Ana Eloisa Soto-Canino
My name is Ana and I was born in 1963 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. While in grammar school, high school and college, I ran a parallel course of 11 years of formal training in the history, theory, and practice of the visual arts. I trained in various "schools" of thought and practice in drawing, watercolor, oil, acrylic, pastel, lithography, etching, silk-screening, and of course, computer art. I complemented this training with post- college work in arts administration.
I invite you to approach three of my pieces through a new medium -the computer. Computer technology now allows text to mediate the relations between artist, artwork and art lover like never before. In my past, a piece would take on a life of its own once it left my hands. I came to know little, if anything, of that life. But the new spatial and temporal proximity of text to art (and the accessibility of that link to a new kind of audience), unleashes a new dynamic. I hesitate, and yet I welcome it too.
Before I turn to the pieces themselves, I must send a big thanks to Judy Wray of the Visual Arts League (VAL), who made this show- and all of VAL possible. Thanks also to Sarmad Abassi and Rinku Dutta for photographing my works, Kurt Hobschaidt for framing, and Matt Gillham and his family--my family-- for all-around support. Thanks to all for being sincere admirers and terrific friends. I dedicate the show to Mama and Mami who sent me off to art classes they could barely afford, and to my brother Jose, the maker, the genius.
Skin Planet (1997) Watercolor on watercolor board, cold press, 18" X 40"
"This work depicts several artifacts-an aboriginal kayak (which would have been made with animal skin), the glassy bubble of a modern compass, and a modern wooden paddle. You can also find a parchment-like map of our planet, with the white North and South Poles unraveling along the top and bottom margins of the board. This watercolor is an exercise in "trompe l'oeil" (a fooling of the eye), for its entire surface is in constant flux; objects become the space that contains them and space becomes objects. When you look at this piece, a particular part of the surface will now be foreground, now middle ground, now background. It all depends on how you "read" it. For example, South America's Cape Horn appears as an integral part of the "background" map where the Americas arise. But now, it is part of a blotch of leather on the kayak's skin in the middle ground, a space which itself can suddenly be perceived as South America. And yet again it is the stain on the wooden handle of the paddle floating in the foreground.
To create these perceptual shifts, I depicted a nature---wood, leather, parchment---that could be painted with a limited range of colors. The trick was to break with certainty. The finished image, however, could not be so fluid that the onlooker could lose "grounding" and become lost in pools of color. What I wanted was a place that could be discovered. Figuratively, that is why I left the compass as an abstraction--without lubber lines or a compass rose. As you look at the piece, you will find additional shifts, and perhaps different kinds of shifts, on your own. The way you look at the world here can now go beyond my conscious control, and even beyond yours. You are free to occupy your own ground and follow your own sense of direction while yet knowing that the unexpected constantly arises, sometimes because I willed it, but more often because I could not.
The handling of the medium itself is not new. I used basic, long-established watercolor techniques familiar to watercolorists. Still, technical challenges crept in. One of these challenges concerns the personalities of the pigments I used. I worked with eight pigments, enough for a splash of fresh color, even for such a narrow palette. Yet many of these pigments can be quite unforgiving. They tend to "stain" the paper rather than "lift" from it. Lifting is a wondrous property of many watercolor pigments--after having been applied, they can be removed to varying degrees while wet or dry (with a brush or sponge, for example). This lifting allows the artist vast degrees of freedom in creating diverse effects. However, colors that stain do not comply so readily. Staining colors tend to immediately commit the artist to the mark. Therefore the artist must approach the blank paper surface with an overall plan well ahead of a game notorious for its uncertainties. This is true for watercolor generally, and more so for the palette I chose.
Self Portrait at Princeton, (1983) (pastel on drawing paper), 23" X 36"
This piece is thoroughly exploratory in process and content, form and function. It is both a drawing and a painting at once, a passing gesture and a finished artifact. I drew the piece while standing before an easel. The posture permitted me to throw lines and drive colors into the paper forcefully. I layered color upon color, sometimes blending them with my fingers, sometimes letting the raw stroke float to the surface. I made this piece at a campus studio where I worked with artist-instructors from New York City and fellow students from around the world.
This is one of five self-portraits created during my four years on campus. The self-portrait is an astonishing genre. For reasons I have not uncovered , I never cared for self-portraits before Princeton, and I have not cared for them since. But I know why I made self-portraits then. This period marked a profound transformation in me. It was a trans- formation which I willfully sought by leaving Puerto Rico to find a voice for myself as a scholar. But the terms of that transformation threatened to smother me.
Nothing about it was tempered. Here was the fellow student, a stranger, who chose to punch me whenever our paths crossed in the dorms...and there was the class where I was one of only two students. We were led by a brilliant art history professor, Prof. Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann (who poured lavish attention on our projects. Between these two moments, countless other poles of intense despair and intense delight unfolded in and around me. But something saved me despite the tolls exacted. The saving grace was that trait for which I had been faulted all along--my outrageous sense of self-reliance. It was while living this extra-ordinarily intense life that I made this piece.
Technical pen and ink on illustration board. 33" X 5" (framed)
The nature depicted here is a low bough of oak swinging in the wind. The mature leaves are losing their color and they are dry. The wind is urging them to fall.
I drew from nature directly. The technique is called pointillism. Except for a few curves drawn in the branches, I made the entire piece by marking one dot of ink at a time. I used perhaps six different pen nibs to obtain the fine gradations needed to portray textures, shadows, and varying degrees of translucency. Pointillism is a painstaking process that, if achieved, delivers subtle, powerful results.
This drawing's sense of movement results from a carefully chosen composition; I stressed the curves of the bough and the tossing of the leaves. Also, I tried to stress the space being carved by the arch of the swinging bough. That is why I pushed the cluster of leaves towards the right-side edge of the board. This left untouched a large section of whiteness that could now generate, through balance and contrast, a sense of motion in space.
In this piece I pursued the traditional definition of art at the heart of my early training. This training held that to pursue art, one must first master, and then transcend, established principles and techniques. The transcendence marked the emergence of something new, but that something new also had to be in dialogue with what existed before. I have since explored other definitions of art, but this one is still alluring. It lets me engage in a tantalizing process where the ideal being pursued always remains at hand--literally. Yet the slightest technical flaw might creep in as I draw, rendering it all in vain. Another word for this is "heartbreak". I did not suffer one here, but anything can happen now that the piece has a life of its own."
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