Around 4000 metres above sea level, Patacancha is a traditional Quechua community about an hour’s drive from Ollantaytambo on a dirt road. The small town is remote so people in Patacancha live much as they have for centuries, weaving, farming, and raising animals.
I had the incredible opportunity to visit this town with my guide, Juan Yupanqui who is part of that community. The community is mostly Quechua speaking so it´s not easy to visit it alone. My visit was aimed at learning about natural fibers, the dyeing materials and techniques used by an Andean community of weavers and to learn the basics of weaving. I had previously met Elena, Juan´s wife and an incredible weaving artist who would be my teacher in the community at Apu Lodge where I was staying while in the valley. Every week, Elena travels to the lodge to sell some of her wonderful pieces.
The journey to Patacancha is hard to describe because of the breathtaking beauty of the landscapes and the immensity of the valley. We passed several small towns and archaeological sites, stopping at Pumamarca to buy chicha de jora, a popular local beverage made with corn.
Altitude sickness had barely touched me in Ollantaytambo as it is does not even reach 3,000 metres above sea level but Patacancha is about 1000 metres higher up so once we arrived I found it hard to do even basic things such as walking (in the rain!) to the Yupanqui home. Their home is a typical Patacancha one, the family is close knit and was very welcoming and friendly to me. Most of the time Quechua was spoken; since I don´t speak or understand it, I also turned it into an opportunity to learn the sounds and a few words that I´ve now mostly forgot.
The visit turned out to not only provide me with opportunities to learn about traditional weaving, but it also gave me insight into a culture different to mine and learn directly what life is like in an Andean community.
Even though I had brought a boxed lunch with me, the Yupanqui´s were really generous and cooked a delicious meal for me. They cooked a delicious quinoa soup and there were tons of the most gorgeous and tasty potatoes I've ever had on my life, straight from their crop! Of course we also had cups and cups of coca tea.
After lunch came weaving class; I was first introduced to spinning by Juan and then Elena and her friend Felícita took over. They then showed me the different materials used for dyeing the yarn.
Weaving class was done outside the house, in a beautiful setting, surrounded by nature. I was given a really cool alpaca mat to sit on.
Weaving takes time and is an intricate process, Felícita taught me how to weave a bracelet and right after time was up. I really cherish this experience and am hoping I can visit again and spend more time weaving with these ladies.
As an extra treat, before we went back to Ollantaytambo, Juan drove me to an area higher up where his alpaca herd was grazing. I was extremely happy to spend some time watching them so peaceful, far from the world I inhabit. This visit made me reflect so much on how incredibly rich Andean culture is; it's one thing to read about it and another to immerse yourself in it. I can´t wait to come back, maybe even move here for a while...
I've been wanting to spend some time in Cusco for a while, I needed a change of scenery to reconnect with myself and I also wanted to investigate traditional medicinal practices and learn more about weaving from Andean textile artists. A couple of weeks ago I spent a week (such little time but it´s all I could afford) in the Sacred Valley and Cusco City. On my way to my hotel in Ollantaytambo my guide and driver Ronny, who during our conversation had learned about my reasons for visiting, suggested we stop in Chinchero, a town rich in textile making traditions. We stopped at a textile demonstration center where they gave us an overview of the weaving process from the cleaning of the wool to the actual weaving of a textile.
Upon entering the space we encountered this beautiful table where you could see the materials used in the yarn dyeing process; I fell in love!
The colours of the sheep and alpaca yarn were so bright and earthy at the same time! I coudn't wait to learn all about the process and buy some for my own projects too!
Unfortunately I don´t remember the name of the lady that was our guide at the center, she very kindly allowed me take pictures of her explaining the dyeing process. The first thing she showed us is how dirty the wool is when the animal is sheared and how it is cleaned with a natural shampoo that you can see in the lower left part of the photo below.
She then showed us how the yarn is dyed using different materials such as flowers, moss, leafs, corn and cochineal bugs.
The colour obtained from cochineal was particularly impressive for its intensity!
We then proceeded to observe how the yarn is dipped in clay containers over wood fires containing boiling hot water and different substances for dyeing the yarn. We saw the red cochineal bugs obtain and then the earthy green that comes from eucalyptus leafs.
The colours obtained are gorgeous and so different to yarns that are coloured with synthetic dyes, I lusted over these and splurged in a few balls!
The next part of the process is the actual weaving of the yarn into textiles, something the ladies from this community excel at and that I was so interested in learning for my own work.
