Ana Fernandez

PechaKucha VI: “Ladies, Pick Your Bull Carefully”

Posted on November 05, 2016

By Sarah Fisch
May 26th, 2012

George Bernard Shaw suggested that every five to seven years, a person should appear before a committee to justify his or her continued existence. Without the attendant possibility that their lease on life might not be renewed, the eight participants in last night’s PechaKucha rose to just that kind of challenge. There are few spectator experiences so rewarding as to engage with somebody who plain-out loves something.

On Thursday night, a lively crowd overflowed the HQ of the Architecture Foundation of San Antonio in the Full Goods Building at the Pearl complex, home to the San Antonio iteration of PechaKucha, the Tokyo-born, now worldwide program of locally held show and tell gatherings. Presenters have six minutes and 40 seconds to do their thing. That’s 20 slides, 20 seconds each, with a running monologue. They can talk about their work, their passions, or make it an apologia of their aesthetics and ethos, or simply to experiment. This is the fourth San Antonio iteration of Pecha Kucha I’ve attended, and the sixth in San Antonio, orchestrated by the Architecture Foundation of San Antonio, the redoubtable Lake/Flato architect Vicki Yuan, and writers Ben Judson and Callie Enlow.

Although the format’s constrained — or rather, perhaps, because the format’s constrained, it’s fascinating to watch as different thinkers compress or stretch to fit into it. There’s a subversive utility in thinking inside the box — think of the rewards yielded by the formal criteria of a fugue, a yurt, or villanelle. Also note that it’s always the grocery store and hardware materials challenges that get the Project Runway folks on their best game.

There have been presenters over the series of evenings who’ve treated the platform as more or less a Powerpoint presentation. This can be very effective — months ago Diana Kersey, ceramicist, documented the painstaking process of her fine art and her object-based, consumerable work, through her series of slides which showed the various processes she’s mastered. It left the crowd having learned something not only about the woman, but the woman at work. Justin Boyd, sound artist, undercut the visual element of Pecha Kucha, using each “slide” as a caption to state the location and date of the 20-second audio sample he played in conjunction, working outwards in his field recordings from the crowded muffle of an elevator’s interior to the majestic openness of a seaside. Other presenters have allowed the slide show to supplement the verbal points they make, rather than sectioning their verbiage into slide-by-slide commentary.

The great appeal of the Pecha Kucha formula lies in its meta-didactic angle, and its economy. There’s almost nothing so boring that you can’t sit and listen for six minutes and 40 seconds, and best case (and more likely) scenario is that you’ll learn something.

"...Newberry provided a good set-up for artist/chili queen Ana Fernandez, no slouch in the absurdism department. Although an in-demand and accomplished painter, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago and UCLA, with a sold-out one-woman show at Joan Grona among her recent credits and an exhibition up currently at Austin’s Women and Their Work gallery, she chose instead to focus on her reign as a Chili Queen. A disclaimer: I collaborated with Fernandez on the catalog copy for her Austin show, and on some of the early copy for her Chili Queen concept. So I can’t be objective.

But I was surprised and impressed that her attitude towards her different modes of artmaking could be summed up thusly; yeah, I’m a painter. Meanwhile, I lost my job as a Paseo del Rio barge driver (true story!) and decided to buy a taco truck, use my talent for cooking, and honor the original Chili Queens of the 19th-into-the-mid-20th century, who sold chili by the bowl in public plazas to swells and workers alike.

Fernandez developed a recipe using the flavor profiles and traditional ingredients favored in Chili Queen heyday. She’s incorporated them into craze-inducing dishes including “The Roosevelt” and “The Bomb.” Very cannily, she featured slides of the food. The audience swooned and gasped. She was funny, too, describing her Botanica to Go, also housed in her taco truck, the signal product of which is a line of incense which, depending on which you buy, ensures friend-requests on Facebook or the ability to control others.
The Chili Queens food truck at Alamo Eats Bar

The Chili Queens food truck at Alamo Eats Bar

Beamer went all puzzled in his follow-up, re-iterating Fernandez’ impressive educational and artistic background. She explained that she cooks at certain times, and paints at other times. It’s not so crazy. She loves good food and the chili queen tradition, so she’s doing that too. She manages a humor in everything without anything being a joke, or an ironic pseudo-dive into the service industry. Contemporary painter? Yup. Chili Queen? Yes."

Lady driver: Ana Fernandez

Posted on November 05, 2016


Plaza de Armas Culture/Features
by SARAH FISCH

03 FEBRUARY 2011

"When I left LA, it was on fire," Ana Fernandez says as we eat sandwiches at the Blue Star Brewery before she heads back to finish last-minute installation details at Joan Grona Gallery. All but one of the paintings in her First Friday show already bear red "sold" dots.

"Driving on I-10, you could see the mountains in the distance, smoke trailing off them. You could see flames."

She laughs out loud at the metaphoric heavy-handedness. "It was just a couple months after an earthquake, and I told [my now-ex-girlfriend], 'Are you sure you don't wanna move to Texas? It's not safe here.'"

Fernandez earned her MFA in painting from UCLA in 2004, but didn't make it back home until September 2009, just after the record-breaking heatwave that exhausted our city. She'd left a city she thought she would die in, she loved it so much: the climate, the diversity, the sense that "I fit right in. When I lived in Venice Beach, I could wear rags and be happy."

