Gisela Banzer is an Argentinian artist who won the Animal Category award in the Jackson’s Open Painting Prize 2019 with her enigmatic work, Habitat memories 2. Her hyper-realistic paintings depict animal/human characters, clothed and situated in times and spaces gone by. Each of the works are constructed with the careful consideration of a turn-of-the-century travel photographer, the elegantly posed subjects, immortalised by a limited palette of light. We spoke with Gisela about her sources, techniques and the spaces of conflict and extinction in her work.
Clare: Can you tell us about your background/education?
Gisela: I dabbled in drawing and painting from an early age. In the beginning, I was self-taught. In 1986 I graduated in Visual Communication Design from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the National University of La Plata. In 2012, I attended the workshop of Master Gabriel Berlusconi, for a period of two years.
Clare: How would you describe your practice?
Gisela: Drawing and painting are the disciplines that I use to make my works and my style is close to magical realism.
Clare: Do you plan out your composition, colours, figures etc. before you begin a painting? Where do you start?
Gisela: I have been working since 2014 on the subject of mistreatment and animal extinction. In my work, there are many animals that appear as anthropomorphic figures located in places of conflict: circuses, zoos, their modified habitat, burned forests or in simple portraits. This has led me to nourish myself with science to enrich my work. I plan my composition meticulously before reaching the canvas. I make digital sketches from my own photographic material and archive, corresponding to the 19th and 20th centuries. Then I draw it on the canvas and paint it. My technique is hyperrealistic and the materials I use are acrylic (applied with a roller, airbrush and brush), professional coloured pencil and matte varnish on canvas or board. I work with a low colour palette (grisaille) and sometimes I find it interesting to introduce a colour accent.
Clare: With some of your works, you contrast an aged vintage photography aesthetic with bright futuristic angular design motifs and neon colours. Can you tell us about how you developed this style and what it means to you?
Gisela: In some of my last works I began to incorporate these elements as something disruptive and anachronistic. Geometric figures that contrast and exaggerate the almost testimonial character of the painting and respond to a symbolic meaning in some cases. I think something of my past as a graphic designer is present, in the insertion of those elements in the work.
Clare: Do you maintain a practice of sketching on a regular basis? If so, what are your favourite tools to sketch with and how often do you sketch?
Gisela: Yes, I really like to draw with graphite on paper of smooth surface. I work with a varied range of graphite pencils of different hardnesses, from HB to 8B. Many times it starts as a sketch and ends up being an original, so I try to do it on a good paper. I do it periodically, every time I plan a new work.
Clare: How does the architecture, natural or human-made, inform your work? Why is it significant? Do you create these places from observational drawings or photographs?
Gisela: Conflict sites are the framework of the scenes where the characters will appear. In my work, the environment is as important as the characters because it is intimately linked to the theme. I create these scenes from the observation of images. If it is within my reach I do a photographic survey of the place, which then helps me to develop several works.
Clare: Your painting style has a very soft finish, how do you create this? What do you like about working with acrylic?
Gisela: Acrylic allows me to work with several elements, including airbrush. It can be diluted to achieve a perfect medium for the airbrush and drying times are indicated for work with masks. Professional colour pencils complement acrylic to achieve certain textures such as animal hair or clothing.
Clare: Do you have any favourite paints, mediums, brushes or surfaces? What is the most important object in your studio?
Gisela: Painting has a lot of alchemy, I like to discover and combine materials. I like to combine the acrylic with pencil, work with gold and silver plates and apply polyurethane lacquer on acrylic. I love brushes, especially thin ones for the details. The Polychromos Faber Castell pencils are my favourites. My IWATA airbrushes are very important, but ultimately, to do my works I need everything, rollers, brushes, airbrush, pencils and if necessary, my fingers.
Clare: What is a good day in the studio for you?
Gisela: When I am in the final details of the work, and I can work without interruptions. It is a great day.
Clare: In the studio – music, podcast or silence?
Gisela: A little bit of everything, especially classical music.
Clare: What is coming up next for you and where can we see more of your art in the flesh or online?