In our second Artist Spotlight, we sit down to talk with Alexandra Santos Ocasio who was part of the duo show, “Topografías de campo y espacio” (“Topographies of field and space”) along Juan Alberto Negroni.
Jorge Fusaro (Matadero): In 2019, you completed a Masters in Fine Art Practice in the Glasgow School of Arts in Scotland. What were your biggest cultural and personal gains?
Alexandra Santos Ocasio: I got into Glasgow almost by accident. At the beginning of 2018, I was unclear as to which path to follow, so I decided to search for a master's degree. Suddenly, the end of summer came by and most of the graduate application processes closed. I didn't want to study in the United States and wanted a different cultural experience where I could speak the language. To my surprise, the master’s degree application for the Fine Art Practice in the Glasgow School of Arts was still open and without much thought I applied and was selected. That was my only application, so it was either that or no Masters degree. I fell in love with Scotland the moment I arrived. The Scottish are funny, welcoming and have a familiar way of being in the world like Puerto Ricans, but without the sun, the tan and the vitamin D. I also fell in love with Glasgow, its sparkling nights, the long walks across the Clyde bridges, and the bagpipe music as background. There is something about Glasgow that I cannot describe that made me feel like home.
JF: In what ways were you influenced and/or challenged artistically while in Scotland?
ASN: Because I decided to be economically independent when I was about 18 years old, I have always worked; part time when I was a student to cover my expenses and full time ever graduation, working in every possible industry, just name it. Pursuing my master's degree was the first time that I ever experienced complete freedom of working on my art and at my own pace without any other expectations (at least for me) than putting up something "decent" on the graduation show. So I immersed myself in the studio practice process that was fundamental to the degree. I was in no hurry and that gave me the time and opportunity to experiment with different mediums, take time to observe my work and think about it without coming to any conclusions. My interests did not change that much, but I became able to express myself in not one, but multiple voices and ways that continue to evolve in my daily practice and questioning.
JF: What project(s) are you currently working on?
ASN: I had just returned to Puerto Rico when the earthquakes struck, followed by the pandemic. I was broke, confused and readjusting into a very complicated year. I was very sad also. So, I did not have the luxury to go and buy the materials I wanted. So I started working with the leftover materials from my master's degree. Little by little, putting those pieces together started to make sense and I was able to express confidently through painting mixed media and collaged, small works. I was able to find and connect my story with those bits. I have not stopped since. In fact, I am now working more than ever and feel more confident and free with my work than before. Must be the fact that I am working with more love than ever.
JF: What has been a piece of helpful advice you have received starting out your artist career?
ASN: I was lucky enough to start my career surrounded by hard working, disciplined artists, like Martin Garcia, rather than rockstars. I was lucky to be surrounded by the right colleagues and friends that, just like me, understood the struggles of making a living as an artist. I just observed them. There were no magical formulas or words, yet they were so good, so much out of this world. I saw tons of hard work and that inspired me the most.
JF: You just landed a job at a local Middle School in San Juan, how is that working out for you? What challenges are you facing teaching with COVID-19?
ASN: I have always had an interest in teaching, but never thought that my first experience would be during a global pandemic and in a virtual modality. It has been extremely challenging! I had to learn so much in so little time, and become the most creative person ever to do a good job. I want our younger generations to feel a true love for the arts and that is hard work. Some days I feel a deep sense of reward when my students engage with the activities and exceed their own expectations. This is a difficult time to be a middle school student and I have a big sense of responsibility to share with them the healing, transformative and social aspects of the visual arts.
JF: What are the challenges/rewards of teaching art to elementary students?
ASN: Middle schoolers can be difficult, demanding, and "changos"("childish/joker"), but they are very fun to work with. They are witty and sometimes I can’t hide my smile and laughter. They are at that point of transforming into young adults. They are becoming independent, they want to have a voice, and I think that being a Visual Art Teacher is a privileged position because you are able to get them to reflect on those changes and challenges from a very deep, human and creative point of view. I feel so happy when they connect with the arts and feel the courage to try and express in unknown and unique ways.
JF: Why did you become an artist?
ASN: I always ask myself, Why do I do this? Why do I insist? (This has never been my income source). I don't have any explanation, so I keep doing it. maybe one day I will know.
JF: Who/what influences how you approach your art practice and your life?
ASN: The constant of the arts in human history. The life struggle and my privileges. The girl I was and I treasure and save through my art. Poetry, Literature in general and cinematography. Big and small names. My grandma, observing from the balcony, still, for hours. The freedom and my love for dancing. My friends and colleagues. All those who came first. The reason I can't find, but I keep on searching.
JF: What art and artist(s) inspires you?
ASN: I like art that resembles dreams and magic. This is evident in the early cave drawings and in the work of Paul Klee, Agnes Martin, Xul Solar, Remedios Varo, Hilma af Klint, Malevich, Joan Miró, and Matisse. I am also inspired by the liberty of jazz music and the immortal writings of Macedonio Fernández.
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