Brazilian artist Cela Luz, who is currently based in New York after finishing up an MFA program, paints with an eye for the comical in the everyday, with attention especially on themes of joy and frustration in childhood. We chat about her process and her experience at the School of Visual Arts, where she has a show in the SVA Flatiron Gallery through June 12!
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First, tell me a bit about you! You're from Brazil originally, but are based currently in New York?
Yes, I live and work in New York. I was born in 1986 in Brazil, where I lived in Rio de Janeiro until 2015.
You've just finished up an MFA in New York at the School of Visual Arts. How was that experience?
Life changing. The opportunity to have an ongoing dialogue and critique about what I love to do was an intense and amazing experience. The MFA in Fine Arts has approximately 30 artists from all over the world that turn the environment into a rich cultural exchange. I had the chance to have classes and conversations with artists that I admire such as James Siena, David Row, Marilyn Minter, Rico Gatson and others. I also made good friends, and we are now a community of artists that support each other, which is one of the most important parts of the journey for me.
What first interested you in art, especially making it yourself?
The ability to comprehend the world and self through art. The colors, the texture, and the lines. My mother used to paint when I was a kid, and we used to do it together. At some point, she stopped, and I continued. I got addicted to drawing at a very young age; it started to become something that I needed to do to understand life. Paint and drawing are always together in my work.
In your statement, you describe your work as a combination of elements including humor, childhood innocence, music, and sarcasm. Can you tell me a bit more about your practice?
I approach these elements in different ways in the work. It can be found in the metaphors that exist between the title and the work, the combination of childhood elements in defamiliarization situations, or using happy colors to deal with frustrations, contemporary banal and stupid behaviors - like war tanks, selfies, shopping carts... Tragic-comic is a mood that is always present in my practice. I like my work not to be literal, so formally my paintings are always on the frontier between figurative and abstract.
What is your process like?
I use oil paint, oil pastel, dry pastel, charcoal and palette knife. I love the different textures that can coexist on canvas, paper or wood, between them and the parallel that these materials give me related to life characteristics. For example, the ephemeral aspect of the charcoal, the time that it takes for the oil paint to dry and the effect that the waiting time has on me, painting wet-on-wet vs. creating a thicker texture, the powder of the dry pastel when in contact with the paint, or the beautiful brutality of the palette knife when scratching the canvas surface.
I paint everything that comes through my mind in a very intuitive process.The time that I typically spend on a work varies a lot; I don't know how to precise. My research is mainly based on the history of painting, especially the abstract expressionism, my daily life, psychology and society behavior.
How would you describe your studio or workspace?
A chaotic sanctuary. Most of the times a mess. My studio is the witness of my process, where I am safe and vulnerable at the same time. It is the place where I solve problems, painting is all about that. I can find all sort of feelings in a tiny amount of time and deal with them there. Like a rollercoaster.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio to get you in the best mode to create?
When I am painting, I don't want anyone to interrupt me. I can't have anyone around. No phone, no visits, I stop everything, play a music and disconnect from the world. It is my kind of meditation.
What is your favorite piece of advice?
I find Sol Lewitt's letter to Eva Hesse a great piece of advice. Here is part of it:
"Learn to say 'Fuck You' to the world once in a while. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itchin, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rumbling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just DO!"
How would you define "success?"
The end of an endless path.
What do you feel is the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing art, either creatively or professionally?
Gerhard Richter said that "Art is the highest form of hope." I think that the hardest part is to balance the hope, expectations, and the work itself.
What are you working on right now?
I am painting non-stop in the studio :) I'm in a show in Chelsea, New York at SVA Flatiron Gallery (133 W 21st St) up until June 12th and will be in a show in Brazil soon.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for this opportunity. It is great to have this space and an honor to be part of the selected artists.
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