I've been a fan of the hard working Elena Garcia de la Fuente for many years. Her charming paintings demonstrate great skill. Judge for yourself by finding "Elena GF" on Facebook, visiting her blog:www.elenagf.blogspot.com or popping along to her Open Studios at Wimbledon Art Studios (SW17 0BB) from 22-25 November. I was delighted when she agreed to answer some questions for me...
THE REBEL: There's a painting on your old website I really like called Lizard Island (2004). How did the painting come about? Do you work from photos or do a drawing first? Did you consider painting it in oils first?
Elena: 'Lizard Island' was my wedding present for my good friends Ana and Juan. They went there in their honeymoon and were fascinated with the place. When Ana showed me the pictures I thought painting it would make a really good present because they could always remember their idillic honeymoon. I work from photos but to start of I have to draw the outlines in the canvas. I never considered painting it in oils because I painted in the kitchen and I didn't want to make the house smelly.
THE REBEL: "Tell me about your interest in Julio Romero de Torres? What attracts you to his work? Do you think he should be better known outside of Spain?
"Wow, where did you find about that work? It's ancient! Those would be my first portraits! I did them for a show in the fair 'Viva Espana' in 2003 in London. This was my first exhibition in London after a three year break of not doing any painting. After so long without painting I started doing portraits because it was what I had closest to me. I had seen an exhibition the Spanish symbolist painter Julio Romero de Torres (1874-1930) in Madrid. He portrayed the dark haired women of Andalucia. For some reason the exhibition stayed with me. I was drawn by the women's nostalgia, eroticism and power of suggestion. I decided to reinterpret this Spanish legacy by painting their faces and focusing on the potential of colour, it's spatial qualities and temporal qualities.
I think there is a lot of Spanish art that should be better known outside Spain, not only Romero de Torres."
THE REBEL: Are British people held in high regard in Madrid and Malaga? Do you think Spanish people living in such places tend to only see certain negative types of holiday makers and football fans?
Elena: "Are you sure you want me to answer this question? I'm afraid the English people do not have the best reputation in the holiday places like Marbella where I come from. It's unfortunate."
THE REBEL: Are there artists in your family? Did your family encourage you to be an artist?
Elena: "I have an eldest sister that is an artist too, although she has been devoting herself to teaching art in the last years. Other than that there are no other close relatives in the arts but I guess there is a sense of sensibility and appreciation for art within the family. My parents always encouraged me to do what made me happy. I chose to be an artist and they support me 100%. They are my greatest fans of course. They just worry like any other parent about the struggles.
THE REBEL: Were your art school days happy ones? What were the most positive aspects of the courses you did?
Elena: "During University in Madrid I wasn't happy with the teachers, I lost all motivation and by the 4th year I hardly stepped the university. I just did the minimum possible to get through... not really me.... At the time it was very different from UK system. I learned much about techniques but the teachers were almost as if they discouraged you from being artists. That's why I asked for an Erasmus exchanged programme and did my last year at Leeds Metropolitan University. I respected the teachers there and they prepared you to get you out there after finishing university. After that I came to London, quit painting and did an MA in Contemporary Art. It was a very priviledge course to do. I learned a lot about art theory since the 60s to date. It also gave me the opportunity to get to know other side of art such as art fairs, auction houses, gallery work. After the course I felt like I knew better the world I wanted to belong to and acquired a global vision. This last course also opened doors for me to work at two very important galleries in London as a Gallery Assistant. After all that, I realised that job wasn't working for me and by the end of 2002 I was painting again.
THE REBEL: Who were you early artistic heroes? At what age did you become interested? Were there certain exhibitions you remember having a big impact on you?
"I've always been into art and realised I wanted to do it as a job at the age of 14. My heroes were Monet and Van Gogh. The first exhibition I remember going to or making an impact was at 17, it was Sorolla (1863 – 1923) a Valencian painter of portrait and landscapes. Also had the chance to see lots of Goya, Velazquez and Picasso whilst in Madrid. In 1996 when I was being more experimental I discovered the work of the American Abstract Expressionist Robert Motherwell. Whilst in Leeds I came across David Hockney. Later on, his show at the National Portrait Gallery really impacted me. I still think a lot about his portraits. On my first visit to London in 1998 I still remember being overwhelmed with Bacon at the Hayward and Freud at the Tate Britain. I got to see Sensation at the Royal Academy too and that was an eye opener into contemporary art, there was nothing like that in Spain at all... and if there was, I didn't come across it."
THE REBEL: Tell me about the group "Spanish Artists in London"
Elena: "Spanish Artist in London is a multidisciplinary group of artist that got together to organise exhibitions and work in a group to achieve things that we could not do alone. We have themed exhibitions and we organise everything from start to finish. We have exhibitions in London and there have been some in Spain too. Being part of these group allows me to be more creative and step outside of the commissioned works. The most memorable exhibition for me was 'Muerto de Amor' a homage to Spanish poet Lorca. It was an incredible experience, two of the artists in the group came with the idea and organized not only an exhibition, but nights of poetry, a play and workshops for children. It was a really amazing and inspiring show."
THE REBEL: Do you draw and paint every day?
Elena: "I try to draw or paint everyday although there are times when I do lots of admin, marketing, etc, all that goes along with the job of being an independent artist."
THE REBEL: Which of your paintings are you most proud of (and why?)
Elena: "I'm proud of three paintings which are a summery of the last 10 years of my career in London. They are just great quality work!
1) My latest painting, Courtfield Road (2012), where I paint a family in their communal gardens. It's an idea that evolves from Lizard Island that you ask me in your first question. I paint people's memories and include the families inside the landscape. They appear in several places in the same painting, like remembering all the different things that they have done there. The details and quality of this painting are amazing!
2) The second one is the portrait of Jim Chanos (2009). This guy paid £7400 to have his portrait done and all the money went to The Princes Trust... Even though I didn't get a penny, the fact that someone paid so much money to have their portrait done by me really motivated me to make something worth that much money. I think I achieve that! I just wish I knew more people that could pay that much! Fortunately for my clients, I'm much more affordable!
3) Last of all is Romance Sonambulo, (2010). To step out of my comfort zone of portraits and ladscapes and come up with somenthing inspired on Lorca was really challenging. But I managed to connect with one of the poems, 'Romance Sonámbulo', part of the 'Romancero Gitano'. I wanted to make a design that would be like painted poetry, so I chose the imagery of the Alhambra, its lattices, carved walls and mosaics, as my inspiration. A lattice is an architectural decorative element consisting of criss-crossed framework used to close windows and balconies. It prevents you from being seen but allows to see. The lattice is a symbol of the love stories in Lorca's work in which the lovers are separated often by balconies and windows. The design of this painting's lattice at first looks like abstract forms but on closer inspection it is possible to read the poem of the 'Romance Sonámbulo'. The design of the walls and the mosaics refer to the imagery and symbols of the poem, such as the pirate ship, the waves, the moon and the stars. It's an amazing piece! Would only let it go for a lot of money!
Elena's next exhibition is the Wimbledon Art Studios (Nov 22 - 25)