Aug 12

Ana Fernandez Real Estates and Other Fictions by Sarah Fisch

A n a F e r n a n d e z
Real Estates and Other Fictions

W O M E N & T H E I R W O R K
M a y 1 0 – J u n e 2 1 , 2 0 1 2
A u s t i n , T e x a s

210. Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches, courtesy of Joe A. Diaz.

The first images Ana Fernandez remembers making, as a little kid in the ‘70s, were of custom vans with murals on their sides. She can still tell each one of her aunts which car they drove.

Cars represent aspiration, value, self-expression, “and are individual, almost like people—they have some kind of living energy,” Fernandez says. The auto-identities she renders in paint are flamboyant and slightly surreal, notes of frenzied color rendered with an almost fetishistic edge. Fernandez also paints portraits of the faces of American houses. Each house has been touched by unseen hands. They’ve been hung with holiday decorations, enlivened with potted plants, or lorded over by protective lion statues. But with rare exceptions, not a living soul can be found on her canvases of the last several years. Each of her carefully rendered domestic landscapes echoes with loneliness, even as they bustle with evidence of human presence. Fernandez gathers the raw data for these images through a personal ritual using photography. She drives San Antonio’s streets, pausing to photograph a particular fence railing here, a custom-painted pickup there, a cloud formation, a light bulb’s glow. With no set destination, Fernandez wanders and drifts, turning left or right seemingly arbitrarily, stopping and shooting a photo of whatever catches her eye. She relishes and cultivates this fugue state and believes in it, citing the automatic writing of early 20th century Spiritualism. She describes herself behind the wheel as “the planchette of a Ouija board. I’m not directing it with my hands at all. Something else is moving it.”

717. Oil on canvas, 72 x 96 inches, courtesy of University of Texas at San Antonio.

Fernandez stores the resulting photographs in a database of digital images that she browses through when she researches a new painting. She chooses a sky from one photo, a lawn decoration from another, a truck from an image from five years or three weeks ago, recombining the visual elements and composing set designs for myriad implied narratives. The paintings’ narrative is predicated on what you bring to the artist-viewer equation, whether a childhood memory or a set of expectations.

“I don’t always know what the story is,” she clarifies, adding “I don’t think that’s as important [as the fact that] I know which objects mean something to me in particular. But the viewer can build the puzzle from these pieces in any way they want…I want to draw them into the story, and give them detail after detail so that they just want to find out more.”

After graduating from Roosevelt High School in San Antonio, Fernandez trained in studio practice at San Antonio College during a kind of golden age; the faculty in the mid 90’s had built a rigorous and incredibly useful curriculum of studio technique, and SAC had a tradition of turning out highly skilled art makers. Many of South Texas’ foremost  contemporary artists, including Ed Rodriguez, Kimberly Aubuchon, Jason Willome, and Erik Parker, all studied there before acquiring a more theoretical university arts education.

Fernandez then earned her BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She talks about the change in urban surroundings and the alien climate. She relates the experience of riding in an elevated train in winter as darkness fell, and seeing half-seconds of other people’s lives, a melancholy sensibility she brings even now to her work.

She went on to earn her MFA in painting from UCLA, and lived there for almost ten years. She returned to San Antonio after years of experimentation with abstraction, prints, and collage. Back home in Texas, Fernandez turned her eye towards the world around her with the zeal of a convert. She brought her whole tool kit to bear in re-experiencing San Antonio as an adult, and re-configuring it as a contemporary painter.

You Ain’t Ready. Gouache on paper, 9 x 12 inches,
courtesy of Joe A. Diaz.

Fernandez’ paintings stop short of connecting the dots, politically. What she puts forward about race, class, and gender is more ambiguous. Using more magical realism than social realism, she lays out imagery like a deck of Tarot. Modest homes. Trucks seemingly more expensive than the houses they’re parked in front of. Spurs and Whataburger logos. Home and love and family and tradition are the mainstay of America’s concept of Mexican-Americans—that’s the stereotypical positive side, mind you—but Fernandez isn’t necessarily celebrating anything, either. She doesn’t want you to be reassured; she doesn’t want to educate you; she wants to captivate you, and make you an accomplice to hidden and obsessive fantasies, the moods she drives through and captures.

