Fellows Interviews - Alonsa Guevara

Interview with 2015 Fellow Alonsa Guevara Aliaga
On Tuesday, September 8th, Mark Miller gallery and the New York Academy of Art will unveil the works of the 2015 NYAA Postgraduate Chubb Fellows – Alonsa Guevara, Stephen Vollo, and Shangkai Kevin Yu. This show marks the culmination of these artists’ yearlong fellowships, and the beginning of their promising careers. The opening reception will take place on September 8th from 6-8 pm, and the show will run until September 30th. Each artist has received a Master of Fine Arts in Painting from the Academy, and has developed a unique aesthetic and body of work.

Alonsa Guevera was recently named one of Time Out New York’s five most important new artists. Her lush, vivid paintings explore concepts of beauty, abundance and desire. She uses familiar items such as fruit, flowers and insects in fantastical still lifes that leave viewers with their mouths watering. Below, Alonsa discusses her work.

What major themes do you pursue in your work? 
Desire, still life, nature, fruits, trompe l'oeil, magical worlds, female archetypes, eroticism/death.

Where did you grow up? I was born in Chile and moved to Ecuador when I was five years old. My family and I spent years living on a ranch in the jungle, surrounded by farmland and wild animals. 

What inspires you?  I am fascinated by the complexity of nature. Every day I find new inspiration, especially now with the Fruit Portraits I’m making. I walk around different neighborhoods in the city and find new fruits from the markets of all different cultures. My dreams, my family, and memories from my childhood in Chile and Ecuador, where I was always connected to nature, also inspire me. Finally, I am inspired by the work of other artists.

As a child in the jungle
Name three of your favorite painters. 
It’s impossible to choose a favorite. Lately I’ve been looking a lot at Christian Rex Van Minnen, Julie Heffernan, Luis Meléndez, Frans Snyders and John Singer Sargent. I also love Paula Rego, Ingres, Dalí…

How do you start your paintings – with an idea, an image, or a story?
I try to find an image with something desirable in it. Often, I start painting, and then halfway through, I look at the painting and it reminds me of something I hadn’t expected, or tells me a story. The story comes at the end.

Talk about your process – how do you apply paint?
I like to have a way to draw easily without using any drawing materials on my canvas. Sometimes I block in the painting with acrylic first – this way the local colors and value structure are set in the painting from the start. Then I go in with oil and develop the temperature of the image. With bigger paintings, I like to cover the whole canvas with one colour in oil and then wipe away with a rag –– oil allows me to move things around and have it looser at the beginning.

What mediums and materials do you use?
I use a lot of different mediums, and I’m always trying new materials. Sometimes I work with resins, Galkyd, stand oil, linseed oil, Turpenoid, Gamsol… and sometimes I make a medium with Damar Varnish toward the end. I use many different kinds of brushes. For surfaces, canvas is my favorite. I also really like to work on aluminum. I don’t “trust” wood as much.

How do you know when a painting is finished?
That’s a hard question. I just keep working on it until it gives me the feeling I want from it. And when I look at my painting and I’m afraid I’ll mess it up if I touch it, I know it’s done.

If you could retake any class at the Academy, what would it be?
Easy – I would retake “Painting at the Met” with Ted Schmidt. I know that if I took it again, I would learn something new. There's so much to learn from copying paintings.

"Ceremonies" triptych

How did your work change during your time at the Academy?
During my first and second year, my work really changed in a technical way. I learned so much by working from life, which I wasn’t used to doing. I started paying more attention to the whole canvas, and developing space and volume.

The message in my paintings has remained the same though – what I always want to do is create an illusion in which the viewer feels desire for the painting, but this desire ultimately cannot be fulfilled.

During my first and second years, I made the “Paper Girls” paintings, of these beautiful women from magazines. I wanted the viewer to experience this sense of unfulfilled desire -because they are paper people, you can’t have anything back from them. I painted tons of those, until I found what I needed, and then moved on.

During my fellowship year, I totally changed the kind of imagery that I made, and the way I paint also changed a lot. But the message is the same. The fruits are juicy, they have a center, some of them a hole, you want to get inside of it – but again, they are just paintings.

Detail of portrait of the artist's brother

What is the best advice someone has given to you?
During my first year of undergrad, I had a teacher tell me I should focus on printmaking, because my paintings, which I was doing mostly from my imagination, “weren’t working.” I’m very stubborn though, and his advice just made me want to paint more. During that year I took Painting 1 and started painting objects from life, and I got pretty good at it. After that year, the same teacher asked me to be his TA for Painting 2. And he told me “You can listen to other people’s advice, but more importantly, listen to yourself.” 

What advice would you give Academy students?
Really take advantage of the time you have now. If you ever feel like teachers aren’t giving you what you want from them, ask questions.

What three weird things can we find in your studio?
I paint fruit, and then I always eat them in my studio. I save the pits and seeds in a jar… These are the skeletons of my models, really! I also have lots of stickers from the fruits.

What are you reading?
"33 Artists and 3 Acts", by Sarah Thornton. I’ve also been reading a lot of books about fruits and their histories, and George Bataille’s “Eroticism and Death.” Mostly though, I’m painting!

What do you listen to while you paint?
I listen to a lot of music, and also lots of podcasts, like Ted Talks and the news. Sometimes I just play BBC news.

Tell me about one piece.
There is a triptych of me, my sister and my brother – this is the opening for a new body of work that I’m calling ceremonies. These paintings are about the love I have for my family, and the relationship between desire and death. The figures here are bodies, but you can’t tell whether they’re alive or dead –is it a funeral, an initiation ceremony? With these paintings, I’m creating another world, a different reality. Some of the fruits are real, some are from my imagination. 

If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?
Something creative – a musician, a writer, or a filmmaker. Or maybe a therapist –  I really like psychology too. But I can’t really imagine myself not being an artist.

If you could live in another era, when would it be?
I’m not a religious person, but I would live when Jesus was alive – I think it would be an exciting, iconic time.

Pits, seeds, and stickers.

What are your favorite colors?
I have so many! I love madder lake red. Quinecridone red, magenta, transparent red oxide – a lot of the reds.

What are your plans for this year?
To keep painting, like always. I would love to travel more, and see more nature, more fruits, get more inspiration. If I go to Chile again, I will do the same thing I did last year – take a truck and buy tons of fruit for my painting set ups.

Alonsa also is part of the exhibition “Three Women” at Anna Zorina gallery, opening September 10th. This show also features the work of Patty Horing (MFA 2015) and Nadine Faraj.


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