We left the demonstration space, with new acquired knowledge on traditional methods of dyeing yarn and with a few beautiful balls of material. By then I was already feeling the altitude sickness and needed some coca tea, we continued our journey to the hotel and to some more weaving experiences the following days. I´ll share these in Part III of this post.
For a while now I have been interested in exploring fabric, sewing, textiles, fibers... I wanted to experiment with weaving a textile but incorporating twigs and medicinal herb sprigs to it. I looked for a class but found nothing which is ironic given the rich textile tradition Perú has. My only hope was a youtube tutorial, I found a few helpful ones and made the simplest loom using chipboard as you can see in the photo below.
I used twine for the warp, cheap yarn I bought and some my mom donated to me from her knitting days. I found the process to be immediately soothing and meditative, the kind of work I can do for long periods of time. In the photo below you can see my first attempts at weaving with sprigs of medicinal plants I previously dried.
This was a very small piece but it took me a while to finish it; as I worked I wondered how long it takes for weavers to produce large pieces!
I really like the plant ends sticking out of the actual textile, some of the dried sprigs were too delicate to use however and they broke easily when weaved so I had to test the strength of different plants to find the most appropriate ones. I could not use too leafy ones either as it was impossible to weave with them.
I decided to use more twine in the actual textile, I really like the earthy texture of this material. The photos below show detaisl of how this looks.
The photos below show the final result; I´m really happy with it. This experience left me wanting more. In my next post, Weaving Part II, I´ll share where this took me...
The work I show in the previous post led to the pieces I will share here, which to me are important because they feel like a breakthrough. I began working on them based on the things I didn't feel satisfied with from the previous pieces and tried exploring the same ideas using layers of wax paper. This material, which is so simple and is used basically for cooking, holds immense possibilities for me. What I've achieved with it feels closer to where I want to be in terms of depicting disease/bodies loosing balance and the will to heal.
I've made several of these wax paper 'sandwich' pieces following almost the same steps of collaging saved scraps of my own painted papers onto the wax paper, painting it, adding thread, twine or other elements and dried medicinal plants. I then 'trap' the plants with more wax paper. I really like how the transparency of this material makes the pieces less obvious, less like simple collages.
The photograph above shows the collaged piece and the one below the final result with and without a light source behind it. Given the translucency of the surface paper I´m using, I could show these pieces in light boxes.
The photos below are of similar pieces before I 'sandwiched' them, even though I like them in this iteration, they are as powerful to me, as in their final form. Some of these are made on wax paper and some on muslin, but they´re all sandwiched with wax paper as a final layer.
Below are some of the finished pieces, they make me happy, they´re close to what I was looking for. I do think that I should try these in a bigger, let´s say A3 format. I tend to get lost in bigger formats but I´m willing to take the challenge and see what happens.
I plan to show this series together, as a grid; I was testing how that would look in the photo below. I did not plan to leave parts of the plants sticking out but I really like that result.
I´m working on six more of these pieces, will test the whole series together as a grid and take it from there. The joy I feel when I'm working on these little ones is hard to describe...
There are two constants in the work I´m currently making which are medicinal plants and disease. In terms of form, I´m interested in layers, texture, stitching, mark making, and exploring new ways (for me) of making art.
I like working fueled by impulse and intuition and this is how the piece featured below started.
As I worked on this piece I was always thinking of disease-what is it? What does it do to us? How can I portray what it feels like to be sick? It´s been a useful but hard exercise to do. I don´t think I can say I've ever been super healthy, but lately I´m always waking up really sick and it takes about three to four hours for me to feel some kind of relief. The only thing that keeps me from feeling fed up and bitter about this is the fact that I can use this experience for my current body of work. This piece is one of several attempts to portray how I feel when illness governs me.
I worked mostly from instinct, trying to feel more than think-not easy for me. This might seem to contradict what I said at the beginning of this post but the way I use intuition and impulse are highly controlled and rational-if that makes any sense. The image above is of the piece when I felt it was finished and ready for something else happening to it. I thought it would be interesting to add some medicinal plants so I placed some dried chamomile sprigs and photographed it. I always photograph my work because for some reason I can evaluate it better as a photograph.
I´m really interested in stitching some of my pieces; there´s an element of pain I relate to illness that can be portrayed with it. I used free motion to stitch the whole paper (which is a larger format than the smaller ones I´m usually using) again not thinking but trying to feel the chaos disease brings to the body and letting my hands do the work without over conceptualizing it. I added a medicine box (I´m collecting of all the medicine boxes I use) and some dyed gauze at the bottom. I also stitched the chamomile sprigs to it, I broke the sewing machine needle twice! Even though I like the results, I´m not entirely happy with them, but this led to the piece below.
