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Ensorcelled By Gilded Carbon Phantasmagoria: Interview With Alessandra Maria

We’re seduced by this empyrean domain with its rambling foliage and alloyed blooms as lush and velvety as a lover’s sultry kiss. Despite our better judgement, we explore…just a little further. Amid the enchanting calm of twilight-bathed butterflies and dancing points of incandescence, a flash of mystical feminine energy rises into the ether, quickening our pulse. The adrenaline flooding our system triggers a combination of disoriented panic and emboldened recklessness, making the compulsion to peer through the vegetation utterly irresistible. That is when – for the very first time – we spot the shimmering carbon pencil demigoddesses featured in Alessandra Maria’s Galerie Fledermaus solo exhibition, Rite, who are engaged in a primal ceremony…one that every fiber in our being tells us we have no business bearing witness to.  

The mood that my portraiture conveys is sort of like a warm summer evening darkness.

Alessandra-Maria-Mixed-Media-Gold-Leaf-Art
Cultivation Rite, 48″ Height x 62″ Width
Paper, Charcoal, 23-Karat Gold Leaf, Carbon Pencil, Black Paint, Sumi Ink, Pastel

The Brooklyn-based artist’s mystical, moonbeam-flecked enchantresses serve as a visual metaphor for the homogenization of the natural and supernatural forces that logic and science will never be able to explain. Her divine feminine spirits are as easily capable of generating euphoric conditions as they are – if necessary – of calling upon the stygian depths of hell. The mythos of this realm, so elegantly cast in wheaten sepia tones, brings forth the “ideas of feminine power and divinity” that have long characterized Alessandra Maria’s artistic endeavors. Indeed, sfumato-steeped carbon pencil and charcoal secrets beckon at every turn in this world exclusively governed by all-seeing, all-powerful feminine beings whose grandeur requires no explanation or apology. They simply are.     

Alessandra Maria spent 18 months coaxing the luminous ladies of Rite onto her walnut ink-stained paper canvases using a relatively limited yet astoundingly effective arsenal of art materials, including carbon pencil, charcoal, sumi ink, and 23 karat gold leaf. Her flawless contemporary portraiture with Renaissance flair – which in many cases results in utterly spellbinding muses who seem to be as real as the sun, the moon and the stars – is unsurprisingly the product of an intense commitment to her craft. Digital collages have become a non-negotiable albeit time-consuming pre-drawing ritual that ensures the viability of her concepts, with “some Photoshop files possessing as many as 150 layers”. Similarly, the artist’s lit from within skin tones are achieved by applying a substratum of carbon pencil and charcoal that she then hand-blurs, a process repeated up to ten times in search of the perfect chiaroscuro effect.

We are honored to present the following exclusive interview with Alessandra Maria ahead of her Rite solo show at Galerie Fledermaus in Chicago, Illinois. The exceptional talent quite literally draws upon an “infinite well of continuous learning, expansion and growth” in an effort to deliver a sacred artistic experience to the beholder, and what a visual revelation it truly is.

alessandra-maria-manifestation-drawing
Manifestation I, 24.75″ Height x 16.75″ Width
Paper, Charcoal, 23-Karat Gold Leaf, Carbon Pencil, Black Paint, Sumi Ink, Pastel

Galerie Fledermaus Presents Alessandra Maria‘s Solo Exhibition, “Rite

Opening Reception: Friday, November 4, 2022 | 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Exhibition Dates: November 4 – December 3, 2022

Exhibition Hours: Saturdays, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm or by appointment.

Galerie Fledermaus | 2753 West Fullerton Avenue | Chicago, IL 60647 | 312-617-8711

To inquire about artwork availability, please e-mail Jerry Suqi via jerry@galeriefledermaus.com

Alessandra-Maria-Ima-Drawing
Ima, 32.5″ Height x 25″ Width
Paper, Charcoal, 23-Karat Gold Leaf, Carbon Pencil, Black Paint, Sumi Ink, Pastel

Exclusive Interview With Alessandra Maria

Your extensive new Galerie Fledermaus solo show, entitled Rite, embodies your commitment to creating entirely unique, next-level portraiture that is on par with what heroes such as Gustav Klimt or Leonardo di Vinci may have brought forth on their canvases. What overarching thought dominated your creative process while conjuring each portrait?

I imagined that the viewer was lost in the woods at dusk, half panicked and trying to find their way out. Out of the corner of their eye, they see various mysterious women who aren’t human. (This is especially true in my leafy works with full backgrounds.) The beholder knows that they aren’t supposed to encounter these ladies or bear witness to what is unfolding…something sacred.

While gazing at your sumptuous new portraits for the first time, the most immediate reaction that any fan will have is, “There is no way that I’m looking at drawings. These have got to be oil paintings or even artistically tweaked photographs.” What factor makes that artistic sleight of hand possible?  

Personally, I believe that the light/dark ratio is key. Balancing the most intense blacks with perfectly placed midtones. Of course, adding gold leaf also makes each work of art feel more complete.

Alessandra-Maria-Drawing-Female-Figure
Hortensia Summoning Moonrise, 32.5″ Height x 25″ Width
Paper, Charcoal, 23-Karat Gold Leaf, Carbon Pencil, Black Paint, Sumi Ink, Pastel

Quality over quantity certainly applies to your entirely unique art form. While fans know that anything that emerges from your studio is well worth the wait, you’ve created a very large body of work for your Galerie Fledermaus solo exhibition. To what do you attribute your high level of productivity?

A confluence of factors enabled me to focus. The COVID-19 pandemic had the paradoxical effect of creating a lot of space for this body of work. Prior to that, I created mini bodies of work every three months for the art fairs that I attended. Since those opportunities were no longer an option, I was able to get off the hamster wheel that dominated my life for six years. Prioritizing my artistic growth then became a huge focus for me.

The early days of the pandemic provided me with endless swaths of time in which I could meditate on my compositions. I worked on them a little each day, taking time away from them, and then once again returning. I enjoyed being able to balance the lights with the darks to ensure that every element was exactly where I wanted it. Additionally, my husband is a professional project manager. He sat down with me and we overhauled my artistic process from top to bottom, which had an immeasurable impact.

If animal, human, and nature occupied the three different points on a triangle, the demigoddesses in Rite’s mythology would be directly in the center. They can be as soft as spring, as contemplative as a serene lake, as vicious as an earthquake, or as unrelenting as a tidal wave.

Alessandra-Maria-Gold-Leaf-Drawing-Three-Muses
Decima, Agrippa and Lucia Manifesting Bloom of Morning Glory, 43″ Height x 39″ Width
Paper, Charcoal, 23-Karat Gold Leaf, Carbon Pencil, Black Paint, Sumi Ink, Pastel

In what way did you raise the creativity bar for this show?

I spent a great deal of time studying the work of historically regarded artists I admire, like Leonardo da Vinci, to determine what I loved and didn’t love about their creative output. I also identified why certain works of art were so successful. Ultimately, I applied all of the lessons that I learned to my own practice.

In the past, many of your muses embodied the type of iconic religious/goddess beauty that was common in historical Renaissance art, but it seems like the ladies of Rite are far more contemporary. What inspired that creative decision?

It was a natural choice – it just felt correct for the work.

Do the muses featured in Rite need to exist in modern times so that your narrative makes sense?

Not at all :) One of the things I adore about Leonardo da Vinci is that encountering one of his pieces in person is like confronting a sacred object that is almost breathing. It seems to be just as aware of you as you are of it. (At least that’s been my personal experience while standing in front of his work.) I aim to achieve the same kind of timelessness in my portraits.

It seems wrong and silly to only make a parade of white women. We’ve seen that a thousand times and enough is enough. The world is diverse and art should reflect that fact.

Rite’s feminine subjects seem capable of both good and bad things. Are we gazing at witches? Ghosts? Perhaps an alien being or two? Or are they all part of the same demigoddess hierarchy?

While I’d like to leave it up to the viewer’s interpretation, to a certain extent they are demigoddesses and/or witches. I’m fascinated by pre-Christianity storytelling. Myths were used to explain the movement of the sun and moon. Magic was terrifyingly real. Lightning was regarded as an act of the gods. Every civilization created their own folklore to deal with life and reality, including supernatural forces – often gods and goddesses – who were responsible for orchestrating everything. With Rite, I developed my own unique mythology.

What makes female demigoddesses as a narrative device so intriguing to you?

Throughout human history, female power has occupied stereotypical boxes such as the virgin, mother, or crone. The notion of feminine demigoddesses whose power has absolutely nothing to do with childbearing (among other typical traits) really appeals to me.

Do the muses participating in Rite’s narratives fit into the natural order of our mortal realm or do they exist on a different plane?

Imagine animal, human, and nature occupying the three different points on a triangle. The demigoddesses in Rite’s mythology are directly in the center. From the movements of seasons and animals to ocean tides and moon phases, they are responsible for everything. They can be as soft as spring or as contemplative as a serene lake. Their power can also be as vicious as an earthquake or as unrelenting as a tidal wave.

alessandra-maria-ava-drawing
Ava Summoning Waxing Gibbous, 34″ Height x 27.5″ Width
Paper, Charcoal, 23-Karat Gold Leaf, Carbon Pencil, Black Paint, Sumi Ink, Pastel

The world that I’ve been creating, which involves ideas of feminine power and divinity, has been a timeless touchstone for me ever since I was very young.

The eerie, blank gazes of quite a few of your Rite demigoddesses – which make them seem devoid of humanity…or otherworldly…or perhaps demonic? – recall vintage Ambrotype, Daguerreotype, and tintype photography as well as classical Greek sculptures. How did that visual characteristic come to be?

Wow, you actually nailed it. I became obsessed with tintype photos and seriously considered dabbling in that type of photography. In the end, I realized it would be too time-consuming. Ultimately, I focused on exactly how the shadows fell on the people in those images. Each person seemed to be gazing directly into the beholder’s soul. That perfect balance of light and dark in the eyes is exactly the effect that I was hoping to create in my newest body of work.

