains one art technique in detail so that even beginners can follow along! 

Check out the RijksCreative channel here.

One recent video from this series is the ‘How to create a Van Gogh self portrait’ lesson from Ruud Lanfermeijer. Make sure to read the video notes for a materials list and you’ll be ready to start!

About the Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is the Dutch national museum dedicated to the arts and history. It is located in the museum square close to the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and the Concertgebouw. The building was designed by Pierre Cuypers and opened in 1885. The Rijksmuseum has on display over 8,000 objects and a total collection of over 1 million. A walk through the galleries is a journey through 800 years of art and history. Some of the museum’s masterpieces include works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Frans Hals, and Johannes Vermeer. The Rijksmuseum is the largest museum in the Netherlands and welcomes over 2.5 million visitors each year.

For more information about the museum please visit their website.

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Studio Sunday: Michelle Lee Rigell

It is the last week of our show ‘Pilot’ with PxP Contemporary so this Studio Sunday highlights one of our invited artists, Michelle Lee Rigell. She is a contemporary realist painter who is based in St. Louis and we have featured two works from her ‘1,000 Crane Project’ in the exhibition. Read on to learn more about her creative practice, studio space, and exhibitions for the rest of the year!


Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Michelle Lee Rigell is a St. Louis-based contemporary realism artist who works in acrylics. Since 2015, Rigell has shown her work in several locations in the Greater St. Louis area including SOHA Gallery, Art Saint Louis and fundraising art events such as Wall Ball for Artscope and Art of PAWS for St. Louis Effort for AIDS. Rigell also volunteers as an instructor and is the assistant director of Arts As Healing Foundation, a nonprofit organization that brings the therapeutic benefits of art to cancer patients and those with chronic illnesses.


I tend to gravitate toward subjects that evoke nostalgia and whimsy. I am currently working on a project called the "1000 Crane Project" because of my childhood love for origami. When I wasn't drawing or painting, I was constantly folding origami. My goal is to capture the beauty and precision of origami while incorporating the flawed nature of wrinkled papers and used wrappers and labels of some of my favorite childhood American products.

Cranes are also a symbol of good fortune and longevity in Korean culture. They have been an apt subject matter in my life because rediscovering my passion for painting began as a way to cope with my miscarriages and difficulties with infertility. I am a firm believer that art can provide healing, and I want to be able to help others heal by providing a sense of sentimentality and humor through my art process and experiences.  


How did you first become interested in art and can you explain a bit of how it led you to the work you create today?

I’ve loved art for as long as I can remember. As a child I wanted to be an animator and graphics designer like my uncle, the other artist in our family, but in high school, I focused on getting into medical school. I was convinced by the adults in my life that this was a more practical career path, but ultimately I chose not to pursue a career in medicine after graduating from college.

After moving to St. Louis for my husband’s medical training, my mother-in-law encouraged me to take art classes. When I signed up, it never crossed my mind to pursue a career in art because I didn’t have any formal education in art and I had lost a lot of confidence in myself. Around the same time, I had a miscarriage and my second not too long after, so it was a period filled with a lot of hurt. Fortunately through the classes, I met my mentor and began volunteering for the Arts As Healing Foundation, reigniting my passion for art and opening new possibilities for me. I went on a long and roundabout journey back to an art career, but now I am sharing my love for art to others who need it and love it with more appreciation and passion than when I was younger.

We love that your work is so fun and whimsical with hints of nostalgia. Can you tell us about what inspires you and the story behind your series of origami cranes specifically?

A few years ago for Christmas, my mentor gifted me a glass jar with the Chinese character for happiness and good fortune on it. Along with art, I also loved origami growing up, so I decided to fill it up with cranes, which then led to an even better idea of painting them.

Before my “1000 Crane Project”, I was already painting nostalgic subjects like record players, musicians, vintage signs using earthy, dark tones; I grew up listening to a lot of Oldies music. But as I gained more confidence in myself and my work, I wanted to experiment with bolder compositions and colors. I had found the perfect subject that was not only iconic and symbolic but had been a big part of my childhood as well. Instead of using crisp, new sheets of paper, I thought it would be more interesting and challenging to make cranes with wrinkled, brightly colored candy wrappers that are sometimes more plastic and wax than paper. It would give me more opportunities to play with lights and darks to create all the tears and odd folds. And who doesn’t love candy? As long as I can bring a smile to the viewers’ faces, I know I’ve done a good job.


What is your process like? Do you do a lot of sketching or make work more intuitively?

