I come from a family in which psychology and art are blended. We have influenced one another continuously through the years. Both my sisters in Brazil work in film, one is a director and the other film editor. One of them is also a practicing psychologist, as well as my brother and myself. My work as a clinical psychologist and my background as an artist inspired me to explore in more depth those areas where art and academia, theory and practice converge. For me that meant further study, leading to additional graduate degrees in art therapy and art history and, most recently (2006), a master’s in fine arts.
I’ve explored a variety of art forms during my life. The work as a production designer in film and, later ,video art led to me being offered a fellowship to study art and design at New York University (which I declined). My favorite art form, though, has always been painting. When I was five years-old my parents gave me my first set of watercolors and an easel. Little did they realize the career they had set in motion, for with that easel I officially began my life as an artist. From a young age, I went to museums and galleries with my family. When I was eight I took my first art class – a seminal experience that undoubtedly laid the groundwork for my future artistic endeavors. I continued with art workshops and courses throughout my youth.
With art already such a big part of my life, by the time I was ready for college I pursued a degree in psychology. This choice grew out of my interest in the connections between fine art and behavior, especially the psychological dynamics behind memory and self-expression. After earning my degree in psychology I worked in a clinical setting for many years while pursuing degrees in art therapy and art history. At the time, in addition to showing my art works in galleries and art centers, I also taught art and art history.
Since moving to the USA I have established my studio in Minnesota and focused all my energy on painting. I have exhibited my work regularly in various galleries throughout the country, and my pieces are owned by corporate and private collectors in both the US and Brazil, my home country. From my first watercolor at age five to the thesis I wrote for my last degree, my education, my life experiences and my professional endeavors have been synthesized with my art practice, serving as its natural background.
Tell me about your work? What are you currently working on? How is this different from past projects?
I am a Brazilian born artist who believes that art is a meditation on life. My experience as a clinical psychologist and my background as an artist inspired me to explore in more depth those areas where art and academia, theory and practice converge. For me that meant further study, leading to additional graduate degrees in art history, art therapy and a Master’s degree in fine arts.
Over the past years, I have worked in oil, acrylics, watercolors and encaustic, approaching different aspects of the concept of memory. My non-encaustic pieces are both abstract and figurative, while the encaustic paintings are more abstract. In my pieces I abstract the usual conventions of image to reflect on the connections between meanings and images. I create a sense of ambiguity between the object and its intelligibility to convey my concern with the ways in which we formulate the meanings and the values that structure our visual perception. Therefore, drawing upon my training as a psychologist and academic, I incorporate into my work a variety of theoretical ideas, thus infusing it with another range of textures, beyond the pictorial. Freudian concepts such as the unconscious, repression, and latent/manifest content are particularly important to my paintings. Such a range serves to broaden my work, giving it a more fluid, open-ended character that invites the viewer to appreciate it in his/her unique way.
As a psychologist I consider the expression of texture as a tool to reach profound levels of the psyche. As an artist, I am deeply interested in continuous feedback between matter and sensation, exploring the boundaries of two and three dimensions. Images, for me, are a psychological experience of pleasure, culturally determined and socially legitimated. Ultimately, my overall intention is to give the viewer an opportunity to experience the presence of the painting as a critical response to the ongoing dematerialization of the reality of our contemporary world.
I usually work in series in which I explore a particular concept.
As I mentioned before, the core of my work is the concept of memory, therefore, in these series I try to approach this concept from different perspectives. For example, in The Brasilianas, a series created in 2006-2007, just after I arrived in the USA, I approached memory from the perspective of my personal memories of Brazil. Whereas in “The Pompeii Series”, which is an ongoing group of paintings, I explore the Freudian approach to the concept of memory, while blending it with the historical records of the events, i.e., historical memory.
Currently I am working on “ The Brides of Herculaneum”, a branch of The Pompeii Series, in which I work with mixed media on encaustic. Here I am exploring the structure of ancient reliefs to convey the idea of memory as something originating from the passage of time. From my perspective, the passage of time is intimately associated with the concept of memory and makes clear the reason why memory is so important to our psyche and culture: memory is the way we try to overcome the impermanence of life. So, in this series I focus on the Freudian concept of memory as traces of experiences made in a certain time and place and stored in our psyche as images modified by emotions and by the passage of time, both chronological and internal.
By working with both encaustic, an ancient technique, and mixed media, a more contemporary approach, I have sought to build a bridge between those two contrasting worlds. This contrast is further emphasized through other elements in these paintings, for example, the flowers, both natural and hand-made, as well as concealed and revealed, are the signature element representing the dialectics found in those opposing forces. I chose the encaustic technique because the application of heat between layers of brushstrokes makes it unique, and the work with this ancient art form, and more specifically, wax, is intensely related to the concept of memory. Heat binds each layer to the layer applied before it, creating a rich and complex surface. To me, this procedure is reminiscent of the process we use to store memories. In addition to that, the historical significance of the encaustic as one of first techniques in painting allied to its plastic qualities and procedures brings a dimension of passage of time to my paintings.
By contrast, mixed media is not directly related to the concept of memory; rather it introduces the dimension of present time by emphasizing the freedom of expression and complexity of different procedures and elements that, from my point of view, characterize the concept of contemporary painting.
In addition, I have been creating new oil pieces for my upcoming exhibits. I am continuing to explore the subject of landscapes, not only from the aerial perspectives as I did in my previous work, but now invoking the idea of fading memories.
Actually, in my most recent pieces I am working with both oil and wax to convey the feeling of disintegrating images, just as our memories start to erode over time.
Working in layers is so critical to my art, because it is related to the unraveling of experiences across a time line.
How did you decide to become an artist?
I have been practicing art for as long as I can remember, and when my parents gave me an easel at the age of 5, I decided I was a serious artist!
Since then I have explored a variety of art forms. With art being such a big part of my life, I decided to go deeper into the mysteries of the creative process by taking psychology as my major.
I went on to study art history, art therapy and, in addition to being an artist I became an art teacher. All these experiences plus my experience as a clinical psychologist led to the decision to become a professional artist, which caused me to seek my masters in Fine arts and start focusing on production, representation, exhibitions and other aspects of art as a profession.
What is the best advice you received as artist?
It was something like this: “Don’t tell me your great idea about creating a painting, show it to me!”
How do you sell your work? How does you market yourself?
In addition to have my work exhibited in different art centers all over the country, I have gallery representation in FL, CO, AZ and MN. I think this is the best way to sell your art since I don’t sell directly from my website. I also think that having an online presence is essential to being more visible. My website has opening many doors to me. You can check it out at www.silvanaravena.com