Artist Teresa Oaxaca creates paintings that mirror her eccentric and informed personality by portraying incredibly complex and bright subjects that have roots in academic composition and portrayal of the figure. At the age of seventeen, Oaxaca began her schooling in drawing academies in Europe where she attended both the Angel and Florence academies. Since her schooling she has established herself as a easily identifiable and prominent artist. Although she is currently based in Washington D.C., her works can be found in galleries all over the country and one of her coming shows will be hung in the Slovenian embassy in Mexico City. (Her father is of Mexican heritage and her mother is from Slovenia.)
I recently had the honor of taking a week-long figure drawing workshop from the amazing painter, Teresa Oaxaca. While she taught me so much about different ways to develop an academic drawing of the figure, I shared printmaking techniques that were new to her and we became friends. She was gracious enough to allow me to conduct an interview with her. I only wish I could pass on a better representation of how kind and amazing Teresa is as a person as well as an artist but this short dialogue will have to suffice:
SHADEDMINDS: What was your experience at the Angel and Florence academies? What was the difference between them and how have those experiences translated into your professional work?
TERESA OAXACA: Both used live models and had pretty much the same resources. The differences were mainly that one used natural light and the other didn’t. The Florence Academy had a stronger emphasis on drawing and a more brushstroke-oriented way of painting – which was because they were more interested in anatomy and drawing – both helped and the more you learn the more you use all of it.
SM: You’ve mentioned breaking academic rules learned in the academies. What kind of rules have you come to break since going out on your own?
TO: They used to have composition rules like, you have to put the object in center or just off center, don’t put too many things in your composition, you know, less is more. Let the background be gray and sit back while putting more emphasis in the center. I’ve become more interested in planes, texture and linework.
SM: How was it transitioning from an academy setting into the professional art world? Was it easy or a big jump?
TO: I did it gradually with a little help from my parents. I decided I wasn’t going to do loans. my parents told me that I had to find a way to pay my way as soon as possible, like, within the year, so I would do commissions and portraits – so I kinda worked my way through school. And then I got scholarships but usually those dry up after you leave school. I would do those kind of things and I would put shows up as well. When I left school I had more money because I wasn’t spending it on school so it actually was easier because it was like all of a sudden I could afford to buy things. When I left school after teaching for a little while at the end of my time there I wasn’t in a great financial situation but within 2 or 3 months of returning to D.C. I was in a great place and back on my feet financially after doing more commissions and selling stuff between solo shows and people just buying my work because I was new and they were interested in me. It all added up pretty quick. But that was a big amassing of lots of things at once. That was several years worth of my works being sold. And yeah I found it easier than i thought.
SM: And now going back in time, were you always defined as a childhood talent or did skill come over time? When did you start to be recognized as a gifted artist?
TO: Ummm, I always did painting and sculpture. I used to try to make my own toys and also just draw to entertain myself. I guess when I was around fifteen I got pretty serious about it and wanted to be a painter. Before then I just thought it was something that retired people did because those were the only people I knew who did art. I would just be in classes on weekends and it would just be a once a week thing. It was strange for some reason I felt like you were only supposed to do art once a week because that was indulgent or something. Art was seen as more of a luxury. It was almost like going to Disney World and it didn’t occur to me for some reason that you were supposed to practice it- which I don’t understand why I thought that looking back now- I think it may have been that I was just so busy with school and sports and things and art wasn’t really prioritized in the education or culture or my family as much. So it just didn’t make sense that you would spend as much time doing art as you would learning something you didn’t even care about.
SM: What feeling do you hope your pieces instill in people?
TO: I’m just trying to make more nice paintings that are interesting or exciting – paintings that people can get ideas from when they look at them.
SM: So do you have an idea when you go into a painting, of what feeling you’re trying to communicate? Or is it more based on composition?
TO: I think it’s more focused on just artistry. I think most artists in history just like to make images and have cool ideas. The kind of art I was trained to do was more like, “Paint a still life. Paint a portrait. Paint a landscape…”, so maybe i’m still working on getting more and more ideas out. I think I also personally just don’t like talking about ideas. I think some people are just the type that just don’t naturally talk about them. Just because they don’t talk about ideas doesn’t mean they don’t have them – it’s more the visual again, the artistic part.
SM: It goes unsaid then?
TO: I think it has to.
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