Fernandez at work in her studio


Name: Ana Teresa Fernandez

Age: 30

Born and raised: Mexico

Art school: San Francisco Art Institute

One piece of advice: Good luck. As an artist, you need to find ways of surviving.

Mission Loc@l: When you were younger, what did you think you would end up doing when you got older?

Ana Teresa Fernandez: I thought I would end up doing some sort of language thing, like a linguist or a teacher. I had a very abstract mind that wouldn’t survive in a cubicle type of job.

ML: Did you draw or do any art when you were younger?

ATF: When I was younger my mom had a bunch of those artist coffee-table books in our house. She would have me sit down and redraw things for her, like Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” She would give me exercises to do. And when they took that class photo at school at the end of the year, she would have me redraw it to give to my teacher as a present. So art was always around me.

ML: Did your mom ever do art?

ATF: Now she does documentary photography, but she never treated it seriously. She didn’t get into that until we were adolescents — she had enough to do raising four children.

ML: So where did you grow up?

ATF: I grew up in Mexico. I originally thought I was going to study languages. I ended up going to community college, where I took a sculpture class. The professor told me to go to portfolio day at the San Francisco Art Institute. I took quick photos of my pieces and went. Everyone’s portfolios were much fancier than mine and more put together. But they thought I had talent, and gave me a scholarship to go there.

ML: When did you make the transition from sculpture to painting?

ATF: It was a pretty smooth transition for me. [At art school] I took a printing class but didn’t really get it. Everyone else who was in there already knew what to do. It was early in the morning and I would be falling asleep, and I realized I wanted to be taking something that I wouldn’t be falling asleep in.

So I took a painting class and I loved it. It was challenging and interesting what you can do with colors. I started to paint second semester in art school (which was my third year of undergrad, since I was a transfer student). Since then it’s been non-stop since 2001. Sculpture really seemed to inform my painting. With sculpture you learn to understand the 3D movement through space.

ML: How did you end up in this area of the city?

ATF: It feels more like home here, it’s a very natural habitat for me to be in. It’s a very pulsing part of the city: It breathes a sense of culture, and is very alive.

ML: If you were to start out today and go anywhere to do your work, do you think you would still end up in San Francisco, in this area?

ATF: I am very grateful that I ended up here. San Francisco is a perfect city — there is such an array of artistic expression. There is space to investigate things, to be outside, to go to events. It’s a very nurturing city for artists, and to help you grow some part of you you’re interested in.

ML: Do you support yourself through your art?

ATF: In the beginning I did. These days I teach and write grants. I am constantly teaching: last semester at St. Mary’s college, before that at the Art Institute, before that at other places, teaching and doing after-school projects. I love teaching because it provides a constant dialogue with the newer generations.

ML: What’s your daily schedule like?

ATF: It depends on the projects I’m working on. Last semester I was doing a semester-long project and wasn’t painting — I was working on installation and video projects. The last show I did took two years and I was at the studio every day. I would come in before teaching, after teaching, on the weekends.

Now I pretty much work every day [at my studio]. I’ll be here till 7 or 7:30 before going home and seeing what grants need to be worked on. I get into a weird habit of just always working.

ML: What artists do you admire?

ATF: Thiebaud for sure. And cliché as it might sound, I really admire the personal, political and spiritual parts of Frida Kahlo — before her works started to become over-accessorized in bags and everything, that is. I tend to look at a lot of sculptors as well. And Marina Abramovic, a performance artist that does very psychological work.

ML: What advice would you give to young artists just starting their career?

ATF: Good luck! Being an artist is one of the hardest careers to have. It’s not clearly paved, and there are many routes you can take: teaching, purely doing your work (which is almost impossible — you need to be in a very privileged space), writing grants…. The reality is that in this economy people are getting rid of excessive things, and art can be seen as excessive. Culture seems unnecessary and superficial, and is not very well cultivated in the United States.

ML: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?

ATF: There are two. The first is something that my mom used to say [in Spanish], which essentially means: by completely messing something up you’ll learn.

The other is something that an artist once told me: feast or famine. You have to go through difficult times, and then something great will happen to you. But you need to be prepared for both.

To see some of Ana Teresa Fernandez’s work, click here.

Follow Us

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Please keep your comments short and civil. Do not leave multiple comments under multiple names on one article. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *