Anna Valdez received her MFA in painting from Boston University in 2013. Her work has been exhibited extensively throughout the United States and Canada. Valdez’s work has been published in New American Paintings (Issue No. 105 & 115), Fresh Paint Magazine (Issue No.3) and she has been featured on numerous art blogs. Her work has recently been exhibited at the Masur Museum of Art, the Danforth Museum, Parts Gallery in Toronto, The Rebecca Hossack Gallery in NYC, Trestle Project Space in Brooklyn, and EN EM Art Space in Sacramento. Valdez’s work has won juried prizes at the Danforth Museum in Framingham, MA and the Sanchez Art Center in Pacifica, CA.
As a visual artist with an academic background in anthropology, and video, I view artists as cultural producers. In my work, I attempt to combine these practices into a specific investigation that cultivates not only personal identity, but also cultural meaning. Currently, I am working on various narratives that explore my own traditions and history through a visual format. This process has led me to rely on photographs, stories, family recipes, horticulture, and the tradition of crafting as something concrete in order to construct my autobiography. I consider this examination to be a rite of passage into a globalized society while simultaneously finding my niche within.
Recently, many of my pieces have been still lifes. These arrangements have been composed from various household items such as my clothes, quilts, scarves, blankets, houseplants, drawings, paintings, books, records, and vessels. These items exist as a part of my domestic environment, and I have put them in my paintings to understand the domestic sphere as emblematic of both personal and collective experience.
You earned your MFA from Boston University in 2013. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience going from student to working artist? Where are you located now?
It has been an interesting transition; I sometimes feel that I am still in student mode. I make sure I am able to devote a significant amount of time to my studio practice. It’s been a challenge to figure out how to balance the real world and the art world. The transition from being a student to working artist with a part-time job is all about juggling. It’s important to know where your priorities lie and what you want out of the experience. The MFA program at BU encouraged a strong studio practice — treating it like a job, keeping a schedule and sticking to it. This process is something I have continued and it has certainly become habit. Of course there are times when I get stuck or feel unmotivated to work but I still go into the studio on my scheduled days.
I’m currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. My studio is located in Oakland at Norton Factory Studios, where I am part of an amazing community of artists.
Since graduation, you have been involved in a number of exhibitions including two solo exhibitions, which is amazing! Do you have any advice for emerging artists who are interested in getting more involved in gallery exhibitions or want to share their work with a larger audience?
In my experience it helps to be part of an artists’ community and to familiarize yourself with what is happening in your local art scene. I was lucky and found a gallery internship with a director who cared about my work as an artist and gave me tasks at the gallery that related to my own career development. I also made sure that my studio space was part of a community. It all depends on what kind of artist you are, but I am aware of my need for socialization and informal critiques, thus having access to numerous artists is a must for me and has helped in my development.
I have found that there is not a specific formula for garnering attention from galleries, except to be present and involved. Social media platforms like Tumblr and Instagram seems to be amazing for sharing work and I know many artists that have formed relationships with new galleries based off their social media presence.
Since much of your painting is in the form of still life, are there specific studio requirements needed to create your compositions? Do you work primarily from life or from a combination of life and photos?
Tall studio walls and light are probably the two biggest necessities for my workspace. Because a majority of my paintings are large, tall walls are desirable. I also need at least one corner dedicated for setting up arrangements to paint from. Sometimes my studio is this strange mix of a green house, domestic space, and workspace. There tends to be small set-ups sprinkled throughout the studio… it looks like a complete mess, but really it’s organized chaos, or at least that’s what I like to tell myself.
Can you tell us a bit about how you create your compositions? Do you do a lot of drawing prior to starting a painting?
My compositions are formed with both drawing and painting. I used to sketch out my paintings before I would ever start on a surface. At one point this became unnecessary for me. Underneath all of my paintings are drawings. I’ve never gotten the composition in one shot; it takes a lot of time to work the surface until I get the desired result. This phase is the most exciting part of the process because it’s all about the unknown and making discoveries.
One of the things I love most about working at a large scale is the physicality. Based on the perspective, the viewer can anticipate where I might have been in relation to the surface — whether I was reaching, standing, squatting, or bowing. As I write about this it reminds me of something I really like about Chinese Calligraphy, in that a large part of the art form is being able to see how the artist moved. It reads as evidence of a performance. You can actually see where the artist hesitated based off the amount of ink in one spot or where they applied slightly more or less pressure to the brush,.The work is very psychological. The rice paper literally absorbs the movement of the artist.
You use a great deal of pattern, fabric and quilt references in your work. Can you talk about the significance of those items as source material? What attracts you to the patterns themselves as they exist in the domestic sphere?
My mother is a quilter so I grew up surrounded by quilts, fabrics, and patterns. She made most of my clothes growing up and everything she did had a process behind it. One of the first quilts she made was a Sunbonnet Sue with remnants of fabric from dresses she made for me as a child. I have an emotional response to that quilt whenever I see it because pieces of my youth are sewn together and spread throughout a surface that’s function is to keep you warm.
I find this happens a lot in own work, taking bits and pieces from my life and weaving them into compositions that become self portraits and documents of that moment in time.
You mentioned that you include the tradition of crafting in your work—including textiles and quilts. Is there something interesting that happens for you when a quilt or other medium is interpreted via the language of painting?
I find this interpretation to be incredibly interesting because it’s a challenge to make a stimulating composition working from just a flat object. They are very experimental for me, where I play with subtle shifts in color and placement to make the composition work as an image within an image. But mostly the quilts and textiles references serve as larger studies for color relations. While they probably look mostly decorative they function to help me understand weight and color within my larger paintings.
Where do you find your source material and does it always have personal meaning or significance for you?
Right now all of my source material is from my domestic environment. My paintings are about home and the studio. I find myself using the same objects, or patterns for numerous paintings. I didn’t realize how much of my personality is reflected in my work until I was completely surrounded by it and immersed in it.
What do you listen to while you work? Any music or podcasts we should check out?
I have created a few studio playlists on Spotify which I listen to on rotation. My musical choices are so random that if I were to list them it would be a mess. But I can tell you that I’m listening to a lot of Tangerine Dream and Boards of Canada right now, very chill and electronic.
Are there a few artists whose work you are currently looking at?
I am ALWAYS looking at artists. Making a list is impossible, but I’ll tell you who I actively have open on my table:
- Elizabeth Blackadder
- Jane Freilicher
- Joan Brown
A few others are:
- Charles Garabedian
- Lois Dodd
- David Hockney
- Horace Pippin
You can also see what I am looking at or what I am “liking” based off my Tumblr account.
Do you have any exhibitions coming up?
I have a solo show at the end of the summer from July 25th-August 22nd at EN EM Art Space in Sacramento, CA. I’m incredibly excited about this show as it’s in my home town and my paintings are very much about “home”.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your work and talk with us!
To find out more about Anna and her work, visit the artist's website.