I fold all the cranes I paint first. Occasionally I’ll go on a folding spree and fold whatever piece of paper or candy wrapper that catches my eye, so that later if I need inspiration or a new idea I can go through ones I’ve already folded. Sometimes I have to do a little cutting and taping supplemented with thumbnail sketches especially with the candy wrappers, so I can get the right labels and patterns to show through. I prefer to paint from my still-life set up, but I also take photos to refer back to because the cranes are tiny.

Describe your current studio or creative space. What is most important about it or one thing that you definitely need in your work area?

Currently my studio is in our guest bedroom. I’ve tried almost every other room in our house before settling into where I am now. The guest bedroom has the best lighting as it faces north with lots of windows. I try to take advantage of the natural lighting as much as I can, so my colors don’t shift. For me, lots of sunshine leads to lots of motivation and productivity. I would eventually like a space where I can make larger paintings and move more freely, but I also like being comfortable and having everything I need at home.


What is your favorite thing about being an artist?

One of my favorite things about being an artist is being able to express myself but also being able to have a safe place for me to tune everything out. The other is that I never stop learning as an artist. I’m continuously finding ways to improve my technique and to challenge myself to elevate my artwork.

Do you have any big collaborations, projects, exhibitions, etc going on during the rest of the year that you'd like to share?

I recently finished a piece that will be up for silent auction on August 3rd at this great fundraiser, Art of PAWS by St. Louis Effort for AIDS. The proceeds help patients care for their furry companions so they can focus financially on their healthcare. I will also be in a four-man exhibition at the Angad Arts Hotel in downtown St. Louis from August 2nd to October 26th.

'Moment', Making Art's New Film on Landscape Artist Sarah Winkler

Landscape artist, Sarah Winkler, sums up our spiritual need for the wilderness in Making Art’s newly released film, ‘Moment.’

“We need the experience of being romantically and poetically lost in the wilderness, and being found again”

Helga, A Film by Making Art and Bo Bartlett

Making Art (Jesse Brass) and Bo Bartlett just released a short film worth checking out.

American artist Andrew Wyeth secretly made over 240 drawings and paintings of one model between 1971 and 1985. The secret was kept even from his wife. When the story broke, it was a national sensation gracing the covers of Time and Newsweek. The model was Helga Testorf.

This is the story told for the first time by Helga.

“Helga Testorf, a middle-aged woman in pigtails who was Mr. Wyeth’s neighbor in rural Pennsylvania, has the curious distinction of being the last person to be made famous by a painting.”

-James Gardner, Art Critic


“He was at a point in his career where he had to produce, produce … and along came this free spirit, running over the hills … he thought he was chasing himself, because that’s what he did as a boy, running over the hills. He was always painting himself in me.”

- Helga Testorf


Watch more from Making Art at

Melanie Norris: Discovering Beauty

In collaboration with Jesse Brass, Making Art (video)

Melanie Norris is a Johnson City native who now lives and works in Asheville, North Carolina. She studied at East Tennessee State University, graduating in 2011. She currently has a studio in whiteSPACE gallery of the Wedge Studios in the River Arts District of Asheville


What sets mankind apart is the broad range of emotions that flesh out their personality; the things that can neither be seen nor described, only felt. In my paintings, I do not strive for a likeness in a technical portrait sense. I try to lay hold of their inner being, the soul that exists within the flesh. I seek to show how a body isn’t existence, but simply a vessel. Physical looks and material things are superfluous signifiers of our life. They are easy to understand and define, therefore the materials often replace the true person. I pare down environment and objects from my compositions, leaving a bare being. I use watercolor at times because it naturally reflects the understated transience of our bodies. By nature, it is fragile and easily lost. With that, however, comes great freedom. Pigment can be fed water and with little guidance makes its own path. In contrast, a great boldness comes from the confident strokes of oil paint, building into a viscerality that sends the subject into the room with the viewer. Layers of this create a unique language for every painting.

In my portraits, I want to go deeper, search out the soul by sitting and having a conversation with my subjects, taking photographs and soaking in their presence. I then paint from the photographs, focusing on their skin and expression, editing out clothes, backgrounds, objects that tether the subject to their material environment. I try to find a series of paintings that are evocative of the tone of our conversation. Irish painter Cian McLoughlin takes a similar approach to his portraits. His Camden Town Aisling Project, a series of portraits of homeless men with whom he had established relationships, has influenced my familiar and psychological approach to painting. Similarly, Lucien Freud and Jenny Saville’s boldly physical and non-idealized treatment of their subjects is reflected in my work as well. In this way, my cruelty fuels my art. The people I’m most drawn to paint are the ones most uncomfortable in front of a gaze or a camera. A very raw honesty comes from their discomfort. I crave that in every painting. Their faces, their hands reflect the unease in my unmasking of them. The face they use for the world disintegrates after a few minutes, fading into their natural and slight anxiety. And therein lies the portrait. The true beauty of humans lies in their bared vulnerability and characteristic flaws.


