Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Let’s Talk: Teresa Oaxaca

by  Poppy Field  I

I can recall the moment I met the artist Teresa Oaxaca with absolute clarity.

It was October 2013.  It was the end of my first week at The Florence Academy of Art. And I had just arrived at my first student soirée, trying not to look too puffed out from climbing more stairs than I care to remember.

There Teresa stood, with iPad in hand, holding court. Captivated students crowded close by. From a distance I could not see the images of paintings that flew across her screen… rather I wondered if she were some kind of Baroque-born yet Victorian-dressed apparition. For she wore a tailor made gown with a tight corset and full skirt. Her hair was piled atop her head with whispy tendrils running down. 

Teresa Oaxaca with a selection of her paintings.
Teresa is a force. She traces her unmatchable drive back to advice received from the artist Jacob Collins. Quoting Edison, he told her that success is just 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

And, art was always her ambition. Having seen a calendar of Michelangelo’s works, Teresa would ‘daydream about [the] Sistine Chapel Frescos' whilst still in Kindergarten. With access to ‘watercolour, drawing materials and sculpey clay’, her childhood was spent ‘drawing, painting and sculpting from imagination’. This was not an academic interest, but her ‘identity’. An identity which many of her friends and classmates were unaware of.

Girl in Pink by Teresa Oaxaca
Teresa’s academic pursuit began when she was just thirteen years old. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was holding an exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci’s works. Teresa came across a selection of his sketches in a newspaper and from that moment, wanted to learn ‘everything’ about the Renaissance and their methods.

So, in 2005, at the age of seventeen, Teresa moved from Washington D.C. to Florence, Italy. She began her traditional training at the Angel Academy of Art and later continued at The Florence Academy of Art. All the while, her weekends were dedicated to the study of anatomy as she committed our internal structures to memory. 

Adam by Teresa Oaxaca
With this unrelenting determination, for which she is well known, Teresa even spent one summer holiday apprenticing with the renowned Odd Nerdrum in Stavern, Norway and upon graduation studied with Robert Liberace at the Art League in Old Town, Alexandria.

Dutch Still Life by by Teresa Oaxaca
Since returning to Washington D.C, Teresa has been developing an unprecedented portfolio. Described by Jeffrey Carlson as ‘nostalgic, colourful and unmistakable for their presence’, Teresa’s consciously elaborate compositions are evidence that a traditional academic training does not pigeonhole an artist to the past.

In fact, Teresa’s artistic voice has become so strong that she is now sought out specifically for her style. She recognises that the very act of commissioning a portrait is a leap of faith and so, once the pose and scale have been agreed, Teresa prefers to take complete control thus ensuring that she remains true to her artistic vision

Born during a Carnivale by Teresa Oaxaca
Everything Teresa owns can be found within her studio and informs her work. Her daily dress, in past historical fashions, was born from the desire to ‘feel at one with [her] artistic inspirations.’ She also collects a range of objects such as antique dolls, skulls and Venetian masks for the ‘art eras or ideas they may represent’ and inspiration they offer.

Plague Mask by by Teresa Oaxaca
 Therefore, each patron’s heirlooms, be it costumes or props, provide new, unexpected inspiration and make for a unique image. Even the sitter ‘occupies a space’ in Teresa’s mind. They will take tea together, Teresa’s current favourites being Orange Pekoe and Pu-erh, so that she may capture more than just a physical likeness.

Although often intimidating at first, Teresa finds that commissions can be incredibly rewarding. However, a word of caution. Teresa’s advice to us less experienced artists undertaking first commissions is to focus on portraits alone – even if you are capable of more.

Cronin Sketch by Teresa Oaxaca
Teresa is particularly drawn to antique dolls for a variety of reasons. From the existence of such figures from the ‘very roots of human civilization’, to their ‘variety of purposes’ and for the range of ‘expectations’ with which they were bestowed.

