Angela Alés Illuminates the Subconscious and Humanizes Immigrants
Studio A413 and Loft 216
Artist and educator Angela Alés speaks about themes of immigration in her series, her teaching practice, and the community at Western Avenue. Alés, who received her MFA at Miami International University of Art and Design, is also a lifelong student of religion and philosophy.
Guest writer Mica Lin-Alves interviewed Angela in her loft at Western Avenue. Mica (@micalinalves) writes about life, music, and art. He enjoys tasty food and the company of passionate people.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
On her recent work, “Immigration.”
Most of the paintings in the series are about the mental and emotional struggle of the individual. It’s not just that you want a better life, it’s that you struggled to come into a different place—you leave your family, your memories, everything you know and love. So it’s about that—let’s look at the other side of the story. With this series I humanize the immigrant. The word immigrant has become a four-letter word, while we forget that we are all visitors here with the exception of the true Natives of any colonized land.
What experiences and memories influence you?
Art is a mirror that reflects everything that has made me who I am today, from my spiritual search to my sociopolitical views and experiences.
How do you overcome the intimidation of a blank canvas?
I like to tell this story of a teacher I used to have in college. One day during my senior year, I was preparing for my thesis, a solo show. I had just stretched and primed a large canvas. The whiteness of the canvas was intimidating me and I was drawing a blank.
One of my professors came into my studio and found me sitting on the floor, looking troubled. He asked what was wrong. I explained how the whiteness of the canvas was intimidating. Professor Diamond was having a cup of coffee and a cigarette at that moment. He proceeded to turn of the cigarette on my canvas and then he poured the coffee on it as well. He looked at me and said, “Fix it”. He liberated me, and from that moment on I always do an equivalent of the cigarette and the coffee my spilling paint of water and charcoal over the brand new canvas.
As a teacher, what do you do when a student is feeling scared, like you did in that story? How do you help them?
I have done the same thing to many white canvases. I do not use cigarettes, but I have used coffee or watered-down paint while asking the student to fix it. It definitely works.
How have you learned from your students, or from teaching?
There was a period of two years where I didn’t teach. I can tell you that I felt something was off. I don’t know if it’s because I’m constantly reviewing the rules or the agility that comes from constantly drawing. I do feel that when I teach,
I’m better at what I do personally.
Also, there’s a constant exchange. I might see something that triggers something in me. I’m not only being the teacher; I’m also learning from my students.
What drew you to Western Avenue?
I was living in Miami but after graduating from art school in NYC, I always missed the Northeast. After 20 something years of being away from the Northeast, I felt it was time to move back. I started applying to different schools, limiting my search from NYC to Vermont. I was fortunate to get a job in Massachusetts.
While searching different cities. looking for places to live, I came across Western Avenue Studios and Lofts in Lowell. We felt in love with the city and this wonderful artistic community that Western Avenue offers. We have been a part of Western Avenue from the first day we moved to Lowell. We have been enjoying this amazing community for almost 6 years now.