WORKS OF MAGIC TAKE PLACE IN TIME: VISIONARY PAINTINGS BY RAQUEL DÍAZ
Subjectivity of what defines art as Black, Afro-Latin, European or American, begs a question of why do people delve into the world of art and creativity. Intuitively, artists deal with dimensions of possession and possessiveness. Is it the art that begs to be made or is the artist under his/her means of possessiveness born into this transcendence of art-making? Brooklyn based artist Raquel Díaz through her imaginative and visionary paintings attempts to answer all these questions. Transported into her studio, she channels her visions through virtual postings, brings the world into her place of enlightenment. Her paintings are the most inspired works of figurative compositional art – I have seen in quite some time. Given her role as self-taught artist, one wonders about process of art-making, how one wills the practice, references to history, inspiration and encouragement to go on. She is self-empowered, pulls from all facets of life; her art-making is an honoring of human beauty, human drama, human tragedy. These stylized and patterned expressions are brilliant, colorful and original. They mute notions of The Masters and keep the viewer contained into Díaz’s very own uniqueness. Current works of art (posted online or imagined for art gallery walls) suffer from the narrative and composition. Díaz takes a note from history and maximizes her potential. She is currently working towards an art show at a new studio space that will transform into an interesting two story Art Gallery, with several pieces that will be shown at the opening on December, 2019.
Kofi Forson: Raquel Díaz, I am honored and privileged to share this space with you. I’ve been fortunate enough to follow you on Facebook, wondered about your time alone in the studio based on black and white self-portraits you have posted over the years. These photos depict a woman transcending, captivated by and knowing of her own light. It clues the observer into what it means to be an artist working in a studio. There’s a sense of wanting and wishing to be you, be a part of your glory, your imagination, your world.
What do you hope to reveal when you post these photos? Are you voyeuristically allowing the viewer into your studio? Is this a form of intimacy, how the viewer can virtually smell the oil paint, sense and feel the atmosphere within your studio?
Raquel Díaz: Thank you for having me, Forson, and thank you very much for your kind words. Now, regarding my black and white self-portraits, I will define them as an attempt to capture time. Throughout my life the concept of time has always invaded my mind and what I mean by it is this present time, the moment. I feel very drawn to the infinity and what it contains as to the succession of the many that it represents. Using photography as a tool to capture infinity is always a great experiment that allows me to take a little glimpse into it.
Forson: Habit of the painter is to work out dimensions of his/her art within the studio. Not every painter is lucky enough to have a studio. Certainly success and professionalism allows for one to be blessed with this fortune. You are currently working towards an art show in a new studio space that will transform into an interesting two story Art Gallery. How did this come about and can you share any new details for the upcoming show in December?
Díaz: I think a studio place is the painter’s hands. For many years I painted in a variety of places including kitchens, bedrooms, and public places that were not supposed to be used as a creative space but I made them into one, taking the risk to be kicked out. I don’t believe in the idea that a creator needs to have the perfect space in order to create. A creator will create in the most odd, uncomfortable places if that is the only possibility she/he has, simply because it is essential to her/him. Now I am fortunate enough to have a big studio space to work and where I can move around and look at the work to examine it, but if at any point I don’t have that privilege that won’t stop me or slow me down.
Nothing comes without hard work and this opportunity wasn’t any different.
About the coming show in December, I can advance that there will be different ones, actually. I will be part of a group exhibition that will happen in December and will also present my work on a solo show that will take over the two floors between the months of November and December. The show will contain a lot of new work that I am currently working on and a floor with paintings from the Dripping Illusionism Movement.
Forson: I had taken notice of your Dripping Illusionism Paintings earlier on in your time on Facebook. You define this movement as a retinal manifestation of the unconscious and conscious, a realization of the internal optical memory, a present experience that triggers the living moment. Your experience is evident through applying of gesso on the canvas. Hours later with your imagination you perceive a different reality on the surface, what appears to be figures you could paint.
