Interview with Minnie Valero
What inspires you to pick up a brush and begin a painting?
MV: I have an innate desire to make a mark, to draw, to paint, to sketch, to express myself. I have also discovered that by drawing and painting the world around me I understand it better. Sometimes I am inspired by the way light touches a subject, or by new surroundings. Traveling, new sights inspire me a lot, too.
What is your technique? Or do you have several for creating different effects?
MV: I enjoy painting in watercolor, pastel, acrylic and oils. It depends on the subject, my mood, and the circumstances. I enjoy painting portraits, and have done them in all four of these techniques, but pastel portraits are still my favorite. On the other hand, watercolors are the technique of choice for my travels.
How long would a portrait take to perfect? One morning, several days, or even longer?
MV: It depends on my feelings more than anything else. When I am inspired and feel the desire to do somebody’s portrait, just for my own amusement, it usually takes just a few hours, in pastel, watercolor, acrylic or oils. When it is a commission, or a decision, it usually takes me longer. The heart makes my fingers fly.
What was your journey to become a successful artist?
MV: I have drawn all my life. When I was a little girl in elementary school, I would always turn in my homework with drawings in the margins, weather it was history or math or any other subject. My teachers would tease me about it. Later in high school I would do portraits of my classmates during recess. However, when I went to college and graduate school, I obtained masters degrees in Linguistics and Education, still considering my painting a hobby. It wasn’t until I retired from public school service in California that I decided to dedicate my entire time to painting, taking workshops in California, Hong Kong and Paris. Within a year, my work had been exhibited and won awards in several art associations and galleries in California.
Is painting your full time career?
MV: Yes, for the past 12 years, it is.
Do you have other creative projects apart from painting?
MV: Yes, I enjoy gardening, hiking, learning languages, and sketching in sketchbooks during my travels. I have published two books with my sketches: MY THREE LIVES, about my living in Argentina, the US and France, and LOOKING FORWARD, a sketchbook during my five-week travels in South America.
People talk about “writer’s block” so I wonder, is there such a thing as “painter’s block”?
MV: Yes, certainly. There are times when you feel empty, or that what you do is not good, or not good enough. There are, usually, personal reasons for that; sadness, fear, and depression. At those times, I usually organize my material, label, frame, make lists, visit museums, until I start sketching again. My sketchbook is my best friend.
Do you think an artist sees the world in a special way?
MV: I do. By personal experience, I felt my eyes open wider when I started studying color theory, and could see colors I had never seen before. When I learnt art history, different artistic techniques, and visited art museums around the world, my mind expanded to other universes. I cannot see the world the same way after my intense art experiences of the past 12 years. I believe that is true for most, or all artists.
Is it possible for you to put into words what colors mean to you?
MV: Color is light, and life. I couldn’t imagine a world without color.
Why did you leave Argentina?
MV: Since very young I had a desire to learn other languages and to travel. Then in my early 20s I had the opportunity of living in the United States for three years under a Visitors Visa, and to travel all across the US. When I returned to Argentina after those three years, I saw in my native country attitudes and customs I had not noticed before. I saw sexism, opportunism, nepotism, lack of respect, lack of responsibility from the government, and decided to do everything in my power to return to the US. After a few years, my family and I were granted the immigrant visa to the US. We have lived here for 40 years now.
Do you miss your native country?
MV: No, I don’t.
What attracted you to San Diego?
MV: Family and the weather.
Would you now describe yourself as Argentinian, Californian, or American?
You spend a lot of time in France; why is this?
MV: Love. I love France. I love the sky, the cheeses, the wine, the countryside, the mountains especially the Pyrenees, the art and the people. I love everything about France, and I have very dear friends there.
When you paint, do you think in English or in Spanish? Can the result differ depending on the language in your head?
MV: Most of the time I think in English whether I’m painting or not. When I spend a few months in France every year, I start thinking in French most of the time. My Spanish now is reduced mostly to my visits to Spain every year, since one of my daughters lives in Seville. I really don’t know if my thinking in one or the other language affects my painting.
Of all your paintings, do you have a personal favorite?
MV: I have several, actually. One of my pastel portraits, which has won several awards, “GRANDMA’S JOY”, represents one of my grand-daughters when she was 5. I will include a picture of it here.
Another favorite is a series of paintings of tango dancers I started in 2008. In January that year my husband and I received news of the sudden death of several family members in a terrible car accident, which prompted us to travel immediately to Argentina for a couple of weeks. When we returned home to California, I felt so sad, I was empty, I couldn’t paint. After some time, I started painting “Argentinian themes”, as if to redeem myself, or express my sadness, I don’t really know, I just had to do it. My tango series was born there.
FΩRMIdea New York, January 15th, 2017. Interviewed by Pierre Scordia & Annie Solomons.