Leilani Bustamante Interview
According to your website (www.leilanibustamante.com) you graduated from the Academy of Art University. Before entering university, had you received any artistic training? And have you found that this scholarly backing (or academic training) has benefited your career? If yes, how so?
Before attending AAU I was a self taught kid, drawing since I could hold something to draw with. I used to draw from old Italian Master’s paintings in History books, So exploration into different material and concepts were pretty much experimental on my part. You found what worked and what didn’t by trial and lots of error. The classes at AAU were just a continuation of that process, more and more techniques were introduced and as we all know, the more work you do, the better you get. It was a tremendous benefit to be given those tools to contribute to my skill set.
Could you explain some of the challenges of being a new art graduate and how you have overcome them?
This is something I always asked my peers when I was in school and they gave the same advice I’m about to impart: Keep things in perspective or you’ll burn out. Art School really pushes your capacity for churning out work and that can drain the hell out of your creativity if you don’t allow yourself to regain your inspiration. I studied Traditional 2D Illustration which was very deadline driven- I easily spent all of my time on my homework. If you stop looking at the world you live in, looking at the things you love whether it’s music, film, taking a walk- just to get that spark of inspiration, your output becomes very limited and then the work becomes “work”. Even now, I still have to remind myself to take a step back and look.
You have exhibited your work in New York City at the Fuse Gallery and San Francisco at Modern Eden Gallery. Without the intention of pinning one city against the other, have you found working in one cosmopolitan easier than another? What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered that were present in one city and absent in the other?
My experiences with exhibiting in both cites has been rather limited. New York fell into my lap, I was extraordinarily lucky to get that gig- but I really built a body or work I was proud of. Now that I’ve got a few solo shows and group shows under my belt on both coasts I try to apply that philosophy to each subsequent piece I make from now on.
There seems to be a large visual discrepancy between your painted work and your sketches. Your paintings show certain elements of darkness and morbidity. Your sketches, on the other hand, seem lighter: from caricature-like figures to fantastical creatures and then a melding of both. How does this difference come into play when submitting work to galleries? Have you thought about exhibiting your sketches in addition to your painted work?
I confess, the sketches on my website are older than the paintings and a lot of them are from my days of character design and school. So they seem a lot lighter and are expressed in a more exaggerated fashion for that reason. As of late, I’ve been drawing more that painting and those drawings fall more in line with the paintings. Eventually, I’d like to work on a body of work that is nothing but large scale drawings.
Building on this, you present your sketch work alongside your paintings on your website. A sketch is often thought of as a visual brainstorm but, here, they can be seen as standalone pieces. Does your thought process differ when working in one media compared to the other? How so? Do you enjoy one more than the other?
Since I’ve been drawing much longer that I’ve been painting, my lines are more fluid, there is less struggle to get a feeling or emotion across. Every piece starts with a drawing and I find it a necessity to have a fully rendered drawing mapped out before the paint hits the board. I definitely consider it a first love and preferred method, however, it’s a good exercise to constantly challenge yourself. If you are uncomfortable with a medium- get comfortable with it. I’m still learning that process when a drawing becomes a painting, it changes and takes on a different mood or feeling. The trick is to try and change with it.
Last year, you participated in Wayward Fairy Tales, a group show at the Modern Eden Gallery curated by Glenn Arthur and Jeff Felker. Each participating artist based their work on classic fairy tale. Can you tell us a little about your experience? Which fairy tale did you choose and why?
For me, it started with the Queen. In the original text I found her twitchy, manic cruelty fascinating. She is so reproachful, so desperate, so vindictive- all of that with an unrelenting sense of vengeance propelling her, that is the perfect subject to create a portrait of. She has so much complexity to show just with a look on her face. Snow White in the original text is more of a blindly innocent, babe in the woods–her purity of heart reigns supreme above all else. I loved getting into their heads, I just chose a moment in time where their expressions summed up their characters, their reality.
Do you think that working with restrictions like these challenging? Do you ever set out restrictions like this for yourself – and create something within those boundaries – or is your process one that is freer flowing?
I find working within restrictions and guidelines a good exercise- a challenge is always good if you makes you create outside of your comfort zone. For instance, I enjoy taking an abstract concept like emotion, a seemingly simple thing that is multi-layered and wonderfully complex and build off of that. There becomes a whole world of schemes, different ways of depicting that one emotion. It’s a brilliant exercise for yourself, otherwise you stagnate.
Could you tell us a little about working in a group show with curators as opposed to a solo show?
I love the camaraderie of working with several artists, seeing their perspectives on a given subject, different variations on the same theme. When you work with curators, you are contributing to their vision and grand scheme while still creating a stand alone piece. These are the opportunities to keep refreshing your body of work, the more themes you participate in the larger the range of your work. With solo exhibition, that’s when I push for the evolution in my body of work. It’s a good chance to really run with ideas and concepts that provoke you and allow them to come to fruition.
You and your work have been featured on several art sites including Art Attacks (an online resource of artists and interviews), Escape into Life (whose purpose is to feature and support artists while providing an online art store), Creep Machine (as mentioned above). Do you find that these sites are productive areas to raise your exposure?
Absolutely. The community of Art appreciators is far reaching as are social networking platforms. I find that most people are aware of my work by way of these exposures over my actual website. These are resources that can be used to put your work out there more easily than the gallery walk with a portfolio in hand. Although it still doesn’t hurt to do the latter too.