One unsettling large-scale painting, Caninus, shows a house shrouded in hedges, with two stone dogs facing each other. “It could be a witches’ house,” says Fernandez, who counts Goya’s The Flight of the Witches as an inspiration for another painting, in which a gaggle of pointy-hatted piñatas hover above a roof. Another unlit house, 717, is framed by a white-and-red balloon heart, which references both San Antonio’s exuberant public face, its love for celebration and knack for rasquache decor, and something deeper, darker, and more ambiguous. Fernandez’ tribute to San Antonio could be read as affectionate, or terribly critical.

313. Oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches, courtesy of University of Texas at San Antonio.

“Whenever I’m in somebody’s house, I want to look through their cabinets, I want to open the drawers of their dresser and see how they’ve got their stuff arranged. What pills are they taking? What have they got in the refrigerator?”

She’s more than a little fascinated by the mystery and true crime that is part of the American cultural makeup. Her paintings arouse the kind of curiosity, which, she says, “Feels a little bit wrong, like I don’t think I should want to know, but I do want to know.”

Fernandez deliberately complicates the dialogue. The kind of art most critics think a gay Chicana should make, based on accepted principles and stereotypes, couldn’t interest her less. She wants to breach the boundary between private and public. As a storyteller, she seems to be covering territory similar to that of Sandra Cisneros, but she designs her scenes of existential unease with the metered suspense of Alfred Hitchcock.

While her paintings also evoke the mystery and ominous dread of Edward Hopper, Fernandez draws viewers into her work with familiar imagery. Deeply rooted in a sense of place and a sense of culture, the paintings reflect Fernandez’ abiding interest in the people around her even when they themselves are never in view.

Sarah Fisch is a writer living in San Antonio, TX

Oct 11

Our Art Criticism Interview: Ana Fernandez

Interview: Ana Fernandez
by Darrell Roberts
June 22, 2011

717, oil on canvas

Can you tell us about your education background, where you lived and went to art school?

I received my BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and my MFA from the University of California at Los Angeles. Prior to that I’d taken lots of drawing and sculpture classes at San Antonio Community College, where I now teach.

What did you get most out of your education and how were the two schools rewarding and different?

As an undergraduate at SAIC, I learned how to paint. The first oil painting I did was a still life: Diet Coke and a plate of white rice (with eggroll) from Sonny’s Cafeteria. It was terrible. During my senior year, I chose to take advanced figure studio classes, rather than independent study, because I wanted to work directly with Susanna Coffey and Dan Gustin. I learned so much from them.

Whereas, in comparison, UCLA was like a paint bomb in a bag of stolen money. It went off in my face when I least expected it, and I realized, suddenly, how much I actually learned from the experience as a whole. That probably makes no sense.

Who did you work with at UCLA?

Most influential to me were my primary advisors, Nancy Rubins and Lari Pittman. I worked with others as well. UCLA was difficult. I stopped painting during the second year and started making large-scale collages in preparation for my thesis show. Although I had gotten mixed reviews from faculty, the show sold-out. Very shortly thereafter the legendary Patricia Faure gave me my very first show at her gallery in Santa Monica.

Can you describe your studio practice?

”Studio practice”. That sounds so tedious. My schedule allows me time to paint every day, but I don’t. I spend a lot of time doing other things that support the work. I get my best ideas while driving around, for example.

What are your favorite painting tools and techniques?

Oil paint is my favorite. But, gouache (opaque watercolor) is a very close second. I love the matte finish that a gouache painting has. I like to describe it as ”liquid pastel” because that’s what it feels like to me. I love it because its difficult.

210, oil on canvas

When is your next exhibition?

I have several projects scheduled for 2012, including a solo exhibition at Joan Grona Contemporary Art and an exhibit at The Institute of Texan Cultures, both in San Antonio, TX.


Feb 11

Lady driver: Ana Fernandez

03 FEBRUARY 2011
Plaza de Armas Culture/Features

Flight (2011) by Ana FernandezFlight (2011) by Ana Fernandez

“When I left LA, it was on fire,” Ana Fernandez says as we eat sandwiches at the Blue Star Brewery before she heads back to finish last-minute installation details at Joan Grona Gallery. All but one of the paintings in her First Friday show already bear red “sold” dots.

“Driving on I-10, you could see the mountains in the distance, smoke trailing off them. You could see flames.”

She laughs out loud at the metaphoric heavy-handedness. “It was just a couple months after an earthquake, and I told [my now-ex-girlfriend], ‘Are you sure you don’t wanna move to Texas? It’s not safe here.’”

