Entering the world of painting with Joana Rego

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For interview series “The World of Art”, we visited the studio of a Portuguese painter Joana Rego. The moment we entered the space, ears noticed the beautiful sound of birds singing, sunlight playing through the brushes, acrylic paint and canvas. Suddenly it seemed as if all the urbanistic sounds had disappeared, we escaped the city life and entered the world which has no boundaries and where we can search for inspiration without any interruptions.

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With hot coffee and the sounds of the ocean in the background of our meeting, we talked with Joana about her passion for painting, which has accompanied her from her early age. Having studied in Porto and later in San Francisco, artist gained the experience which  is her companion in the path of the art world up until today. I notice how Joana smiles when it comes to talking about her career and her works - she has never regretted the choice of becoming a painter. We want to introduce you a creative and charming soul from Portugal who has a unique story to tell.

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Joana, how did you get interested in art? When you were thinking of choosing a career of an artist, did you think about the possibility of teaching?

I always knew that I wanted to be a painter, even since a very young age. It is really hard to survive  just being a painter, so teaching is a solution to maintain the activity of painting without having to go through economic constraints, which are always terrible for someone who wants to keep flowing creative availability. Actually, a lot of painters that I know have other activities and most of them also teach. Teaching for me is a great experience because it allows me to be constantly updated. Another reason is that painting is a very lonely activity (I usually spend too many hours alone in the studio), so it is always great to spend some hours per week dealing with creative people, exchanging experiences, learning from students.

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How long have you been a painter?

I guess I can call myself a painter for a long time, but I admit that I can call myself a “professional painter” after I returned from the United States. I achieved a sense of responsibility and maturity there, which was crucial to start feeling as a professional artist.

Can you tell us about the start, for example what was the concept of an artist while you were studying and has it changed over the years?

It’s always hard to explain verbally the concept of being an artist. I like to quote this phrase from Caspar David Friedrich, who reveals to me the essence of being a painter and this phrase may also be applied to any other artistic area: “The painter should not paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees itself in there. But if he does not see anything in itself he has to stop painting what he sees before him.” Of course this is the poetic side of being an artist. Talking about reality, due to all the marketing aspects that professional artists have to go through, of course my notion of the artist changed completely as soon as I became one. This phrase makes me  remember why I became an artist.

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You have graduated from Fine Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts and along with that you have received Master’s degree in painting from the San Francisco Art institute. How did both of these places affect your concept of the art world?

These two important experiences and now my PhD studies have been part of my learning, training and life experience. Without having lived these fantastic experiences, I would not be who I am today and would have more difficulties in the art world.

Painting is one of the types of fine arts that you practice. What does it mean to you?

I have always loved painting. My mother had studied painting as well at the Academy of Fine Arts in Porto, and she was always telling me stories about her experience, so I became fascinated with it. I love painting materials, colors, textures, composition and I feel that I still have so much to learn so I continue exploring techniques and all possibilities regarding painting.

Where are you mentally when you are painting?

(Smiles) Well, when I am creating, I like to think about a lot of things. I think about my travels, about the places that I have seen and visited, about my life, problems, about everything what is surrounding me.

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 What subjects do you like to represent in your work? Is there a particular theme that you use for your projects?

Every subject can be one of my subjects… I like challenges and too often get out of my comfort zone. Sometimes I can start a project based on a book that I read, or it can start from a concept that I have investigated -  the conceptual part of my projects can start from so many things, but there is a constant presence in my work: text, words. I have been interested in exploring the relationship between the words and image in painting. That is actually the theme of my doctoral research.

How does a day in your studio look like?

I always like to start my day early. Usually it is 9 a.m. While I am drinking my cup of coffee I am also drawing some sketches for the works. After that I put on the music on and I start working. When I need to take a break, I take lunch next to the ocean. Sometimes I work until 2 a.m. and forget about the existence of time. I just focus on my project and the process.

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Can you share some details with our readers about the project that you are working now at the moment?

At this precise moment, I am dealing with a project that is part of my PhD thesis. The painting that I will present with the thesis  is based on the idea of text as image and image as text. I started this project from the concept of Ekphrasis -  the use of Ekphrasis transforms listeners or readers into viewers as it describes details of the paintings, images, photographs, etc. It aims to provide the discourse of visual qualities that are inherent to painting.

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Has the style that you had in your works in the start changed over the years?

Of course my work has evolved but I always try to maintain the quality, get better and learn from my mistakes. I have kept a constant subject in my work which is the use of words and I am always exploring the relationship between words and image in painting. I am interested in the content and meaning of the text, its ability to affect the painted picture by the plasticity of its application and in possible interpretations by the observer, because it is a double challenge to the visual perception. I am interested in the artistic work focused on semiotic practices and intricate contemporary relationship with the language.

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Which is  the most challenging piece of work that you have completed?

I can’t refer exactly to a single piece, but a series of works called “A to Z. Between words and images” (an exhibition that I presented in 2009) is a really important project for me for several reasons, but the main reason is the fact that this project coincided with the period when I began my theoretical research on the relation between words and image on painting and it helped me to pursue the project with more consistency.

What technique do you use in your works?

I like to use acrylics and sometimes I use silkscreen. Acrylic paint allows me to work the way I love to, which is working with several paint layers without having to wait too much time for the paint to dry. Silkscreen allows me to incorporate in my paintings some appropriated images - this process lets me transfer onto canvas images from my own drawings, photographs. The silkscreen process opened new possibilities for the content of my work and it allows me as well to make sufficiently rich surfaces regarding form and concept to be scrutinized by both the eye and the mind.

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What is the most difficult thing in the art world?

The most difficult part for me is dealing with the commercial part of the art world, art market, clients, work release and all those subjects that are so important.. The advice that I would give to a person that wants to follow this path is to try not to allow these issues to interfere with the creative process and work genuineness.

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How do you stay focused and committed to what you do?

I am never “not working” -  no matter what I do, I can feel it can be a part of my creative process. I am always trying to feed my creativity through my readings, travels, seeing the work of others. My work is conceptual and I always start a project with a clear notion of what I am working with and about. A painter works with the soul, the inner sensibility. I make innumerable formal and iconographic decisions in the process of working, during the preparation of a new project. When the work is in progress, it  may be a pure expression of my inner world – my intelligence, keen and observing eye, emotionality, sensuality, romantic nature and theatrical bent. It reflects my passions, sometimes my political beliefs. My art also tries to reach out beyond the self to embrace the viewer’s intellect, memory and eye. I can use the cliché, which says that “An artist does not give answers, but he is always asking questions”.

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