In mid October I discovered Pasqualina Azzarell through flickr. Someone had posted a number of images of her art on the walls of a construction site in DUMBO. Looking through those images I noticed that one of the walls had her e-mail address. Intrigued, I e-mailed her asking if she would do an interview with me. Not only did she say yes, she also invited me to the D.U.M.B.O. Art under the Bridge Festival that was being held at the time. Not knowing anything about the festival since I has just moved to NYC, I thought it would be an interesting adventure for Tamara and myself. We weren’t disappointed, and we got to say hello to Pasqualina. Below is the interview that was conducted through e-mail.
You can view more of her work at my flickr set that I took during the festival at http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelsurtees/sets/72157594364934238/
Michael Surtees: Thanks again for doing this interview Pasqualina. I noticed your artwork through flickr where someone had taken a couple pictures of the walls you had painted at a construction site. One of the images had your e-mail address on it and that’s how I contacted you. Have you received a lot of interest through e-mail, or if you had just left a phone number do you think the response would have been the same?
Pasqualina Azzarello: I value making use of public spaces when making and sharing my art. Whether I am making a mural, creating a proactive public dialogue through performance, or selling my artistic wares on city streets, I appreciate the integration of object and place. I have noticed that I tend to make use of a similar approach when it comes to announcements, that is, ‘getting the word out’ about a project or an upcoming show. Once upon a time, I would include only my phone number as a means of contact. And people seemed to use it mostly in regard to practical matters (ie: directions to a gallery, etc). What is nice about email, however, is that the range of communication has expanded. People are less shy and are more inclined to share their feelings about the work and tell their own personal stories. Because of the nature of this community-oriented project, I felt that my email address was the most appropriate means of creating a dialogue, aside, of course, from the conversations that happened on the street while the work was being made.
MS: In the NYT article, it mentions you painting 500 rocks and placing them around where people would find them the next morning, and then you have the painted walls outside of a construction site. Could you talk about what public interaction with your art mean to you. Is it important that the work be seen outside in public or is that not much of an issue?
PA: It is clear to me that context affects how a work of art is seen and experienced, and by the same token, nothing is truly neutral. Even the white window-less walls of a gallery or museum create a culturally potent backdrop. So yes, the context I choose to share my work in is critical. In the case of the 500 painted rocks or the painted flowers around the construction site in Dumbo, I was interested in the element of people, while in the throes of the mundane of the day-to-day, being able to happen upon something that was blatantly handmade. I believe that a certain disruption occurs when that which is automated is juxtaposed with that which is created and vital. I find that creative disruption compelling and incredibly important.
MS: When you’re painting, do you have an initial theme that you want to express, or is the process more stream of consciousness?
PS: While working in my studio, my process tends to be incredibly free and as a result, the images almost seem to take their own form. When making public murals, however, there is almost always other people involved in some aspect of the project. In this case, because of the nature of the working with others, I tend to create a sketch or model upon which to base the final piece. Even with this approach, though, I make sure to leave room for the surprises which inevitably come along the way.
MS: How has your artwork evolved over time?
PA: Very much so. I suppose like all things created and all things alive, change is an integral aspect of development. There are, however, shared threads which carry my mark and my vision that can be seen throughout my work, even across different genres of painting, performance, video, and installation. It is interesting, too, to look back to when certain visual tendencies begin. I think sometimes I make certain assumptions about when my artistic career began, but recently I looked through a number of drawings from my childhood, and there were symbols and arrangements of images in them that still exist in my work today.
MS: How would you characterize your technique for painting, and has there been other artists that have influenced your style?
PA: I consider myself a folk artist. A contemporary folk artist, who, like all folk artists, makes work that reflects upon one’s immediate world in a direct and immediate way. As for other artists whose work speaks to me, there are many. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jean Dubuffet, Joseph Beuys, Louise Bourgeois, Ana Mendieta, William Pope.L, and Swoon to name a few. Also, John Steinbeck, Charlie Parker, Patti Smith…
MS: Do you have plans to move on to other construction sites to paint? Are there any new projects in the works that you can talk about?
PA: I would love to continue to paint the walls that surround construction sites. As neighborhood development becomes more and more common, and as it continues to affect people, communities, and culture in very real ways, I am interested in the potential that exists in the overlap of urban development and public art. Throughout the project in Dumbo, which surrounded the site of the tallest residential building in Brooklyn to date, it was clear that the art provided a platform for a personal public dialogue. It was incredibly successful in this way. I think that other communities could benefit from these connections and conversations taking place alongside the changes in their neighborhoods…
As for upcoming events, I am excited to announce that the painted panels from the construction site in Dumbo will be exhibited at Retreat, located at 147 Front Street in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Many panels will remain in their original 4’x8′ form, while many others will be cut into smaller sizes. All panels will be for sale. The exhibition will run from December 1, 2006 – January 31, 2007. The opening reception will take place on Friday December 1, from 5-8 pm. All are welcome!
MS: What do you hope people can take away from something that you’ve painted, and why do you paint?
PA: I paint because it serves as an effective and efficient way to communicate what I see and what I care about. In the same way that I am reminded of my strength and purpose when in the presence of another engaged in their craft, it would be humbling to know I could inspire the same for somebody else.
MS: Thank you so much for your time. It was great to get the chance to understand some of your thinking behind the art. Best of luck in the future!