The background is one of my experiments making gesso and ink resists. I took another box of medicine and transferred an image to it (this one and the one used in the piece above are images taken from an Ernst Haeckel book of sea creature illustrations. Disease makes me think of insects, creatures that exist in other worlds and inside ourselves taking over our bodies and these illustrations evoke that. The plant is valerian root, known to calm the nerves but also used to cure asthma which is one of the diseases that's inhabiting my body these days. One that won´t leave.
To be continued in Part II.
I think a lot about disease, bodies, transformation, decay and loss of balance in the body due to illness... Those thoughts took me to try to portray disease without being literal. My first attempt is an improvisation, I have no plan, I make as I go. This does not mean it´s a random piece, it´s a bit like jamming in jazz music, one thing takes me to the next.
I started with a styrofoam print I made thinking of microbes or viruses as seen in a petri dish. I made several prints of it.
I took a print I made on a book page and collaged it onto a print I made with leafs on paper. The colours and the organic materials used to print it seemed likegood choices.
I wanted to sew it onto fabric, I chose a piece of surgical gauze and burlap but the gauze was too white so I decided to dye it with avocado skins, They produce a nice salmon pink tone.
The results were exactly what I wanted.
I stitched the paper to the gauze and the burlap and am now embroidering and adding small pieces of fabric. I don´t have a clear idea of the final results but I´m enjoying the process a lot.
Like I mentioned in my previous post, Ive been having tons of fun making small collages with different types of painted papers. I find such pleasure in this practice! I took several of these collages which are very small, square in format and rich in terms of colour. They look very 'happy'. At the same time I've been thinking about how one of the things I dislike the most about going to the doctor is the fact that you become just a body that is to be prodded and touched at the doctor´s will. I find this practice demeaning as the patient, and so impersonal. Ihave met very few doctors that see you as a person and not just an illness in a body.
Some time ago I bought an old book for doctors that has numerous images of people being checked by doctors, touched, inspected. They remind me of me when I try to find a ripe avocado in the grocery store.
I decided to try juxtaposing those images with the very colourful and happy collages I had made and really liked the results. I like how the image and collage contradict each other causing tension.
As the collages are so small I thought I could try scanning and enlarging them in an inkjet printer. Even though the colours change or are toned down (in some cases drastically) I think this is effective.
I plan to enlarge them all, see how I feel about them and start trying to visualize these pieces in the gallery space. I think they tell a very personal part of the story I want to tell with this exhibition.
Henri Matisse is an artist I respect but whose work I've never really connected with. Having said that, I find the pieces featured in this entry very Matisse-like, and friends have also expressed this upon seeing them. I'm really interested in collage, I´m attracted to it on both a physical and aesthetic level. These are works in progress for my upcoming exhibition and I have to say its been a real pleasure working on them.
I'm the kind of person that does a lot but in small chunks. But I never stop. However, I would get less tired and do better if I were more disciplined and organized. I tend to improv too much because I can but that also leads to a lack of depth. Or so I feel. So this week, after having been immersed in prepping a guided tour and a workshop (more on that later), my goal is to set a structure/acquire a work rhythm. I have too many loose ends, and here are some of them.
I made this drawing from a photo I took of yerbaluisa hanging on my studio wall. I was trying to break the form of the plant a bit but I never continued with it. I did it in my sketchbook but I plan to take it out of there and make a drawing from it this week.
The day I made this I was real happy with the results; I took some failed prints and collaged them. There´s something about collage that feels so right to me, it´s the textures and the layers and the surprises...
I also started this drawing of a graviola leaf on a medicine box. This is a plant that is said to prevent and cure cancer. I really like it too and imagine a whole series of these but haven't finished it and should this week.
This is not a loose end but something that is also taking time and focus away from my exhibition work. These are pieces that are related to my work but I am deliberately making them for sale. they´re watercolours and prints. I love making them and that´s also part of the problem, and they come to me easily, so they can be a great excuse.
I went to the studio today, I took some supplies and just wanted to feel the space and get more used to working there. It takes me a while to warm up to a space for making art. I´ll get there, I know it. And I´ll tie all of these loose ends.
I've always wanted freedom to do what I want, how and when I want to do it, and yet now that I find myself free to do things my way I feel disoriented. I've always wanted to not be trapped in a 9 to 5 job to be able to make art and I´m there now. And this confuses me profoundly. Maybe its because I've not been in this situation for so long, maybe ever. So now that I'm experiencing the dream, I don´t know what to do with it. I´m reminded of how long time prisoners have a hard time navigating the world when released, so much so they oftentimes want to go back to prison as its a structure they know and that feels safe.