Who are the figures in your paintings? Do you paint from references or memory? Tell us about the inspiration behind your work. 

Currently, the figures in my paintings are vehicles for my emotions or concepts I think are interesting and want to explore abstractly. The face/figure provides a fascinating structure through which I can study ideas. The eyes, nose, lips, etc are a recognizable structure and a way to organize the plane. For example, if I paint face, shoulders – I can continue the thought with abstract marks, but it will still resemble something. I’m not comfortable with pure abstraction, so the faces are a really interesting basis. I start every painting with a face and then see how far I can throw it before I have to reel it back in, artistically speaking.

I do work from photographs, typically of family or acquaintances or myself. 

“My current style uses one person to capture one aspect of what many, many people are feeling. I want people to personally relate to the work, have a visceral response, not just an abstract appreciation.”
— Melanie Norris
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What feelings or emotion do you hope the viewer experiences when looking at your work? 

Here’s the perfect set-up: people would first view my paintings from a distance, like from across a room, and would feel compelled to look closer. I want them to think, “Oh this is a style I haven’t seen before.” And they’re drawn in. As they walk toward the painting and come to a stop in front of it, there’s the mid-range: they can take in all of the materials, the marks, the figure that is composed of hundreds of transparent watercolor layers and then marked up, made fleshy with the oil bar. This is the stage where I want them to feel the process, the meditation of the watercolor and the fervor of the oil bar and the mania of the Sketch Marks (title idea?). 

The third and most intimate level is when they peer in, nose inches away from the canvas, consciously pinning hands down at their sides so they don’t touch it. They try to read the notes I scribbled when I first started drawing, months ago. They see the hardened sludge of what was a really juicy oil bar with the wrapper still attached that is just stuck into the painted beard of the painted man.

I want a person to feel my studio when they look at a painting. To feel it flat on the floor with me walking in circles around, armed with a bucket of gesso, trying to reconcile how I’m feeling with what I’m looking at.


What kind of things do you think about when making your paintings?

On a meaningful day, I think about current events. On a selfish day, I think about whatever pissed me off that week. Insecure day, I think about how many people will think this painting is cool. On a sunny day, I think about all the good things. If it's an angry day, I think about destroying everything in the studio with a big purple oil bar (these are good days to harness and channel). Sketching day, I think about each line. On a radio day, I think about the radio.

What inspired your current style. Do you feel your work has evolved over the past few years? If so, how?

Yes! Hallelujah my work has evolved plenty over the years. The style in the Making Art film is still pretty much the basis for what I’m doing now. At that time, I was establishing my own way of painting faces in watercolor. I was very empathetic at the time, really studying the subject, trying to capture their soul in my paintings. There remains an element of that in my current work, but I wanted to push it further, not just focus on one person, but on people. How it feels to be living here and now. I think this is very important, especially now.

My current style uses one person to capture one aspect of what many, many people are feeling. I want people to personally relate to the work, have a visceral response, not just an abstract appreciation.


Tell us what’s happening in your studio right now. 

I’m trying to figure out how to best insulate it! I just built a studio on my property in rural North Carolina, and winter’s coming. I’m also working on some commissions and prepping for Brooklyn in November where I’ll show some work at The Other Art Fair. Trying to figure the best way to package and waterproof a 6-foot painting to strap on top of my car to drive to Brooklyn. I heartily wish that were a joke.

If you could make anything regardless of resources or logistics, what would it be? 

A project I’ve had stewing for about 2 years with a working title “Both Flesh and Not” after the David Foster Wallace essay. Where I build (with the help of my dad) a mechanical arm that somehow attaches to my arm and mimics the movement of my hand so that as I’m painting a portrait, it is next to me making the “same” marks as interpreted by the mechanics, painting its own portrait. I’m very curious to see what this would look like. 

And then the step further would be an apparatus that would hold me suspended over my paintings that are lying flat on the floor. So I would be parallel over the canvas, able to maneuver myself to whichever quadrant by means of some hulking pulley system. Ideally all of this would be non-prohibitively bulky. I want to feel it there, working, hear the sounds of it moving or squeaking. I don’t like how streamlined everything has to be now. I want to feel it.

So, any inventors out there??

Tell us about your favorite ways to unwind and get inspired. 

