The importance of failure as a way of moving forward

Tuesday Night Painting #34

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Stella Alesi
#272 from the journeying series, 48x48 inches, 2019
oil, cold wax and bookbinding tape on oil paper mounted to panel

Hello painters,

Today I am pleased to present to you the work of Stella Alesi, a multidisciplinary artist who has called Austin home for over a quarter century. I'm working to learn more about the Austin art scene since moving here this fall, and I found Alesi's work while scrolling through various Austin art hashtags on Instagram. I then spotted her work on the Austin Studio Tour website, an annual arts event that is being held virtually this year.

While we're on the subject of the Austin Studio Tour... did you know that we opened up a gallery in our garage? We timed it to coincide with this year's studio tour, and our first exhibit features two terrific Texas artists. You can find out more about this venture, see images of the work, and a video of the space at our gallery's website.

If you scroll back through previous Tuesday Night issues, you'll see it's been a little while since I've interviewed an artist. That changes today! I'm very thankful to Alesi for conversing with me through email and sharing some of her thoughts and wisdom that's she's picked up through her career as a painter, photographer, and collage artist.

Read on to find our Q&A and to see some of Alesi's works from recent years. You can find out more about Alesi on the Austin Studio Tour website I linked to above, and also at the artist's own portfolio site here.

september 19th, 2020 from the With Grace series
oil wax and pencil on oil paper, 22x30 inches
september 12th, 2020 from the With Grace series,
oil wax and pencil on oil paper, 22x30 inches
I first wanted to hear Alesi's perspective on the Austin art scene, because I had recently come across this tweet by an artist I've mentioned a good deal in this newsletter, Austin Kleon. Kleon suggests that Austin doesn't have a strong center of gravity, rather artists are primarily "scratching away" at home, occasionally popping up with new work, and bumping into each other at the supermarket.

Alesi wanted to push back on that idea. While she spends a good deal of time scratching away alone in her studio, Alesi also takes time to visit other visual artists, dancers, filmmakers, writers, and other creative professionals. "I have lived here a long time and have developed many lasting friendships that feed my creative endeavors," says Alesi.

In pre-pandemic times, there would be plenty of art openings, open studios, and performances at which to meet, network, and socialize with fellow artists. However, since the pandemic, Alesi says "it's been a bit more difficult; it's been more one on one with different artist friends, and occasional scheduled gallery visits."
january 21st, 2020, from the aftermath series,
oil, wax and repair tape on oil paper, 22.5x30 inches.
Now, looking at artwork on Instagram is obviously a very different experience from seeing work in person. But when I'm scrolling and scrolling, sometimes a piece of work really jumps out at me, and it happened exactly that way with Alesi. I was struck by the combined simplicity and gracefulness of the work.

Personally speaking, oftentimes when I am working and I come up with something I really like, I just want more and more and more of it. I want to repeat it to no end; keep making those color combos, or shapes, or textures, until I invariably go overboard. That's why I admire artists who know when enough is enough and manage to show some restraint 

Alesi is definitely the artist who knows how to strike a carefully considered balance with each composition. It results in work that is very striking visually because of that know-how, and that restraint.

Alesi works out her compositions by doing studies and sketches on a pad with pencil, until she gets an impression that one or two just "feel right." She says, "I kind of work an idea to death; just over and over again until the composition stops asking for change."
january 27th, 2020, from the aftermath series,
oil, wax and repair tape on oil paper, 22.5x30 inches.
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#276 from the journeying series, 30x36 inches, 2019
oil, cold wax and bookbinding tape on oil paper mounted to panel,
If you spend some time with the artist's body of work, you'll notice different visual developments throughout the years. I asked Alesi about these shifts in her way of working. "I have worked in many different styles from photo realism to minimalism. Sometimes it is life changes, like a new location or a personal trauma, that brings about change in the work," the artist says.

She continues: "Other times it is just me having new ideas that I want to explore, kind of a been there, done that sort of feeling - time to move on and try new things, broaden my vocabulary."
june 16th, 2019, 22x30 inches
oil, wax and bookbinding tape on paper
As always, I'm curious what criteria artists set for themselves and for their own success. Alesi, however, doesn't think of her work in terms of success. She thinks of it in terms of work: it's there to be done. "Sometimes success is failure, and failure success," Alesi says. "If a piece just doesn’t work out at least I know I’m expanding and learning." 

With her accumulated years of experience, making a "successful" painting is something Alesi feels she could do day in day out at the studio, but to her that would not be enough. "I like to try new approaches, so there is always a period of failure."
june 1st, 2017, from the hearts and shields series,
pencil, oil and tape on Arches oil paper, 22.5x30 inches, 2017
You may have noticed I also like to ask every artist what a typical day looks like for them. For Alesi, there are a few varieties to the routine. A favorite, however, would be when Alesi can get into the studio for a solid 6-8 hour block. "Other days contain more errands and computer work. And others I spend outside in nature."

Alesi considers herself a full time painter at this point, and so "everything I do feeds the art making." Whether it's taking a walk or dealing with the frustration of figuring out health insurance (we've all been there), everything gets directed into the work in some shape or fashion.
december 12th, 2016, from the digging for emptiness series,
pencil, oil and tape on Arches oil paper, 22.5x30 inches, 2016
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The breadth and width on display in Alesi's body of work impressed me greatly, and I encourage you go to back and look at some of the older paintings. But it was Alesi's more recent series that first caught my eye, especially because they reminded me of a few other artists I enjoy a lot. I was looking at her work and envisioning it alongside some of my other favorites in my mind museum. 


To wrap things up, I wanted to ask Alesi to daydream a little bit, like I've been doing. If she could design a group show for herself and some favorite other artists, who would be included? And how much influence or inspiration does she look for from other artists?
#251 from the transformation series,
2016, 48x36 inches, oil on panel
Alesi told me that "with Instagram, I am looking at many different painters from around the world everyday." It's a great opportunity to see a wide variety of work, but Alesi mentioned "I also feel like I have to be careful not to be too influenced and stay true to my unique vision."

"If something I see does get stuck in my head, I sometimes just go with it and try to ‘work’ it out. If I keep at something I find it eventually becomes my own."

I mentioned to Alesi the name of one of my favorite artists I used while teaching my abstract art classes: Paul Kremer. Was she familiar with his work? "I love that you mentioned Paul Kremer, love his work," was the answer. "I discovered his work maybe two years ago, right around the time I was working on the Journeying series. There were some real similarities with our work for a time, so I had to be careful."

Kremer is definitely making it into Alesi's dream exhibit. Who else? A good long list of names for you and me to explore: "Phillip Niemeyer from here in Austin, Momoshowpalace, Ellen Richman, Jay Shinn, Otis Jones, Andreas Samuelsson, Nidhi Agarwal, Ted Larsen, Alex Brewer, Guido Bisagni, and marie_et_bernard."
Pictured on top: four paintings by Paul Kremer. Pictured below: a painting by Momoshowpalace. Both images provided by Studio Cromie.

I want to thank again Stella Alesi for being my interview subject for this week's newsletter. I had a great time exploring her work and finding out more about it, and I hope you enjoyed it too.
This week for tunes, I want to put you onto Omar-S, the stage name of electronic producer Omar Alexander Smith. He's a musician who keeps a low profile and his songs have a similarly minimal feel to them.

According to his wiki, he paid to produce and distribute his
earliest albums by working his day job at the Detroit Ford factory, something he makes reference to with his albums titled It Can Be Done But Only I Can Do It and Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself.

Omar-S - A Toast to Momma Rose
Omar-S - Nite's Over Compton
Omar-S - Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself

See you next time, and happy painting.
( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
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