Can you tell me a little bit about you?
Hello! My name is Amy Bravo, I’m a Brooklyn based painter/mixed media artist who’s about to jump into the postgrad abyss after leaving Pratt Institute this May. I went to Pratt to study Illustration, and am technically graduating with a Communications Design major, but about halfway through my experience at school I fell in love with fine arts, and decided to pursue the path of most resistance and try to cut it as a painter without changing my major. Working among illustrators has been a great source of community and has really shaped my method of painting, I paint large-scale, but I work at the pace of an illustrator with a 3 PM same-day deadline. I’ve sort of tailored my major to work best for me, taking Senior Project courses taught by illustrators-turned-painters, and really diving into fine arts in my electives. My final project of undergrad is an installation in a very creepy basement where I spend 90% of my waking life.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
It’s hard to pinpoint when I first discovered art and when I first realized I wanted to be an artist. I grew up with a mother who was always a maker and encouraged me to be creative from the minute I could sit up on my own. She was accepted full ride to FIT as a teen, and gave it up to marry my dad, which made her always want one of her kids to pursue art. As a kid, I took pride in being the “artist” in my small school, but as I grew up I kind of rejected it a little bit. I figured that it was too hard of a career, and I wanted to kind of rebel against what my mom wanted me to be by pursuing the rebellious route of trying to be an English Major. I know. But after a couple years in high school of stumbling around, I figured that I have one shot at life and I should just try to do what I think will make me happiest. So I came back to art, and haven’t given it up since.
What do you like most about working where you do?
I love working in Brooklyn because there’s a great community around artists. For me, community and collaboration are so key and I feel like Brooklyn has the most community-based art scene in New York. I love being able to be around so many other artists who are just starting out, and want to lift each other up because we’re so excited about the work our friends are making. I very much produce work alone, because if there’s anything with a pulse in the same room as me, I will talk to it for hours and not get anything done. So I love that I have a group of friends that are artists making work in my neighborhood who I can have come over and critique my work in between long bouts of creating and not speaking to anyone else for days.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
Because I was raised without a strong Cuban influence, much of my artistic career has been fixed on trying to reclaim my heritage. An important element of my work is taking accountability for the unknown, what my limited experience as an American-born Cuban leaves to be desired. The conflation of Cuba’s culture with the better-known culture of Mexico is a direct product of internalized racism that dominated my childhood. I like to emphasize this in my work, using Chola imagery and traditional Mexican kitsch, such as the Virgen De Guadalupe, in stride with the Cuba of my imagination. In a sense I am trying to create my own island in the vague outline of Cuba, using what I know about what I am supposed to be, and substituting in the rest. I paint the Cuba I see in my head, in dreams, where space doesn’t make sense; the people are both known and unknown, the culture beautiful and confusing.
Through painting, I’m able to understand where I stand in relation to Cuba. I am an outsider, first and foremost, to the country I’m from. As much as I may learn about Cuba, and attempt to immerse myself in it’s culture, I will never have participated in it in the way other Cubans and Cuban-Americans have. I can reclaim it to an extent, but will always be left with just an impression.
What is your process like?
My work tends to be stream-of-consciousness, and my paintings are layered with so many changes and decisions as I go. I sometimes am inspired to paint by writing first, but usually I have an intuitive image making practice. Since I was educated as an illustrator, I work really quickly. Without distraction, I sometimes can finish a larger piece in just a few days. I like to work for long periods of time non-stop. I don’t enjoy working on more than one painting at a time, but I love working on a painting and sculptures at the same time, because I feel that they inform each other in a more exciting way, and sometimes can end up living together as one piece.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
I’m particularly interested in modern queer communities in Cuba, and the idea of existing wildly during an oppressive regime. There are strange parallels between this concept and my elements of ancestors lives in Cuba, and I like to combine them to create strange communities that exist in the spaces between. For example, I’m excited by the idea of oppressed communities coming together to celebrate in hidden spaces, like my great grandfather’s community of poor farmers transforming his barn into a dance hall at night. The LGBTQ community functions in a very similar way, finding safe spaces to celebrate and be wild together. I’ve been interested in the idea of painting a series that takes place in a fictionalized version of my great grandfather’s dance-hall that features figures and elements representing the LGBTQ community. I want to make a painting of my brother (a trans man) dancing with my great grandfather. I want to make a painting of drag queens taking care of my abuelita’s pigs and picking guavas.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for art?