Fernandez earned her MFA in painting from UCLA in 2004, but didn’t make it back home until September 2009, just after the record-breaking heatwave that exhausted our city. She’d left a city she thought she would die in, she loved it so much: the climate, the diversity, the sense that “I fit right in. When I lived in Venice Beach, I could wear rags and be happy.”

After grad school, Fernandez got embroiled in a relationship, and a job with a postage company as a screener of sorts, making sure that when customers designed personalized postage, it didn’t contain images of the Unabomber, Monica Lewinsky’s infamous dress, or other inappropriateness.

“Mostly I was approving puppies and kittens,” she says, “but occasionally there’d be some white guy, and I’d have to research to make sure he wasn’t somebody controversial.”

Fernandez has a way of unspooling her past with deadpan humor.

She enrolled in UCLA after getting a BFA at the Chicago Art Institute. In Chicago, she recalls, she lived in a neighborhood she didn’t know was dangerous, because she moved there in winter and “it wasn’t until spring when things started to thaw out that the gang members appeared.”

She’s passionately opinionated about her work, art in general, her family, her city, social constructs, and her career, but her anecdote delivery borders on tannic dryness. There’s the one about Grandmother Fernandez, who gave her a Ouija board despite the strictly anti-occult beliefs of her mom’s more religious family. She also gave little Ana an Avon-made, pistol-shaped cologne container she kept between her couch cushions. She had Ana aim it cop-style at the front door to ward off intruders while Grandma visited the store across the street.

“She threw an entire [container] of holy water at her cat, too” Fernandez muses. “She said, ‘It wouldn’t stop staring at me.’ But it was a black cat with two white spots above its eyes … the holy water got all over the TV, the VCR … ”

Fernandez’s dad is an electrical engineer who moved the family from Corpus Christi to San Antonio when Ana was 16; her mother, a pre-K bilingual school teacher, is also a visual artist. The Fernandez family lived with her full-wall mural of a jungle scene, which included “tigers, snakes … she made the snakes seem biblical, which was …” she considers a second, “interesting to grow up looking at.”

She has loved to draw and paint cars, in particular, since she was 6. They represent identity, aspiration, value, self-expression, “and are individual, almost like people — they have some kind of living energy.” The first images she remembers making were of now-vintage 1970s vans with murals on their sides. She can still tell each one of her aunts what kind of car they drove, and when.

She graduated from Roosevelt High School in the Breakfast Club era, and took jobs, mostly on the River Walk, as a waitperson and a San Antonio river barge driver, while studying with the mighty Willome, Pritchett, and Susan Witta-Kemp at San Antonio College, where she now teaches.

And there are traces of Fernandez humor in her meta-realistic, subconscious-infecting paintings. Take her Joan Grona show — you’ll see her highly accessible, immediately recognizable portraits of humble, one-story San Antonio bungalows, bedecked with balloons or Christmas lights, with a car or cars, naturally, parked out front. But there are details, such H-E-B shopping bags wrapped around shrubs or the Spurs logo in a window, that act as local in-jokes. One of Fernandez’s cars bears the area code 210 in a swirly pink font, and a legend on the side reading “Most Hated.” It’s based on a real car; Fernandez has seen it around town. She assumed it had a male owner, but then found herself behind it one day at a Whataburger drive-in, and saw a pink-manicured hand emerge from the window.

She tends to photograph specific structures, trucks, and other details and then composite them later into one painting. Each work is realistic but, upon close inspection, loosely painted, with a tricky surface brushstroke she changes to express either solid line or quick motion; in one painting, a canopy of linear winter branches explodes into a furious flap of birds.

She went through a collage period in Los Angeles, during the latter part of her three-year MFA program, splicing together parts of other paintings she made, creating graduated bands of color made of refrigerators, say. She got her first one-woman show as a result but decided, against the advice of some friends, to return to her earlier preoccupations and fully inhabit them. She’d developed a realistic technique back in Chicago, sometimes bordering on photo-reality. She’s since abandoned attempts at photorealism because “what’s the point, then, of it being a painting? I want people to see the paint, to take in the layers, and the surface,” but she knew the subject matter she wanted to focus on. She knew this had to happen in San Antonio.

“In Los Angeles, you’d see a certain landscape that would be interesting to paint, and think ‘that looks familiar,’ like you’d seen it before. And you had seen it before; it was in movies and on TV.”

