TERE VELÁZQUEZ A Few Drops of Color
We get to Tere’s studio, a space brightly lit by windows and skylights on the high ceilings. It is so tidy, it almost looks empty: an easel with a huge canvas that she is currently working on, two tables with painting tools, two benches… It is a privilege to enter her space, she is very jealous of her unfinished paintings. We settle in.
Límulus: Why do you paint from photographs?
Tere Velásquez: I’m interested in the creativity I find when choosing a photograph and the message I want to transmit from it. How can I transform the minimal orange I find in a section of the photograph and capture it? How can I translate that color? Something changes then emotionally, something happens. When I watched Gerzso as a young girl, I didn’t understand anything, but something happened: something can happen unconsciously, even when you don’t understand what you see or you can’t perceive it consciously. Much later, you “know,” you can speak of it. That is the creative need. The important thing is to be amazed, as Socrates and then Joseph Beuys would say; Nietzche said it: everything is art. The process is the gist.
L: How do you proceed from the photograph?
TV: I am a copier. I try to imitate the image as much as I can, which of course is impossible because of the limitation of the material, but on a color level, I try to reach the maximum similitude. I think my daughter Jazmina took this photograph – she refers to the canvas she’s currently working on -. It’s in New Port, Oregon. We went to a beach where there was a thick fog, I didn’t make that up, it really looked like that. It reminded me of Caspar Friedrich, the German romantic. He was protestant, very austere. When he died, his wife sold off everything and long after, an art critic discovered him. It always happens… Look at this window he painted – she says, pointing to a book by that author where we see a woman peaking out of the window -, it’s the idea of the frame as a window, where another window opens to dimensions.
L: Do you remember the time of day when this photograph was taken?
TV: Yes. It was a beach in the Pacific that resembles one that I go to in the state of Guerrero but in New Port, it’s the same beach but a cold version of it. The weather changes the atmosphere completely. There were seals on this beach and a storm was approaching. One day we went down to the beach and got scared to go back because of the fog: we couldn’t see the lights, we couldn’t see the lighthouse. We got back really fast from fear of getting lost. I remembered Fellini’s Amarcord, the old man in the fog who thought he had died. That’s how I felt: when do we die? I like black on top and on the bottom, it turns everything into a negative. Colors start to appear little by little, like this yellow on the cloud filled with water. It’s hard to know what time it is exactly. It’s very high up north. Because of the latitude there, the sun takes ages to set. It’s a misery yellow, a few drops, as opposed to the yellow of the sunset I painted in Acapulco. Nature has certain inclemency, she’s saying, you simply cannot be here.
L: How does light, depending on the hour of day, influence your studio and the way you paint?
TV: The temperature of the color varies; a yellow can turn warm or cold depending on the hour of day. When the sun sets, it turns very orange. The yellows and pinks are the ones that vary the most. I had a hard time seeing the pink on this painting at noon, but at 6 pm I could see it perfectly well.
L: Did you design the light in this space?
TV: No, an architect did. We had to bring light from upstairs and put windows all around. This is a tube with mirrors that comes from the sky and softens the light. I brought it all the way down from the sky.
L: Do you have symbols for light?
TV: I work with light in an aesthetic sense, an atmospheric sense. On the painting I am working on right now, the color is more discreet: light emerges from color. I made an exhibit inspired on Goethe called “Lights and shadows,” since he asserted that color is translated in the acts of light: what light does is color. Color is a philosophical problem in itself: it’s subjective, intangible. I address it more on that note. This painting, for example, it’s very threatening, very existential….
L: Tell us about your exploration with Goethe’s theory of colors.
TV: What I like most and do best is color. I searched for theories and found Goethe’s, who basically says that there are no theories, that sadly, it is a very subjective problem and cannot be methodical, for good or bad. Like art… It is a constant problem that creates a lot of anxiety. I wanted something more established with color, something that held me back a bit. And it turned out it didn’t… You start to realize that everything in art, as in life, is always problematic. As Nietzsche used to say, life is interpretation and art, in the end, there is no manual. There are techniques in art and you kind of know what happens when you use them, but we have no way of knowing beforehand whether they will cause an aesthetic experience.
L: Could you tell us about the colors in this painting?
TV: These ones here are warm. Do you really want to photograph them? I get them from a sampler: I take the catalogue close to the photo, as it if were a cooking recipe, to know which ones match. There are different greys, there’s a bit of green here. This is yellow. The tag on a white color said it was “for stormy clouds” and yes, I used it a bit on these clouds. This pink you see here is this one, it says you use it to paint the flesh… it’s cool that the clouds have a bit of skin color. This ultramarine is very cheap. This magenta is extremely chemical and not very expensive either. This one is extremely expensive, this is cobalt… it’s very expensive. You only use it when you really need to because they extract it from cobalt. There was a period of my life where I only painted with these and I would starve because the pigment is made of turquoise. You see Van Eyk’s paintings and they look as if they had been painted yesterday because they’re made of gemstone pigments. The patrons would pay for everything of course. There are different types of blacks, which is a problem. This is pilgrim black and I used it on the upper part, it has a bit of green. This is smoky Mars black, it’s Dutch and it’s the starkest of all. The one that lacks the most. If it were distempered, it would be a perfect black, but it’s not because of the oil. If you do it with an egg or with a rabbit’s tail, it evens out very well, but I like to work it as an oil. Stubbornness, I know… I don’t have any more of this black left, what am I going to do?
L: How did you end up with your black painting series?
TV: Because I had experimented with Goethe a lot by then, on how to invent and perceive color. A person even criticized me once: “palettes, of all tastes, rich, yellows, oranges” as if it were something decorative and superficial. Reinhardt impressed me very much and I thought: what happens when you take color to bordering issues, using it very moderately? Not the obvious one, but the one that exists on the threshold, on the edge. You learn a lot on thresholds… more than in broad daylight. That’s how I got to black, and because of a minimalistic philosophic issue, about what’s necessary, what’s deep… I made like twenty black paintings. They got darker with time; I kept taking them a step further to see just how much we could hack. The last one was inspired by Turrell’s installation called “Bloodbath,” a dark room with a very orange light. It was very beautiful, and it was pure light. Now, in this series, I’ve worked on scales of grey. This last one I think has been the most figurative one, maybe it’ll become abstract in the future.
L: How long do you take to make them?
TV: I’m trying not to take longer than three months on each painting. I get very anxious and I can’t start another one if I don’t finish this one, I can’t paint several at the same time, I’m very anxious. I can’t handle the uncertainty of “is it or isn’t it.”