An Interview with Angela Alés

Interview by Nicole Araya
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Could you talk a bit about the recurring symbols and icons that appear in your work and how we as viewers are to interpret them?

My artistic process has in large part been both the means of searching for spiritual and philosophical meaning in my life as well as the act of recording this search. Throughout this journey recurring symbols and icons have solidified into my personal language. This language has been developing since an early age, and even though each symbol represents something particular for me, I do want the viewers to bring their own history and interpretation when seeing my work.

Here are a few symbols and what they represent to me.

The ladders represent the search or process of growth and evolution.

Checker boards represent duality, especially for me, the duality between the flesh and the spirit.

The image of the fish, wheels and paper boats represent different forms of transportation and vessels.

I am pretty sure that subconsciously, a lot of my imagery has deep rooted origins in my Catholic upbringing and the visuals that accompany that dogma. My style is a fusion of Surrealism and Magic realism which makes perfect sense since I am a Latin American artist and my art is about the human condition.

How would you describe your teaching style in the studio? Have any teachers or mentors particularly shaped how you approach your own relationship with your students now?

I was very fortunate to have been awarded a full scholarship at one of the top art schools in the United States, Cooper Union. All the professors there left a lasting impression, but the one I recall the most when teaching is Stuart Diamond. He showed me the way to eliminate the fear of the white canvas.

The creative process should aim beyond the goal of reproducing reality and it should tap deep into each artist’s core to unlock the individuality and creativity that will keep them honest and help set them apart. To this end, I push students to think outside the box conceptually and use creative thinking to solve technical challenges but I also push them to delve into who they are; their background, the experiences that have shaped them, and to think hard about what is most important to them and what they want to say. I strive to create an atmosphere of inclusion where all students feel safe and inspired to explore this individuality by embracing the diversity of their peers and expanding their engagement in a world that is constantly becoming more interconnected.

Throughout a course I will regularly give take-home assignments that ask the student to offer their interpretation of a word or concept with no additional restrictions. I choose words that convey complex and layered meaning not easily associated with conventional imagery. Students have to research the concept and present an interpretation that transcends convention by taping into their own experiences and believes for meaning and visual inspiration.

There is one caveat to placing such emphasis on the creative process and personal exploration: that without the proper foundation and rigor, you can never fully realize your potential. I strive with equal passion to impart a strong technical foundation and to instill the virtues of professional craftsmanship, discipline, and rigor. My approach is to treat all students with the respect and expectations I have of myself and fellow artists and to demonstrate that this is exactly what they need to be expecting of themselves.

I believe that in order to understand your artistic voice, to find your own unique style and in order to obtain mastery of techniques, you have to produce work constantly. Discipline and continuity are very important in order to make the most of your accomplishments. I demonstrate and I coach but I also facilitate and promote self-learning and push towards developing critical thinking. I encourage experimentation and discovery. Exploring as many techniques as possible is crucial. This only means that you will have more wonderful tools in the toolbox to pull from. Additionally, I like to break preexisting patterns by pushing students outside their comfort zone by introducing assignments that drastically change the scale of their work or that fall outside their dominant technique and medium.

Students learn best in very diverse ways so throughout my years as an art instructor I have become very attentive to the different learning needs of students. Some students learn by watching, others by doing. I demonstrate constantly when starting a new technique but I allow ample time for students to produce the work while I coach them along the way. Often times in my classroom I have students that demonstrate different levels of experience and talent. The ability to introduce a common project and provide one-on- one guidance and coaching according to each student’s needs is crucial in order for all to move in the right direction.

Additionally, I believe that critiques and discussions are extremely important not only for the group but for the individual. Group discussions teach and enhance describing art, analyzing, interpreting and judging. Critiques allows for a constant review and better understanding of the principles of art and design. It trains the eye in identifying a strong or weak composition. Critiques are also very important when it comes to understanding diversity, not just artistically but culturally as well. Art is a language that transcends all boundaries and allows us all to comprehend complex ideas and perspectives about identity.

How do your experiences as an immigrant connect to your artistic works?

I believe that the artwork is a mirror that reflects the artist, and what he/she is experiencing or has experienced, whether the artist is aware of this or not. Most recently, my socio-political experiences as a Latin American, immigrant, and female artist have come to the forefront of my inner dialogue and have coalesced as a central theme of my artistic voice.

What was your inspiration for The Magician? 5. You have a very unique style in representing forms for the female body and face in The Magician. Could you shed light on your thoughts behind those creative choices?

As a woman, I have dealt with discrimination, and been dismissed as a female artist. During the 2016 presidential race my emotions, regarding this topic, were brought to the surface, especially when, then, candidate Trump said that Megyn Kelly had “Blood coming out of her whatever”. His (and his followers) overall lack of respect towards women was the driving force behind painting a work that represents the fortitude, the strength and dignity, and magic and mystery, that we, as menstrual beings, as women, possess.

The Magician shows a strong, crowned woman holding a magic wand in her right hand. Starting from her lower ribs down, she is wearing a deep red skirt that opens at the front. Her left-hand points at the opening, revealing a canyon. This canyon represents her vagina and portrays the mystery and beauty of the female genitals. The deep red of the skirt symbolizes the biological act of bleeding. I gave her a blue face to represent serenity, wisdom and intuition.

There is an open attack on all shades of brown-skinned people. I made her a strong, wise, serene brown queen, a magician, a creator of life. And I celebrate her.