Ana Montiel: Quantum Physics And Ethereal Colour Palettes
Questions about the nature of perception — the what, why, and how of consciousness — have been driving the work of Mexico-based artist Ana Montiel lately. And while any definitive answers to such age-old puzzles remain elusive, Montiel’s work provides a kind of aesthetic response, making those mysteries both visual and material. There’s a mesmeric, meditative quality to her canvas and digitally-created color field paintings, reminiscent of the Light & Space art of the ’60s and ’70s. Something quietly active occurs while viewing them, though the works themselves are static; engaging with her pieces and the ideas behind them can encourage a kind of headiness, but her work is also just a pleasure to look at.
In the last few years, Montiel has shown internationally at galleries, as she’s moved around the world herself. Montiel was born and raised in Logroño, Spain. Pursuing her BFA brought her to the University of Barcelona, and she stayed in that city for over a decade before moving to London. After five years there, a visit to Mexico City convinced her that’s where she wanted to be. “When I got back to London, I gave away around 95 percent of my stuff and moved, with just two suitcases and my elderly cat.” It’s been a productive, generative shift for Montiel. For over three years now, she’s made her home in Tepoztlan, a village about an hour outside of Mexico City. “The rural pace tames my hyperactive mind and lets me concentrate on my practice.”
The intensity and commitment she brings to her artistic process — from reading in-depth about quantum physics and neuroscience to experimenting with altered states — is visible in what she creates but it’s also balanced by a lightness and ethereality.
You were originally born in Spain, then later on moved to Barcelona and London. What made you make the final move to Mexico?
After almost five years in London I wanted to move to somewhere warmer. I started looking into different possibilities (all between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn) the finalists were Costa Rica and Mexico. Then I was recommended by someone who recently relocated to Costa Rica to favour Mexico, as in her opinion Mexico was going to be culturally more exciting for someone like me. A few days later I set foot for the first time in Mexico City for a quick scouting and I felt at home immediately.
The warmth of the people in this country is off the charts and don’t get me started on the food! However, in my opinion no move is 100% final as you never know what’s around the corner. At the moment I’m very happy in Mexico but maybe something happens in the future and I decide to move to South-East Asia, New Zealand or somewhere else, who knows!
Your paintings are primarily made with a spray gun technique. Can you talk us through your process and tell us why you’ve chosen this particular method?
For the Hidden Realities project (Fields and the paintings are part of it) I wanted to avoid signs of human expression (i.e. paintstrokes) as much as I could, hence the spray gun. I feel this way the results are more ethereal and less earthly/individual/ego-related… and that suits the ideas behind.
It’s all about layering one colour on top of another colour to create these multicoloured grain when you look at them closely and those resulting nebulae when you look at the pieces from afar. The technique has been trial and error until recently that I’ve arrived to a point in which I know how many layers of gesso work better for the paintings, how diluted is said gesso, how diluted is the acrylic painting, when to add extra pigment to the mixtures and so.
Your chosen use of colour makes your artworks so unique. Where do you take your colour palettes from?
The process is very organic, I mix colours while I paint. If I feel a pale pink could work somewhere in a painting I apply it and see where that takes me. In my daily life I’m all the time noticing interesting colour combinations, especially in nature. I think my subconscious may be taking notes of them to later suggest things while I paint… not sure where the colour combinations come from to be honest, when I paint I try not to think in order to let my subconscious mind be more present.
I almost forgot… there’s this thing that has been happening lately: everytime I go to the dentist and I sit on that chair with the bright light pointing at me I close my eyes and I see the most amazing color combinations during the whole appointment! It’s similar to what happens when you look at the sun with your eyes closed and start moving your eyeballs or touching your eyelids, so many colours and shapes… human eyes are mysterious and fascinating in equal measures!
Nowadays we can find both artists using digital or traditional techniques. Do you identify yourself with one or the other?
I think that labelling and categorising always limits and doesn’t feel natural to me. I don’t want to choose between a “digital team” or “traditional team” if I can play with both depending on the moment, don’t you think?
In your interview with Sight Unseen, you talk about your relationship to science and in particular to quantum physics. How does it relate to your artwork and in particular the Fields series?
I came up with the series as a tribute to the intangible. After reading much about Quantum Physics, neuroscience and such I was pondering the very limited spectrum of perception we have through our senses. There are so many things that we know exist but our senses can’t perceive that I decided to pay some sort of homage to the non-material (or not certain in an empirical way). Fields is a pretty ethereal project, and I see it as an ontological quest disguised as a chromatic adventure.
Do you think you’ll ever move away from your current technique? Would you embrace another kind of art making?
Of course. I’m already working on new series of paintings and sculptures and don’t involve spray gun or that are not that focused on colour. The ideas behind the projects are the ones that stay there in my case at this moment are questions regarding perception, consciousness and such. I feel I could work around these ideas in a myriad different ways :)
What are you currently working on and what’s next?
I’m always doing many things at the same time but at the moment I’m pretty focused on taking the ideas further (researching, writing and so) while I work on new pieces for two upcoming shows at joségarcía, mx. The first one is late November at their Merida (Yucatan) open air gallery and the second one will open in Mexico City for art week (early 2019).
You can find Ana Montiel’s work on her personal website anamontiel.com