The Phillips Collects: Carol Antezana

Sherman Fairchild Intern Oscar Flores-Montero speaks with Juried Invitational Inside Outside, Upside Down artist Carol Antezana about her practice. The Phillips Collection is proud to announce the acquisition of her work, Las Gringas.

Carol Antezana, Las Gringas, 2021, Digital photographic print, 20 x 16 in., Courtesy of the artist

Oscar Flores-Montero: When did you first pick up a camera? How did you know being a photographer was a practice you wanted to pursue?

Carol Antezana: I grew up very shy and soft spoken as a child but thrived on expressing my creativity through drawing, painting, and sculpting with play dough. I had a lot of support from all my art teachers growing up that encouraged me to be involved in all the art clubs and sign up for art classes. I was recommended to take a photography class in high school and I fell in love with it—especially working in the darkroom. I would have never even thought that I could pursue the arts into further education if it wasn’t for my photography teacher who helped me through the process and even talked to my parents about this being a great decision. Like other immigrant families I was expected to pursue a straightforward and stable career after high school. I had the blessings and opportunities my parents didn’t have growing up in Bolivia; I had the option of getting an education. My dad would always tell me that I had to go to school and study so I didn’t have to work so hard doing physically exhausting jobs like he did. I knew that going to art school would be hard and I was going into a field that wasn’t the stability my parents wanted for me, but I wanted to pursue what I was passionate about. I made the choice to follow my heart.

Photo from Las Gringas series, Courtesy of the artist

OFM: Self-portraiture is present in a lot of your work. Can you talk about this choice? Why self-portraiture?

CA: The need for self-portraiture came about as a necessity while I was in art school. It was really hard to coordinate a time with my colleagues to be my subject matter for my photo assignments while being a full-time student with a full-time job, so I started photographing myself. I found it easier to do it all myself than to ask for help or direct other people. I ended up liking the process. I liked that I was able to take on all the roles for my own photoshoots like being my own model, creative director, stylist, and personal assistant. I enjoy shooting alone. I get the time to focus and think about work I am making.

OFM: What inspired the Las Gringas series?

CA: It actually was conceived after the 2019 political crisis in Bolivia that made me start to ask questions, research, and try to understand why there were such strong opposing views in my family. The different upbringings from the city of Cochabamba and the rural countryside of Abierto have shaped their views on a particular topic of interest—the indigenous revolution. I had always been aware of racism here in America, but It had just clicked in my brain that there are deeply rooted racial double standards in both countries. As a first generation American I had to be American enough and speak perfect English, and I had to be Bolivian enough and be fluent in Spanish. Why was I teased by my family for not speaking Spanish right as a child? Spanish isn’t even the native language in Bolivia. Why did no one bother to teach me Quechua (one of the many native languages in South America)? I started asking myself a lot of questions. Who was I? Soy India o gringa? European colonization has left deep wounds in my family. I am just on my path of discovering my ancestral roots. My process of making work usually starts with some sort of difficulty in my life and then I am able to use photography as a form of self therapy. Shooting self-portraiture creates a safe place where I can be vulnerable without the fear of judgment from others—or myself.

Photo from Las Gringas series, Courtesy of the artist

OFM: What’s on the horizon for you in your work and practice?

CA: Having the tools to make work is important so I’m applying to residencies and grants to be able to develop new bodies of work. The goal is to someday have my own studio space to make personal work and a place to shoot clients! 

OFM: Did the pandemic affect your approach to creating art? If so, how?

CA: The pandemic was a really scary time and affected everyone in different ways. At the start of the pandemic and when everything was on shut down I was too overwhelmed to do anything creative. While we were all in shutdown my artmaking stopped as well. I needed time to process everything. My process of making work usually starts with some sort of difficulty in my life and I either use art as a way to distract my mind or confront and use photography as a form of self-therapy. I’m not sure the pandemic has changed my approach to creating art, but it has taught me it’s okay to just live life. Self-care is not self-indulgence.

Learning to Paint with Gouache

Artist Helen Zughaib shares how she used Jacob Lawrence’s painting materials and style to lead a workshop at the Phillips.

A few weeks ago, I hosted my second workshop at the Phillips, using the masterful paintings of Jacob Lawrence, specifically his Migration Series and Struggle: From the History of the American People, as inspiration. In close examination of his work, one can distill the composition, color, and pattern to translate his method of painting to a group of enthusiastic participants.

