By: JC Rodriguez
Passionate and honest art makes for the best kind of art. Alex Nuñez is an artist with no shortage of passion. We visited Alex in her studio at the Fountainhead in Little River, Miami. A neighborhood not immune to the gentrification hitting just about every corner of Miami. As we were writing this story she was notified that Fountainhead will be closing in 2018. It's not like she didn't see it coming, "I was initially nervous when high end salons, a gym and a design store popped up on our street." She knew the signs, as it happened to her twice in Brooklyn. Despite originally being from Miami, Alex wasn’t very familiar with the Miami art scene having spent the last 10 years in New York painting and launching her show, Sunday Painter, an audio blog where she interviews artists and gets to know what makes them tick. A lifelong lover of art, Alex spoke to us about her grandmother's influence, her biggest learnings from the Miami art scene and her desire to stay engaged with her work for years to come by evolving and keeping herself excited about what’s next.
What's your earliest memory in art?
My grandmother. She painted until the last year of her life. I must have been four when I started painting with her. It wasn’t even like finger painting, she would take me outside and do watercolors. My mom would say that I would obsess with a certain animal at any one time, and I still do. My grandmother never approached it like a kid wanting to paint, she would be serious about it. She urged me to explore with still life. That was our time together. We would be out there painting for four hours, and we would go to Baptist Hospital and paint little ducks. We did that again when I was older. There was this 25 year gap when we painted together again.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
At the same time. I studied communications in college but all of my electives were geared towards painting. I always knew. My parents are great self esteem builders, they would put up all of my paintings. My grandmother would create paintings and we would compete for wall space. I also started acting at an early age, so I knew I wanted to be in the creative arts. I wasn’t going to become an accountant.
How did you get started?
I went to afterschool programs when I was a kid and my teachers at Sunset Elementary and Carver Middle School were very encouraging. I started participating in these large scale murals and that’s how I got started.
Who was a big influence in you getting started pursuing an art career?
My grandmother of course, but my mom was a big influence. She claims that she’s not an artist, but she would create these things for PTA meetings and she was very crafty. To this day I think that it has an influence in the work I’m doing now. My work has a lot of those materials. I like the marriage of I’m not an artist but I’m going to create artsy things.
How would you describe your art?
There is a divide in the work right now with these repurposed 1970s and 80s vinyl collage work and bedazzling them, while on the other side there is this large work which can take on a long list of adjectives. The large ones started out as marine experiences influenced by scuba diving and snorkeling. In Miami your head is always under water, we are so spoiled here. It became this intertwining of horns, seaweed, and they also look like topographical aerial views like maps. It’s really what you are bringing into it. I’m obsessed with metallics and fluorescents and turquoise. It’s very much the art deco palette of Miami Beach mixed with everything we saw at the club. Mixed with glitter images and reminiscent of that A.D.D. television personality where you can enter at any point and flip the channel and you can read something of that show that you didn’t read before.
What is your creative process?
Nothing is premeditated. I work by rotating floor to wall, wall to floor, turning them, etc. I don’t even have a color palette beforehand, it’s all very spontaneous. I'm reacting to materials and stream of consciousness. I have multiple pieces going at the same time. I never know when to stop. I think I have overindulgent issues. I want to keep going. I’m glad there are studio visits because it forces me to put some things away and rethink. If I didn’t have them, I’d have a mess in here with bottles of juice everywhere. It wouldn’t be good.
What do you love about abstract painting?
It’s your world. There is no fact checking with abstract painting. No one can tell if I’m lying here. I would write really personal things in my paintings and then cover them up. Giving a moment of your own reality is refreshing. We aren’t remaking the old masters here, this is new stuff. I’m so anti reading a statement before seeing the painting. Experience what you are going to experience and then learn more about it. Especially when you have events like Art Basel, don’t go read the wall, walk through and see what you like and don’t like. What does your stomach say about that? That’s what draws people to these fairs, they want to get a different feeling of their everyday and that’s what art is. Art may not appear to be vital, but it reminds us why we are here.
Who are some of your favorite Miami artists?
I recently worked with AHOL. I think he is really doing an awesome job on making work for all levels, those really young fans and also the higher-end collectors. Hernan Bas has really wild and chaotic paintings that are really a beautiful representation of Florida. His work reminds me of my childhood here and are so personal that people relate to them on a universal level. His exploration with color has such a romantic application that one can’t help but get lost in his narrative.
Jessy Nite’s site specific text based pieces have been really interesting to spot around the neighborhood and recently at Brickell City Center for “fair.”
Jillian Mayer’s “slumpies” have captured the odd dynamic and entrapment of our cell phone culture. Her humor and technique provide an interactive work that is equally visually appealing.
Antonia Wright’s video work is incredibly impressive. I saw her work “I scream, therefore I exist” at PAMM not so long ago and was mesmerized by how she captured a very real depiction of Miami with one frame. Her underwater scream in a public pool - while a water aerobics class for seniors occurs in the background is relatable and hilarious.
What do you think of the Miami art scene?
When I moved back here after living for so long in New York, I had this expectation of what the art scene would be here. Over the past 6 years of coming to Basel, that has changed. By living here, I realized that it’s become so diverse and it has so much to offer. I think that being here in Fountainhead was the big turning point for me. You can do a residency anywhere, but being in a place like this where other artists can pop their head in and provide insightful feedback has really been a great experience for me and exposed me to amazing artists like Juana Valdez, who is also one of my favorites.
What are your thoughts on the increased lack of space for artists in Miami?
We were recently notified that Fountainhead will be closing in 2018. I was initially nervous when high end salons, a gym and a design store popped up on our street. Unfortunately this has happened to me with my last two studios in Brooklyn. Artists move in at a low rent, work their asses off, the area becomes desirable to developers and we are priced out of our spaces. This problem will only continue to grow until more programs are developed to lock in affordable spaces for artists. Hopefully Miami answers this call for their local art community, which has expanded immensely in the past couple of years.
Item you use the most in your studio?
My Crystal Katana. I can be really precise with my crystal placement.
Favorite item in your studio?
My jacket. I just keep adding things to it over time.
What do you want to accomplish with your art?
I want to keep being engaged with the work. To want to keep making work that is exciting and new. I want to have the same drive ten years from now. This is such a sacred space for me. If I'm able to continue doing this, I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world, because it's so hard to find out what you want to do. I was lucky enough to know what I wanted to do early on.