Massiel Mafes

Massiel Mafes

Tell me a little bit about you!

I was born in Miami, Florida. Last year in August, I moved to San Francisco for graduate school at California College of the Arts. I will soon graduate in Spring 2018.

When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?

I have always had a passion for art making. It is the only thing that has made the most sense to me. It wasn't until I was about 19 years old when I became serious about pursuing an art career. In 2012, I remember visiting Miami Art Museum (now PAMM) and saw Dana Schutz's exhibition "If the Face Had Wheels." That show changed my life forever – it made me realize there are endless possibilities with painting. I have been investigating the medium ever since.  

What ideas are you exploring in your practice?

I explore the notion of ambiguity by capturing the visual moment of movement and manipulation. The cut forms of fabric sewn into the surface of my paintings are legible and abstract at the same time, allowing room for interpretation. I’m interested in the way a shape (or various shapes) in a painting can be perceived.

What is your process like?

I’m influenced by my surroundings. With a pen and paper, I render objects or figures I find visually appealing, cut them up, and reconfigure the pieces into a new shape. The next part of my process is executing that idea into a painting. I begin by walking around my studio and searching the floor for canvas pieces. From there, my movements just keep evolving and the initial idea changes – nothing is ever concrete. I end up finding a few more pieces then I sit on the ground and begin to sew them together. Once I am sewing, it is as if I am drawing with the machine and creating bold marks with the black thread. With this approach, I both take control over the material and delve into the element of chance.

Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?

One middle school teacher said to me "paint what you see, not what you think you see." During that time, I was learning how to paint and draw traditionally. Recently, I have thought about her advice and I am approaching it a different way now.  

Describe your studio.

There are canvas pieces in varied sizes scattered all over the floor. All my paintings are on the floor, as well as my sewing machine, kiwi cushion, paint tubes, staple gun, etc. It is a bit chaotic. Most people are hesitant to even walk inside my studio. There is no space for anyone – I usually kick things to a corner to make room for visits. I sit on the floor when I make my paintings. But I also feel like it is the best way for me to work. It requires me to stand up and walk around all the time – I usually get new ideas this way. 

What do you find most difficult, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?

At this moment, I think it’s pressure – especially since I am still in grad school. There are a lot of expectations but I tend to blur out any negative thoughts and continue to stay positive.

If you could sit down for dinner or a drink with anyone, who would it be and what would you chat about?

It’s very hard to decide because I admire a lot of artists but I would pick Rose Wylie. The way she articulates her work is so honest and direct – to me, it just feels so authentic. There is no art speak and I appreciate that.

What are three words you would use to describe your work?

Ambiguous, tactile, and dimensional. 

What do you do when you find yourself in a creative rut?

Sometimes I have a day without thinking about art. Sometimes I read artist books or watch exhibition reviews by James Kalm on YouTube. I also like to think about paintings I really love. That usually motivates me to keep going. For a few years now, I have had this weird obsession with Paul Klee’s Hand Puppets, and I have finally decided to purchase the book recently.  Best. Investment. Ever.

What do you love most about your medium? What challenges or surprises you most about it?

To me, canvas is easier to manipulate than paint. I can fold, crumple, and shape it in whichever way I want. I consider collaging as a way of editing – like layers in Photoshop. If I don’t want a shape or if I’m not satisfied in the way I folded the canvas piece, I simply take it out or handle it differently. Paint itself is a complicated issue. You’re limited with options - you’re obligated to confront the problem in that moment.

What do you need or value most as an artist?

Time and support

What keeps you creating?

My process has transformed in so many ways during this past year I truly do not know where it will take me in the next six months. I think that is the most exciting part.

What are you working on right now?

I am beginning to work larger so I am excited to see where that will take me. I am really looking forward to participating in Young Space’s online exhibition, TEN x TEN. Additionally, I will be included in Studio Visit Magazine’s upcoming winter issue, and I will travel to Spain in January for a two-week residency.

Anything else you would like to add?

Thanks so much!

Find more at massielmafes.com and on Instagram @massielmafes!

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Nick Satinover

Nick Satinover

Sidney Mullis

Sidney Mullis