After grad school, Fernandez got embroiled in a relationship, and a job with a postage company as a screener of sorts, making sure that when customers designed personalized postage, it didn't contain images of the Unabomber, Monica Lewinsky's infamous dress, or other inappropriateness.

"Mostly I was approving puppies and kittens," she says, "but occasionally there'd be some white guy, and I'd have to research to make sure he wasn't somebody controversial."

Fernandez has a way of unspooling her past with deadpan humor.

She enrolled in UCLA after getting a BFA at the Chicago Art Institute. In Chicago, she recalls, she lived in a neighborhood she didn't know was dangerous, because she moved there in winter and "it wasn't until spring when things started to thaw out that the gang members appeared."

She's passionately opinionated about her work, art in general, her family, her city, social constructs, and her career, but her anecdote delivery borders on tannic dryness. There's the one about Grandmother Fernandez, who gave her a Ouija board despite the strictly anti-occult beliefs of her mom's more religious family. She also gave little Ana an Avon-made, pistol-shaped cologne container she kept between her couch cushions. She had Ana aim it cop-style at the front door to ward off intruders while Grandma visited the store across the street.

"She threw an entire [container] of holy water at her cat, too" Fernandez muses. "She said, 'It wouldn't stop staring at me.' But it was a black cat with two white spots above its eyes ... the holy water got all over the TV, the VCR ... "

Fernandez's dad is an electrical engineer who moved the family from Corpus Christi to San Antonio when Ana was 16; her mother, a pre-K bilingual school teacher, is also a visual artist. The Fernandez family lived with her full-wall mural of a jungle scene, which included "tigers, snakes ... she made the snakes seem biblical, which was ..." she considers a second, "interesting to grow up looking at."

She has loved to draw and paint cars, in particular, since she was 6. They represent identity, aspiration, value, self-expression, "and are individual, almost like people — they have some kind of living energy." The first images she remembers making were of now-vintage 1970s vans with murals on their sides. She can still tell each one of her aunts what kind of car they drove, and when.

She graduated from Roosevelt High School in the Breakfast Club era, and took jobs, mostly on the River Walk, as a waitperson and a San Antonio river barge driver, while studying with the mighty Willome, Pritchett, and Susan Witta-Kemp at San Antonio College, where she now teaches.

And there are traces of Fernandez humor in her meta-realistic, subconscious-infecting paintings. Take her Joan Grona show — you'll see her highly accessible, immediately recognizable portraits of humble, one-story San Antonio bungalows, bedecked with balloons or Christmas lights, with a car or cars, naturally, parked out front. But there are details, such H-E-B shopping bags wrapped around shrubs or the Spurs logo in a window, that act as local in-jokes. One of Fernandez's cars bears the area code 210 in a swirly pink font, and a legend on the side reading "Most Hated." It's based on a real car; Fernandez has seen it around town. She assumed it had a male owner, but then found herself behind it one day at a Whataburger drive-in, and saw a pink-manicured hand emerge from the window.

She tends to photograph specific structures, trucks, and other details and then composite them later into one painting. Each work is realistic but, upon close inspection, loosely painted, with a tricky surface brushstroke she changes to express either solid line or quick motion; in one painting, a canopy of linear winter branches explodes into a furious flap of birds.

She went through a collage period in Los Angeles, during the latter part of her three-year MFA program, splicing together parts of other paintings she made, creating graduated bands of color made of refrigerators, say. She got her first one-woman show as a result but decided, against the advice of some friends, to return to her earlier preoccupations and fully inhabit them. She'd developed a realistic technique back in Chicago, sometimes bordering on photo-reality. She's since abandoned attempts at photorealism because "what's the point, then, of it being a painting? I want people to see the paint, to take in the layers, and the surface," but she knew the subject matter she wanted to focus on. She knew this had to happen in San Antonio.

"In Los Angeles, you'd see a certain landscape that would be interesting to paint, and think 'that looks familiar,' like you'd seen it before. And you had seen it before; it was in movies and on TV."

So call Fernandez's San Antonio paintings a highly personal form of regional landscape, or architectural still life. They document man-made scenarios with human touches all over, but remain strangely uninhabited. With this void, Fernandez effects a couple of things. "When you paint [people], there's always the notion of whether it looks like them, and i don't want to get sucked into that." Also, it heightens the sense of mirroring and the meta-real; Fernandez' scenes "aren't completely realistic. I want them to appear like a hallucination."

One unsettling large-scale painting shows a house shrouded in hedges, with two stone dogs facing each other. "It could be a witches' house," says Fernandez, who counts Goyas' The Flight of the Witches as an inspiration for another painting, in which a gaggle of pointy-hatted piñatas hover above a roof. Another unlit house is framed by a white-and-red balloon heart, which references both San Antonio's exuberant public face, our love for celebration and knack for rasquache decor, and something deeper, darker, and more ambiguous. It's an implied narrative that could be affectionate, or terribly wrong.

"Anybody can gain access to the images," she says. "Somebody will look [at the paintings] only as San Antonio houses, others will read and project much more into them."

Arturo Almeida and UTSA present Ana Fernandez
Opening reception 6-9pm Thu. Feb. 3
Joan Grona Contemporary Art
Through Feb 26