So call Fernandez’s San Antonio paintings a highly personal form of regional landscape, or architectural still life. They document man-made scenarios with human touches all over, but remain strangely uninhabited. With this void, Fernandez effects a couple of things. “When you paint [people], there’s always the notion of whether it looks like them, and i don’t want to get sucked into that.” Also, it heightens the sense of mirroring and the meta-real; Fernandez’ scenes “aren’t completely realistic. I want them to appear like a hallucination.”

One unsettling large-scale painting shows a house shrouded in hedges, with two stone dogs facing each other. “It could be a witches’ house,” says Fernandez, who counts Goyas’ The Flight of the Witches as an inspiration for another painting, in which a gaggle of pointy-hatted piñatas hover above a roof. Another unlit house is framed by a white-and-red balloon heart, which references both San Antonio’s exuberant public face, our love for celebration and knack for rasquache decor, and something deeper, darker, and more ambiguous. It’s an implied narrative that could be affectionate, or terribly wrong.

“Anybody can gain access to the images,” she says. “Somebody will look [at the paintings] only as San Antonio houses, others will read and project much more into them.”

Arturo Almeida and UTSA present Ana Fernandez
Opening reception 6-9pm Thu. Feb. 3
Joan Grona Contemporary Art
Through Feb 26

Feb 11

Little houses that make big statements

Published: 12:00 a.m., Tuesday, February 1, 2011

  • Ana Fernandez works on the painting “717.”

    Since Ana Fernandez‘s grandmother died in 1991, the artist has had a recurring dream.

    In it, she is compelled to return to her grandmother’s home – recently demolished – in Corpus Christi.

    “I feel like I forgot something, and I need to go in there and get it,” Fernandez says.

    Homes and what their exteriors both reveal and conceal about the inhabitants are a source of fascination for Fernandez, and the subject of a series of paintings. An exhibit of her work opens with a reception 6 p.m. Thursday at Joan Grona Contemporary Art, 112 Blue Star.

    Curated by Arturo Almeida, it is Fernandez’s first solo show since she moved back to San Antonio a little more than a year ago. Though she previously had one-woman exhibits in Chicago and Los Angeles, where she attended the School of the Art Institute and the University of California, she considers this her first real solo show “because it’s the first one where I’m really happy with my work,” she says.

    The exhibit includes 15 works, including oil paintings and graphite drawings, of houses, particularly modest, weathered casitas such as those typical of San Antonio’s West Side and South Side barrios.

    Works such as 210, a nighttime image of a 1940s-style wood structure where Halloween and Christmas decorations, a Spurs banner and a pair of mating dogs chronicle the passage of time, are imbued with a sense of the unseen occupants’ presence.

    “I kind of see them like portraits,” Fernandez says of the paintings and drawings. “It’s a traditional landscape but also kind of a portrait of the house itself, maybe the people that live there. Maybe something that’s inside kind of comes out.”

    Fernandez, who teaches drawing at San Antonio College, works from photographs. She sometimes conflates details of different houses and adds fictional elements to create a narrative. In 717, for example, Fernandez incorporated a red-and-white, heart-shaped balloon wreath into the image of a small house illuminated solely by Christmas lights and a carpet of stars visible through bare tree limbs.

    “I like to think of them almost as backdrops, like landscape backdrops to some kind of story or drama that’s happening,” she says.

    Home for Fernandez is a Southtown duplex with high ceilings that she shares with a 100-pound pit bull-mastiff mix named Smoky and a dark brindle French bulldog named Geeta. Her living room, which doubles as a studio, is dominated by large canvases and metal shelves holding supplies, including glass jars of murky thinner with thick layers of paint sediment at the bottom.

    Originally from Corpus Christi, Fernandez moved to San Antonio when she was 16. After high school, she attended San Antonio College before leaving to go to school in Chicago. After graduating from UCLA with a master’s degree in painting in 2004, Fernandez intended to return to San Antonio. She stayed in L.A., however, after she landed a job “that I couldn’t leave” screening images for a custom postage web business. Fernandez was laid off in 2009 when the company eliminated her department.

    “It was actually the best thing that possibly could have happened to me because I moved back here; I started painting this series; I got a great job at SAC, which I’ve always wanted to work at SAC,” she says. “I mean, everything has gone great.”