by Heather Parish
Aileen Imperatrice is devoted to her art. One of a handful of visual artists in Fresno County attempting to make a living strictly from her art, she’d have to be!
But Aileen is determined to make it work and works diligently booking art exhibits, cross promoting her work at ArtHops and galleries, and working alongside theater groups like the Rogue Performance Festival and The New Ensemble Theater Group to provide a visual arts element to their offerings.
Her latest series, “Selective Memory”, will be shown during the month of June at 1821 Gallery and Studios in Fresno, with the Artist Reception scheduled for Saturday, June 15, 4-8 p.m.
We caught up with Aileen to ask about her “intuitive” approach to this brand new work and her life as an artist in Fresno.
Heather: What inspires you to create the way that you do?
Aileen: I have to create to survive. It’s not a cliché to say it keeps me sane. My process is focus immersion. By this I mean, what I have to achieve is complete focus with my work for it to be authentic to me and what it is I am trying to express. I have ideas for work all the time and keep sketchbooks and notepads everywhere. But once I decide to set my schedule to create the work, I must separate myself from the world by using music, meditation and visual elements such as artist movies to put me in the frame of mind I need to work. It is for me a physical, emotional and psychological purging that allows me to create and then release that thought to the viewers.
I will oftentimes during the work forget to eat, drink, etc. and willingly give up sleep to feel the total concentration I need. Frequently people ask me how I feel about selling my work. And I tell them that the process of making the work, the actual creation in studio is the journey that I need and feel driven to do. Once I’ve done it and release it out through exhibits and sales I’m fine with it, because I know I’ve done what I needed to do. What anyone else takes from it and what they feel for themselves/interpret through their own life experience is the bonus.
Every time I’m done working on a series I am completely exhausted and actually feel like I don’t want to interact with anyone and ponder not working on other art for a long time, but I always end up back at the easel and excited about the next work I will do. That’s how I know I’m doing what I am supposed to do. And when people like the work and buy it, it also validates my feeling that I am doing what I should be doing.
Heather: The work you present in “Selective Memory”, how long did it take you to complete? How many pieces to does the exhibit show? What medium did you use?
Aileen: I began formulating the ideas for “Selective Memory” at least two years ago; as abstract art has consumed more of my attention. The decision to create this body of work came when Bruce Kalkowski asked me to exhibit at his gallery back in the beginning of summer 2012. I already had some group shows and a solo exhibit booked for the remainder of 2012, so we came to a final agreement of June 2013 to give me enough time to create the new series. I began work on canvas at the end of 2012 and just finished as I send you these answers. In total there are 24 individual canvases, ranging from as large as 60″ x 72″ to as small as 16″ x 12″. They are all completely new and show a completely different direction for my work. This work is in many layered oils, gessos, and china marker. I wanted the outline images to work themselves through and also recede in the layers.
Heather: Did you set out to do a collection centered around the theme of memory or did it evolve?
Aileen: Both, really. For this collection in particular, I wanted to trust my intuition and see where it took me. I had a few initial ideas for what I wanted to convey, but how that evolved I chose to leave to the process. As I wrote about it in my artist statement, I am embracing that which remains in my thoughts, selective though it may be.
Heather: You describe the work as you embracing your “intuitive nature” and your process as being “Intuitive”. In what sense do you mean intuitive? Can you expand on that idea?
Aileen: In the past, I’ve usually worked with a large amount of planning and detail before approaching the canvas. But with this journey I chose to experiment with my own natural inclinations. When I confirmed that I would be doing this exhibit at 1821, I knew it would be big and very important. So I wanted to challenge myself to create work that would share something different.
Instead of over planning, I thought that I should test my own artistic sensibilities as I created the work on the easel. I had some ideas for outline figures to be included in the first few pieces going in, but once those were there, the actual application of the paint, the way the layers would interact with the outlines, the mixing of the paint, the choice of colors and the physical application of the paint in placement on the canvas were worked out as I did it.
I was learning to be in tune with my own feelings of comfort or dissonance and letting the materials become an even greater extension of my mind. Through this journey, I could begin to see patterns emerge and the repeating of certain colors. It is a scary process, but one an artist must take to see what naturally comes from within themselves. It’s a bit like free association, you never really know what will come out.