Can you please take me back to when this first happened? I believe it was December of 2015. What were the circumstances which led up to this moment? What were you feeling? What were you experiencing?
Díaz: I created Dripping Illusionism in December of 2015, yes. This art movement came out after I was experimenting with overlapping fabrics that I was making into canvases but I knew I needed to find more; I was on the search. One day, I happened to be running out of gesso but I really wanted to get the canvas prepared for painting as soon as possible so I managed to splash some gesso around and brushed it almost like training to expand it. After a few hours I sat in front of the canvas in my small bedroom and I kept looking at it. For a long time I couldn’t stop looking at it. I was perplexed of what I was seeing. My imagination was seeing all this colorful figures on the shapes that the gesso left and at some point I just stood up and I started to paint them, one after the other. After that night, I continued to work on more pieces using the same processes and always surprising myself of the unique outcome each piece had. I worked in the Movement for about a year and I am planning to continue doing more of it in the coming time.
Forson: What is the transition from working in an art studio to having your own studio? Is it an accomplishment to know how and where the work is personally manufactured? Does it feel like a second home?
Díaz: For me any place that I painted at was my sanctuary, the place I feel myself the most, but at the same time, the only thing I really care about when I am working is the piece I am working on, and once it’s done, I focused on the next.
A bigger place that gives me space to look from different perspectives is nicer of course, but I can work with less and I always find its magic.
Forson: Excellence in progress is always detailed in doing of the work, actually working out the process. What is your habit as a painter? Do you keep sketch books and graphite pencils on you at all times? What is your method for buying paint and canvas? How often are you in the studio?
Díaz: I don’t really have habits as such; I work in a quite intuitive way and I often lose track of time at the studio. I don’t have a schedule; I can be working from very early in the morning until the afternoon or taking it towards the night. Regarding the way art plays a role in my daily life, I am always ready. I always carry the same leather bag with a lot of pens and pencils, at times watercolors and at least 1 or 2 sketchbooks. About material, I buy paint at an art store here in Brooklyn and for canvases I make them myself. I buy raw cotton and I prepare it by putting gesso over and if needed I stretch them making the inner frame.
Forson: Referencing your Dripping Illusionism Paintings, they appear to come from an illusion, a dreamscape of formless structures which struggle with balance, shape, and so they take on this dance of limbs, figures with faces, masks almost, and in a sense it is a masquerade; shadowy expressions of human representations which reference actual human beings, some you may know, perhaps part of the subconscience. There’s dynamism here, part of mosaic; an implied narrative captured with innocence yet precision. These are not translatable as paintings depicted under duress of a trance or possession. They are manipulated with thought and care. Ultimately source of inspiration is transformational; actual process for painting is masterful.
What is your true understanding of this movement? Is it transformational? Are you in a trance when you paint them? Is the final outcome expected or are you surprised?
Díaz: Well, Dripping Illusionism to me is meant to continually transform the approach the viewer perceives art and I believe it will, simply because its foundation is totally different than any other visual art done before.
It is definitely a transformational art. During the course of Art History artists have been searching and manifesting pre-established concepts and premeditated ideas of emotions to represent on their art, from classical art to our Modern days, with the exception of Abstract art that does not necessarily have a concept behind but there has never been an Art Movement that is based in the most immediate interpretation of abstract shapes, and as a result the abstract shapes acquiring the infinite possibilities of form within that present time frame. Even though I am talking about a spontaneous creative process, it is very much linked with the different layers of the subconsciousness and the mental state of the recollection of experiences, and of course, our intuitional inner knowledge playing the number one role here.
I think that with this in mind, I look at this Movement as a door that can open up a radical new art.
Forson: Such imagination triggers thoughts about the psyche and mind. Somehow everything relates back to childhood. You were born in Medina del Campo, and grew up in Spain. Fundamentally what was root of your upbringing? Were you exposed to beauty, humanness, sense of history? How did your experiences as a child shape your imagination?
