Passion Projects is an on-going series where we ask our members, ‘What creative thing would you do with $500?’ This edition was supported by Society6 who were as excited as we were to give an emerging artist a little motivation to create.
From the many proposals we received, we selected artist Jessica Alazraki, who used the opportunity to create three new paintings. We’re proud to have supported her, and very excited to share her passion project with you now!
If you’d like to be eligible for opportunities like this, you can learn more about becoming a member here. Stay tuned for our next call for proposals!
Jeff Hamada: What was life like for young Jessica Alazraki? I know you were born and raised in Mexico City, what kinds of stuff were you into?
Jessica Alazraki: Mexico City was a happy place to grow up, at the time the Country was pretty safe and the people were charming and friendly. My family is very loving and fun!
I went to a Jewish School and grew up in a very closed-minded tight Jewish Community which I didn’t like and never felt comfortable with that. When I moved to NY I felt very free socially speaking, it was a wonderful experience.
I have always liked movies, my grandfather (which I was never close) was a movie director, and my uncle had an advertising agency. Since a very young age, I have been to sets and shoots.
JH: I read that you’re passionate about photography and you also went to school for design, at what point did you decide to focus on painting?
JA: I was really fascinated by the dark studio back in the day and taking black and white pictures. I was very good with composition and capturing exciting scenes.
I started working on a Creative Department at my uncle’s advertising agency since a very young age and right from the get-go, I felt I was always very visual. I was excited to learn Graphic Design at Parsons here in NY and work as an Art Director instead of a copywriter.
When I became a Mom, I quit advertising and just freelance. It was very intense and very on and off. I had a need to express myself and feel creative again, so I decided to take more CE classes on the visual arts, and when I tried drawing from life, I was fascinated by it and couldn’t stop since. I knew I found “my thing” and I was going to do it for the rest of my life. I was terrible at it, but the more I did it, the more I wanted to learn and it eventually became my life.
JH: Do you feel like what you’re doing now is the thing you were born to do?
JA: Absolutely, without a doubt.
JH: Can you talk a bit about your motivation to focus on Latinx immigrants in your paintings?
JA: I didn’t really plan it, it was more of a feeling, and it started very organically. It just made sense to me. I wasn’t strategic about it, it was more of a feeling I needed to express. Maybe nostalgia.
I am sure if I were in Mexico I would never paint this way at all, but as an immigrant here in America you tend to go back to your roots somehow. I guess I miss the color and flavor of my Country.
I also worked on a Hispanic Advertising Agency for many years here in NY, and since all the work was directed to the Hispanic Market, I studied Arts Crafts and tried to acquire a visual language that refers to Mexico and Latin America that apparently stayed with me.
"I am sure if I were in Mexico I would never paint this way at all, but as an immigrant here in America you tend to go back to your roots somehow."
JH: What’s happening specifically in each of these new paintings? The relationship between each character is kind of ambiguous.
JA: Yes, that is very deliberate. I tried to mix and match things that don’t really make much sense together. I love wired paintings and when things don’t really make sense. I am driven by composition. I distort the light, anatomy, and perspective. I intend to make a visual collage. Although I use photographic references, I don’t like copying a picture that feels real, I balance the realism and primitivism in a very unique way and have every character be in their own psyche.
JH: Who has taught you the most in your life, and what’s one piece of advice they gave you?
JA: I have been fortunate to find the NY Academy of Art. I have been taking classes there since 2010 until today and mostly follow a teacher, Robert Armetta, who taught me to paint from life.
Then I did a year of their Masters Degree. That was a very demanding program in which I learned SO much. All classes where amazing and that’s where I started my self-directed work. Then I worked a lot on my own, and like any visual artist just trying and experimenting and failing and succeeding, you find your way and understand what works for you. Ultimately it’s a very personal journey.
JH: Who are some of the artists inspiring you these days? Who should we be following on Instagram?
JA: There are many artists that I admire, I like to see as much painting as possible. I don’t check out that many social media, although I do try to post and get a substantial amount of followers.
I must say I try studying the old masters and learn as much Art History as possible which I find fascinating. At the NY Academy, they encourage us to do master copies and to understand how painters solve things. I have literally copied bits and pieces of paintings that vary from Velazquez to Gaugin, Matisse, Soutine, Manet, etc.
I also look at live artists like Davis Hockney, Jenny Saville, Nicole Eiseman, Dana Schulz, Eric Fischel, etc. Sometimes I get inspired by work that is very different from mine, but it moves me deeply, like Marlene Dumas or Willem De Kooning.
In the case of the Bathers, it was the subject that got me very excited, it wasn’t a specific artist.
JH: What’s something you’d like to accomplish this next year?
JA: Being a visual artist in such an expensive city like NY is really crazy, so I try not to put additional pressure on myself and try not to overthink things, just paint and paint and paint.
JH: And what’s one thing you’d like to accomplish in your lifetime?
JA: Well, the most important thing to me is family, so I want my kids to be healthy and happy and find the love of my life. A partner forever. As an artist, I want to paint pictures that move people and hopefully be recognized as an important artist one day. As a teacher, I want to inspire my students the way my teachers inspired me. Hopefully, they don’t pursue art professionally because it’s so hard to make a living but at least appreciate it and respect it.