"I don’t set out to paint something with “mystery”. The pieces just magically turn out that way. I think it is because I myself like to be surprised by the secret longings of a painting"
Interview by Raquel Fernández Sobrín
When did you first started painting? How was your creative awakening?
Creating imagery comes naturally to me. I don’t remember a time when I was not drawing or painting. It is an intrinsic part of my being so the concept of a creative awakening is rather alien. Of course there are fallow and fertile periods that ebb and flow but the ideas or desire to create something is always there, even if only unconsciously felt.
You lived in the Philippines until you were 11 years old and then emigrated to the USA. with your family. Did that experience influence your work in any way?
The sense of isolation and being uprooted is certainly a pervasive element. Mementos or ‘recuerdos’ of lost time find their way in my paintings. I paint always with the backdrop of nostalgia.
Was there an alternative career path in your plans if you didn’t have become an artist?
I would always have been painting even if it was not my source of income or livelihood. After high school I briefly thought about going into architecture or accounting, but the math seemed odious. I also thought about cooking school because I love to cook and eat. Luckily, a career in painting found me.
What are your paintings about?
My paintings are about love and loss, which can be difficult subjects in their simplicity. It is so easy to slip into sentimental imagery. They are also paintings inspired by poetry (I often get ideas from verse) and myths. Animals also figure a lot in my work, first as spirit companions or alter egos, but also as a depiction of future loss, because I find myself painting endangered species more and more.
When starting a piece, do you always know what you want to do, or it is more of an improvising process?
I always start with a drawing. In drawing I iron out all the problem solving involved in composing a picture. I always let a painting evolve on its own though and the end result always surprises me as the addition or subtraction of even the tiniest detail can change the mood or meaning of a painting.
I would love to touch the time after sunset or “the gloaming” with my eyes. It’s the most romantic and picturesque time of day for me
Your work is full of symbols, but you don’t usually reveal what hides behind them. How important is that sense of mystery for you?
A sense of mystery is very important to me. I don’t set out to paint something with “mystery” though. Somehow the paintings just magically turn out that way. I think it is because I myself like to be surprised by the secret longings of a painting. Every painting I create “wants” to become its own story, it evolves and it is like a dance between my particular emotions and the subject of the painting. Because I am human those emotions are fluid. I cannot paint what I do not feel so the symbolism in a painting might change accordingly. Painting can be like life itself, you can always plan things but in the end you can’t control everything.
What is the attraction of hands and eyes as primary subjects for you?
Hands and eyes evoke so much emotion in a portrait. Eyes either betray the feelings and thoughts of a subject or in the ambiguous gaze give a shroud of mystery. Hands tell a story with the manner of gesture and are symbolic of touch and action.
What would you like to see with your hands and touch with your eyes?
I would love to touch the time after sunset or “the gloaming” with my eyes. It’s the most romantic and picturesque time of day for me. With my hands I would like to see that liminal space in between two surfaces of skin, the visualization of a caresse.
Do you have a painting you’d never part ways with?
Yes, Girl and Goat at the Summit. I painted it as a memorial for my westie terrier. I never painted this beloved dog’s portrait and I was painting this work when I was nursing her during her last days. The painting is a memento of her. It is also a painting of optimism and a triumphant spirit, of light coming through the darkness.
With my hands I would like to see that liminal space in between two surfaces of skin, the visualization of a caresse
Do you have any tips on replenishing your creativity as an artist?
Walking in nature and reading books, seeing exhibitions are active ways. I’ve also recently liked taking time off from the studio to do absolutely nothing and enjoying the pleasure of no commitments, and to-dos. I’ve been so accustomed to scratching for ideas and always looking, that I sometimes forget how good intentional rest can be.
What artist, book or exhibition recently blew you away?
Last year I saw an exhibition of work by Alice Leora Briggs here in Santa Fe. I am floored by her drawings and prints which are at once uncomfortable, brutal and beautiful. I also just bought a new book by the artist Julie Speed, A Purgatory of Nuns which is so full of wit, and visual delight, since I am also a sometime painter of nuns.
*List of artwoks:
Hand with William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 87 (2019) from the Recuerdos series.
The Runaways (2012) from the Flora and Fauna series.
Time Regained: Hand with Proust and Forget–Me–Nots (2019) from the Spellbound series.
Reaching the Mountaintop (2007) from the Mad Enchanment series.
Crowned Nun with Marmoset (2018) from the Devotion series.
Fatima Ronquillo is represented by the Meyer Gallery.