Heather: What can people expect from or look for in your work with this exhibit. How is the work in this show different from your previous work? What’s changed or evolved?
Aileen: This series will change what you are used to seeing from me. It is both more minimalistic and abstract. There is a lot of texture and raw color, but in a limited palette. I use figures more than I have previously, perhaps because this is about my memory and impressions of what remains in my mind about things I have experienced in this body and what I have seen others go through, too. The layers represent the selective fogginess of the brain for what we recall throughout our life. I’ve been more fascinated with layers over the last few years and I see this as probably continuing to evolve.
Heather: If you were to give a guided tour of the exhibit, which pieces would you particularly stop at, and why?
Aileen: That’s a tough one. I’ll talk about any piece that viewers want me to and the series as a whole because they are all inter-related. But I suppose, to provide some insight into the fluidity of the theme, I could share that “limbo” and “early to rise” are seen together because they work off each other. “limbo” is the piece you see on my postcard and “early to rise” consists of blue tones.
“limbo” expresses my all too regular occurrence of being in the waiting stance, whether it be for good or bad news, waiting for some being to heal emotionally, psychologically or physically and waiting for my own evolution. “early to rise” exposes my helplessness in the passing of loved ones, both human and animal. I’ve been at the bedside of many transitioning into death and have come to a level of odd acceptance and familiarity. It is a spiritual journey for everyone involved.
Another piece “not of sound mind” is a figure overwhelmed in reds and yellows, representing negative emotions in dealing with events and people taking advantage of me. There are happier pieces as well.
Heather: What do you think is a particular struggle you had with this work? And a particular success, something you’re uniquely proud of?
Aileen: Time is always my enemy and like most times spent working in studio, I wish I could have had more time to add more layers to this work. Distractions of daily life and the business of art continue to compete for my attention. Nonetheless, I feel that I achieved a different approach to my art process and in the end created work that sets me in a forward motion. As for what I wish I could do more, I chose to believe that what I have done was defined by the fate of time and is telling me it is enough. Again, I am trusting the process. Plus it helps that those who have already seen some of the work, have told me it’s great.
Heather: What do you find challenging and optimistic about the artistic community in Fresno County?
Aileen: I am always optimistic about the continuing growth of the arts community in Fresno. There are a lot more people making the time to actively seek out the arts and there are true supporters that involve themselves to create a better present and future for the arts in Fresno.
Challenging is the reality of making a living doing art in Fresno. Unfortunately there are not enough people who are financially investing in the arts and I am particularly disappointed in those who speak ill of our talent, because we are based in Fresno. I have regularly been sought out for advice and recommendations to help the growth of the arts, but have all too many times been ignored by some who chose the status quo and refuse to recognize the value of the individual artist.
As the regularly circulated Facebook meme goes (something like this), We are artists and need to pay our bills just like everyone else. We work hard for years to hone our skills and sell our art to make a living. We do not ask you to give away your services. Do not expect us to give away ours.
To that end, Aileen has taken a step more and more artists have attempted in recent years: crowd sourcing. Asking the community of interested arts lovers to contribute a small donation so that the artist can complete a project or fund some necessary element of their art. Aileen’s GoFundMe campaign, which ended on June 5, was intended to subsidize the marketing and outreach efforts for her work. “I began the campaign because in order to effectively reach galleries that would consider representing me, I need professional materials and contact with these galleries to present my work to them. The money raised will help me afford to hire a professional marketing group that will package my work, make the contact with the galleries and will increase the visibility of my work especially in front of expanded audiences.” Donations are still being accepted by contacting Aileen directly at art@ashtreestudios[dot]com
The Artist Reception for “Selective Memory” will be Saturday, June 15, 4-8 p.m. and Aileen will be on hand to meet with attendees and discuss her work. 1821 Gallery and Studios is located at 1821 Calaveras, downtown Fresno (just two blocks west of the old Fresno Bee/Fresno Met Museum bldg. now headquarters for CMAC studios). For full information, call 559-233-9992