Odilia Suanzes won the Non-Representational/Abstract Category Prize as part of Jackson’s Open Painting Prize 2018 for her work Untitled. Born in Spain, Odilia studied Fine Art at City & Guilds of London Art School and has taken part in many international residencies. She has produced a variety of abstract works which have been exhibited in London and Madrid, both in group and solo shows. Odilia imbues her personal narratives, feelings and experiences into the lines and forms of her work. These fragile organic shapes are complex and beautiful, while her experiments with various mediums allow her to create further depth and volume in her work. We spoke to Odilia to find out more about her practice.
Daniel: Tell us about your artistic background/education.
Odilia: I think I have always painted, almost since I was born. I have memories from my childhood where I would lose track of time when drawing, painting or decorating my school books. I went to a school where creative practice was very important – we learnt through art and imagination. This education encouraged my artistic interest, and so did my parents. They were also very passionate about it and gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in this field with freedom and admiration. I also had a great opportunity by studying for my bachelor’s degree at City & Guilds of London Art School. This school really pushed my creative limits. It was there that I truly discovered that art has no limits and that you always have to keep exploring, breaking your own barriers and really play with every little thing that catches your attention.
Daniel: Can you tell us about your ideas behind ‘Untitled’?
Odilia: I made this painting a few months after I had finished my degree. I was working in a studio that was in an old pub in Brixton, the Paulet Arms. I was sharing this space with few other artists and I was playing around with loads of different pigments I had brought back from a trip to the Congo. The tonalities of the land in this country has a beautiful variety of reds and browns. I gathered a great quantity of soils, plants, fruits, soils, rocks, oxides from metals, and things that caught my attention. I feel this place influenced the red tones – it felt like going through a red period, like Picasso.
Daniel: How important is the process of painting for you? Could you describe your process for making artwork?
Odilia: I feel the process of my paintings is a very important part of my work. Through the process of experimentation with materials, I created a technique by playing with the traditional rules of painting. Mixing oil and water gave me the possibility to get strange, enigmatic and unpredictable shapes. Within this experimentation I slowly became interested in natural materials. I started to obtain pigments from natural plants, soils, rocks, leaves, vegetables, fruits, blood… I felt very connected with this process. It was very interesting and entertaining to finally obtain colours and shapes I was satisfied with to use for my next painting. There is also something special about all these materials. They all change through time as they have very little chemical mediums, meaning they all change from their original colour through time.
The process of putting the paint on the canvas is very delicate and I have to be very careful. The process becomes longer when I layer the paint over and over again. The materials I use are normally very fluid and take a few hours to dry, and only afterwards can I go over them again. I use this process to create depth in the image and make the viewer feel that they can get in the painting or go around the created shapes.
Daniel: Materials are clearly a key part of your practice. What has led you to work with materials in the way you do?
Odilia: In art school I built up an interest in materials and they became a key part of my practice. I felt like a chemist or an alchemist finding new experiments and recipes. I slowly learnt and got a great interest in natural materials and their extraction for use as painting materials. They all have different processes to obtain their pigment. Normally I have to make a powder or a paste that I will then mix with a water based or oil based medium. Once I have got the right thickness of the paint, which is normally quite fluid, I apply it to a sealed canvas.
Daniel: Are you usually able to predict the outcome of your artworks?
Odilia: I really cannot predict the outcome of any of my works, I love how many things happen just by chance. Through time I am understanding the natural chemical reactions that play in my paintings, and I can control and play a bigger role in the process, but I prefer not to have too much control over them. This allows me to discover new things and be able to find new techniques that could make my work evolve.
Daniel: When you are working – music, Radio 4, audiobook or silence?
Odilia: I think I tend to work with music as it helps me concentrate and forget about my own reality. It helps me get into my creative world easily and lets my creativity flow and move in different rhythms and tempo depending on what I listen to. I feel music is very important for me, but I admit that silence is also important. Sometimes I really need pure silence around me to feel my work in a different way and observe other things that sometimes seem to hide.
Daniel: You normally work on a very large scale. What interests you about scale?
Odilia: Scale lets me, again, not have total control of what I do. It lets me get lost in the surface and have an important fight with the piece itself. I enjoy getting immersed in new environments and places and I feel this is like recreating those experiences of discovering a new place that I don’t know at first. I slowly start to recognise when I get to know how it moves, the colours and lights that it has, etc.
Daniel: You speak about the fragile organic shapes that appear in your work, and they seem to be a signature element. Are you strictly interested in how materials form these shapes? What draws you to them?
Odilia: I do love the shapes I make with the technique I discovered by mixing materials. I feel they are very majestic shapes that will never be the same, they are in constant movement. They form shapes that can recall certain things from our world, but I don’t make it on purpose, I just help them to appear and become something that we can relate to. I find what people see in these shapes very interesting as we all feel different things and we all connect to past experiences or things we have seen in our lives. I think that this technique is part of myself, of my own experience in life, so maybe we can name it as my own signature. I feel it is always part of my work, even if I don’t want it to appear in a new painting that I am producing. I feel I have almost created an obsession with these shapes.
Daniel: What do you want your work to convey to your audience?
Odilia: I love to observe what people see in my work. I really feel it is important for me to let people imagine whatever they want, it is great that they have their own understanding and feel about each painting. That is one of the reasons why I do not name my works – for me it is very important to feel free when looking at a piece of art and get the opportunity to connect with something that relates to your own experience in life and not necessarily mine. It is beautiful to observe people breaking their own barriers when they let their imagination flow.
Daniel: You’ve participated in many international residencies, from London to Spain – how have these experiences influenced your practice?
Odilia: Taking part in residencies has been a key part of my work. I have always felt the necessity to feel new environments, new cultures, new people, new colours, new architecture, new light… I feel it’s a great inspiration for me – all these new places are like food for my practice. When I was still in university my tutors gave me the chance and encouraged me to start doing residencies and little trips to different places to observe the influence these would have on my work. It was like opening little doors of experimentation that would lead to very interesting things for the development of ideas, techniques and ways of working.
Daniel: Who are your favourite contemporary artists? Where do you go to see art?
Odilia: I do not think I have a favourite artist yet. Everyday I research new artists and get blown away by what is out there in the world. There are interesting things happening all over the world, even in the most remote places. I like to see any kind of art, from a painting, to a sculpture, to an installation and video artist, a photographer, a dancer, a musician, an actor, a writer… everything can be a source of inspiration and I feel it is very important for me to see all these things. I love going to galleries and museums, but also to the theatre, the cinema, reading a book and going to see a good concert – they all give me different experiences that will influence my work. I have recently discovered a great quantity of galleries here in Madrid and I am slowly getting the chance to know more artists from this city and they all have something to say and to give.
Daniel: What is coming up next for you and where can we see more of your art in the flesh or online?
Odilia: At the moment I am living in Madrid, where I have already had a couple of exhibitions. I am loving the chance to learn and feel the art scene in the city where I was born, but that I also feel I barely know. I am also considering doing some more residencies and eventually I would really love to do a masters, but I am still looking where I would like do so. I am also going to spend three months in an independent art school in Barcelona called Studio Nomad. You can also check my website, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.
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