Mica in Studio
While looking through Instagram one night, I stopped my scroll dead in its tracks when I came across this image. Where there’s smoke there’s fire… so I immediately looked up the artist and was blown away by her gallery and it’s series of hidden gems. With a focus on the human condition and bold use of colors, Mai creates striking portraits of subjects that appear equal parts sympathetic, vulnerable and familiar. Mai’s, Get Emotional collection our personal favorite (Basically Beautiful is delighted to have purchased Karima and Loli for our showroom!), however, we are equally enthralled with her You Are Not Alone, At All and Paper collections. This is the world of Mai Blanco… A shy, young, contemporary artist raised in the spanish countryside, educated at the Barcelona Fine Arts University, and currently living, working and raising her first child in the magical city of Barcelona. A beautiful talent with a warm heart and impressive body of work.
We asked Mai a few questions and she graciously answered below…
BB: First of all, please tell us all about the adorable dog in your studio shots? Is he (she) as shy as he seems?
Mai: Yes, she is a little shy, but very tender … her name is Mica and we adopted her almost two years ago. She is thirteen years old and has passed through many homes (people who are not willing to commit to an animal, should never adopt it …) that is why she has some trauma, but after this time with us she seems happy and we are very lucky that she is now in our lives!
BB: So we see you live in Barcelona, but are originally from the spanish countryside, Asturias. How are you enjoying city living? Do you spend much time in the country?
Mai: I came to Barcelona 16 years ago from my town to study Fine Arts and when I finished my studies I decided to stay. I love it because it is a beautiful sea city with all its Mediterranean character, in good weather, it is cozy, open and with a lot of cultural offer. Although now my partner and I, who have just become proud parents, are thinking of moving to the countryside for a change of scenery and enjoy nature.
BB: Are you currently sheltering in place? If so, how long has it been? Does this help you get more art created, or does time outdoors help inspire ideas?
Mai: Yes, we have been confined in our home since April due to Covid. My house is a home-studio, so I live and work in the same place and I don’t mind locking myself up for days, in fact I enjoy it quite a lot … The thing is that this whole situation of confinement has coincided with the end of my pregnancy and postpartum, which is why I have not been able to work too much and my partner and I have lived it very intensely.
BB: What about this pandemic has most surprised you? What has most frightened you?
Mai: People have complied with everything that our governments have ruled in order to eradicate the pandemic, which is very good, but it is very scary how human beings can give up our freedom overnight through fear. I think we should all seriously think about it. On the other hand, I can’t stop thinking about all those people dying alone in hospitals and their families without being able to accompany them, it’s terribly sad …
BB: We read that your father was a landscape painter and he encouraged and supported your early art efforts. Can you tell us how that affected your passion and pursuit of creating art?
Mai: The truth is that my father would have preferred that I choose another profession, precisely because he knows how difficult it is to live from art. Still, he has always encouraged both my brothers and I to do what we love. He couldn’t be a painter until his father died, so somehow I’m doing everything he couldn’t do when he was young.
BB: Do you remember any tips, tricks, advice your dad gave you in the early days? Is there something that he has influenced you with that is seen in all your work?
Mai: He always repeats over and over again that I shouldn’t try to do anything I don’t really feel, not only because I will be unhappy but also because I will make bad art.
BB: Can you share with us one of your first works of art? Can you share your favorite work that your dad made?
Mai: I’m sorry, I have them all at my parents’ house … when I go back to Asturias I will take a photo to send you (BB: see here)
BB: Are your parent’s incredibly proud of you? 😊
Mai: I don’t know, I hope so….😊
BB: We see you originally studied illustration at the school of arts and crafts in Oviedo, Spain and then pursued fine arts in Barcelona. Can you tell us what inspired those choices?
Mai: I have always known that I wanted to dedicate my life to doing something related to art (when I was a child I thought I would be a writer or poet). At the age of 16 I began my studies at the School of Arts and there I began to become more interested in painting. In Asturias there is no Faculty of Fine Arts, so I decided to continue at the School of Arts doing the closest thing there was, which was illustration. When I graduated in illustration I felt that it was not enough, that I wanted to continue training as an artist, so I decided to move to Barcelona to study Fine Arts.
BB: What would you consider the biggest lesson you learned at the fine arts academy?
Mai: How important it is to learn to relate and the interpersonal skills.
BB: How important is it for an artist to be professionally trained?
Mai: I think it is an option, but it depends on the artist … I think it is not the most important thing.
BB: Is there a point where too many lessons hurt the creative process?
Mai: Yes, I think that the rigidity of academic norms can limit the work of some artists. But I also believe that an artist with a lot of training who manages to break the rules like Picasso, can make great masterpieces. On the other hand, I also consider that there are great works in naive art, so as I said it depends on the artist …
BB: Are there “rules” in art that you follow?