Helen Zughaib leading a discussion about Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series

My own method of working, simplifying and flattening shapes and figures into a two-dimensional composition, echoes Lawrence’s style—and I am very proud of that! After some discussion through the galleries, we suggested that our participants select a panel from the Migration Series or Struggle series, and for them to use their own story to create a new painting.

For our workshop we used gouache, an opaque watercolor, which is what I primarily use in my paintings. Rather than canvas, I use illustration board. The thickness of the board prevents buckling or warping, as the paint is quite heavy.

Gouache dries very quickly, so I have learned after many years to move briskly as I work in order to keep the brushstrokes flat and smooth. I use gouache because I like the opacity it affords and I feel like I can control the paint. The gouache I use comes in tubes which I mix to make my own colors. I learned this technique at university in art school, and since then I have practiced using it over the many years following my BFA. It is not an easy paint to use as it dries quickly and is not forgiving if you make a mistake. Lots of artists do not like it for that reason. I feel I have mastered it to accomplish what I want in my painting. Using very small amounts of water, getting the right consistency with the paint—not too thin and watery and not too thick—is a trick that takes awhile to get the hang of. I also need to mix the correct amount of paint, as it is difficult to mix a new batch that matches my previous color. I use a cold press surface board that holds the paint well and does not buckle under the weight of the gouache. I use pencil first to get my approximate composition, then fine tune my drawing in ink, then finally apply the gouache.

Jacob Lawrence also used gouache as well as egg tempera, which is made of powdered pigments mixed with egg yolk, or egg white, or casein, which all serve to hold the pigments together. Tempera paint also dries very quickly and has a bit of a sheen to it. One advantage of egg tempera is that you do not need to cover the piece with glass to protect your completed work, while with gouache, you do need that layer of protection.

Participants in Zughaib’s workshop working in gouache

At the end of our workshop, we spoke about the new paintings the participants had created, and the inspiration behind them as well as their personal narrative. We all learned from one another as we shared our work and listened to the stories behind them.

How would you use Jacob Lawrence’s artworks as inspiration? How does Lawrence’s use of flat colors add to the story he is telling? Have you tried paring down your painting into color and shape to help distill your ideas? Would you prefer to use gouache like a transparent watercolor or do you like the opacity of the gouache as I use in my paintings?

Reminder: Regularly Engage with Art

Alysa Adams—a first-year master’s student at the University of Maryland, studying Teacher Leadership and Arts Integration—shares a piece of her experience in the Phillips’s virtual Summer Teacher Institute, Seeing Differently: You, Your Students, and Arts Integration. The program focused on integrating the arts into the curriculum while adapting teaching and learning for each educator’s specific students. Alysa reflects on the program, in particular the session with guest teaching artist Jeffrey Kent, a Baltimore-based multidisciplinary artist.

The materials provided to the teachers during their workshop with Jeffrey Kent.

First and foremost, I am an artist. I was an artist before I became an educator, camp counselor, and babysitter. “How come I have not been making any art?” came to mind during the second session of the Summer Teacher Institute. With other obligations I get entangled with, I may not explore new artists or engage in different styles of art-making for MONTHS. I used to make art every week, sometimes every day, and the absence of art-making showed in my lackluster lessons. I was reminded of the importance of regularly engaging in art-making and art study through this program.

From the moment I picked up a canvas, shredded money, matte gel medium, and glitter, on the day Jeffrey Kent joined the program, my mind became colorful again. I felt like my 10-year-old self using my dad’s shredded work papers to craft a flawed but well-loved maraca. I became inspired to make artwork outside of my career and for myself. I also became excited to look into new artists and interact with new pieces of artwork that I could share or model a lesson off of with my students.

Alysa’s artwork created during the Jeffrey Kent workshop.

The “I was an artist first” mindset led me to feel a powerful urge to take my own creative liberties and make out-of-the-box lessons to teach to my students. I developed a detailed lesson unit focusing on learning about social issues through visual arts, the Prism strategy Empathize, and developing our own classroom book based on the story She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton. To say I am excited to teach this unit is an understatement. I cannot wait to see how my students take creative liberties, just as I did, and interact with the content while developing their work of art.

Zoom screenshot of the Summer Teacher Institute educators sharing their Jeffrey Kent-inspired artworks. Alysa is shown in the second column, fourth row down.