Díaz: Yes, I was born in a hospital in Medina del Campo, which is the capital of a farming area in Castilla y Leon. My father had to drive my mother there to give birth because where they lived, which is the same rural village where I grew up, there weren’t any hospitals. I lived in the same house my father was born, with my parents and grandparents. As an only child, freedom and creativity were very important factors to my upbringing. My grandparents taught me by their actions what these two words meant. I saw my grandfather making and fixing shoes every night at the little shoe repair store he built next to our house. He treated every shoe with such care and he did everything by hand. The shoe store was more of an atelier to me, a creative place that was also decorated with the drawings I made at that time when I was a little girl. I remember times when my grandfather wearing a big beauret and a leather apron will look at me from his chair while he was fixing shoes and I was drawing. Regarding my grandmother, she certainly was a big inspiration for me as well. She was a self-made woman who came from a farming area in North Spain and from a very poor family. She never received an education of any kind but her intelligence was incredible. She did many kinds of art and she was working on it all the time. She was an exceptional writer who learnt how to read and write after forty years of age and for the next thirty years before she died, she tried to create a theater group for the women in the village but unfortunately it was rejected by these women who didn’t care or dare to do it. She actually suffered from a lot of rejection in that village; now I understand why, because she was obviously very different compared to everybody else there. Regardless, my memory of her is of this exceptional woman who fought all odds and never allowed anything or anybody to stop her from delivering the artistic message she had in her heart. Now that my grandparents are not physically here, I carry them in my heart and I live my life based on that pure nature they both emanated and raised me with.
Forson: You are a self-taught creator. Adventurism and travel can be a great replacement for institutional education. How would you describe your sense of adventure? Are you a curious person? Do you think more than do? Do you seek the light or is it manifested from within?
Díaz: Yes, I am self-taught and just as I said about my grandmother being a self-made woman, I feel myself to be the same. The reason why I say self-made is because I always lived based on my own values. I never let my surroundings change my vision. I am a dreamer of reality. I like to look at life as a masterpiece that you have to keep working at. When the inner life is embraced with honesty, it synchronizes perfectly with the outer, becoming an active energy.
Who I am is not separated from who you are or who anyone was or will be. I am not separated from the tea leaves that grow in Nepal. I am not separated from the birds that migrate and survive. I am certainly part of the same energy that Leonardo Da Vinci was and still is. A stranger walking by is not separated from me.
Everything and everyone as a collective, is one, to me.
So to your question whether if I consider myself a curious person, certainly yes. Without curiosity, progress of any kind and a possible solid discovery can never be found.
Forson: Express if you can those grueling first steps it took to learn how to draw and paint? What was your reference point? What books, artists and movements did you pick from?
Díaz: I started drawing and painting when I was a little girl. I can’t remember how old I was. It always felt natural to me and I never tried to compare what I was doing with anybody else but rather tried to express myself through the media.
My inspirational source was and still is what surrounds me and what I feel from it. I remember being very impacted by El Greco and Francisco de Goya.
Forson: Raquel Díaz, I am in a place of solitude when I look at your paintings. I am transformed. I have been inundated with what I call, “Paint-post-to get a like” type of paintings. It seems artists are self-possessed in a world of their own making. They make and break their own rules. They answer to no one. They think of themselves as gods and goddesses. Your art is transcendental. Your paintings attempt to process human beauty, human drama, human tragedy. There is a means of the act of possession and possessiveness. But I believe you are free. Your art pours from a center. Its source is in your nature: your self-willed ability to commit to making the art, delving into your core to find the truth. I believe much of this is from a manifestation.
Your Figurative and Illusionism Paintings are your most evocative. The narrative is mythological yet modern. Its approach is from portraiture, yet compositionally it borders film, literature, folktales. Where from history do you start? How is your personal life story (or that of your people) represented in your paintings?
Díaz: Thank you for your words, Forson. I really resonate towards few points you mention here. I do believe my work comes out from the center of my soul and freedom being in my nature moves my hands when I am working. I also agree with your words saying “much of it comes from a manifestation” I actually think that all of my work is a manifestation of not just who I am as an individual and creator but a manifestation of life that goes beyond myself.