The Party by Teresa Oaxaca
 And more specifically still, because Teresa’s collection of dolls from the 1800’s have ‘witnessed the 19th century’: a period of art that she holds most dear. This perhaps is most evident in her Jumeau doll from 1879 whose face was modelled by the renowned sculptor Carrier-Belleuse!

Doll Maker by Teresa Oaxaca 
 Yet, the ‘things’ that Teresa truly values are those that are rightly unobtainable such as ‘particular cities and cathedrals, beautiful parks and landscapes.’

Unsurprisingly, travel ‘fuels’ Teresa’s art. During a four month ‘entirely self-guided’ tour of Europe, Teresa was able to study Old Master paintings that she had previously only read about. She also visited as many antique shops and churches as possible; often finding that ‘the sound of an organ coming from within was enough to stop [her] in her tracks’. Adamant that there is always more to learn, Teresa has continued her training by making sketches and reproductions of masterpieces in situ.

God with a Putto by Teresa Oaxaca
On her journey through Europe, Teresa visited London, Brussels, Hamburg, Luneburg, Copenhagen, Eksjo, Stockholm, Mora, Gothenburg, Lund, Malmo, Berlin, Prague, Kutna, Hora, Vienna, Budapest, Switzerland, Florence, Venice, Munich and Amsterdam. After weeks of working furiously in the solitude of her studio, this trip allowed Teresa’s ‘brain to restart’.

In the future Teresa hopes to visit Poland, Southern Germany and Austria in search of Late Medieval Retables as well as spending time in Italy and France. However, if she could visit any museum with any artist it would be the Petit Palais, Paris with Aime Nicholas Morot, 1850-1913, of whom so little is known. There hangs his ‘masterpiece’ The Good Samaritan.  

Since returning from Europe, Teresa has had the confidence to ‘load the palette with more paint and experiment with a great variety of edges and paint textures’. Her work is about ‘pleasing the eye’ and she delights in ‘unusual pairings of subject matter.’ With recurring motifs of cherubim, dolls, clowns, still life and the exploration of portraiture, neo-baroque and chiaroscuro, Teresa’s works are unified by her confident rendering of form, line, gesture and structure. 

Standing Pierrot by Teresa Oaxaca 
 Teresa hopes that one day she will be able to share her knowledge and experiences with generations of younger artists. It is her ambition to build a studio ‘which would double as a home and living quarters for apprentices in the future.’ With well over 6,000 followers on Instagram and more than 3,000 friends on Facebook, finding willing candidates will not be a challenge.

However, Teresa maintains that on the grand scheme of things ‘artists have become marginalized.’ That they are ‘consulted less on important matters like exhibition installations, art acquisitions and curriculum planning.’ That we are witnessing a decline in art being commissioned for the ‘public sphere’ and this is directly related to ‘poor urban planning and the creating of unliveable and unenviable spaces.’

Sleepwalkers by Teresa Oaxaca
 So, Teresa is fighting back. Just last month, she undertook an ‘intense’ live painting demonstration at the Principle Gallery, Alexandria which was also broadcast online. Using the sight-size method, Teresa spent four hours painting before an audience of ‘artists and art appreciators, children, and families, and people walking in off the street’.  Teresa also strives to make her work accessible through social media, posting regular updates detailing her materials, techniques and process in her online Drawing and Painting Journal. It’s certainly inspired me!

If you would like to find out more about Teresa and her work, watch digiQualia’s recent interview by clicking here

Night Scene by Teresa Oaxaca

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Saying hi to Shanghai

 by  Poppy Field  I

Can you remember your first significant regret?

I can. The option to study Mandarin had just became available at my secondary school and, to mark the occasion, the newly appointed teacher took to the stage during one morning’s assembly. She delivered a heartfelt plea that we all immediately join her newly launched classes. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had signed up there and then!   

For, on 25th March 2014 I found myself representing digiQualia at the inauguration of the Shanghai-Florence Sino-Italian Design Exchange Centre in Florence.

