Artist Sonia Amelia Saldaña sets out to capture the ‘non-perfect’ condition of a rose. The moment a rose starts to mature symbolises how beauty goes far beyond perfection; it is in the flaws and in the ageing process where a rose reaches true vitality and power. In her large-scale paintings, Sonia evokes an overwhelming feeling in an “avalanche of beauty”. Sonia shares her creative process with us; the concepts and inspirations behind her pieces; and how she feels when she creates art.
I try to transform them into something powerful, taking away their fragility.
Your art focuses on flowers, more specifically roses, portraying them with a rich boldness. What draws you to portray roses and what do they symbolise for you?
I have this obsession with painting roses. Although roses are also a classic, I love the idea of capturing them in their NON PERFECT condition. The moment that they cease to be this object of perfection and pass to a moment of maturity. For me this moment is the most interesting. The most surprising. The most attractive. Perhaps they symbolise the stage in which I am living; the stage where you understand that beauty goes far beyond absolute perfection; the stage in which you accept and love yourself with all your flaws.
Roses can often symbolise purity and vulnerability in their delicate nature – is this also something you seek to explore within your work?
Definitely not, exactly the opposite. In my work I try to capture this poorly valued and very specific moment and very short duration, in which flowers mature (on the verge of withering) and become a presence full of character and vitality. Bringing them to a huge canvas with daring approaches, I try to transform them into something powerful, taking away their fragility.
I like how you compare the transformation of a rose as ‘a non-perfect avalanche of beauty’ in your series ‘Sweet Avalanche’. Could you expand on this?
Since I conceptualised the “Sweet Avalanche” series in my mind, I knew there was no other way for it to happen: it had to be in giant format for my proposal to be a complete experience.
People told me I was crazy; there were fourteen pieces in large-scale format, surely no gallery would accept the complete series. So I did it myself and in my own way.
I looked for the space, the PR, the local art critic, the music, I threw petals all over the place, I even looked for a specific aroma to complete my madness. I wanted it to be a real experience in every way and I wanted the viewer at the centre of the exhibition to feel surrounded by those gigantic flowers, to experience a devouring force. I wanted to provoke an overwhelming feeling by those 2m high canvases, an “avalanche of beauty”.
All the pieces were sold. The truth is that it was the last thing I expected. What I was looking for was to immortalise that stage of my artistic life. I must admit that it was not easy. But it was my way.
What I was looking for was to immortalise that stage of my artistic life.
When did you start working on a large scale? And how does scale contribute to the overall message within your art?
I’m a graphic designer, so I have always been influenced by panoramic ads, and spectacular formats. Specifically in my pictorial process I started working with these grand scale formats in “SWEET AVALANCHE”, this collection marked me forever, there was no going back, the experience of taking something so small to gigantic proportions became a basic aspect of my work.
The face-to-face experience of admiring my pieces is definitely what completes the objective of my proposal. When someone is in front of one of my avalanches, I can say my message is complete.
Walk us through your creative process .. what are the different stages of your work? And what materials do you like to work with?
My creative process is very emotional. I love building my own flower composition, taking hundreds of photos, and manipulate them in my computer. It is here, digitally, where I make the main decisions about the format, size and real-world proportions. When I achieve a digital composition that I really love, my immediate instinct is to turn it into a pictorial piece.
My blank canvas always starts with a first layer of a highly contrasting colour, many times a bright magenta or even a neon yellow, that background gamut serves one purpose: in certain areas of my work I allow that colour to show through, deep down. This is not something planned. As the artwork comes together, it gets what it needs. This, in my opinion, gives freshness, honesty, as well as some personalisation to my pieces.
I trace the image with charcoal pencil, to then outline it again with a pure black colour. This is where I define the grey-scales, separating lights from shadows to create the figures. This step is the most visceral and fun since I do it with a certain rhythm and stimulation where most of my drippings start emerging within each brushstroke. As they continue to appear, I give them their space, I let them be born and spread, I don’t stop no matter how much I see them multiply, I do not eliminate any, later I can decide which drips I will respect and which I will cover.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
Many times, at the end of this stage, people visiting the studio assume that this is the finished artwork. I laugh and continue to the part that I’m most passionate about: applying colour. I love working with oil and discovered that my best thinner is turpentine, I do not use any other medium than this.
The work begins to emerge, the flowers seem to vibrate and the “flaws” become part of a non perfect beauty that fits perfectly with the final language. I have fun, I get frustrated, I get annoyed, I get excited again and inside this whole process I am transformed into a totally different being from the one I was when I started my day.
After several days of continuous work, the piece rests, oil needs time, I take a break and the observation, self-criticism, begins. Thick paint accents become an immediate necessity, so much, that they end up balancing and defining the artwork, achieving that impact that I am always in searching.
The stage where you understand that beauty goes far beyond absolute perfection; the stage in which you accept and love yourself with all your flaws.
How do you feel when you create art?
When I paint, I feel alive. The work is loaded with my feelings and past experiences. When my fingers touch the paint, and when I slide my brushes over the canvas; I feel complete, in connection with my being.
Something that I have discovered since working with large scale formats, is that I work in constant movement. Slipping through my studio fills me with freedom, going from one end of the painting to the other, moving up and down, making mistakes, splashing, dripping and in the middle of all this, experimenting with all types and sizes of brushes, and spatulas, might even become a complete “action painting” … it is really fascinating.
How do you decide on your colour palette? And do you associate different emotions and meanings with different colours?
Colour palette is an interesting subject. I have learned to confirm the harmony of colour in a digital program, but when this image is transformed into a painting, this allows me to see colours beyond just a digital image. This is achieved thanks to the practice of good observation. For example, the white colour that I see in an image, I find it rich in violets, yellows and ocher. So my white colours will never be what you expect. They will be mostly surrounded or made up of thousands of shades.
I consider colour to be my best ally, colour allows me to manipulate the piece in the exact direction I am looking for. It happens to me often, that I find myself with a very luminous painting and my need always arises to create a feeling of intimacy in my artwork, this is something that I can only achieve through layers and layers of colour.
What feelings and reactions do you hope to evoke in the viewer?
Well this is quite ambitious. I really try to produce unforgettable pieces, pieces that when seen live, catch your eye and make you wonder.
Although, I have to admit that recently with my new collection “Expect the unexpected” I like to test the viewer, awaken in them a certain interest about the atmospheres I am recreating with my flowers. Questions like, ‘what the hell is a hidden toy soldier doing between giant wildflowers?’ Or, ‘why is a giant military airplane flying through a mass of peonies in such a disruptive way?’. In this new series, I’m especially searching for that, provoking the viewer to find their own answers to these unconventional environments.
I like to generate a surprise element, spontaneous and unexpected at the same time.
When you offer the viewers this little experience, then you can say you have captured their attention.
Your hopes and dreams as an artist?
I have a fixed idea in my mind: to take my pictoric art into utilitarian, decorative, or fashion related items. I am very interested in collaborating with clothing brands or interior design brands. I am passionate about the idea of seeing editions of my works on products that people can use every day.
What can we look out for?
I am planning a solo show next year to present my new series of paintings, also in grand scale format “Expect the unexpected”. The series, although I have several pieces ready, is still in progress and continues to grow.
I am constantly moving forward to achieve my goal answered in the last question. Hopefully we can soon see sweet avalanches appearing in a massive way.
To view more of Sonia’s work: