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Sylvia Fernández: On the Life of Painting. Part Two.

Updated: Apr 2, 2021

Sylvia Fernández Flora y fauna interna oil on paper 140 x 270 cm 2020

On Painting Fast.

Karen Moe: This gets me to my next question. How you paint really fast and how there are moments when you're just there. It sounds to me like there are flashes of moments. So is that in the actual process of your painting, you’re capturing, you’re somehow realizing or channeling these flashes?

Sylvia Fernández: Yeah, I do paint really fast. And if I try to do it longer, it doesn't stay with me. I really fuck up whenever I stay with a painting for a week. If that happens, it's not going to work.

KM: Almost like when you think too much, when you overthink it.

SF: Yeah. Even if I'm not thinking, I'm still painting. It's the rhythm. It's the pulse in me. It's like a heartbeat. I can’t make it longer. It's like I feel this and I can’t stop. I’ll just burst. I don't know if they’re like flashes. It's more like everything comes together in that same moment and it’s really present. Whatever I feel, whatever is in my imaginary, whatever colour I have in the palette and whatever situation I'm living in the day. And it doesn’t solve anything. But it's a really nice place to be because it's just that moment and it's totally present and everything combines and merges suddenly and it happens and it doesn't last long. I believe it's like happiness. If just for a second. And then it goes away and then it comes back. For me, the act of painting has to do with everything at this precise moment. I gave birth twice and I remember that when I was there, you cannot be anywhere else. It's precisely the place, that hour, that time. It's like meditation. I meditate a lot. So it might have to do with that. And then I have the pleasure to look at it and realize what it is. So it goes the other way: I do it and then I find it. Sometimes it's longer than that, an hour or so. When a painting is two meters, even if I want to, I cannot make it in one day, maybe it takes two. I don't sleep well because I'm still there. I haven't finished. I'm in another state. I'm in another place. I'm not here. I'm in between.

Sylvia Fernández Tócame oil on paper 52 x 50 cm 2020

On quarantine and conceptualism. Or, disappearances and what remains.

Sylvia Fernández’s painting Tócame (Touch Me) is a result of the opposite. No me tocas (don’t touch me) has become a mantra of what will most likely be referred to as ‘The Time of Covid.’ And, even if we are sick to death of talking and hearing about it, it’s impossible not to be touched by a global pandemic.

Many of Fernández’s quarantine works call out as they reach. In Tócame, two hands retreat like wilted flowers from either side of the frame while another is about to grasp at air; two others come together where a thumb of one is merged with the pinky of another and speak of a relationship so intimate that separation is akin to pulling a part flesh. In all, the need to touch has become an existential rejection.

But one almost makes it. Or did. The gesture is (un)requited as the clasp is limp and, even though, as a still image, there is an ambivalence as to whether the hand is on the verge of tightening its hold or of losing it, the energy of the painting guarantees the latter—the figures are on the brink of a final detachment. Fernández told me how, because of not being able to touch people, she has lost her shape, her form. She said:

“You start to think about the shape of your hands and how when you touch someone it is the shape of yourself.”

Sylvia Fernández donde tus manos me lleven oil on paper 70 x 60 cm 2020

Especially for artists who live in urban centers—and even more so for those who live in Third World cities where the effects of the pandemic are much worse—the process of internalization has been intensified.

“It’s chaos outside,” Sylvia told me when describing her life in Lima now. “If I cannot go out, I have to go in. I always do with my painting, but now it’s inevitable. I have to get inside just to see what there is compared to what is outside. So you carry whatever you feel from outside and it's painful because, whatever you see out there, it's like the end of the world in a way, the world that you knew. So you carry all of that and you go into your studio and whatever I’ve been finding, it's desolation, it's emptiness.” In donde tus manos me llevan (Where your Hands Lead Me), a hand reaches towards a memory beyond the frame; an arm stretches as a river; fingers have become tributaries in the now forced internal landscape. “It's like finding a place that you once knew as really shiny and now it's dark,” she says.

Sylvia Fernández Destello de luz y su sombra oil on paper 52 x 50 cm 2020

It is either ironic or obvious that many of the landscapes Fernández finds in her enforced internality of inner-city quarantine are literal in terms of being of nature. But first, as an act of ritual when about to enter a landscape made of memory, there is erasure. The first quarantine painting, Destello de la luz y su sombra (Flash of Light and its Shadow), enacts a transformation of light into darkness, a falling off of a cliff from the known. The artist told me how she felt as though she had almost erased herself when the painting was done. But not quite.

“At least we have the shadow,” she said as the painting records its own disappearance in the form of a pelt that neither lays, lies, floats or sinks upon/within/above primal striations of green.

