Sunday, March 8, 2015

Interview with Tati Valle-Riestra

Waves at Pulpos by Tati Valle-Riestra

Maria del Carmen (Tati) Valle-Riestra is an interesting woman. She is a critically acclaimed dancer - born and raised in Peru - who has toured extensively internationally. She is a marine biologist by training. She has also been painting since 2001 and exhibiting her visual works consistently in the Washington, D.C. region since 2007. She just wrapped a February exhibition at The Arts Club of Washington and her work is currently on display as part of the All-Media Exhibit at The Art League in Alexandria. She is the Artist of the Month at ENO in Georgetown for March, 2015.

Her website is We interviewed Tati recently about her work, methods, inspirations and her multi-discipline approach to artistic expression and thoughts on life in general…

Arts Community Connection: Is there a reason you use watercolor and ink as your chosen materials for creating your visual works? Was there a specific reason you started using these materials? 

Tati: Water is a huge component of the earth and of life, utilizing it as my main media seems only natural and I like the symbolic connection of the water media to the primordial soup as the base for creation and evolution. However there is more than this reason for using watercolor and ink as the chosen media for the creation of my visual works. It goes back to my beginning as a visual artist, more than ten years ago, as a student of artist Jacqueline Saunders at the Art League School of Alexandria. I began taking her classes on gestural drawing of the figure because I loved her loose and vibrant depictions of the human figure in watercolor and ink and felt that this was the way I wanted to start my training. 

From the beginning I knew that I loved the human body as well as the natural landscape so I soon sought more watercolor experience with Steve Fleming (another teacher at the Art League School) who teaches a watercolor studio class with a unique and creative atmosphere that encourages students to work in their own personal style and direction. With time I felt more comfortable handling this media and decided to stay with it. Watercolor with its liquid nature is very appropriate to achieve a sense of motion in my paintings. By simply tilting the paper in one direction or another you can make the ink and watercolor washes flow by gravity with more or less speed depending on the angle you hold the paper. 

Inward Travels by Tati Valle-Riestra
The pigments in the mobile water base have different properties that make them travel across the stationary phase (the paper) at different rates separating and settling in different places along the way. Very much like paper chromatography in science labs. So I enjoy allowing the pigment rich liquid media do on paper what its nature commands: blossoming, precipitation of pigments, drips. It is difficult to have complete control of the outcome of painting with watercolor and ink washes so you are constantly being surprised by the results (good and bad), very much like life.

ACC: On your website, you've written: 
"I try to find movement and interconnection of shapes, light and shadows within the figure as well as ways of expressing the emotion the person posing offers me. My work in dance and in the biology field have had an influence on my artwork."
Since you are a critically acclaimed and internationally-touring dancer, can you elaborate further on the intersection of your understanding and personal perspective of movement - in the performance sense - and what you seek to capture in your visual work while painting the bodies of others?

Tati: When dancing you are constantly constructing designs and patterns in space through movement: spirals, long and short lines, circles; all of which can be executed with different timing, strength, rhythm, etc. These perfectly translate into drawing and painting. The momentum of a pen line performed securely in a nonstop manner across a big sheet of paper is very different from small weak squiggles...a forceful stroke or a light and suspended one have different qualities on paper as they do in a dance. The choice of one or another depends on what I want at the moment of execution. 

Terms used daily in my dance work with Dana Tai Soon Burgess (choreographer) such as: flick, spoke, scoop, wring, slice, punch, among others, resonate in my brain and are incorporated physically in the way I apply paint on paper. Dance creates scenes, emotional atmospheres, little stories on stage...I try to convey these on a piece of paper. However the characters are not necessarily human beings, they can be the limbs of trees relating to each other, the potent and aggressive encounter of a wave breaking on a rock, or the smooth and sensuous merging of two bodies of water in the ocean. 

Portrait of a Tree by Tati Valle-Riestra
In all my work I look for places of tension and places of release, two opposite emotional and physical states that I am interested in and that are also integral concepts of my dance training. Another connection with dance performance is the way I mark and feel the paper as a stage floor, with down and up stage-paper, center, right and left quarter marks. I feel piece of mind and readiness to dance the painting when these little marks are placed.

For me a good figure painting is one that draws me into it by making me imagine a physical, emotional or psychological state of the person portrayed. It is not easy for me to achieve this when painting the bodies of others (art models). I am constantly going back and forth from the abstract shapes and shadows that I see in the bodies to the emotional expression that the person transmits to me. From realistic anatomical proportion to distortion that can convey meaning of some sort. Decisions are not always clear and I rely heavily on my intuition.

ACC: Your nature scenes have received a lot of praise. You paint landscapes, sea shores, ocean views and waves, trees and mountains. You have a degree in Marine Biology. Can you elaborate on how this - and your diverse training, education and history - impacts your work?

Tati: Regarding my past in the biology field I have to say that I had wondrous visual experiences while looking through microscopes. Images of amazing beauty hidden from the regular eye there to discover. As a scientist you learn to interpret the images you see, there are many layers of focus and bringing out what is important for clarity is fascinating. When looking at subject matter for my paintings, I focus on something in particular that conveys some kind of interest to the eye and magnify it. Also I like to have particular places on the page with multiple layers and life of their own.

ACC: What are the lessons you've learned - that you'd like to share - about being a multidisciplinary artist? Are there certain ways you incorporate elements and lessons from one medium of expression to the other?  

Tati: I have learned by being a multidisciplinary artist - really a multidisciplinary person - that despite the differences in techniques among the arts and the different methodology and goals between art and science, all our creative activities are interconnected. Our human brains integrate our knowledge and life experience to make us who we are and show up in what we do. In the midst of creating an artwork I know that bits and pieces of my life history will be present in one way or another. 

ACC: Since this is a loaded question...what specifically about your different life pursuits and experiences resonates in your visual work?

Tati: This question has probably been answered somewhat in the previous statement. I want to add that my travels and having lived since a child in different countries with different cultural customs, language, climate and landscape have no doubt had a great influence in my work. A sense of longing and nostalgia is always present. Certain conflict of identity too. The idea of dichotomy versus similarity of all aspects of my life resonates in my visual work. The search for a common ground.

ACC: Is there a question you've always wanted to be asked?

Tati: Not really.

(Jameson Freeman interviewed Tati Valle-Riestra on behalf of the Arts Community Connection)

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