Interview with Tania Jazz Alvarez
This interview appears as part of the exhibition Tania Jazz Alvarez: Identity Politic-y May 12 - June 8, 2019
March 7-21, 2019
List of acronyms: TC=Thomas Canavan, TA=Tania Alvarez
TC: When I see your work it brings me hope that the world is nowhere close to running out of paint. How does demonstrating the abundance of material play in to your ideas, if at all?
TA: I feel that this question sets me up for disaster. I try to live environmentally conscious, but I do use a lot of paint.
Before creating, I always make sure I have a concept in mind, but I’m a Modernist when it comes to art making, which is very unpopular in the art world these days. My answer is simple: I love paint. Love the way it feels. I love the brilliant colors and the squishy liquid texture. I like how it dries in different ways depending on how it is manipulated.
Using a lot of paint is also a little fuck you from me to you. So many people (because I’m Hispanic) assume that my bold, colorful, identity politic-y compositions are a result of my admiration of the Mexican Muralists. While I admire the muralists tremendously, I’m inspired most by German Expressionism. And unlike Mexican Muralism, my paint is thicker and cruder.
TC: Who is the audience in your work? Do you have a person you paint for? A group of people? Who do you want to hear your “fuck you”?
TA: My main audience is those in the art world. The FU is for the snobs who like to assume everything. & its more of a ha-ha fuck you rather than rage. ;) I paint for everyone, honestly. I love when people with hispanic backgrounds can laugh and recognize certain imagery.
I also like when people who don’t care about content at all like my work. One time I had a studio visit with David Pagel and I was trying to explain my “lofty concepts,” and he laughed and said I don’t care about any of that…and most people won’t...but I love how you paint. That was actually a great comment and it has stuck with me. At the end of the day, I’m a painter, and I’m fine with that label.
TC: I agree with Mr. Pagel that the way you paint is really enjoyable, but I also think that a concept is important at a certain point. How do you see your artwork moving the field of painting further? What concepts exists whether in your process or subject?
TA: I do not see my artwork moving the field of painting further. Everything has been done before. I have studied the greats; I’m not so humble to think I do not have my own unique style, though.
I make large, colorful, messy figurative narratives. I use found objects, as well as wood panels and canvases. The poetry of the street plays an important role in my art; from what I paint on, to what I paint with, to my subject matter, my art conveys both liberation and pride toward my Hispanic culture. There’s “concept” no matter what I do. Me being a Hispanic queer woman painting big, expressive paintings is a political act itself.
TC: Reading your responses to these questions reaffirms the honesty in your artwork that I saw when I first met you. I got the impression that it doesn’t matter what I think or what anyone thinks about your work and that you were creating from an instinctual place that can’t be touched or influenced without your permission. I think that’s hard to maintain over a period of time, especially as you enter and exit school, become a professor, have a kid, and experience life in general with so much bullshit everywhere.
This brings me to your “practice”. What’s happening before, during, and after your making your work? Are there external influences that you incorporate and think about consciously or do you sit down, paint and see where it leads? Are there any of your paintings in particular that illustrate an ideal process and result?
TA: Good question. You can’t turn off being an artist. You can’t turn off your brain, unfortunately, haha. My life influences my practice. I always have concepts in mind before I paint. I always print out references. I then start out with a general, loose sketch. After that, I do let the paint take over. I follow where the painting leads. Currently, I have reconnected with my family and they lean on me heavily for financial support. I have been very focused on teaching and bringing home the bacon. (I don’t actually eat bacon, you have met my pig, Britney) ;) Therefore, I have not painted as much as I have wanted to lately, but I need to make time. Ironically, I am painting some family portraits right now.
TC: Perhaps they’re your muses given how personal your work is? What does your family think about your artwork and have they been supportive?
TA: Extremely supportive. I was in a group show in Claremont awhile back and my mother and her bf, Rudy took a bus all the way from La Puente. That touched me. Rudy is now one of my best friends. He was also my helper for the group exhibition at the LA County Fair last summer. They also provide a lot of unsolicited suggestions that I usually tune out, haha. It took them awhile to realize, that I can indeed paint (I had to show them realistic paintings and drawing exercises), and I CHOOSE to paint expressively.
TC: That’s wonderful. It can be really hard to follow your path and be “you” when the people around you aren’t supportive. As a former art student myself and knowing the world my friends were exploring, do you find as a professor that’s a larger part of your job than you expected? To be supportive of students who don’t have the encouragement they need to pursue being an artist? Or do you find most students have the support they need?
TA: When I first started teaching it was at the First Street Gallery; it was a great experience to just jump right in and start facilitating. When I started teaching at the community college level, I realized my audience, haha. These kids were just like me. Similar backgrounds and narratives. I was proud to be a role model of sorts to them-still am. That’s when I really fell in love with teaching; it was even more rewarding than I thought it would be. I make real connections daily with my students. I try my best to support my students who I can see are destined for the artistic path. I am real with them in terms of careers in the art world, as well as resources. Most students are seeking guidance, and I am proud to be the one to provide answers. If I don’t have the answers, I provide students with the direction to where they can obtain the information they seek. For some, teaching is their “day job,” but I legitimately love my job. I just wish I had more hours! Haha, but that’s the life of an adjunct.
TC: I think you’re someone that can introduce your students to a real purpose behind being an artist which is one of the reasons why I have been excited to work with you. There is a genuineness about your work and you that is refreshing and inspirational. I’m going to leave it here and thank you for taking the time to chat and share your work with us. Any last words before we close this sucker down?
TA: I’ll end with an Ida Applebroog quote, "I don’t make art that hangs over your couch." Thanks for everything Thomas!
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