Sylvia Fernández lugar de dolor oil on paper 22 x 31 cm 2020

Lugar de dolor (Place of Suffering), however, is a retreat from any possibility of ‘at least.’ There is a landscape, liminal, on the edges of itself, composed of broad sweeps of blues and blacks where the artist has diluted her oil paint to such an extent that it trembles within its own dissolution. Precarious paint. My heart rate increases. One is forced to bend their head, crane their neck forward and peer through what could be hair but has the effect of gauze that has become threadbare from the desire exerted by our looking.

Sylvia Fernández expansión del dolor oil on cardboard 27 x 27 cm

Expansión del dolor (The Expansion of Suffering) is a helix of amoebic forms painted in the blackest blues with traces of Frenández’s hopeful pink. Tied together by sinewy threads, the proto-forms are suctioned downwards and arrive at, upon first looking, what could be a threshold, a space of passing through; however, upon a deeper reading into the story being told by paint, the spiraling threads are made of the same hues as where they are headed. The painting breathes vertigo; the destination is composed of that which arrives. Through form and palette, Expansión del dolor is an allegory where the protozoic, our most originary ancestors, are perpetually (re)arriving in their source.

Sylvia Fernández eco del dolor oil on cardboard 27 x 27 cm

A lover of the realities that can be found in contradictions, light and darkness are united in eco del dolor (Echo of Suffering). There is no possibility of these intestinal forms that line the sides of a cinder cone passing as wayward decorations on a birthday cake as in Lavate tus dedos (Wash your Fingers) [1]; and yet, eager dashes spurt across this inverted edifice painted in a shade of blue that verges on cheerful and could merely be made of squeezes from the paint tube as opposed to anything with an intention to disturb. Pulled towards a black hole that is filled with no escape, eco del dolor speaks to us from the distance as it answers back with mystery and light.

Sylvia Fernández dolor en movimiento oil on cardboard 27 x 27 cm

The final dolor painting, dolor en movimiento (Suffering in Movement), takes place in a protozoic ballroom. Like the beauty of a white flower, the aesthetic pleasure is found in form; this painting’s palette is desaturated into a dance of greys and creams and blacks. Brush strokes swoosh back and forth across the painting providing the joyful choreography for this Precambrian Galliard [2] and, when one delves deeper into the drama of paint, the cream blushes, ever so slightly, and the dancefloor is romanced by dainty bands of algae green. We voyeur through the microscope of the artist’s imaginary, delighted by the pleasure to be found when immersing oneself in the unknowable—and illuminated by what dances with us in the dark.

Sylvia Fernández Conversaciones de cuarentena oil on paper 42 x 34.5 cm 2020

And then, there are Conversaciones de la cuarentena, paintings of dystopic heaps that could be made of hair. Two ghoulish wigs are almost afloat as they simultaneously drape onto a planetary curve that speaks to the enormity of these proto-forms. They could be land; they could be human; they conflate the organic with the linear, the human with the earth. Held up by some mysterious force beyond the frame, these imposing entities are dangled as puppets upon what is (as of yet) unimagined terrain. It is as though new forms are rising from a (once again) primordial swamp.

Sylvia Fernández Seres de cuarentena oil on paper 42 x 34.5 cm 2020

In another, Seres de cuarentena, a proto-human is composed only of paint. The form is haloed by what could be fur that is being tugged upwards by a frictional force in sync with the mysterious suspension of the heaps in Conversaciones de cuerentena. If one can find a pattern that is still connected to what was once the world outside, it could be a memory of the annual growth rings of a tree, its wooden guts now with the texture of an amoeba. In both Seres de cuarentena and Conversaciones de cuerentena, as exercises in (re)finding form, if one is to surrender to the human desire to anthropomorphize, these are us as now extra-terrestrial in our newfound desolation.

Sylvia Fernández Heridas de luz oil on paper 40 x 50.5 cm 2020

Heridas de luz (Light Wounds) is frantic with search lights blasting from pitch-black gashes. The beams are longing, determined, coming from underground where the past, or what so recently was, has been buried by a sheet of frenetic brush strokes that cross one another out from any set direction. Despite the wide-open landscape, the painting is claustrophobic, the uncertainty is suffocating and yet, all is not lost. What was continues to live within its wounds as they blast their unwavering light.

Sylvia Fernández Jardines de cuarentena oil on paper 42 x 34.5 cm 2020

Sylvia told me the story of her night-time vigils

on her small patio in the company of little plants that she does, quite literally, have conversations with. In quarantine, she sits with the natural world that she has left, diminutions of what she was once so readily able to access. She told me, “I paint them in daylight. But I stay with the memory of the blackness of night.”