Mai: Art is a game and in games there are always rules. Some artists follow the rules that already exist and others invent them.
BB: If you were to give advice to a child passionate about art as a career, what would it be?
Mai: Follow your own instincts, work hard, make lots of friends, and have fun!
BB: Please tell us about your creative process. That is, how does an idea come to you? How do you decide what the first stroke on a blank canvas will be? How do you choose colors? How many hours do you work in a typical day? How many days a week?
Mai: My usual work hours are five days a week, about eight hours a day and except if I have a lot of late work, the weekend is to rest and do other things, like spending time with my partner and friends. But since I have become a mother (two months ago) I am very, very lucky, I manage to work two hours a day … (BB: See video below)
BB: Do you work in silence or do you play music? Favorite playlist?
Mai: I normally prefer to work in silence. Music can disrupt me…
BB: Do you have a work that you are most proud of?
Mai: The most personal works
BB: Do you have a single favorite piece of art that you’ve created? Have you created any pieces that you simply refuse to sell?!
Mai: Yes, I have some… for example, a portrait I made of my partner when we started living together, it’s so personal that I couldn’t sell it …
(BB: Mai, can you share this image with us? Mai: See here)
BB: We see a few different styles in your repertoire. Do you go back and forth or do you get into a style, create a series and then move on?
Mai: I don’t like to talk about style … I’m always looking, for me the most fun thing in art is experimenting with materials … doing things always the same way bores me. So it depends on my state of mind, or what I want to communicate, I do things one way or another. Anyway, I think there is always something in common in my way of doing.
BB: Where do you find most of your inspiration comes from?
Mai: Of beauty. Beauty can be in unexpected places …
BB: Your art tends to be portraits in a caricature style? Is that a fair representation? Can you explain the motivation here?
Mai: For me, my portraits are not caricatures. The cartoons exaggerate the features as a form of humor, a joke. For me my portraits are not a joke, they have to do with emotions and how I see the world.
(BB: We recognize the better word would have been “exaggerated” we didn’t realize caricature had a connotation of humor)
BB: If you could have any piece of art in the world hanging in your home, what would it be?
Mai: uff … that is a very difficult question … I suppose some work by Picasso, some of the portraits he made of his daughter Paloma, for example.
BB: If you could meet any living artist who would it be?
Mai: Some of my favorite contemporary artists like Kati Heck, Dana Schutz, Nicole Eisenman or Cecily Brown. I guess I would choose Cecily Brown, I am very interested in her creative process …
BB: What is your dream collaboration?
Mai: With any of the ones I mentioned before.
BB: You’ve done a series of exhibitions. Some solo and some with other artists. What makes for a great exhibition?
Mai: To make a good exhibition, you need a great involvement on the part of the artist/s, but also of the curator and the gallery … also in case of solo show it is very important to be in a good personal moment, because it involves a lot of effort.
BB: Have you ever exhibited at the affordable art fairs? Attended Art Basel?
Mai: At the beginning of the year I participated in the Hybrid art fair in Madrid, with Miscelanea gallery.
BB: Have you ever been to NYC?
Mai: Yes I was in NYC four years ago. One of my dreams is to get to exhibit there someday.
BB: What do you do for fun?
Mai: I suppose that like everyone else … staying with friends, watching movies, exhibitions, concerts, reading … although the truth is that lately what amuses me most is working on my art…
BB: The internet has made the world a smaller place. We are incredibly grateful for Instagram giving us access to incredible artists from around the world. What is your favorite part of social media for your business and your least favorite?
Mai: The Internet offers artists the possibility of showing our work to the world and also of interacting with other artists from all over the world. What I don’t like is that it seems that if you are not active on social networks, you are not doing anything, when it is precisely the opposite, if you do not have time for social networks, it is because you are working. I also don’t like it when companies or people value your work based on the number of followers …
BB: If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?
Mai: I don’t know … I really like anthropology 🙂
BB: Any good art jokes?
Mai: I don’t know any … I am terrible with jokes
BB: Your favorite ice cream?
Mai: I make homemade ice cream with frozen yogurt and red berries is the best and healthiest.
BB: Any questions you wished we had asked?
Mai: I think you have already asked me all the questions! Haha
BB: If you could send a message to the world?
Mai: Please be more careful. Take care of nature, take care of the environment and take care of the people around you and take care of yourself. That’s it.
(For Mai’s solo and group exhibition history, click here.)
Thank you Mai for sharing your work and talent with Basically Beautiful. We loved working together and are honored to present your gallery.
Mica in Studio