In Dialogue with Ana Sophia Tristán
Costa Rican painter Ana Sophia Tristán was set to open her solo show NaturalMente in April, but as was the case with many art events scheduled for this year, the exhibition had to be postponed until further notice as a result of the pandemic. Fortunately by the end of September, Galería Matices – located within the halls of the historic Costa Rica Country Club, felt ready to revisit the task of mounting the emerging artist’s exhibition and Tristan was able to hold a socially-distanced vernissage in late October. NaturalMente had always planned to present paintings from her ongoing series of semi-surrealistic works of figures immersed in nature, but the several month delay allowed the artist to debut a few new pieces inspired by COVID-19 as well.
The faces and limbs of Tristán’s subjects are almost always rendered in full detail so they remain faithful portraits of her close family members and friends. Yet the bodies, and especially the clothes they wear, are often only suggested by simple linework. Her figures appear as though they are fading into backgrounds consisting of shark’s eye moon shells, palm fronds, undulating water, and the like. The compositions are visual explorations of her search for authenticity and consciousness, which she believes is found in the natural world. Although much of her work is inspired by the impressive array of flora and fauna she grew up surrounded by in her native Costa Rica, choosing to depict her loved ones also adds an element of nostalgia to her art. After a private tour of the show, I had the opportunity to speak more with the artist about her background, creative process, and how the series on view in NaturalMente came to fruition.
You credit your grandfather for nurturing your creativity from a young age, but it wasn’t until around eight years ago that you revisited your childhood love of painting. Can you elaborate on your journey of rediscovering your creative voice?
Yes, when I graduated from high school I was told I had to study something more ‘stable’ and afterwards, if I still wanted to, I could study art. I studied abroad and when I came back to Costa Rica in December 2011, I started working at a public relations firm. I despised it. I remember finishing up every day feeling empty and completely unfulfilled.
It was my mother who could see how down I was feeling and one day said to me to start doing what I knew I loved. I didn’t think twice. I think it was July 2012 when I stopped working in public relations and I started attending two painting classes. I would teach English part-time to make some money and not a day went by where it wasn’t clear to me this is all I wanted to do. I haven’t stopped painting since.
How did pursuing your MFA in San Francisco help guide you to the next phase of your art career?
I think being from Costa Rica (where the art scene is still very nascent) and going to a place like San Francisco to study and surround myself in the art world daily, opened my mind to how much I really wanted it and how much dedication and work it was going to take.
Doing the MFA and surrounding myself with other people that were as passionate about art as I felt, and seeing the amazing talent that you get to see there, pushed me into pursuing my own voice and uniqueness to elevate the quality of art I was making. I decided there that as long as it was possible, I was going to commit and dedicate all my time to art.
Talk about the genesis of your current series of figures immersed in nature. What inspired the subject matter in these paintings?
The paintings I create, which surround a subject matter with the natural world, are inspired by the constant inward and outward search for authenticity and consciousness. Nature inspires me greatly as I believe that authenticity is mainly found there, in the natural world. The paintings are also a way to remind us to give the environment the importance, respect, and love it deserves.
The images are personal to you not simply for what they express, but also because of who they portray, correct?
Definitely. My process involves a lot of reading and writing. Once I have an idea I want to express, I begin to think about the image. Nearly all of the figures I paint come from either pictures I take or old photos from family albums. Therefore, every painting is without a doubt, very personal to me.
How has this body of work developed over the last several years?
I think right before graduating from my MFA I finally found an approach to painting that felt very me. I started seeing myself in the painting. Once I found that, I started to portray a quality in humanity I find important in each painting.
I believe that when I moved back to Costa Rica my art morphed to a more natural world. Costa Rica’s diversity of species and ecosystems and the conservation of these natural phenomena, without a doubt has highly influenced my work. I have found that truth I was looking for in nature.
Can you share your process as you create each painting, your preferred media, and your current studio space?
As I mentioned before, every painting is always very personal. The subject matter always arises very naturally. Either from an experience of someone close to me or one I am living at the moment. Or from a topic I’m reading about which resonates with me, and I think is worth talking about.
After I have the idea, I start searching for images or if I already have the image in my head, I’ll take a picture to use as a guide. I’ll usually prep the canvas, draw the image and then I’ll just start painting. Right now I’m using mainly acrylic paints and have a room in my house I use as my studio. Apart from that I just need lots of light, good music, and my dog Gala next to me to paint all day.
Congratulations on your solo show NaturalMente. What was it like to prepare for this exhibition during the pandemic?
NaturalMente was supposed to be up in April of this year. Obviously after the pandemic started in March, everything was postponed until further notice. So, when I got the call at the end of September asking if I’d be up to being the guinea pig for the first “pandemic exhibition”, I didn’t hesitate. I was very eager to put my work out there and show what I’d been working for the past several years.
The opening was very challenging. The event was closed to the public. Only a certain amount of people could come, everyone wearing masks at all times and without being able to really socialize. I definitely yearned for the past experiences of those exciting openings, but was still very grateful to be able to exhibit.
Do you have any upcoming projects, collaborations, or other shows you’d like to share? What are your plans and goals for 2021 and beyond?
NaturalMente will be up until mid-January, so I don’t have any exhibits planned for the next couple of months. I’ve been planning a collaboration with two different artists, but it’s still very much in the early stages, as they’re both from abroad. I think at the moment I want to try to focus locally to help the art community here, looking for other places to show my work around Costa Rica, while at the same time continuing to explore the online art world. Nevertheless, I’m already starting a new collection and without a doubt want and will do whatever it takes to look for exhibiting opportunities abroad.
All photos courtesy of the artist
Alicia Puig is a curator and arts writer currently based in San José, Costa Rica. She earned her MA in Art History from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia and is a regular contributor for Create! Magazine, Pikchur Magazine, and Art She Says. Her second book, “The Complete Smartist Guide”, was recently published in the summer of 2020 and is currently available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.