Analog Gardens, an Exhibition in Support of Local Female Artists
In an effort to leverage our brand’s tradition to the benefit of our community, Los Cabos Sotheby’s International Realty has launched a series of exhibitions titled Inside the Gates of Eden: Showcasing the Work of Emerging Local Female Artists. The second exhibition in the series comprises works by artist Ana Sofia Chi (born 1996). Gathered under the name “Analog Gardens,” these multimedia works endeavor to reveal the creative process behind a work of art. We recently caught up with Ana Sofia to discuss the ideas and influences that led to "Analog Gardens." Read on to learn more!
Q. What's the concept behind the exhibition that you’ve put together at our office in downtown San Jose del Cabo?
A. I want to showcase the process of creating a piece of art. I’ll bring a few already finished pieces. There will be artworks in the realist style. Also, works of pure cyanotype. And a fusion between the two. The subjects will likely be local birds. I will also include another series that is a bit more personal. It’s of people that I find fascinating. It happens to all of us, doesn’t it? We go walking down the street and see someone who stands out from the rest or specific moments that stand out from the rest. I want to explore with cyanotype and illustration these people that I've been able to take a photo of or borrow a photo from the Internet. My goal in this exhibition is to let the visitors see not only the works of art themselves but the creative process behind them. It starts from my studies of masters like Saturnino Herran or Caravaggio and moves on to a process of trial and error, of experimentation with techniques and materials, until it culminates in the final piece. Here’s an example. I studied anatomy, drawing, and illustration separately. Then I studied cyanotype, which is a process perfected by Anne Atkins in 1800. So, to bring all of these together, I’ve been researching how to print different ideas in cyanotype: what materials work best, what kind of photograph, drawing or objects register best in print, etc. Also, lately, I have been playing with drawing and cyanotype, creating mixed media pieces. I am a restless kind of person. In a given week I can do two murals, teach watercolor, realism, and cyanotype, paint some birds, sew some tote bags, create notebooks, plant succulents... So the composition of the exhibition itself is a bit eclectic, just like each individual piece of art is.
Q. You have described your work as an exploration of opposites and of the balance and harmony they create. Also, the nuances that merge and separate these oppositions, such as light and dark, life and death, truth and deceit. Do you care to elaborate on that?
A. One of the things that interest me the most is precisely how most people tend to be radical in their way of thinking. It's black or white, it's good or bad. It's alive or it's dead. In reality, however, when you really think about these issues, there is no black and white; rather, there are an infinite number of half-tones that blend into each other until you reach darkness or light. Everything exists in a certain balance. For example, in 2020 I made a series of skulls, bones, and dead animals and insects. They are drawings in high contrast, a bit like Caravaggio, who played with that a lot: marked contrasts between light and dark. But with many tones in the middle. Also, the idea is that my subjects are not really dead, because I bring them back to life when I draw them. I'm giving them another look, and they become alive if only because they generate a dialogue with the viewer. The dead insect, for example, is still alive because it is still present. And presence is life. I also use the materials to play with these dualities. For example, I'm currently experimenting with cyanotype, a photographic medium that uses chemicals such as water and powders. I love to see all that can be done, all the possibilities within the materials and mediums. People who are very traditional stick with one medium: they do watercolor, they do drawing, they do oil. Just that. But what’s interesting to me is to see how far all these can come together and create new discourses.
Q. How do you express these contrasts in your portraits and landscapes?
A. With portraits, I like to play with lines and textures. In some parts, you’ll see places that are minutely detailed and soft. It's called rendering: you go and fill in all the little blank spaces, and it feels smooth. That's the focal point. Usually, the eyes, because that's what attracts the most attention. Around them, you use less detail, because you want the viewer’s attention to go to the eyes. I use contrasts in portraits to answer the following question: How to direct the viewer's gaze to what I want to highlight? My landscapes, on the other hand, are more personal. I am totally in love with all the deserts of Mexico. In my portfolio, there’s a landscape called “Paramo,” which is a trip from Guadalajara to San Luis Potosi that I make almost every year to visit my mother's family. These landscapes feel me with immense nostalgia. They are like scenes from Mexico’s Golden Age Cinema. The high plateau, the clouds full of water. In the distance, you can see that it is already raining. In the foreground, suddenly one very lonely house, and you wonder, "How can anyone live in this wasteland?” And still, there is life.
Q. What are your influences and how are you in dialogue with them?
A. I find that almost all the masters of the past have something to teach me. I try to study the technique, the brushstroke, or the line that the person who I’m interested in works with. There’s a study of Caravaggio I made in 2018. When I started studying realism, he was the one that fascinated me the most because of his strength and dramatism. As I also like illustration very much, I love Alfonse Mucha because he was practically pure line. It is incredible to me how you can solve a drawing practically only with line. Furthermore, I study Saturnino Herran’s works: he is to me a maestro of maestros, one of my favorite artists. He is a realist, but also an illustrator that played with materials in a very crazy way. He used crayons, watercolors, pencils: everything in one painting. I find his line quality incredible. He also had a superb knowledge of anatomy. Right now, what I want to do is to mix illustration and realism. Little by little I want to be able to mix these two, and for it to be harmonious, just like Saturnino.
Q. What has been your experience of studying art in formal settings, and how did you discover Toronto’s Academy of Realist Art?
A. I began my art studies at the arts center in San Luis Potosi. There, I began to study engraving, drawing, and sculpture. Then I went to Xalapa where I studied art theory, some drawing, a lot of sculpture, ceramics, and other disciplines. Nowadays, in general, schools worldwide are not even focused on what is current, but on what is modern, which is the 1900s, 1950s, or thereabouts. It frustrated me that we were taught from the avant-garde, such as impressionism or cubism. It made me say, "What about everything that came before that?” We didn't have formal drawing classes or anatomy courses. I learned a lot and loved university, don’t get me wrong. But I ended up dropping out and enrolling in extracurricular drawing and painting classes. There, they taught realism. I was fascinated because in school they always told me, "Draw as much as you can," and I made many drawings that took me 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes at most. But at these workshops, it took me weeks to finish a single drawing. It took me a month to produce my study of Caravaggio’s St. Jerome. That was the first time it took me a month to finish a piece and I said, "Wow." I'm really exploring this. That was the first one I did that took me that long. I thought it was incredible. It was a method of studying that consists in learning to copy almost millimeter by millimeter a sheet of paper and really study all the values that an image has, all the light, all the half-tones, and all the shadows. And that brought me to Toronto. I didn't know anybody there. I had never seen snow before. The experience was very enriching. I spent all of 2019 studying there. I started from the basic level, which is drawing. You have figure drawing classes two, or three times a week. There are extracurricular classes that some students take. If you want to take more figure drawing, the students get together, for example, on Saturdays or Sundays to open their own group, continue studying and pass on tips to each other. The community is really nice. I love it there. I got to the third level and then because of the pandemic, I had to return to Mexico. But the program is very flexible. So as soon as I save some money I’ll go again and finish.
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