Discover / Ones to Watch - 2019
Melanie Castro Macaya
Melanie Castro Macaya on Nude Art
"We are surrounded by norms and forces that lead us to regard the body as a means for sexualized expression, labeling it as an object of desire and pleasure. For me, the nude extends far beyond these concepts."
Today, we'd like to introduce you to
Melanie Castro Macaya.
Tell us a little about your background and how you became an artist.
I grew up in an environment where literature and painting were omnipresent, thanks to the influence of my father especially. However, my interests leaned more towards performing arts, the body, and music rather than visual arts per se. In 2012 I began to work with the body, approaching it from the lens of diverse disciplines. I started from the theater, which soon led me to the circus arts that I also studied more formally at a school called "en la cuerda". Working with my team at “en la cuerda” allowed me to realize that the body was not only a container but also a tool that I can use to create.
After my time at the circus school, I turned to dance, starting specifically with tango where I experienced direct contact with another individual and discovered the power of dance to merge two bodies together, and to create a third one. This creation is born from listening and communicating with one another, in order to understand how each body works, to adapt to each other and to be able to work together to create and to interpret through dance.
Finally, during that same period, I was also in my early university years, pursuing a personal search around what I wanted to show through my artistic work. The nude became an important theme in my development not only as a visual artist but also as a person. Hence, my interest in the body developed even more. For me, the body is the initial and main engine for any action.
Bodies are hugely important to your work, and specifically nude bodies. How did you come to painting nudes, specifically?
The body is an ever-present theme in my work. From engraving to painting and photography, the human body serves the basis of my creations. However, it is difficult to state the exact moment at which I began to work on this subject, as it has been an ongoing interest that developed long before entering art school and the art world in general, and has only been growing ever since. Hence it would be hard for me to answer this question precisely.
Inside Melanie's Castro Studio - Work in Progress
Do you know the people that you paint personally? How do you get them to pose for you? From the photograph to the final piece, what is your process like?
The people I paint usually come from my closest social networks, although recently I have been able to connect with people beyond my circle as well. What all these people hold in common is the desire of self-expression through the nude. Generally, I rely on open calls to address and gather all those interested to participate in my project. During each painting session, I make sure to be as discrete and delicate as possible especially when it comes to taking photographs.
Moreover, given the delicacy of the process, I always incorporate a physical preparation in each session in order for all participants to develop the necessary levels of trust among each other. In this first stage, subjects get to know each other, not only linguistically but also corporeally, normalizing the friction and the visual contact with the nude.
My role as the organizer is both to create a safe space for personal development and to work with emotionality and intimacy that encompasses individual, embracing the whole group of participants. Finally, each project is unique and I tend to work on multiple projects at once. Hence it is difficult to establish a precise time frame for my work. However, if I had to define a period, I would say it is around 3 months per project.
How important is it for you to respect the specific subject you are painting? How far will you go in deviating from what you see for the sake of the painting?
It is important to highlight that although my paintings are based on photographic material, I do not reproduce an exact copy of the latter. Rather, when I paint I tend to experiment with different colors, materials, and forms to structure the bodies. Photos are my starting point from which I recover the experience of what happened in the session and then use this knowledge to enhance the expressiveness and speed of these experiences via painting.
The idea of working with a model or sketch is that it may serve as a useful guide or help diagram at the initial stages of the creative process. Having a real reference (like a photo) with me allows me to distort, change, intervene and alter the figure.
Inside Melanie's Castro Studio - Work in Progress
Tracing back to the days of Ancient Greeks, nude art has long been a universal staple for sensuality and erotic expression. We now exist in an age in which body-related tabus seem to be less of an issue to a Western audience, as the media is saturated with sexual and beautified imagery. But is it? People frequently attempt to stop others from viewing or learning from the human form, thereby infringing on their rights to create and consume art as they wish. How do you feel about this? Do you think that your art shocks? If yes, why?
Throughout history, nude art was always regarded as a reflection of the beauty and body ideals and the aesthetic canons of each era. It has also been associated with sexuality, societal taboos, and eroticism. However, the nude for me extends far beyond these concepts. I think it is necessary to desexualize the body and to consider it beyond its carnal and earthly properties. However, society has not and still does not facilitate this process: We are surrounded by norms and forces that lead us to regard the body as a means for sexualized expression, labeling it as an object of desire and pleasure, and indoctrinating the observer to consume a kind of visual image desensitized with respect to the true nature of the nude.
The human body will always remain a subject of controversy. However, for me, art may serve as a means to allow us to consider bodies from another, more unconventional and less sexualized point of view. My paintings are not focused on the erotic, but I also understand that it is a subject that cannot be entirely left aside because it would deny the undeniable. The impact that my paintings generate is varied.
The first thing that spectators usually notice in view of my work is the use of the scattered lines on my paintings, which are least expected. People often ask me: “Did you paint that?” As if the lines and the painting itself are two separate entities. However, my response is “no” as my work is the total set, that is, the sum of the painting and the superimposed line drawing. In the same way, I often incorporate superimposed scratches on my paintings that are also questioned at times. For me, however, to scratch means to remove that historical burden of the painting and to bring both concepts to a single, real plane.
'Action & Rest', Oil Painting; 180 x 100 cm, 2019
Who are your biggest influences? Was there a particular artist or work of art that struck you in a way that contributed to what you do today?
My work has been influenced by various different artists, the first one being Peter Paul Rubens with his colorful and fleshy paintings. The work of his that captivated me the most was a sketch he created for one of his final judgment paintings. The treatment of the figure in the image and the pervading sense of chaos in his painting inspired me to develop my first large format work, composed of many bodies.
English painter Jenny Saville has also largely inspired my work. Saville develops a non-idealized type of nude that seeks the essence beyond the concepts of beauty and gender. Expressiveness and strength in her paintings are reflected via her characteristic brushstrokes.
Overall, so many artists have inspired and driven my work that if I stop to talk about each one of them the list would be endless. However, If I were to highlight the artists who have generated the greatest impact in my work, these are: Alberto Giacometti, Angelo Musco, Lucian Freud, Pieter Brueghel, Evelyn Bencicova and Honoré Daumier (in addition of course to Jenny Saville and Peter Paul Rubens mentioned above).
What advice would you give to someone who feels repeatedly disappointed by their artwork - how do you avoid the feeling of wanting to give up completely?
Striving to live from art can be complicated at times. Artists tend to set high expectations yet can get easily disappointed given the limited opportunities available. Moreover, artists are in constant confrontation with themselves always striving to do better and better yet rarely feeling satisfied enough with the end result. Due to this, many choose to use art as a hobby or to distract themselves from reality.
I understand that feeding the soul is necessary, however, my honest advice is for those who really want to devote their whole lives to art to do it. It will not always be easy but it will always be worth it. Even though this will sound cliché, loving your work is like loving yourself. You should work on it every day. There will be times when you may lose focus or when doubts and a fear of failure might overwhelm you. However, you should always remind yourself of where you started and where you want to reach. Believe in yourself and keep creating.
Are you working on anything you're particularly excited about at the moment and what's coming up next for you?
2019 came along with lots of changes, as I entered the working life reality for the first time and my artistic productivity consequently decreased. However, I still continue to develop my artistic projects. Currently, I am working on a large-format painting 200mts x 180mts, which I hope to have finished by the end of the year. For the year to come, 2020, I am planning to apply for artistic residences and at the same time, I aim to internationalize my work.