How do you know when you’ve achieved the perfect creep factor in your muses’ eyes? Do you reach a point when their gaze seems to lift off the page, or perhaps you can you hear their incantations?

It’s really a feeling more than anything. If the eyes don’t look quite right, I add the tiniest bits of value via individual pencil strokes. Then I erase here and there. The following day, I’ll add more minute bits of value here and there. I’ll wrestle with it for a while and often just sit and stare at it. Then I’ll add a single pencil stroke or erase the most minute thing. Finally, out of nowhere, a demigoddess is suddenly looking at me as much as I’m looking at her. That’s when I know.

Alessandra-Maria-Etim
Etim, 28.5″ Diameter
Paper, Charcoal, 23-Karat Gold Leaf, Carbon Pencil, Black Paint, Sumi Ink, Pastel

Throughout human history, female power has occupied stereotypical boxes such as the virgin, mother, or crone. The notion of feminine demigoddesses whose power has absolutely nothing to do with childbearing (among other typical traits) really appeals to me.

In stark contrast, why do some of the ladies featured in Rite have perfectly normal looking eyes?

My demigoddesses who are forces of protection or destruction – like those who are responsible for thunder – have a silvery gaze. Others belong to a different order. I’ve created all sorts of classifications, names, and hierarchies for them. I’m not sure I’ll ever share that information, though. I like the idea of leaving the interpretation of my art up to the viewer.

Even without their 23 karat gold leaf flourishes, your female figures hover in goddess-like territory due to the luminosity of their complexions. Do you incorporate any gold pigment into their skin tone, or is their radiance achieved solely with carbon pencil, charcoal and an ongoing dance with light and shadow?

I don’t integrate any gold powder into the bodies, but what an interesting idea! I’ve always loved the way that light falls on the human form. I generate the correct light versus medium shades – which results in a sculpted effect – through charcoal, carbon pencil, and chiaroscuro. Although it’s a long, ongoing process, it’s one of my favourite parts to do. I find that it’s really helpful to have good references. I’ll often spend days and days trying to make the arms, neck, back or even an ear really glow. Blurring the edges between the skin and the background helps contribute to the “glowing” effect, as well.

alessandra-maria-calypso-mixed-media-drawing
Calypso Preparing For Rite, 34″ Height x 21.5″ Width
Paper, Charcoal, 23-Karat Gold Leaf, Carbon Pencil, Black Paint, Sumi Ink, Pastel

I’m fascinated by pre-Christianity storytelling – when myth was used to explain the movement of the sun and moon, when magic was terrifyingly real, and when lightning was regarded as an act of the gods.

Earlier in your career, you achieved the warm vintage backgrounds that anchor your portraiture by applying coffee to stretched watercolour paper. In recent years, you shifted over to walnut ink due to its far more consistent results. What medium did you use for your Rite portraits?

I want all of my artwork to exist in the same tonal family. To ensure that I’m applying the right amount of walnut ink (which is now my favourite), I use a master sheet as a colour reference.

It’s refreshing to see that the muses that you’ve manifested for Rite don’t look like carbon copies of each other. What are your thoughts on creating art that is representative of the vast spectrum of humanity?  

It seems wrong and silly to only make a parade of white women. We’ve seen that a thousand times and enough is enough. The world is diverse and art should reflect that fact.

One of the things I adore about Leonardo da Vinci is that when you encounter one of his pieces in person, it’s as if you’re confronting an object that is sacred and almost breathing…and that it’s just as aware of you as you are of it. I aim to achieve the same kind of timelessness in my portraits.

If you were to sum up the ambience of your Rite solo show, would ‘comfortable darkness’ be an accurate description, or is it so much more than that?

I think that comes close! The mood that my portraiture conveys is sort of like a warm summer evening darkness. Of course, the way that I set the stage – to have the beholder lost in the forest and encountering a ritual they shouldn’t – is certainly not comfortable.

Being an artistic conduit for so many intriguing, otherworldly beings must feel sublime. While manifesting the ladies of Rite, did it seem at times as though a power well beyond your control was taking hold of your pencil?

It’s indescribably joyful to manifest these worlds filled with demigoddesses, whether via daydreaming or allowing my imagination to run wild. Of course, seeing each finished piece (and liking it!) is truly fulfilling. Every time I bring each work of art into being, it’s as if I get closer in touch with the childlike part of myself who saw magic in everything. I still can’t believe I get to do this every day.

Galerie Fledermaus Social Media Accounts

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Alessandra Maria Social Media Accounts

Website | Instagram | Facebook | Tumblr

About Author

Longtime eco-journalist, art wordsmith and creativity connoisseur. Anything that hovers in the right-brained spectrum or is born out of unbridled imagination elevates my spirit. I probably revere mother nature's ever-changing shazaamy brush strokes more than the average humanoid. Technicolor art supplies make me weak in the knees, as do wet-nosed luvvies.

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