The infinite possibilities of creativity
"I was 19 when I gave my first solo exhibition and sold my very first painting. When I found out it had been sold, I left the exhibition in tears because I realized I'd never see it again. It was heartbr eaking."
Art came into Beatriz Morales' life so naturally that she can't imagine herself doing anything else. An artist with an interdisciplinary education, Beatriz is constantly pushing the creative envelope. In an exclusive interview with Negocios, she reveals what it's like to be a Mexican living in Berlin, her plans for the future and how she has managed to make a living out of art.
—When did you realize you wanted to make a career out of art?
I've always believed there are things you don't decide. They just are. They happen spontaneously. And that's how it was with me and painting. I've always liked art. I used to dance flamenco and play the piano, but nothing made me happier than painting.
I did my first canvas painting when I was 13. There are no artists in my family but my grandmother used to paint oil landscapes as a hobby. One day she got tired of painting and gave me all her materials. I had a hard time finishing high school because I'd stay up all night painting the ceiling and walls of my bedroom.
I studied at Mexico City's Colegio Alemán but when the time came to decide on a career, I was afraid to admit that all I was interested in was painting because most of the people close to me regarded art as a very bohemian lifestyle choice.
So I opted for the next best thing and went to Italy with the idea of studying interior architecture in Milan but to enroll I needed to learn Italian. So I traveled to Florence to take a course in Italian and my first painting classes. Three months later, I called my mother to tell her I'd enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. And that's how it all began.
—You also studied fashion design. How did you make the connection between fashion and art?
In my case, the connection came about like this: when I got back from Florence, I took a series of courses with maestros like Manuel Guillén, Savinder Sawarkar and Enrique Miralda, all of whom taught me a great deal. Enrique Miralda gave a sculpture class at Casa Lamm in Mexico City, which is where I met some art history students who took an interest in my paintings and suggested I stage an exhibition there. I was 19 when I gave my first solo exhibition and sold my very first painting. When I found out it had been sold, I left the exhibition in tears because I realized I'd never see it again. It was heartbreaking. Those first paintings were very personal and loaded with emotion and I felt naked and vulnerable.
I tried to replicate the paintings I'd sold because I felt I needed them, but it was pointless; they weren't the same. It was unsettling to think a part of me was leaving with a stranger and it unnerved me to think it would always be like that, so I asked myself: "What field would I like to work in where I can continue being creative and make replicas of my work without having to let go of anything?" That's how I came to study at IES Moda Casa de Francia.
—Although eventually you went back to painting, what did you learn from making clothes?
I had great fun experimenting with fashion. I won awards and appeared in publications. I also made some good friends, like the designers at Trista. For two whole years I stopped painting but my illustrations improved enormously. I was serious about fashion but I needed to paint, so I went back to fight for it.
—Why did you choose Berlin as your artistic lair?
The first time I visited Berlin was in 2007 and I felt at home from day one. I was amazed at the number of international artists who had made the city their home but, more importantly, I made good friends from the start: musicians –like the jazz artist Kurt Rosenwinkel, who asked me to do the artwork for his most recent album, Star of Jupiter– photographers, filmmakers, conceptual artists and the like.
What struck me most was the city's famous motto "Poor but sexy". It wasn't expensive to rent an apartment or a studio and the exhibition venues were one-of-a-kind –derelict factories converted into galleries– and more openings, happenings and performances than I'd ever seen in one place. The thought of being part of yet another renaissance of a city with so much history was what prompted me to move there and, so far, I haven't been disappointed.
—What has Berlin taught you?
Berlin has forced me to mature and change; it's given me a much broader perspective of who I am and of my work. My approach to my work has evolved over these last five years. The city is a huge source of inspiration for me for many reasons, not just the obvious things, like the differences in language, food and weather when you're far from your own country. There have been many changes. I now work with ink and water engraving, collage and illustrations for magazines on a regular basis.
—Why the fascination with human faces in your work? Is it intentional or coincidental?
I began doing loads of self-portraits and I realized how tell-tale the face is. It's a very clear, very direct plastic language. The smallest variance in the curvature, depth or length of a line can give out a completely different message. I love to observe people and when I meet someone new, I subconsciously measure their proportions with imaginary lines. One of the first conclusions I came to from my observations was that features have nothing to do with beauty; it's expressions that are the key, what really define a person.
—If you hadn't chosen art as a way of life, what would you be doing now?
I can't imagine myself doing anything unrelated to the so-called "art world". If I didn't have a career in the plastic arts, I'd probably be doing something in a world that offers the same infinite possibilities, full of color, texture and culture. Maybe that world could be in the kitchen?
—You've started designing jewelry. Tell us about this new phase in your career.
In 2012, Silvio Dulinsky, co-founder of Artency, came up to me at Berlin's contemporary art fair, the Berliner Liste, and asked if I wanted to join his project.
Artency is a Madrid-based initiative in which jewelers, plastic artists, architects, visual artists, designers and sculptors pool their knowledge to create quality jewelry that they turn into wearable art. I immediately accepted the invitation. The challenge appealed to me and I was in my element being able to combine my knowledge of design, sculpture and painting. So far, I've designed eight pieces inspired by brush strokes. The first molds have already been made and the pieces will be available for purchase online in February 2013.
—Does that mean Beatriz Morales is headed in a new direction or is it simply another chapter that will begin and end before you go back to painting?
I certainly see myself designing more. Design is a field I loved and where I learned a lot, not only about team work but about the origin of the materials, which is something I find fascinating. Painting is my first love but creating is creating and I'm open to every possibility.
—What is it you miss most about Mexico, especially in relation to your work?
I'm Mexican to the core and I miss my country all the time. I miss my studio, which is near Tepeji del Río, in Querétaro. I miss being close to nature when I'm working, in the middle of the mountains where there's no cellphone reception and all you can hear are organic sounds and the occasional bang of fireworks from some nearby village. Most of all, I miss the people and their warmth, my family and friends who make me laugh so much. Sometimes I feel disconnected but when I come back, it's as if I'd never left. Right now I'm living abroad but it won't be forever.
—What are the challenges you face as a painter?
I face numerous challenges which change depending on the circumstances. The main one is how I relate to my work. Sometimes I get angry or don't live up to my own expectations, which is why I have learned to make peace with myself so I can start over and keep going.
—And as a Mexican living abroad?
I'm proud to be Mexican, which is maybe why I feel comfortable living abroad. Sure, the references to Frida [Kahlo] can get tiresome or if I wear something bright pink, people will try to justify it by saying I'm Mexican.
—If you could choose a gallery to exhibit your work, which one would it be?
Every year when I come back to Mexico, it's gratifying to see more and more interesting and well-curated galleries and engaged artists. I'd like to exhibit more in Mexico. In fact, I have two galleries in mind in the Roma district of Mexico City.
—What's next for Beatriz Morales?
I'm helping out with the artwork for a new restaurant that will be opening in March 2013 in the Roma district of Mexico City, on the corner of Jalapa and Guanajuato. It used to be a hardware store and I'll be helping the architects create a space where the table is the central element, using organic and recycled materials from the original store and trying to strike a balance between them.