Soulful Self-Portraits: Cecilia Paredes at MOLAA
Museum of Latin America Art
Through December 30th
By Evan Senn
Although history has shown us the significance of self-portraits to our collective humanity and the personal spirit, there are not many contemporary artists that specialize in self-portraits anymore, and even fewer that do it with as much creativity, relativity, and soul as Peruvian artist, Cecilia Paredes. She is well-known for utilizing her body as a canvas, as she paints herself into the backgrounds of fabrics, wallpapers, furniture, rooms, forests, and deserts. At first, the emphasis in her work seems as though it is the figure’s body blending in, but upon further inspection the ulterior focus becomes clear. She never completely blends in, and in this way she stands out. The act of decorating the body with its surroundings seems to highlight the edges that separate the body and the background even more. With painstaking detail, she recreates gorgeous patterns and the subtle nuances of becoming. The overlapping areas, the gesture, the movement, these subtle details are poetic prose of the humanity in her faceless renditions of herself.
Paredes is a part of the permanent collection of the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Panama Modern Museum, Museo del Barrio New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design Costa Rica, and she is represented by saltfineart in Laguna Beach. A new local exhibition of her work is on view at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach and we were lucky enough to get a chance to talk to her about her new exhibition, her motivation, her journey, and her art practice.
Art and Cake (AC): In this amazing new exhibition of your work at the Museum of Latin American Art, were all the pieces new?
Cecilia Paredes (CP): Yes, most of them are new pieces. And because you, as an artist, you have the exhibition in front of you one whole year ahead, some of the images you create specifically for the show, no? Because my work is a little bit like a diary, I am able to create new pieces easily. Some of the work is about my stay here in the U.S. and how it evolved.
AC: Cecilia, I would love to know what your motivation is for your artwork. Why do you use the figure, and specifically your figure; and, why are you blending into backgrounds so beautifully?
CP: Well, first of all, the initial idea when I started was that I didn’t want to subject anybody else into excruciating time that is required when they are being painted and then posing, because it’s so long and so tedious, so I started thinking, it would only be fair if I did this.
I didn’t know at that time, that what I was doing is… well, I was kind of writing a book about my life, you know? In a way. So, at the beginning, at the very very beginning when I started these performances, I call them, I started with animals, and I was interested in representing marginal animals that keep to themselves. So, I first tried the snake, skunk, armadillo, fish, and it was a way to, first of all, demonstrate the love and admiration that I have for them and the surroundings.
I was at that time in Costa Rica, and that is so full of nature. After that, I relocated to United States and I started to write on my skin the landscape that was surrounding me and the landscape that I was longing for or just remembering. When I was just still, just standing there still, I started to feel more and more at home [in the work].
The subject of my work started to move and imitate the surrounding grounds and then at the end of the series, there are some images that are more like backgrounds, which means that the figure is now the landscape, she doesn’t have to be surrounded by that, she now creates the landscape and the new series that I am starting, the character, that is always myself, is now discovering hidden territory.
So, I have started to shoot in locations of growing past architecture and that type of thing in order to discover a little bit more of something. I have moved and shifted from the safe zone, you might say, or where I was leaning. Now, I am leaning towards the unknown. I don’t know exactly what am I doing but then it’s how I am with my work, that I am going you know, blindfolded, no?
AC: Do you consider these pieces self-portraits? Or are they more removed than that?
CP: Yes, I consider them self-portrait but to tell you a story, no? That it moves from the center of a person and that piece, also why I have very seldom show the face because the face is such a personal image that I don’t want the person to be always thought of as just one person, but always, you know, telling a story through the image, no?
AC: Is there a reason that you choose specific backgrounds and decoration?
CP: Yes, I have specifically chosen them according to what I want to say, and there are lots of example in the last few years. I love the darker Asian fabric because of the connection with Asia, from China to India and Catmandoo and that type of thing. Discovering wonderful worlds that are not exactly mine, but are relevant to my messages. So, yes they are always specifically chosen, yes.
AC: Do you have people to help paint the beautiful designs?
CP: Yes, I have a group. I have a crew in my studio and I have a person who does the lights, the makeup of course, and the painting. I have photographer and I have one or two electrical engineers to help me. So basically, a show team is like between seven or eight persons.
AC: Do you find being in exhibits at MOLAA is rewarding?
CP: Oh yes, immensely. First of all, because it is a part of the West Coast, that has not been a part of my life because I live in the North-East and when I go there I discovered that there are so many things that are my cultures, that are just in the city you know. And number two, because the importance that MOLAA gives to the [Latin American] culture it’s also very important for me. The Bubbling art scene in L.A. in general is to be learned from because I wish we would cover in the North-East something similar, you know? I think that the art is very much alive in L.A.
AC: Do you find it interesting that you get to be in an exhibit at MOLAA at the same time as the Tattoo exhibition? I think it is really interesting for them to have two very different styles of body art.
CP: Yes, I love it and I thought that that exhibition was awesome. So, I am very well accompanied, yes. Especially because the artists in there have done their own work directly to in the world, no? It’s something like the real presence of the artists are there and I love that.
“Portfolio Series: Cecilia Paredes”
The Museum of Latin American Art
628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach, 90802.