Interview with Andrea Pinheiro

Satellite Gallery has the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Pinheiro, one of the artists from our current exhibition Not Photographs and we would like to share her incredible approach to art with you.

What are your main interests as an artist?

My interests are rooted in photography and in the relationship between the visible and the invisible, as well as the relation between materials and images. For years my practice has sought to find ways to bring together hand-generated marks with photographic images. Both the Safn and Chambers series developed out of this search, and in a way it is a much simpler and direct way of integrating the different visual languages. Bringing attention to details, subtleties and nuances that gesture toward the invisible or liminally visible is central to my practice.

How has your work evolved, from your early pieces to today?

My early work was focused on research around radioactivity and photography. It began with an interest in sites affected by the nuclear industry, uranium mining, the bomb test sites and waste storage facilities. I was troubled by the problem of representing the invisible threat of radiation. I was also very interested in how the tests and these sites were represented. I often worked with archival images but also travelled to certain sites to gather my own photographs and experiences of those places. Out of this research there are still threads I am working with: in particular, a list of the names given to each of the nuclear bomb tests, and a collection of incidences in which radiation came in direct contact with photographic emulsion causing fogging, burns or holes in the film. I think it is partly my interest in these instances of direct contact between radiation and film that led to the Safn and Chambers series—that is, the importance of working directly upon the surface of an emulsion due to the loaded connotations, the power and inherent complexities of the material.

The list of names of the bomb tests is currently taking form as a set of twelve books that list each of the names on a page and a blank page for each of the unnamed (or unknown) tests. The book will be printed on newsprint and will be published as a special edition by Presentation House Gallery in 2012.

What themes are you working with for this show, and how did you become interested in them?

Both the Safn and Chambers prints embody issues around painting, photography and digital technology, so that for me makes them inherently about the lineage of image making over time. By compressing all three modes into one image, it becomes a way of compressing time and the history of each medium within a single image—or at least pointing toward it.

With the Safn series the reference to art history is more apparent. Most of the photographs in the series are of contemporary works of art that are part of the collection of Petur Arason and Ragna Robertsdottir. The collection was housed in a gallery called Safn, open to the public from 2003 to 2007. You can still see the entire collection on their website: The building used for the gallery was an old house with really incredible light coming in the windows and a really soft atmosphere in general, so it imparted a particular sense of intimacy that for me was really overwhelming. It will always stand out for me as one of the most distinct experiences I have had in any art gallery. For me, Safn is about a very personal relationship to other art works and engaging in conversation with those works.

In the Chambers series the photographic surface is a pinhole photograph and points more toward the history of photography in general. In both series the photographic images are all taken in or near a house, which for me adds another layer of thoughts about intimacy and images in general. Intimacy is further implied as a major theme, with the enlarging of the painted photographs in the final output. The enlarging transforms these really small gestures I make in the studio, as well as the marks and physicality of the photograph, and makes them more accessible visually. Although intimacy is usually more strongly implied with smaller works, I think there is a different kind of physical intimacy when images exist in scale with the body.

Some of your works, such as Reykjavík Palette, feature a salient relationship between the predominant paint composition and the background photo surface; in others, the link is more ambiguous. Do you conceive of the brushstroke compositions first and then select a background image, or do the strokes reflect the photograph?

The painting always takes place directly on the photograph, so there is a direct connection. The compositional choices are made in relation to the photograph, and so they are directly dependant on whatever is happening in the photograph. I spend a lot of time looking at the photographs before painting on them—years, literally. I made the pinhole photos in the Chambers series in 2003, I believe, exposing directly on photo paper, and developing the exposures in a tiny darkroom I built in a closet in the old farmhouse I grew up in when I was home for a couple of weeks one summer. I took the photos from the Safn series in 2005 and have had them in the studio ever since. I can’t even count how many times I looked though them before actually beginning to work over them, but that time spent just looking is integral to the process.

The colour, structure, and composition of the brushstrokes imply an artistic sensibility in their arrangement. How do you organize the paint mixture to behave in this way, and what is the process of their application?

When applying the paint to the photographs my intention is to create a dynamic between control and chance through the behavior of the paint. Often I add all of the colours I will use right at the beginning, and the result is how they interact together depending on where I initially place them on the image. I allow it to run, drip and splatter but also to move the paint around until it feels right. The compositions are only ever partially predetermined, and are usually unexpected to me. They are very much about knowing when to stop. Some of them tend to be weighted more heavily on the control side, such as Safn. When I began to work on Over Horn, I felt it needed a yellow triangle.

What is the relationship for you between painting and photography in your artistic practice?

I would say they are intertwined. Sometimes it is a difficult relation, but they are almost always tied together for me. I rarely make paintings that are not tied to photographs in some way, however I do have photo-based works that are not tied to painting, at least not directly. I am interested in seeing how this relationship changes with one of my next projects. Dan Siney and I are working collaboratively to develop a series of images for Violet Strays, an online gallery curated by Serrah Russell and Alyssa Volpigno, who are based in Seattle. It is very different to work over photographs someone else took. Our exhibition will be up on from July 29th to August 4th, 2011.


Interview questions by Rhys Edwards and Marcela Huerta.

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