If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costume and come back as a new character, would you slow down? Or speed up?
~ Chuck Palahniuk
e’ve all experienced it: That familiar nightmare where we’re standing in the midst of a group of friends, having the time of our lives, only to suddenly look down and discover we’re not wearing a stitch of clothing. Not surprisingly, when we speak about making ourselves vulnerable, we often use the word, “naked.”
It would only make sense then that the role of costume is to disguise: To give us a layer between ourselves (our oh-so-tender skin) and the onlooker. But wait. Not so fast…
Consider the paintings of 22-year-old Teresa Oaxaca, a classically trained artist who layers elaborate costumes onto her portrait subjects ~ as well as onto her own body. By all rights, what we take in before us ought to be thick with disguise. But are they? Or is the psyche somehow rendered even more transparent to the viewer’s eye?
INTERVIEW WITH TERESA OAXACA
Arlington, Virginia ~
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Your pieces are immensely dense and rich, Teresa. Texture and patters fight for our attention. One comes away feeling utterly gluttonous. What is the source of inspiration for your works?
Teresa Oaxaca: The Baroque and Rococo, Gustav Klimt, the Old Masters and ornamental design from many different periods of history. One can draw from so much. Paintings used to be set in lush settings such as cathedrals and palaces. They were designed to fit with other art forms such as elaborate wood carved frames and sculpture. Even if we cannot necessarily have such rich backgrounds now, I would still like to provide a sense of that experience.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: What is it about trying on elaborate costumes and over-dressing that is so alluring and satisfying?
Teresa Oaxaca: I think the art experience can be like a symphony with all sections supporting the whole. I am also a bit of a designer and arranger of things. I like finding satisfying interplays between color and form. Clothing has so much potential ~ both texturally and as a bolster to the wearer’s persona. Many great portrait painters such as John Singer Sargent and Peter Paul Rubens knew this and they weren’t exactly painting the clothing of their time either. Not many people know this.
I’ve always been misrepresented. You know, I could dress in a clown costume and laugh
with the happy people but they’d still say I’m a dark personality.
~ Tim Burton
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Do you feel that we are too covered-up, too disguised as we move through our days? Or that we do not experiment in fantasy enough?
Teresa Oaxaca: I will say I miss the days of individually tailored clothing. Stylistically, I find much of the modern made-to-wear garment industry a nightmare. Both for the exploited workers who slave away to produce it, as well as from the standpoint of a portrait painter. There is nothing beautiful about it. Instead, I like to see some evidence of design and the uniqueness of culture.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Your fondest childhood memory?
Teresa Oaxaca: I have found that a lot of the old things that used to make me happy are still the same. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my sister, or, before she was born, just alone, making things out of clay and playing with them. Later we would stage more elaborate games, still taking place mainly in the imagination, as children’s fantasies do. I remember spending hours setting up whole worlds and trying to get them just right before anything else could begin. This is a lot like setting up a scene to paint, if you think about it.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: What is your favorite of all of your own pieces?
Teresa Oaxaca: Those change a lot. I have had favorites, usually the pieces that are most current. There are some rare works that still appeal to me despite the period they were created in. In general, I like to think of my work in terms of series. In my studio, I like to have the pieces hanging about while I paint more to add to them. I’d love to have a solo show to demonstrate this “group effect.” It’s quite powerful.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Your mock wedding portrait is so intimate. Can you tell me a bit about it?
Teresa Oaxaca: This is a painting of me and someone special. I am very open about displaying my work and providing details about it but I keep the private life separate. I suppose painting in itself is quite autobiographical.
Teresa Oaxaca studied at the Florence Academy of Art and the Angel Academy. She is a two-time recipient of the Art Renewal Center’s Scholarship Competition, a double recipient of the Stacey Scholarship (Museum of the Cowboy) and has been awarded the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant twice. She resides in the Washington D.C. area.
Explore her “Drawing & Painting Journal: Awakening Vision” blog here.