With Shi Yu Liu and Lynn Guo. Photo by digiQualia. 
 The last decade has seen an extraordinary rise in the West’s professional interest in Chinese art. In 2006 Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the world’s biggest auction houses, sold $190 million worth of Asian contemporary art. The majority of this was Chinese. Just two years before, their combined sales of Asian contemporary art had been far less at $22 million.

Last December, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art unveiled their exhibition Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China. Dubbed as a ‘milestone’ in the history of Chinese contemporary art, it featured work by Ai Weiwei, Fang Lijun, Xu Bing and Zhang Huan.

But the tables have turned. Now, Shanghai has set sights on breaking into the European art Market.

Commissioned to mark the initiative, this table features the white magnolia symbolic of Shanghai and the white lily for Florence. Photo by digiQualia.
This initiative formally began on 10th November 2012 when the Florentine municipal government and UNESCO Creative City (Shanghai) Promotion Office met to sign an official agreement. Its aspiration was for the Villa Stozzi to become the ‘bridgehead for Shanghai and Chinese creative design enterprises’.

Speaking at the event Dario Nardella, the Florentine Mayor, described Shanghai as a ‘metropolis of great change’, full of ‘opportunities and amazing challenges’. He also expressed his belief that, through cooperation with Shanghai, Florence could build a platform of international standards that would encourage the growth of creative professionals.

Florentine Mayor Dario Nardella at the inauguration of the Shanghai-Florence Sino-Italian Design Exchange Centre. Photo by digiQualia.

Currently, Shanghai boasts 48 institutions of Higher Education with their own departments of design, such as the College of Design and Innovation of Tongji University, Fashion Art Design Institute of Donghua University and the Shanghai Institute of Visual Art.

Florentine Mayor Dario Nardella at the inauguration of the Shanghai-Florence Sino-Italian Design Exchange Centre. Photo by digiQualia.

Following the official speeches, I was lucky enough to interview Li Shoubai. As one of Shanghai’s leading artists, Li is considered a master in contemporary heavy colour paintings and paper sculpture.

Spring Comes to Bugao Lane
Born in 1962 to an artistic family, Li created his first artwork when just six years old. It was at the ‘insistence’ of his father rather than of his own desire. But… Li’s interest grew until creating art became ‘all-consuming’ and he chose to make it his career. 

Pingan Lane in Shikumen by Li Shoubai
Li furthered his artistic studies under the painter Lin Ximing and later at the Shanghai Art and Design Academy. Yet, Li cites his greatest influence as ‘places visited’ rather than any one person. His original art is based on Shanghai and follows his motto of ‘innovation originates from self-discovery.’

 Red Scarf by Li Shoubai
As such, Li’s art is unique. He strives for his synthesis of heavy colours and feather-like brushstrokes on rice paper to reference both ‘western and eastern elements’.

When I asked if there is a ‘dream image’ that he is yet to capture Li shook his head slowly. Just as I began to worry that I had caused offence, Li spoke. He explained that his projects are all ‘creative processes’… that his achievements are ‘based upon life’. Therefore, Li couldn’t possibly know what an image would look like if he had not yet experienced it.

The Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China by Li Shoubai
Even as it was happening, I knew 25th March 2014 to be a steep learning curve. Although I was able to follow the Italian speeches, having to rely on another when talking with the Shanghai officials and artists was an unsatisfying experience. It certainly made me regret not studying Mandarin! I’m glad my more business-minded younger sister is.

With  Li Shoubai, Mrs Shoubai, Shi Yu Liu and Lynn Guo. Photo by digiQualia. 

Shanghai is one of China’s most powerful economic centres. Predictions state that by 2020 it will be an ‘international centre for finance, trade, shipping and economy.’ If the Shanghai-Florence Sino-Italian Design Exchange Centre is a success – I am certain we can add art to the list!