Briefly describe the work you do.
The oil paintings and drawings that I make are born from ideas, explorations and observations from my daily existence. A subject will pique my interest and I will ruminate over ideas until a visual language starts to present itself. Human sexuality and the multitude of ways we use our sexuality to negotiate our way through the world continue to draw my attention. As of late, my observations of the ongoing breakdown of gender binary identification as the norm has made me question the permeability of gender. What does it mean to be a man or a woman? How heavily do social constructs influence our masculine or feminine behaviors? Does our public persona mask our interior private self? Does this duality color our most primary relationship; the relationship with ourselves.
It is this questioning which moves me to probe into the broader themes of feminism, cultural stereotypes, gender roles and sexual power. I am interested in exploring objective and subjective realities, experienced in the visual language of painting and drawing. The human figure is the central focus of my art. I work from life and from my own photographs. These references become a vehicle to explore my ideas and experiences.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I grew up in a large Italian Catholic Family. My father was a school teacher and my mother was a homemaker. Both shared a deep commitment to Catholicism and a love and appreciation for all of the arts. Music, fine art, literature and movies were an integral part of my upbringing. All of these things filled me with a rich and complicated imagination and a desire to probe and question the world around me. My parents always encouraged me and my siblings to follow our muses. Two of my brothers are musicians one of my sisters designs jewelry and another sister is a budding writer. My mother was really quite indulgent of my art obsession taking me to museums at a fairly early age. She always managed to scrape together enough money from the family budget so that I could take painting lessons. As a shy and introverted child I lived a lot inside my head, inside my imagination. To this day I still feel like an outsider, an observer more than a participant of life. I think this is what drives the way I approach the world and my art making.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I tend to think about, organize and compose my work in my head for a long time. It’s like a slow simmer of ideas and it may take me awhile to manifest my conceptual ideas. When this is happening, I don’t spend a lot of time in my studio. I will however spend a lot of time looking at other artists’ work, going to galleries, researching and reading. So, even though I am not in the studio, I am constantly thinking about my work. The next phase will usually involve some sort of photo-shoot to materialize my concept and then I work on composing the images with Photoshop or with sketches. Once I have a general idea of the layout of a painting I will get to work and spend a lot of time in the studio painting. For me, there is nothing better than getting lost in the act of painting and it is not unusual for me to spend 10-12 hours in my studio. I prefer to work on more than one painting at a time. This helps to keep the painting process fluid and the work cohesive.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
As an artist, one tends to wear many hats, if one wants to continue making art over a lifetime. Some of the roles I really enjoy are teacher, mentor, confidant, encourager and muse. Some of the roles I am less comfortable with are self-promoter, disciplinarian, and critic. I think what surprises me the most is the level of commitment I give to art-making through good times and bad.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
Anytime I can get in the studio is a good time for me. Though I do teach and have other obligations, I am at a point in my life where my time is really my own. I have the luxury of coming and going as I please. I will usually spend the early morning hours on the computer taking care of business and then the rest of day I am free to spend as much time in the studio as I desire.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
My work always changes because each body of work is an exploration of a new concept. However, I think that I have changed as an artist. I am more confident in my ideas and in my technical ability. I am not afraid to paint out whole sections of a painting or move a figure or an arm here or there if need be to improve the composition. This gives me a tremendous amount of freedom to work more organically, truly enjoy the process of painting and let the painting evolve as I go.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
My daughter is my most important muse and she and many of her friends model for me quite often. She is my biggest supporter. I know many amazing artists who are also supportive friends. It is this network of support that has sustained me over the years. When I am feeling discouraged or have an area in a painting that is just not working, I always go back to looking at and reading about artists whose work I admire. I am really all over the map as far as artists, but some of my favorites are Richard Diebenkorn, Jenny Saville, Pierre Bonnard, and Clair Morgan.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
Yes, I suffer from having many, many interests and I am sure that in my next few lifetimes I am going to be an Oceanographer, a Psychologist a Judge and possibly a landscape designer for huge palatial estates.
Therese Conte was born in Hollywood, California. She earned her MFA in painting at the prestigious Laguna College of Art and Design. Ms. Conte received her MA and BA in Studio Art, Painting/Drawing from California State University, Northridge CA. She studied at the prestigious Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA. and the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art, Los Angeles, CA.
Her work has been exhibited nationally at the University of New England Gallery; Laguna Beach Museum of Art; Hillel Gallery USC, Los Angeles; Bridge Gallery, Los Angeles City Hall; Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, Santa Ana; Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery; the Brand Library Gallery, Glendale and Los Angeles Art Association Gallery 825 among other venues.
She is the recipient of numerous grants and awards including, the Albert K Murray Fine Art Foundation Scholarship; Beautification Grants from the Department of Cultural affairs, Los Angeles and the Valley Cultural Center, Los Angeles; and the Walt Disney Company’s ‘Show Your Character’ program grant.
Ms. Conte has taught seminars in figure painting, drawing and color theory along with fine art for both the Los Angeles Unified and La Canada Unified School Districts, CA. She currently teaches at The Orange County School of the Arts and Columbia College Hollywood along with teaching privately.
She maintains a studio in Laguna Beach and continues to work with the figure and related subjects in her paintings.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.