Music, big time. Bike rides are great to get out ants in pants. 

What is the best advice you have ever received?

My favorite painter from when I was in college, Cian McLoughlin, actually responded to my whiny undergrad email that bemoaned how I was ever going to “Make It” in the “Art World” and did he please have any advice? With the simple logic that he said had been passed onto him:  If you’re meant to be an artist, you will be.

I still tell myself that probably every week. 

Alonsa Guevara: Desire and Painting The Paradoxes of Life

In collaboration with Jesse Brass, Making Art (video)

Interview by Ekaterina Popova

Alonsa Guevara was born in Rancagua, Chile. She spent seven years of her childhood living in the Ecuadorian tropical forest with her family, growing up surrounded by magnificent landscapes and magical environments, a big reason to be a lover of light, nature and colors. Alonsa received her BFA from the Pontific Catholic University of Chile in 2009, and moved to New York in 2011. She graduated from the MFA Program of the New York Academy of Art in 2014 and was granted the Academy's Fellowship award 2015. Her most recent solo show was at Anna Zorina Gallery in NYC, 2016. Alonsa is currently living and working in New York.

Alonsa Guevara

Alonsa Guevara

When did you first start painting? 

I always drew and did creative crafts since I was very young, but I started oil painting when I was 12 years old with the help of my grandmother from my dad’s side. My Abuela Maruja used to draw, paint and make clay sculptures as a hobby. She realized that I enjoyed making things too, so she took me to her studio and encouraged me to start new projects. She taught me how to build a wooden easel, stretch canvases and introduced me to basic oil painting techniques. I kept painting on my own and when I was 18 I joined The Visual Arts Program.

Alonsa Guevara

Alonsa Guevara

“The vegetables and fruits depicted in my paintings are sometimes fresh and juicy and other times smushed and rotten; making fertility and life coexist in a parallel with decay and death; the full cycle of life.”
— Alonsa Guevara

Being an immigrant myself, I love learning about what parts of their story artists bring to their work. How do you feel your cultural background influenced your current paintings? 
I had a very intense and nomad childhood. I was born in Chile and moved to Ecuador when I was five years old. During those seven years in Ecuador, my family and I lived in different towns and for a couple of years, I lived on an animal farm where nature, flora, and fauna were around me all the time. 

We returned to Chile when I was 12 and also lived in different cities, thus I got to experience a variety of environments and landscapes. At the same time, because I was in nine different schools from kindergarten to high school, I got to share the culture and traditions of different people, which made me more open and tolerant. 

I guess that everyone keeps memories of their childhood when becoming adults. It is such a significant part of life that is difficult to forget. I have very vivid memories of the places where I lived; I won’t forget the smell of the humid earth, the songs of the cicadas during twilight and the adventurous hikes into the jungle.

Now I have been in the US for six years, which makes me think “you don’t know what you have until it is gone”. Being far away from home made me appreciate the connection between mankind and their natural surroundings in a different way. 

It was back in 2015, my fourth year living here when I began the series of work called Ceremonies. I went back to Chile to visit my family and I thought of the idea of making a real ceremony with my siblings, surrounding three of us by fresh and rotten fruits. So I got a truck, got hundreds of pounds of fruits and staged this ritual. During this process, I took pictures that I used as a reference for my paintings. I have done the same process again in Chile, Ecuador, Dominican Republic and here in the US with family and close friends.

These "Ceremonies" are a representation of an imaginary world where the characters celebrate the cycle of life, especially fertility and fecundity. This celebration is for themselves and their families, as well as their lands and the harvest. I imagine these characters expressing gratitude by making offerings and ceremonies where the people appear nude laying down on the ground covered with a mix of fresh and rotting fruits, vegetables and flowers from their seasonal harvest: an act of connection with their lands and nature. 

The vegetables and fruits depicted in my paintings are sometimes fresh and juicy and other times smushed and rotten; making fertility and life coexist in a parallel with decay and death; the full cycle of life. 

Alonsa Guevara

Alonsa Guevara

My two favorite moments are: when I start covering the canvas with looser brush strokes and when I am working with tiny brushes making details like seeds, juice, ants, and especially when I am painting the portraits.
— Alonsa Guevara

What do you love most about your process? 

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the whole process of setting up, from buying the fruits and flowers, creating compositions with shapes and colors, to taking the pictures of the models lying down. 
However, by far my favorite part of my process is when I am in my studio painting. My two favorite moments are: when I start covering the canvas with looser brush strokes and when I am working with tiny brushes making details like seeds, juice, ants, and especially when I am painting the portraits.