Forson: Are your paintings examples of crafting and shaping of norms? How do they ascend from the abnormal, be it madness, logic of death and resurrection, cult of sexuality? Is this commentary on the life of a mythical mind? What are you seeing into as the past becomes present? Whose story are you telling?
Díaz: I think it is not much about me giving meaning to the artwork but the artwork itself being able to manifest on the surface. I understand the outcome as well as the creative process to be a perfect materialization of a spiritual depth encompassing the general energy. And that is why every viewer has its own story when they look at an art piece and this magical event that happens when somebody sees a painting for instance, and has an immediate response or even a story. That to me, probes the connection and it becomes its own evolving frequency. The painting becomes alive, continually changing for every person and from every person’s frequency.
Forson: There are dimensions on subjects of gender, male/female body-sizing and conflict. The female is at times maternal, but also rooted in her myth as animal, bird for example. She is often solitary and playful, still grouped in her moments of community and family. The male commands integrity and power, masculinity and showmanship. How are these served with regards to religion, politics and cult of personality?
Díaz: I am not sure how the exposure of a particular subject can bring about social beliefs to the viewers, but when it comes to me, as I mentioned before, I am just channelizing what I perceive from the experience of being alive and I don’t allow myself to have any barriers of assumption or judgment.
Forson: Tell me about your Line Paintings. I am intrigued. I interpret them as forms of expression and style, with use of color to suggest shadow and shape. By design they are felt emotively, an impression on the conscience as passionate, shades of beauty. What is basis for the pattern and placement for your Line paintings?
Díaz: The line paintings were basically a process of simplicity. I wanted to summarize space itself, shadows and light, pictorial information, all in the trace of lines.
Forson: Your Yellow Paintings remind me of Ingmar Bergman movies where the female is front and center. There are biblical undertones in these, or at least intimations of peace, solemnity and transfiguration.
Díaz: The Yellow Paintings were done after Dripping Illusionism and the Line Paintings. As an opposition of the Line Paintings period, with regards to the Yellow period I had the intention of being able to keep a visual factor always present; I chose color to be it; Naples Yellow was my choice. During this Period I became one with this kind of Yellow and from the color itself, subject and composition were born onto the canvas.
Forson: I take great pleasure in your drawings; subtle markings which reveal distinguished faces of character, history, culture. Stylized determination encourages different variety in how these figures are drawn. Seemingly, types of graphite can make a certain image more dimensional, while others are minimalistically portrayed. Are these “sit down portraits”, from photographs or your imagination?
Díaz: Most of my drawings come either from quick sketches of people in their natural environment, often when they are not acknowledging me or from my own imagination.
Forson: American writer, Sandra Newman, recently tweeted… Been thinking how most of the art ever made was never seen by anyone but the artist. Really this should affect our idea of what art is. Most art is something people do alone and unwitnessed. Art seen by others is a particular subcategory of art.
How do you feel about the separate worlds of being in the studio and fanfare of a gallery opening? What appreciation do you have for both?
Díaz: I agree with Newman in the fact that the understanding of an art piece changes from the artist’s perspective to the viewer’s one, the intimacy that was shared between the artist and the work in the creative process for instance. The public will never be able to perceive in that same degree. But I don’t necessarily agree with the last sentence stating that “Art seen by others is a particular subcategory of art”. I think that there aren’t any categories in the perception of art. They all carry their own valid energy and complement each other. I will even say, transform each other. For sure, nobody knows how Van Gogh felt when he painted “The Starry Night” but “The Starry Night” becomes a different kind of night every day. Every person looks at it and feels it here at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Forson: I am extremely pleased to have had the opportunity to experience your art and exchange ideas on them.
Díaz: It’s my pleasure Forson. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to be here and for your honest interest in my work.
Cover Image: Madonna feeding her folks Original Painting by Raquel Díaz Acrylic on canvas 38 in x 55 in / 96 cm x 139 cm