Ana Teresa Fernandez is hitting a nerve and is being noticed for it, having received just the latest in a string of awards and grants this spring from San Francisco Arts Commission and Headlands Center for the Arts.
There is a lot going on in her paintings. The eternal Mexican-Catholic polemic of woman as whore/Madonna is augmented by the contemporary themes of illegal immigration, the high-class problem of illegal domestic help, and the universal dissatisfied homemaker who is slave to the never-ending cycle of cleaning up after others. Fernandez’s current show, Pressing Matters at Braunstein/Quay, is a comprehensive survey of this young artist’s work
Fernandez is a modern-day Betty Freidan. Her work is a haunting commentary on the role of women in the family, workplace and home. Beyond the overt sexuality of supermodel-shaped characters bending provocatively over ironing boards, there is hard-hitting social commentary. Her message resonates because it is softened by her velvet brush. The figures are round and sculptural, wrapped in fabric like the Greek goddesses in the frieze of the Parthenon. Long afternoon shadows make the would-be docile scene more dramatic and lazy at the same time.
The images you see in Pressing Matters are not a figment of her imagination- anymore. Fernandez stages performance art pieces that are recorded by a photographer. The brown skinned women in their little black dresses up-to-here pose like fashion models, extending their legs and arms like ballet dancers while… cleaning bathrooms. It is surprising to learn that the protagonist in every piece is Fernandez herself. In real life this scrubbed looking post-grad looks every inch the hipster art student in frayed layered tees, jeans and a heavy leather belt. Her youthful beauty is masked by angular black resin glasses frames and long brown hair tied back in a loose unruly ponytail.
Fernendez had not heard of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, but why would she have? Growing up in small town Tampico, Mexico, all the women in her life were domestics of one sort or another, either paid by wealthier families or unpaid by their own. Ana had not yet developed career aspirations at the age of eleven when her cardiologist father moved the family to San Diego in order to further his career and provide a better life for his family.
While Ana was growing up in Tampico and San Diego, her mother was a traditional stay-at-home mom. Though Maria Teresa Fernandez was a happy wife and mother and is still married to Ana’s father today, Ana observed her mother’s unrealized potential and this later became an important theme in her work. Ana's intuition was true. In the last ten years Maria has become an accomplished documentary photographer in her own right. She has spent countless hours documenting the San Diego-Tijuana border and the destitute neighborhoods that buffer it, inspiring another important theme in her daughter's work.
Fernandez was plucked from the obscurity of the San Diego Community College system the day the San Francisco Art Institute came to call. When asked to show her portfolio, the greenhorn art major didn’t know what that meant but quickly assembled snapshots of her work for the school rep’s review. She was offered a scholarship on the spot.
While an undergrad at SFAI her advisor convinced her to put aside her first calling, sculpture, and try another medium. It was during this time that Ana asked her mother to collaborate with her on the border performance-art series. No Puedo Pasar (Performance Documentation 2005, oil on canvas, 60”x72”) is made all the more impactful when you learn that the corrugated metal border fence pictured was made from recycled Gulf War airport runway strips. The border as graffiti-etched wailing wall is a character in the painting in its own right and proclaims: “I can’t stand to be indifferent amongst the pain of so many people.”
When Ruth Braunstein of Braunstein/Quay was at Fernandez’s MFA show and saw “Untitled 2,” a record of a performance art piece which took place at the border in 2006, she offered her a gallery show on the spot. “I haven’t done something like that in twenty years,” said Braunstein.
And the recognition and awards flow. After the four year undergraduate program at SFAI she was awarded another scholarship to make the MFA program possible. While doing her graduate studies, her work was shown and placed in many Bay Area juried shows. Earlier this year Fernandez received the San Francisco Arts Commission Cultural Equity Individual Artist Award Grant which recognizes artists from historically underserved communities. And the most recent is a biggie: the prestigious Headlands Tournesol Award recognizes one innovative emerging painter each year. The studio facilities granted to all Headlands’ artists-in-residence is topped with an anonymously funded $10,000 grant.
All signs indicate Fernandez has only just begun her ascent.
This show: $1600-$10000