Alonsa Guevara

Alonsa Guevara

What keeps you painting? 

I ask that same question to myself over and over, and I don't have a sure answer. But I think that I keep painting as a desperate reaction to let my creativity and passion to take over my life!
The process of creating it is like an extension of real life, creating new worlds brings me excitement, happiness and a lot of pleasure. Therefore, since after I graduated from undergrad I always found the time to paint, even when I made a living as a painting teaching or when I had a full-time job. 

I am grateful to say that since 2015 I have been able to make a living as an artist, so now I am a full-time artist and I spend almost every day painting and making things.

What is the best advice you received in your art career? 

During my first year of undergrad, I had a teacher that told me that I should focus on printmaking because my paintings (which I was doing mostly from my imagination) “weren’t working”. I’m very stubborn and I wanted to paint so bad that his advice just made me want to paint more and get better at it. So during that year I took Painting I and started painting objects from life, and I realized that I was pretty good at it when I had a reference to look at. After that year, the same teacher asked me to be his assistant for Painting II and said to me: “You can listen to other people’s advice, but more importantly, listen to yourself.”

Instalacion Fruit Portraits Available 2017.jpg

What is your biggest dream as a painter? 

I would love to be able to keep making a living as an artist and keep sharing my work with people. And my dream as a painter is to have the skills to paint everything accurately completely from imagination, this way I can recreate images that I have in my mind. I’m already able to paint a lot of things from imagination, but I would love to have the skills to paint everything I have seen! From human figure in all positions to a forest with hundreds of flora and fauna species. 

Alonsa Guevara

Alonsa Guevara

Tell us about your interests outside of the studio. 

In my studio, I have a lot of different instruments that I play during my painting breaks. I love to play the guitar and sing and lately, I got a keyboard so I am learning how to play it. I also have drums, a tambourine, harmonic and some instruments that I made myself, and I love to get friends together and have some musical parties.

Also, I spend time exercising almost every day. For a whole year since 2016, I did CrossFit (which sounds extreme) but I really enjoyed it. Now I am taking some African dance classes called Kongo beat, I’m doing Spinning classes and also I go for runs at the Promenade in Bay Ridge.

Paintings by Alonsa Guevara at  Anna Zorina Gallery, New York

Paintings by Alonsa Guevara at Anna Zorina Gallery, New York

How do you replenish your creative pool?

Here in NYC you are so exposed to an enormous variety of artistic creations that it is impossible not to be inspired or influenced by it. But in general, I get inspired by so many things! By meeting new people and listening to their stories, by traveling to different countries and getting to see their landscapes, I even get inspiration from a tiny cut open blueberry to paint a fruit portrait.

Creativity comes randomly, sometimes I have great ideas and other times the worst idea you can think of, but allowing myself to spend that time developing those ideas, playing around and making mistakes, is what makes me realize what works and what doesn’t, and most importantly I learn from that process.

I think what has helped me the most is to be open to new ideas and to overcome FEAR, making mistakes is OK, making silly ugly things is fine, cutting your painting on a thousand pieces won't kill you, you just have to DO IT! 

I always say “It is better to regret what you did, than what you didn't do. So go for it!!

Alonsa Guevara,  Anna Zorina Gallery, New York

Alonsa Guevara, Anna Zorina Gallery, New York

What do you hope the viewer experiences when looking at your paintings? 

I explore the relationship between a person and his or her environment as a means of embracing a connection with the beauty of nature that has seemingly weakened with the growing reliance on industry and technology.

With my paintings, I'm trying to create magical worlds that contain my experiences as a woman while offering my personal understanding and appreciation of beauty.

In my “Ceremonies” paintings I find the people that I paint beautiful because they have natural bodies loaded with what we call “imperfections” that are actually just perfect. While I paint these nude bodies I pay special attention to their stretch marks, veins, asymmetry, freckles, etc. For example, my painting “María José’s Ceremony” represents a mother with her child, and here I painted her cesarean section scar because it is a beautiful mark of which any mother should feel proud. 

We live in a world that seems to relate beauty with synthetic and unnatural; to be beautiful you have to change the way you really look. But with my paintings, I am trying to inspire the viewer to open their eyes to the natural beauty that surrounds them. I hope the viewers feel attraction to my painting and make them believe the truthfulness of the image they are seeing. I hope that when the viewer sees my paintings they think about the paradoxes of life: desire & repugnance, fertility & decadence, birth & death, truth & fantasy.   

Mark your calendars for May 10, 2018 for a solo exhibition by the artist at Anna Zorina Gallery, New York.