So I´m working on being free and that means free to make art at home and in my studio without feeling I'm not being productive in society. This is my job now, it hit me this week as I finished the watercolour of the pitahaya featured in this post.
It took me a while to finish this piece and that´s what always happens when things are working for me, (in art and in life). Like I mentioned in my previous blog post, if I can do it, I tend to abandon the work for a while. So I need to be more disciplined and complete work faster and not procrastinate so much or be so ADD with my work. On Monday I sat down for about five hours working non stop on this watercolour and then started a new one I´m making for a series that´s for sale and will not be in my upcoming exhibition. This is the path I need to take; have a schedule, a structure. As much as I want to make art more than anything else in the world, since I´m not in a formal job, it´s tempting to do other things during the day.
Today I went to the studio after about four days of not going for various reasons. I still am not used to going; I know myself, it´ll take time but I´ll get there. I put together a few objects that I'm interested in and took the photo above. I´m thinking about faith, food for healing, cells, bodies... I like this idea, I will pursue it somehow for my exhibition.
I also started some pomegranate drawings. I want to try drawing in a different way, more gestural maybe, more experimental. The photo above is the beginning of that. I've recently started to be interested in pomegranates, they have powerful health benefits. They´re also incredibly interesting and beautiful as drawing objects . And challenging. I spent a long time looking at this one- it´s so intricate!
As I said before, this blog is a way for me to create structure in my new life as a freelancer. One other way is a Pinterest board I've created that also helps me see how my body of work is looking as a whole.
This is the beginning of a long weekend in Lima due to Easter holiday, a lazy time for all, many use the time to travel so the city is empty and I find that so beautiful...
These days I´ve been thinking about my need for self-discipline. It´s not easy now that I´m back to being a freelancer. I need to find my rhythm and structure my days better. One way for me to begin creating a structure for myself is through my website, specially through my blog. So here I go.
I´ve also been reflecting on the aim of my Pharmacy sketchbook; I started it as a way to keep my process in check and also to have everything -all the research part of this series, all my questions and ideas and investigations- in one place. Last night I started a couple of pages on Frida Kahlo and illness. I used to love this artist but the superficial pop culture that grew around her and her own victim hood ended up getting to me to a point where I couldn't stand looking at her work. Working on these pages helped me reconnect with the parts of her work I found value in and many parts of her story resonated with mine. All of this to say this might have not happened if I didn´t do this work in my sketchbook. To me the sketchbook is where everything begins and ends, a portable lab and studio of sorts.
I worked a bit on my pitahaya watercolour today, I tend to abandon what is easy to me, like this watercolour. On the contrary, when I can´t solve something, I can work on it endlessly until I do. Am I only motivated by challenge?
Yesterday was one of those days when everything is difficult; I was in so much pain all I wanted was to take off my body. However, I made an effort and went for a walk fist stopping for ice cream in my neighbourhood bookshop where I also found two books that will be useful for Pharmacy. Browsing through them I decided I need to try an uña de gato decoction soon.
I´m meeting some friends for a picninc in the park this afternoon, o I´m off to get some goodies for that but first, let me introduce you to my new basil plant. I bought a bunch of organic basil in the farmer´s market about three weeks ago and put half of it in water. It has now grown roots and is ready to be planted in dirt. I´ll try some basil tea and some homemade pesto soon!
It has been a long journey to get to this point; by 'this' I mean to my current body of work, to this website, to a place where I can handle putting this together.
As an artist I´m really interested in the process, in how things come to be. I will use this blog to document that part of the journey.
What I´m doing at the moment is researching themes of illness and healing, different approaches to medicine and healing and have found a great interest in the use of plants and faith in recovering from sickness.
Through printing them, I am getting to know and understand different curative plants and herbs. In this way, I'm getting acquainted with their colours, shape, texture, smell... It´s an incredibly rich and sensuous process!
This process is also taking me to the markets which are one of my favourite places in any city. I´m learning where to get specific plants and how to keep them better. The first time I went to buy some I bought a ton of them and most of them ended up rotting. I now know I have to buy less and dry them a bit before I use them so I use my balcony for that.
This has been an incredibly stimulating process; I still want to try various different things but can see already a series taking shape.
So far I've been playing a lot with positive and negative space but the last piece I´ve made has also involved collage-the possibilities are endless and the process is quite addictive I must say.
One thing that is making a huge difference in my work and also helping me recover my identity as an artist is having a studio. I found a small place right around the corner from my house and I couldn't be happier. I´m still getting used to working outside of my home but I can already see how it´s affecting my work positively. More about that in my next post...