A conversation between Thierry Goldberg Gallery and Veronica Fernandez
Thierry Goldberg: You’re currently quarantining in LA, where you have made all of the works for your show. Do you think this time at home has had an influence on your work?
VF: It has definitely had a huge impact, I’ve made a lot more pieces in quarantine than I thought I would be able to. I’m originally from the east coast, and spent most of my life growing up in New Jersey; it is only recently this past June that I’ve arrived in California. This is all a completely new environment for me, and this experience has allowed me to work outside without fear of simple things like getting rained on. So far during my time here I’ve felt this new feeling like I’m able to work more freely. People, at a safe distance, see me working and take interest in talking to me about my work from the street or sidewalk. I feel a change in how much more willing people are to engage with me despite being in quarantine or having to social distance. It feels good as an artist to see people just really want to learn about other people, and thinking about how I can create work to share with others feels good as well.
TG: Most of your paintings depict indoor domestic spaces and homes. Would you say your work is universally focused on home lives, or do you think this was influenced by spending so much time at home during quarantine?
VF: I’ve always been interested in the idea of a home, and how different everyone's perception of what home is. Growing up raised by my father in a single-parent home, we’ve encountered instances where we were living apartment to apartment, place to place, and at one point didn’t have a place to call home, so our home became each other. Going through those constant experiences made the idea of home never truly stable until now. During a time like this, where people are pinned to whatever their place to call home is, it makes me think a lot about how someone's home could be a place they can retreat to and feel safe in and for others that may not be the case at all. It may very well be a place they were trying to escape from and now they’re tied to it by force. Thinking about how quarantine can be a time of struggle or growth for someone has affected my work by causing me to think about people constantly transforming. Seeing even my own family forced to grow through such a stagnant time like now makes me reflect on the different surroundings and domestic spaces our bodies have lived through.
TG: Are the people depicted in your work real people like friends or family? Or are they imaginations?
VF: A lot of the figures in my work are family members or people close to me. My inspiration draws from personal memorabilia such as old photographs or photos I find through social media of them. I’m always taking their experiences and the nature of their character into consideration when painting them. Because I work with various reference materials there's always this clashing I guess of how they’ve changed over time and how life has impacted them, which alters their portrayal. A lot of the time I incorporate entities from my imagination that try to make their presence visible within the environment as well, I’d like to think they are kind of disruptive beings pinned to our existence.
TG: The people in your works range in age – I think I’m seeing many generations together, especially a lot of children. Was this a conscious decision? Is this you looking back on your past as a child, or depicting kids and family members you see right now?
VF: I think because I use a lot of old family photos that do incorporate different generations, there's always this mix of various age groups. Figures in my work that are depicted as a child may very well be in their 40s or 50s now. Incorporating imagery with childlike figures or young adults comes natural to me. There's always been something about that stage of childhood where you’re just completely unaware of the dark realities of the world because that realization of how certain things are is not something we can comprehend yet. In our very nature as children everything is a playground and something we give our raw guiltless trust to. I think using these childhood figures and painting them into environments where they are unaware of what is and isn't safe for them makes me think a lot about what we can be exposed to at such a young age and how it shapes us. How people think and perceive all becomes formulated through what they've encountered and what factors of society they are exposed to. Using certain ages helps create a connection that touches everyone, it helps me speak to community. Throwing the viewer into a time of the past forces them to stop in place and reconsider, because all of us may have lived through different events but nonetheless undergo being a child at some point.
TG: The way you portray the figures in your work differs: sometimes they are so blurred, it is hard to find any features on their faces, and other times their expressions are crystal clear. Is there an intended difference in the way you paint people in your work? Or is it more of a reflection of your experimentation with technique?
VF: It depends at times on what I put a focus on. Sometimes remembering a person and how they were or deconstructing their environment becomes important to me. Sometimes I look at an image and see an expression so striking and I immediately think wow, I need to paint this. Sometimes emotions and people are hard to read, they’re never black or white and can have a very confused, ambiguous, or impermanent quality to them. Some figures become stripped of any recognizable features and others are in constant motion and development; it coincides a lot with this idea of our memories always fluctuating and how we perceive ourselves and our emotions. There's always different levels of reality and perspectives when it comes to how we interpret our feelings, and how we may feel now may not be the way we will feel a few years from now. Thinking about this helps guide me when depicting someone, as well as the space I paint them into.
TG: Though painted, your works often feel collaged together. They bring in many different references: people, patterns, domestic interiors. How do you find a balance between all of the various forms of imagery? Did they already exist together in a space or a photograph? Or are you creating these places yourself?
VF: Just like we are made up of building blocks that make up our foundations as people, our memories and reflections on ourselves have their layers to them as well. I like to think I'm reconstructing a lot of the imagery that comes from the photos I'm using as reference material. Each painting usually has various images colliding with one another, and I take from each what I feel allows me to recreate a new memory from the old ones. This allows me to create the narratives I want to express concerning human interaction and experience. Sometimes I take a photo on my phone of a physical photograph I find. The background of the actual place I find the photo in sometimes becomes a part of the image I take as well, which may or may not be included into the painting. There's this awareness of the photograph and the point in time when I’ve come into contact with it that's included in the process. Working with highly personal imagery and combining it so much that it becomes unrecognizable from what it originally was allows room for myself and others to reinterpret them as a whole other moment.
At the same time, depending on the painting, I usually have an idea of what becomes more important first, the expression of the figures within it or the space itself. In recreating a headspace for the viewer to engage with, I try to find a balance between the recognizable and the unrecognizable. A lot of these techniques also involve how to guide a viewer's eye through movement using patterns or brushstrokes and keeping their attention throughout the painting. There's always a juxtaposition of different aspects of memory like how we interpret the way light shines on a wall or how crowded a room is.
TG: Can you tell me a bit more about your process making these works?
VF: I keep bags and books with photographs of my family, people, and objects in my studio or my room. I like to stare at these photos all the time and I always have some on me to go through before bed or scroll through some on my phone when I’m on car rides. My process in painting can differentiate mostly depending on the size really. If I know I’m working on a large painting around 7ft by 9ft tall or something I’ll probably start using scrapped objects such as a wood panel or the back of random pieces of paper to draw out forms or layer on color. I’ll also look at photographs and dissect certain forms within them that interest me or sketch out an interpretation of a person's expression usually based around what I know about that person. I’d like to think I’m photoshopping through the paint at times because I do work in a bundle of layers. I spend hours building up thick or thin layers for the figure or their environment. I just become excited to jump into using the medium, and the process can become intuitive at times when it comes to the actual details I decide to include.