Artist on Artist: Gary Sweeney Interviews Ana Fernandez

Ana Fernandez / Linda Pace Foundation
My first encounter with Corpus Christi native and Joan Mitchell Foundation grant winner Ana Fernandez had nothing to do with art. She had rescued a severely injured stray dog and she spent a great deal of time and money nursing “Pebbles” back to health, so I wanted to meet her. Since then, I’ve noticed her artwork in exhibitions all over Southtown, and her paintings get better every time I see them. She recently completed a residency at Artpace which highlighted her painting, sculpture and fresco skills.

What was your first experience with art?
My mother is an artist, so we grew up going to the Art Museum of South Texas and the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History. I liked the paintings in the dioramas and was especially drawn to the exhibits with seascapes and the fake sand in the foreground.

Did you have a favorite artist growing up?
Not really a favorite artist necessarily, but I loved to learn about the different art movements, like Dada or Pop. I did a project and paper on Dadaism when I was 16. I used to browse through stacks and stacks of old Art News magazines in high school and had an interest in performance artists like Chris Burden and Vito Acconci. I really liked everything at that age, my brain was a sponge.

Did you have a mentor?
I’ve had lots of mentors over the years. I worked with Susanna Coffey at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Nancy Rubins at UCLA.

What kind of student were you in high school?
I mostly just wanted to read and draw. Even though I’d transferred [to Roosevelt High School] as a junior, I still managed to make friends and have fun. I worked at H-E-B on Walzem part-time and blew my entire check at Windsor Park Mall every week. I drove a Caprice Classic that blasted a giant cloud of white smoke as it started up.
click to enlarge ANA FERNANDEZ
Ana Fernandez
Tell me about your time at UCLA.
I started classes at UCLA two weeks after 9/11. It was a stressful time. My main advisor was Nancy Rubins. Our art studios were located off-campus, in an industrial section of Culver City. It was graduate school and it was challenging. As I recall, it was always damp and gray inside the studio building. It was a world away from the regular campus and a bit humorless. I went to the main campus to the Bruin student store and bought a UCLA teddy bear for comfort.

It seems to me that many UCLA art students get out and immediately jump into the LA art scene. You chose to come back to San Antonio. Why?
I had my first show right out of grad school at Patricia Faure Gallery at Bergamot Station. I stayed in LA a total of almost 10 years. I had a handful of shows while I lived there. But I never really came into my own, work-wise, until I moved back to Texas.

While in LA I’d worked a full-time job for, which was my dream job. I was one of the researchers they employed to screen images that were submitted for the personalized postage stamps. I had to take a battery of tests and be able to identify notorious characters such as serial killers, mobsters, infamous politicians, et cetera. During the interview I informed the department manager that not only was I able to identify the killer, I could also match him with his victims. I think that sealed the deal and I got hired. In 2009, they laid off half of the department, so I came back home to San Antonio. It was the best decision I could have made because, not only has San Antonio’s landscape provided me with a constant source of visual inspiration, had I stayed in LA, my catering businesses — Chamoy City Limits and the Institute of Chili — would have never existed. Necessity is the mother of invention.
click to enlarge ANA FERNANDEZ
Ana Fernandez
How would you describe your artwork to someone who has never seen it?
Painting mostly. Landscapes and sculptural work inspired by the streets.

Have you been involved with the gallery system?
I’ve worked with galleries and I’ve also represented myself. Galleries and art dealers are great. It’s nice to have someone in your corner who can help introduce new people to my work and provide camaraderie.

If you didn’t do artwork, what do you think you would be doing?
I’d probably have gone to culinary school. I love cooking. I also love construction workers and wish I could do that, too.

What does a typical day look like for you?
When I’m not in my studio, I usually spend my days doing something to earn money. Being self-employed is stressful, but it’s also exciting — like a real-life video game. You’ve got your money level, your energy level and your time level … and you have to maintain all of them, otherwise it’s “game over.” When one bar gets too low, you have to raise it. And on and on — day in, day out. I’ve always worked very hard to create the time and space needed for my art.
click to enlarge ANA FERNANDEZ
Ana Fernandez
Do you struggle with your ideas, or does your artwork flow out of you effortlessly?
I try not to judge myself or struggle with anything while I’m in the process of making something. It’s hard to make art while you’re wearing a critic’s visor, but, yes, it can be a struggle at times. As far as my process goes, it begins by my getting out into the world. I like to drive around and take photos, stop into shops and chat with people. All that informs my work.

What three things never cease to bring you joy?
Working on my business, making art and learning.

From March 10 to April 28, Fernandez’s work will be on view at Houston’s Jonathan Hopson Gallery (904 Marshall St., as part of “Nuestro Hogar,” a two-person show with Francis Almendárez. For more about Fernandez, visit

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