In Jardines de cuarentena (Gardens of Quarantine), we look through vines that both frame and block the way into a garden that appears both transfixed by and fixated upon its own disappearance—the direction of the force is as of yet uncertain. The veins of the leaves and the backlight bleeding over the edges of the vines are just enough detail to keep the plants alive in our watching. I can feel myself on her patio. Heavy darkness. A never silent city, stray crickets chipping at the dark and, in the morning, upon another disappearance of night, the artist paints her leaves as velvety silhouettes backlit by the peach light of sunrise.

Sylvia Fernández conversación nocturna II oil on paper 30 x 20 cm 2020

Another night painted by day: inky insects eat away at a remembered leaf. Nothing sleeps in conversación nocturna II. I can hear the silent scratching; the miniscule jaws are actually audible in the throes of my enamoured imagination. And again, pink romance, almost lilac in this memory now as its sweetness is progressively devoured.

Conversación nocturna gives us plenty of what we have lost. Almost too much. Blackened flora sketch a sinewy search and flow into one another with a harmony that provides tranquility—even though the plants appear squashed by the artist’s urgency to know them again. In her quarantine garden, Fernández rediscovers form in having had it taken away. She paints memory. She paints darkness. She paints disappearance. And what remains.

Sylvia Fernández conversación nocturna oil on paper 30 x 20 cm 2020

Sylvia Paints the Story of 65% Water.






Sylvia Fernández: I just finished the series Hidrografía interna (Internal Hydrography). It follows the idea of internal landscapes, paying attention to emotional states and uses water and its different movements in a symbolic and poetic way to talk about constant change. There are eight paintings that are divided into two palettes, starting from warm river waters and moving into cold, ice, and snow. The name of each piece reveals a different emotional state. I painted one each day over eight days.

Sylvia Fernández Catarata (Waterfall) oil on paper 54 cm x 42 cm 2020

Beginning with the almost erasure of light in Destello de la luz y su sombra, Sylvia Fernández’s paintings of quarantine move from the abstract to the flora to the aquifer where the internal landscapes are water, the water within, the source of life. We are made up of more water than any solid we can use to deny our inescapable dissolution with, our inherent vulnerability: the hubris of the West. In Hidrografía interna, the artist internalizes what we are made of.

Paradoxically, she does this through science. She harnesses the trope of the objective to monitor her enfleshed subjectivity. In Fernández’s hydrography—as the science of surveying and charting bodies of water—she is surveying herself, turning what are conventionally detached eyes of surveillance inwards to map a body of water that is her own.

Sylvia Fernández Río (River) oil on paper 54 cm x 42 cm 2020

“Water makes its own way through earth shaping its path,” she says. “What I really like about this series is that the human body is 65% water, so our rhythm and different states have an echo in it.” The earth is composed of 71% water. We do not live on earth, roaming around on top as our linguistics tells us: we live within it as coursing water bodies are also inside of us. Water is our ultimate connector with the Earth.

In Hidrografía interna, you can begin with the waterfall or you can begin with the avalanche. You can begin with the warm paintings which were literally painted first and move from waterfall to river to lagoon to lake and then break open into the cold paintings with the sudden freeze and the crack of Grietas (Cracks) and fall into the landslide and then thaw and then be shoved down a mountain face by an avalanche (again). Or you can begin with the avalanche, move through the thaw, the landslide, and arrive at the Grietas from the other direction to crash back into a cavernous lake, soften into the lagoons, slide down a meandering river and plunge back into a soon to be freezing waterfall. No matter. They all lead to the same place: the always return.

Sylvia Fernández Lagoonas (Lagoons) oil on paper 54 cm x 42 cm 2020

If we begin with Catarata (Waterfall), we enter a cartography of water. As always, Fernández’s palette is minimal: navy blue having just been black is painted upon by a yellow that is the farthest thing from the colour of pristine water rushing off of a cliff. Unlike the palettes of Abuela rosa (Pink Grandma) and Lávate los dedos (Wash your Fingers) [3] where pinks and greys and blues and blacks and plums and mauves are engendered by one another, the blue/black and yellow/orange of Catarata create a contrast in tandem with the emotional upheaval of this internal landscape. The blue/black that lines the cavern is like velvet, but the yellow reminds one of an old map, hidden for decades, oxidized from having been cast aside. Until now. A neglected body about to be charted.