The strangest thing I’ve done for art is draw Ricky Ricardo 30 times in one day.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
I work at an info desk, totally removed from artwork. I don’t really do it on purpose, but I do worry that doing an arts-based job might take away my own energy to create my work.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
My mentor is Kenichi Hoshine, an abstract painter and my professor of two years. He has given my countless pieces of important advice, but the best so far is when he told me that no matter what I have to do to make ends meet, I can always create something, even if it’s just a drawing on a napkin. He has told me that the best way to excel as an artist is to put your artwork first, and produce something every day.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
Don’t be afraid to do things a fine artist “shouldn’t” do.
What does it mean to you to have a “community?”
Community is everything to me! I thrive off of feedback and conversations surrounding art. Surrounding yourself with fellow artists offers you insight and challenges you in ways you cannot challenge yourself. Community (outside of art) definitely influences my work, because so much of my work is about existing on the outskirts of two communities that see me as “not enough”; the Latin American community, and the LGBTQ community (because Bisexual erasure is real). My artwork kind of thrives on the border of communities, looking in and not catching everything, acknowledging it’s own Otherness.
What is your studio like?
My studio is usually very hectic! I just got a space to work in recently, but up until January, I was working on paintings as large as 70 x 100 inches right next to my bed. I work very mixed media, and have an intuitive artmaking practice, so my materials usually get thrown around the room haphazardly until I can attach them to a canvas somehow. Most days, I’m lucky to be able to walk around. I often end up covered in paint, and so do my walls and floor.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
I prefer to work during the day, because I get more hours in that way. On a good day I can spend from 10 AM to 6 PM in studio. I like to get in at least three days a week that are 6+ hours, and other days I squeeze in about 4 between other things I’m doing. Most weeks I get into the studio 5-6 days. I can’t listen to music when I paint, because I get to into it and it can be distracting. I can only listen to music if I’m putting in finishing touches or painting large areas. If it comes to serious compositional choices, I need to watch or listen to something really lighthearted or vapid to occupy the other half of my brain, or else I’ll overthink everything I do. I actually like to watch TV while I paint, even though I mostly just listen. My favorite podcasts to listen to are usually comedy, right now I’m binging Gilmore Guys.
How significant has attending art school been on your practice?
Art school has absolutely shaped my practice and perspective in ways I can’t even fully comprehend. I haven’t yet pursued an MFA, but I want to because I’m interested in teaching, and I love school settings as a place for community and constructive critique. I’m sure there are benefits to not getting an MFA, you can have more time to focus on building a career, and you don’t have to stay stuck in the rhythm of school. I personally love art school, and would be happy to continue on for an MFA.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
I think that as an artist, I struggle most with ignoring public perception. When I start to think about how the public will interact with my work, I can’t produce. I tend to ask myself “will people see this as fine art?”, “will people get it?”, “is there a market for my work?”. These questions genuinely do nothing for me but make me paranoid, and asking them often leads to scrapping a piece, or making something that feels forced and unresolved. When I create work that feels like it exists for me first and foremost, I can enjoy myself and let loose. I also think it’s frustrating to constantly be told that art is a hopeless career option by people who have no idea what it’s like to pursue artmaking. Yeah, art is not exactly a guaranteed career, but if I wanted to be rich, I wouldn’t be a painter.
How would you define “success” in art?
I think success in art is being able to create your work on your own terms. To be successful in art you don’t have to sell for millions, you don’t have to work commercially, you don’t even have to show anyone anything you make. But having the ability to create work when you want and how you want to feels like success to me. In my ideal world, I would be able to wake up every day and be able to say “today I’m going to create artwork”.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
The most exciting thing I’ve done is get my art books and zines sold with Mujeristas Collective at Zonamaco, and get my zine featured in the Frida Kahlo pop-up library in the Brooklyn Museum!
Are you involved in any collaborative or self-organized projects?
I’m part of the Mujeristas Collective, who recently received a Queens Council for the Arts grant.
What are you working on right now?
Finishing up an installation project surrounding heritage and dreamscapes, taking lots of documentation to show people who can’t actually enter the installation what it feels like to be there.
Anything else you would like to add?
I’m a star at karaoke if that helps
Find more at amybravo.com and on Instagram @_amybravo_!
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