September 6, 2013

Spotlight: Ilenia Madelaire

Baltimore-based artist and musician Ilenia Madelaire's art tells stories through surrealism.

I first met Ilenia Madelaire without even knowing she was an artist. We met around a year ago when I was hosting her band, Romantic States, on my college radio station's Sunday night live music show. I hadn't listened to Romantic States before the show but I vividly remember being captivated by their quiet and beautiful set (they're also the only band I've ever bought a cassette from). It took many more months for me to see Ilenia's visual art, but I was once again instantly taken by her vivid, surreal paintings and the stories that went behind them. Ilenia describes her work as focusing "on overlooked and/or blatant inconsistencies in everyday American society from the female perspective with a regard to the human experience in harmony/or disharmony with nature, all through a humorous lens". I spoke to Ilenia a little more about the inspirations behind her art, some of her biggest female role models, and what Baltimore bands you should be listening to. 

THE LE SIGH: You've lived in a variety of different settings over time from South America to the Midwest. How has that shaped your work as an artist?
Ilenia Madelaire: In my work I tend to explore concepts like personal relationships, home and family, and female roles. I find that every place I have lived in has had different attitudes toward those concepts, at times subtly and at other times more overtly, and it has been really fascinating for me to observe and later incorporate my reactions into whatever drawing or series I'm currently working on. My experiences in Miami culture and Baltimore culture (as well as subcultures) have been the most interesting to observe and gather ideas from, by far. Aesthetically I use bright colors and tend to make flat, minimal drawings/paintings. I think most of that is influenced by my interest in graphic novels, pop art and vintage magazine advertisements, more so than places of residence.

TLS: There's a distinct female perspective that runs through art, from your "Trophy" series to your "Little Girl" project - who were some of your female role models growing up?

IM: Growing up I heavily related to Harriet M. Welsch of the children's book "Harriet the Spy", so in a way she became a role model. I was really inspired by her discipline to write every day and to observe everyone she came into contact with. She devoted her childhood afternoons toward practicing for her future career of becoming a Spy. She knew exactly what she wanted, was brutally honest, never bored with her routines, and she overcame social obstacles that interfered with her dreams, while visibly learning from them and became a better person for it. I also watched a lot of Roseanne, and really admired Roseanne's and Darlene's character - strong, bossy, honest women with a sense of humor. I never thought I'd say this but without getting too sentimental about it I'm going to add my mom. Looking back she did so many influential things. She is a trained classical guitarist, taught it for many years, meanwhile designed/ran a children's clothing line in Paraguay, later an art gallery in Miami, and currently a textiles trading firm. She talks a lot about movies and always had art books around. I was exposed to art early on and she always encouraged me to pursue my interest in it. She speaks Portuguese, Guarani, Spanish, English, and a bit of German. She also raised a family, and gracefully moved all of us to a different country. She has a great and advanced sense of humor. She's very opinionated, an atheist, a vegetarian, jogs every morning, is in her mid-sixties, and still married to my father after thirty-something years. Currently she is overcoming cancer and maintaining positivity about it. There's nothing that woman didn't/doesn't do! If I could do half those things in my lifetime I'd be perfectly content.     

TLS: From looking at your website, it seems like you often work in series. How does an idea for a series come to you? What are you currently working on right now? 
IM: Usually I just make drawings or paintings about whatever topic I'm obsessing over and then they naturally evolve into a cohesive series, or I push them forward until they become a series, but I never go into my work thinking about making a series. I have a lot of work that seems random and scattered and they haven't yet evolved from their singleness, but for some reason I prefer showing work in series form which means they might never come out from hiding. I recently illustrated for a collaborative book of poetry that's coming out this year, which has been exciting for me and influential on my current work. I've been drawing a lot and using text and pushing that idea forward, which will hopefully evolve into something bigger, but I'm not sure where I'm taking it yet. I dream of making a graphic novel someday, perhaps these new drawings will evolve into that. 

TLS: On the topic of series, my favorite series of yours is "We Should Totally Hang Out". Can you talk a little about that project and what inspired you? 
IM: Thanks! For that series I made illustrations and accompanied them with short stories, all of which I posted on a website. I made small, minimal business-type cards which only had the website's address and placed the cards into library books in the main Baltimore public library and in random places around the city in hopes that people would find them, go to the website and look at the work. I was inspired by a need to connect with people. My first couple of years in Baltimore were strange and lonesome, I was suffering with depression and had a nervous breakdown, which led me to shut myself out from people only to find myself to be even lonelier. During my recovery I made the best of my resources and got really creative about what I was undergoing internally. I wanted to hang out with people but felt debilitated and inert, plus I still knew no one so I started the project to keep my mind busy. All of the stories became confessional stories about myself that I had wanted to tell people if I ever did hang out with anyone in person. Unfortunately now I do hang out with people, so that project has been put aside. I'm joking, of course, I actually feel quite fortunate to hang out with people now and to have supportive friends, and since then new, interesting projects have come to life.      

TLS: As both an artist and a musician, do you find that you approach to process of creating art and music differently or do you find that they overlap? 

IM: I would say yes, the processes overlap. I get really personal in my work, and I always start off by making a list. I write ideas down first, or just words, and then go from there, either turning them into music or visual art. 

TLS: What's the most exciting moment you've experienced, either in music or art? 

IM: Oh, there have been quite a few exciting moments these years but the most exciting thus far was playing at the Baltimore Museum of Art this past spring. I never thought I would play a show at that museum, let alone any museum. It all hit me when I saw the little velvet ropes and museum guards on their walkie-talkies pacing around nervously in hopes that no one would scuff anything up. I felt more settled and relaxed when all the familiar, friendly faces showed up to give us some support and lovin'. It was a special moment, I realized how far I'd come from those initial, dark years in Baltimore.

TLS: As a Baltimore artist yourself, what are other musicians and artists that you're a fan of right now in the city?

IM: I don't go see art shows often and this question is reminding me that I should, because Baltimore is thriving with visual artists that I could learn from and get inspired by. Currently I cannot answer which visual artists I'm a fan of, but as far as bands go I'm really into Rosemary Krust, Wheatie Mattiasich, Peals, Smoke Bellow, Carly Ptak, Butt Stomach, and Videohippos even though they are inactive (but I'm really really looking forward to their one-night reunion for a show this upcoming month). All those bands make work that wake my mind up and expose me to new sensations that I don't think I could get on my own. And they all have impeccable taste and are really awesome people, well, I think so at least.

Check out more of Ilenia's art on her website

Written by Emily Thompson