I met Alessandra a few years ago in New York City at an opening at Arcadia Gallery, before they relocated to California. I remember connecting about art and the passion needed to be an artist, and talking about the process of making work. When she showed me her work I was struck by her clear vision and stunning imagery. There is something very mystical and monumental about her work. It takes me to another time and place, feels like another dimension not of this world: like a curtain pulled back to reveal a complex, many-layered, precious representation of a moment or story.
Alessandra is currently working on large scale pieces to be on display at Gallery Fledermaus in January 2019. Graduating from Pratt in 2012, she now works in Boston and describes her work as an exploration of personal iconography. I hope you enjoy the interview below and gain insight into Alessandra’s practice, inspiration, and words of advice for artists everywhere.
What are you excited about in your practice right now?
It’s a secret! Wish I could tell you, but suffice to say I’m working on some larger scale projects.
When did you become interested in becoming a practicing artist?
When I was in college I majored in graphic design, and later realized that I hated it. After switching to Illustration, I further realized that I wanted to be 100% self-directed in terms of what I make and why. It was at that time that I realized I wanted to be an artist.
Describe an experience of other artist’s work you have seen that has influenced your artistic path.
When I was in college, I encountered Klimt for the first time in person at the Neue. It completely changed by life and gave me a fervent desire to make something that gave me the same feeling. It’s hard to describe, but I felt like a new world had been opened up to me.
How did you develop your unique style of work? Was there an experimenting phase before you made the kind of work we see you making now?
It was simple, but not easy. I had an image in my head that I needed to make, and had to learn how to use my media properly in order to create it. I always fall a little bit short, but with each piece I manage to get closer and closer.
How do you organize your daily studio time? Around how many hours per week do you work on your art?
I used to just work as much as possible, and it was incredibly disorganized and less effective than it could have been. My email inbox was always a mess, my studio was in disarray, and I would often work for 14 hours straight and just collapse at home in a heap of exhaustion. There was always something more to do. I’ve always been into self-help books and organization strategies, so in recent months I’ve been troube shooting and researching to streamline my process; in particular, I’ve modeled my work habits off a book called Deep Work.
My current schedule involves 4 to 5 “blocks” of 1.5 hours of work a day. I leave my cell phone in my car, I don’t have internet in my studio, and I work in complete silence – this ensures I am completely focused on what’s at hand. It’s mentally exhausting, so between each block, I will take a small walk for about 20 minutes. ON Mondays (today, when I am writing this), I answer all my emails and get to inbox 0, and organize my projects for the week.
It’s crazy. I am working less actual hours, but the quality of those hours is so much greater that I don’t need to do more. Because I have to concentrate so hard during the 6 to 7.5 hours a day, I often am incapable of doing meaningful work beyond that.
Do you have a favorite space/studio you like to work in?
My studio right now is my favorite I’ve ever had. It has more space than I know what to do with, and tall ceilings with plenty of light. I love being there everyday.
What would be some advice you would give artists who are not yet full-time professional artists, but would like to be? What are some of the most important steps they can take?
To me, there’s three components that are crucial to success: quality, production, and mindset.
Regarding quality, a quote from one of my teachers in college, Chang Park, hits the nail on the head. “Never compromise your aesthetic.”
For production, this is going to sound a bit harsh, but it’s crucial, and maybe the most important of all three: stop *** procrastinating. I’m often amazed by how many students fail to make their work because they haven’t “had time” to go to the art store and just buy the tool they need (sometimes for weeks, which often turns into months and then years), how many put off learning to work with a media but will get to it “someday”. I’m not saying this in a judgmental way, I struggled with it too. But it was so massively instrumental to my own success to learn to quash that urge to put things off.
I don’t believe discipline is something someone just “has or doesn’t have”; learning to be action-focused and never procrastinate is a skill, I think, and one that has to be practiced and fostered. For anyone who wants more information, read the book “Willpower.”
Lastly, for mindset: be humble. Don’t get caught up in the “tortured artist” stereotype; self-aggrandizement just serves to make you less capable of seeing your work objectively, which means you can’t improve it in a meaningful way. A sense of humility with your own work is massively important.
What do you think the role of artists are in society?
To tell the truth. It’s broad, but that to me is the most encompassing definition that covers the myriad forms of practice and expression out there.
What is one mindset artists can adopt that will help them succeed?
Imagine with me for a moment that you walk into a gallery, and in front of you is the most astonishing, amazing, jaw-dropping work you’ve ever seen. The sort of work that makes you want to sit in the gallery for hours and just be with it. Really try to imagine this – I do this exercise frequently.
Now, go make that work. Make work that’s 100% for yourself.
Learn more about Alessandra Maria and see her work at www.alessandramaria.com.