Jessica Alazraki won the Emerging Artist Award in the Jackson’s Painting Prize this year with her work Cat’s & Kids on Yellow. Through vibrant colours and gestural brush marks, Jessica’s work celebrates Latin people in domestic family environments. In this interview, she tells us about her New York studio, her favourite materials and the joy of beginning a new painting.
Above image: Work in progress detail from Kids & Pups, 2021, Jessica Alazraki, Oil on canvas, 152 x 183 cm | 60 x 72 in
Clare: Can you tell us about your artistic background/education?
Jessica: I have a bachelor’s degree in communication from Universidad Anahuac in Mexico City. I also finished the first year of my MFA from the New York Academy of Art. I used to work in the creative department of advertising agencies for the US Hispanic market for many years before discovering painting.
Clare: Where does a painting begin for you? Can you take us through your process?
Jessica: I get very, very happy when I start a new painting. Most of the time, my first strokes are always the best thing that happens on that canvas. I start with a photographic reference that I want to use to get some information, a person I feel like capturing, a portrait that inspires me. I have a vague idea of what I would like to do in terms of narrative, but I like diving into it without much planning. I need to have something in there and see what happens. Sooner than later, I want to decide on the colours I will use because that changes everything, but most of the time that becomes the hardest of all and that’s what I keep changing. I need the freedom of not planning so I can keep it fresh.
Clare: Your artist statement mentions you want to open up a dialogue about Latinx immigrants in your work. Can you tell us more about the subjects in your paintings? Are they people you know? Do you work from photographs?
Jessica: I use a variety of photographic references (most of which I take myself) for each painting to create a collage aesthetic. Sometimes I use my own kids’ pictures, but I don’t intend to be specific about the characters that way. As a Latina, I am interested in representation, in celebrating the culture, and in highlighting family values.
Clare: Can you tell us about your studio in New York?
Jessica: It was hard during the pandemic because I painted in my living room, even with the kids and the dog around. Miraculously though, the studio apartment next door from my own opened up so recently I’ve been renting that as well. I’m so grateful because it really is so comfortable to be painting in a separate studio, right next door and I feel blessed to have this studio because it became part of my living space. I had only one bathroom with two teenage kids so having a second bathroom changed our lives.
Clare: What canvas/surfaces do you favour and which oils do you most enjoy working with?
Jessica: I started by working on a printed canvas and painting on top of it, but now I am using a pre-stretched canvas from the art store. I buy the largest Belgian cotton size they sell (60 x 72 in). I also love using neon paints. It’s hard to find those pigments for oil as they tend to be very transparent, but I still need them for the vibrancy of my work. I found these great paints online from a brand called Gapka, and even more fittingly they’re made in Mexico!
Clare: What are your most important artist’s tools? Do you have any favourites?
Jessica: I use various brushes depending on the painting area I am working on and sometimes I buy them at the hardware store instead of the art store, especially when I need the really massive ones that I love. They are great!
Clare: What would you consider is the greatest source of frustration in your creative life and do you have any tried and tested ways of overcoming this challenge?
Jessica: I get frustrated when a painting is not working well, and sometimes it’s pretty hard to fix it and it can be hard to identify what exactly is wrong. But once I understand the problem, I always enjoy painting it away. Another pet peeve of mine is when the paintbrushes have some soap from poor rinsing when cleaning them. It’s an easy fix, of course, but such a hassle.
Clare: What are your art influences? Who are your favourite contemporary or historical artists and why?
Jessica: I’d say Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Ernest Ludwig Kirchner, and others! Also Matisse and the Fauvist Movement both project brilliant colours and spontaneous brushwork, and are indebted to the same late nineteenth-century sources, especially Van Gogh. I also admire the way Gauguin approached the Tahitian paintings, becoming the first modern “primitive” painting. Of course there are the Mexican muralist and famous easel painters like Frida Kahlo, Maria Izquierdo, and then even more surreal painters like Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo who explored more surreal styles. I also look at Alice Neel, Paula Rego and others more contemporary painters that vary from Neo Rausch, Dana Schultz, Nicole Eisenman, Karry James Marshal, Cecily Brown, Peter Doig, Daniel Richter, Marlene Dumas, and Jenny Saville as well as plenty of others.
Clare: What makes a good day in the studio for you?
Jessica: I enjoy working for many hours without interruption and preferably for a few days in a row. It’s not always the case, though, especially with the kids around, but it’s always nice to feel productive and in the groove.
Clare: Can you tell us where we can see more of your work online or in the flesh?
Jessica: I have a two-artists exhibition from January 27th, 2022, until February 27th at LaiSun Keane Gallery, 460C Harrison Ave C8, Boston, MA 02118. I’ll also be having a solo exhibition in May 2022 at Black Wall Street Gallery at 42 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10013.