Interview with María Tinaut. Words by Reuben Beren James

You are originally from Valladolid, Spain but are now living in America. Could you talk a little about your upbringing and whether you feel this has influenced your work? 

Although I grew up in Valladolid, I have always felt like I was from Valencia where my family is originally from and where I eventually moved to go to college. My childhood memories are not of Valladolid itself but of constant trips to Valencia and Madrid to see my family. I was very lucky to grow up in a household highly interested in culture. Visual arts, literature, and cinema among others have always been present in my life. This privilege has undoubtedly informed my work by experiencing great art from an early age.  

What got you into art and painting?

As a kid I enjoyed very much the solitude of painting and drawing and I thought that I wanted to pursue having that very pleasant quietness for as long as I could. My curiosity and interest in art drew me to study at Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV). The painting department there is very prominent and I soon made friends with truly talented painters. The sense of community and comradeship with them fed my inquisitiveness in painting and I learnt a lot from them. Our practises informed each other and we devoted ourselves to painting. To name some close friends/great painters of that time (and still today): Victoria Iranzo, Alberto Beltrán, Abel Segura, Alex Marco, Inma Femenía and Iker Lemos. 


Could you talk about the source material for the development of your paintings? Is this imagery personal to you? If so, why is this important? 

I use photocopies of all sorts of things: archival materials, family albums, books, reproductions of my own paintings, etc. Some are very personal to me from the beginning and some acquire meaning overtime. There are no hierarchies, they are all equally important. The why could be considered relative, it is just images that matter to me.  

Untitled (II), 2015. Enamel on paper. 47,5x35,5 cm

Are you a sentimental person? Are you sentimental about your work?

I am very sentimental but I try to hide it or keep it a secret. (There goes a confession here). I am sentimental about my work because I am bonded to it in the process of making. However, I like that over time I forget how it was made and I can look at it with some distance as an external viewer. Sometimes I like what I see and other times I have no interest in it. 


Can you talk a little about your process when making a piece of work, where does it start?

I guess there are two possible paths. Oftentimes it takes me days or weeks to be able to paint something that will be worthwhile (at least momentarily). Those times I will take a break from painting and work on other projects. I can spend weeks envisioning a painting without doing absolutely anything about it, just projecting it in my head until something clicks. It is like in that scene in the movie The Hours, when Virginia Woolf conceives the opening line of the book Mrs. Dalloway. She looks so reflective, completely zoned out and slowly whispers to herself: “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself” and the next scene in the movie is of Mrs Dalloway saying she would buy the flowers herself and then buying them. Said and done. Something similar happens to me. I ponder about an imagined image in my head, or a title until I have the clarity that gives me confidence to paint. This is a very meditating process, thinking in a loop, repeating things in my head. Other times it is something much more visceral and improvised. I crave painting and I just do it. You can usually tell how each painting was conceived. 


I imagine that using this process involving copy machines you create many variations from one image, how do you decide which one becomes a painting? 

I just trust my gut. Some of them begin with sketching ideas with the photocopier. Certain works of mine are made with the copy machine and are never translated into a painting language. Their final form is just paper, a photocopy. I like using Xerox machines as an analogue Photoshop or as a painter’s pallet to rescale and alter things, crop them, fold or overlap them, etc. The images I build are always new, independent and autonomous from their originals. 

Almost gone, 2015. Enamel and acrylic on canvas. 46x33 cm

Your work seems to be primarily monochrome, is this a purely aesthetic decision? Or simply a byproduct of the process of using the copy machine? Does the source material, for example, start from coloured images? 

It is for sure a byproduct of the source material I use, photocopies. But then these photocopies have an origin that is full colour in most cases. I am interested in the shifts that occur when photocopying something: it is reduced to a black and white map of toner dots and the image is literally reframed inside the white margins. I also like that it democratises access to information and art. Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), where I went to graduate school, has the greatest contemporary art book collection you could imagine. I would check out all the books I knew I could never afford and photocopy my favourite artworks to be able to look at them whenever I wanted. Gradually I got used to just looking at images in black and white and I did not feel like I needed more. Funnily enough, I do not particularly like watching b&w movies or shooting black and white films, but that’s another story. 

To what extent do you consider the person viewing your work when you are creating it? 

I never think about a potential audience while I am painting because I never know if my paintings will ever exist outside my studio, if they will fail, or if I will want to share them with other people. The photocopy pieces for instance, no one ever sees those and I am ok with that. This does not happen with my projects that are in constant dialogue with an audience in a very specific context like my MFA thesis project, Touch, which was a public art piece. 

Do you always work alone? 

When I was living in Valencia I shared a studio with some of the artists mentioned above. Even those who did not have a studio in the same space were still key components to the creative environment. It was actually hard to find some alone time there. The two years I spent at VCU, I had an immense and very luminous studio all for myself. Now I am living in New York and space is a big problem here but I managed to get a studio/apartment living situation. I miss the commodities of my old studio but New York is New York, you can’t have it all. I enjoy very much working alone, that is for sure. 

Can’t Wait to Be Gone, 2015. Enamel and acrylic on canvas. 46x38 cm

What do you do while you paint? Do you listen to music? If so, what kind? Do you feel affiliated to any specific movement or group of artists?

I sometimes listen to very quiet piano music or Spanish rap music, depending on the momentum I want to build up. Other times I just like working in silence because I want to listen to the sounds happening during the process: the performativity of my body moving around the studio in relation to the painting, my pacing, my breathing, brushes or paint tubes accidentally dropping, a shaken spray can, etc. I would not say I am part of any movement or school of thought, I have never liked such categorical labels. I can say that I feel intellectually and emotionally bonded to some artist friends including my peers and professors from graduate school at VCU. Each of us have very different practices but the sense of belonging in such an intellectual environment was always fulfilling beyond any limits or expectations. I do not feel the exact same way about my friends back in Valencia just because it has been three years since I moved away and it is hard to maintain the same level of connection being so far.

Where do you find inspiration outside of the art world? 

I find more inspiration outside of the art world than inside it. New York is a good example of that. Sometimes I’ll go to galleries in Chelsea or the Lower East Side and the amount of bad art (but really, BAD art) I see is very discouraging and incredibly disappointing. On the other hand, a simple walk in NYC can be so vibrant, exciting and inspiring: the design and composition decisions made in the posting of bills and posters, graffiti spreading all over the place like an epidemic, billboards everywhere, neon lights competing to advertise their services, window displays, skyscrapers, the pushy American dream vs the miseries of everyday life, the noises, the debris, the crowds and of course, the always longed calm and solitude.  

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