Sylvia Fernández Grietas (Cracks) oil on paper 54 cm x 42 cm 2020

The painting represents water. It’s in the shape of a waterfall. The water rushes down and explodes when it hits the bottom of the cliff. And yet, the torrent is constricted by anxiety, the gush of the falling water is impeded by aggressive, horizontal brushstrokes as if the painting is attempting to hold back inescapable transformation and, naturally, failing: its waterfall inevitably succeeds in crashing to the bottom. Paradoxically, though, despite this triumph over imposed stasis, this ironic attempt to solidify the flow of water is continued as the frothing at the base is a chunk painted with the sharp edges of relief that separate it from its painting. Solid, peaked, no real attempt to denote liquid, this froth is more mountain than deluge. A waterfall building a mountain? A waterfall eroding a mountain? Catarata inverts the process of erosion in order to dramatize how a cycle of return can go either way: the waterfall disappears the mountain and the mountain is disappeared by the waterfall.

We arrive at Río (River). Serpentine. Languishing. Thoughtful. A respite. The toxic orange/yellow of Catarata begins to be calmed by an affectionate pink. We follow the river as it meanders beyond the limits of its frame and eventually pours into the lagoons of the next painting. Lagunas (Lagoons) traces gentle water bodies as elegant shapes wisping across the surface in the colour of sunsets. Remnants of rivers, of the lagoons’ sources, are threads that are detaching from their beginnings. Until. A water body has plummeted; the surface has dropped out of the land; the lagoons have been pulled together as one into the cavernous lake of the self-named Lago. This transformation could soothe as an instance of unification and destiny or startle as an act of force and upset. The palette is cooling. Almost imperceptible striations of the anxious yellow waterfall remain on the surface of the cliff-bound lake. Tension builds. Again.

Sylvia Fernández desprendimientos (Landslide) oil on paper 54 cm x 42 cm 2020

All is cold. It feels as though the change has crept up on us, but it has been happening all along. The transformation of the palette has been gradual, cooling from Catarata (or warming from Avalancha). Both directions will pass through lagoons, become a lake, are headed for rupture in Grietas (Cracks) built only of cracked edges soon to be obliterated as desprendimientos (Landslides). We will pass through where the land slides as water or where the water slides as land, enter a network of black arteries only to thaw even though nothing has frozen yet. We will teeter on top of the avalanche, its frozen surface painted in strokes that are in harmony with its downward pull. Ice and snow will skid across the canvas, more water than the waterfall that is its next/previous manifestation. The cycle of change will return to where it ended/started.

Sylvia Fernández deshielo (Thaw) oil on paper 54 cm x 42 cm 2020

“I believe dark places let you see light,” Sylvia says. The darkness of the unknown inside of us is a place where ice becomes water and water, ice; where waterfalls beget mountains and mountains, waterfalls; and where lagoons float as clouds and clouds, lagoons as we are simultaneously enlivened and eroded by the eternal flow. The artist explains: these are “dark places, not attributed to the negative, but to the unknown places inside of us … where you don’t see anything except what you are looking for.”

To be continued ...

Sylvia Fernández avalancha (Avalanche) oil on paper 54 cm x 42 cm 2020


See Sylvia Fernández: On the Life of Painting. Part One:


[1] See Sylvia Fernández: On the Life of Painting. Part One for a discussion of these paingings [2] Galliard: a lively, vigorous, 16th century court dance.

[3] See Sylvia Fernández: On the Life of Painting. Part One for a discussion of these paingings


About the Artist:

My work consists of a constant dialogue with painting, a relationship that allows me to explore intuitively through the material and arrive at images that come from the most intimate interests to plural/universal-ideas. Permanent associations between images and ideas convey to the spectator their own journey. My recent process has taken me to images that explore abandonment, disappearance, extinction—what is gone and what remains.



Sylvia Fernández studied at Corriente Alterna, an art school in Lima, Peru, where she graduated with honors in 2002. Since then, she has taken part in several group and solo shows both in Lima and abroad. She has also participated in different art contests, where she has been a semifinalist in BP Portrait Award (London, 2017), a finalist in Focus Abengoa Foundation’s award (Spain, 2005) and received the Pasaporte para un Artista award (Lima, 2004), among others. She has participated in fairs such as Arco (Spain) and Art Fair Cologne (Germany) and just recently Salon Acme (Mexico). Her work is part of several local and international art collections. Sylvia Fernández is represented by Galería del Paseo in Lima, Peru.

About the Writer:

Karen Moe is a writer, visual and performance artist and a feminist activist. She has been published in such magazines as Border Crossings, ArtSpace, WhiteHot and Revista 192. She is the editor and founder of the magazine Vigilance: Fierce Feminisms. Karen has exhibited and performed across Canada, in the US and in Mexico. Her first book, Victim: a Manifesto, is being published in Fall 2021. Karen lives in British Columbia, Canada and in Mexico City.

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