Q: Tell us about yourself? What do you do, where are you from, and where do you live? All that good stuff…A: My name is Ana Teresa Fernandez. I'm originally from Mexico. I live right in front of Ocean Beach in the Outer Sunset in San Francisco. On land I am a full time artist and part time tango dancer in the water I am a full time surfer. I am an activist no matter where I am.
Q: Tell us about your childhood and what brought you to San Francisco.
A: I am originally from Tampico, Tamaulipas, a small town in the Gulf of Mexico and the 3rd most humid city in the world. I was in water ever since I could remember. I officially started swimming when I was 3 years old, competing by 4 and was called Ana la Veterana by 7! The entire family schlepped every Sunday to the beach; cousins, aunts, and uncles. I practically lived in a swimsuit (think Christina Ricci in Mermaids, minus the getting drunk) either swimming competitively or for fun at the ocean.
My parents moved our family from Mexico to San Diego, CA when I was 11.
I still swam a lot but when I was on dry land I was a pretty quiet kid and spent much of my time drawing by myself on the floor of my room, making art until my leg or butt cheek would cramp up or fall asleep.
My parents made me go to an all girls catholic high school which I hated. Art, unfortunately, was never part of my education. I was a mediocre student so I didn't get into any universities I applied to. By default I went to community college and took my first art classes there.
However, it wasn't until a recruiter from the San Francisco Art Institute saw my drawings at the community college, that I was offered an opportunity to study art. Art as a profession? Really? I traveled here to San Francisco to check out the school and saw students with mohawks a foot tall and spikes coming out of their jackets making art, not even looking up while we came into the studios... At that moment I knew I had found my new home out of the water.
Q: You are such a talented artist, your work is incredibly powerful and beautiful. Tell us about your work and what inspires you. What role does our culture and society play in your creative process?A: First of all, thank you for your kind words. Language inspires me. Interactions, moments happening near or far inspire me. Palpable disparities that hit my gut like a punch coming from Muhammad Ali, is what grabs my attention and forces me to focus on an issue. I called them Seismic Seconds. The seconds you know change your life.
For example, I had a moment in a gift shop in the Studio Museum of Harlem in NYC when I first saw the words BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL as I unfolded a t-shirt from the rack. I was 23 years old and I had never seen or held those words in my hands. Those 3 words, composed together. I was both shocked and overjoyed. I stood there in that gift shop having a complete epiphany (a seismic second) as I held this tee for what was probably too long of a time because the clerk asked if I was ok. Fast Forward to 2020 when we are having Black Lives Matter protest. When people came together insisting, chanting, saying over and over Black Lives Matter. And still today a huge population still struggles and fights against what the phrase means or stands for. I didn't grow up with images or phrases that said Black is Beautiful, BLM, Asian Lives Matter, Brown is Beautiful.
My job as an artist is to do what that shirt in the shop did for me. Create moments where you make people think, inquire as to what we take as a given, shake the earth under them. I push to redraw those frames to open up space for those who have been kept out of the storyline. I draw and script their voices so they can be valued, seen and heard.
Q: Do you have a favorite piece or pieces that you’ve created?A: This question is like: who is your favorite child? Like children, they ALL have been a pain in the butt, challenging... magical in unexpected ways. But I can say that the more challenging ones tend to be the ones I like more. I am not drawn to “easy.” Discomfort does scare me, but hasn't been successful in pushing me away. My work, like children, forces me to pay attention to the times, and how it is evolving.
Q: Surf and surf culture play a large role in your life. Can you tell us a little bit about this?A: I love the independence of surf. If you think about it, surfing is a beautiful equation: the beach, your vessel (surfboard), yourself, and the energy the moon brings to the water that makes the waves (moon-swings). In essence it is the ocean, the moon, a surfboard, and yourself. A recipe for a dreamy experience right?
You need to bring your own energy to align with that of the waves and respond in a way where you can both dance in the same rhythm.
Being so connected to the ocean has built within me a deeper intimacy with nature. And like in any relationship, you fight to protect them. Thus I've started a whole new project called On the Horizon which addresses the sea levels rising and climate change as a way to protect her.
Q: Tell us about where you create? What helps to get your creative juices flowing? Do you work out of habit (same daily routine or create from the same table) or are you more carefree and emotional in the way that you work?
Then there is my studio, which is my monastery. I have been working here since 2008. It looks like an old barn along the water in Bayview, Hunter's point. It is all-wooden, with a 2-story high ceiling which lets in a lot of light. I have a view of the water and the East Bay.
I need natural light to work on my paintings, which are painstakingly detailed to make. One painting can take me over 5 months to make where I spend 5 hours a day working on it.
There is nothing romantic about my process. It is more like a marathon. You just know you have to show up and do the work no matter how you are feeling. Some days you jive more than others. Some days you feel like you are walking through molasses and struggle through it. My studio is essential in getting my energy right. The silence, the solitude, the ability to concentrate for hours uninterrupted on end.
Q: Tell us how COVID has affected your life and work… both in hard and inspiring ways.COVID-19 placed a magnifying glass on many issues, and provided the time and space for people to HAVE to see them.
I was working with my collaborator Arleene Correa Valencia and Art and Action to create the SOMOS VISIBLES / WE ARE NOT INVISIBLE campaign to help reach and count people for the census to bring resources to uncounted communities which were vastly poor and migrant neighborhoods. We took high vis neon hoodies that essential workers use and put silver reflective vinyl with these words. We were offering these hoodies to anyone who would sign up for the census.
With the shutdown of COVID, institutions closed down. Arleene and I broke away from the walls of the institutions and were able to take our project to the streets into hard hit communities. We safely offered assistance in the Bayview, Hunter's Point, Napa, Excelsior, and even in the fields in the middle of the night at a winery to undocumented workers picking grapes during the fires.
In my own neighborhood when the Great Highway was closed to cars and opened to pedestrians I started making signs and sculptures. I placed them at an intersection where passer-bys could connect with them and the message. I made 8 pieces over the year. And it also led to a collaboration piece I created with Jamae Tasker, the director of the Sunset Coop, her kindergarten students and parents, as well as the community.
Q: Is there any driving philosophy that you have that gets you through the day or during challenging times?A: I've noticed how people build very restrictive language around their lives. Starting with: I can't do... I shouldn't..., I am not a...
I don't know. Furthermore, I see how oversimplified platitudes get overused.
Language is a tool. I let it be an assistance. For example: Where can I start, what is my entry point to accomplish X-Y-Z.
What is paralyzing me at the moment? What is making me so afraid to try this?
A simple exercise to swap out mundane sayings such as: "It is raining cats and dogs" and use something that is entirely your own. We adhere to patterns and behaviors that stem from language. I truly believe this is what stops us at times from being unique and doing something differently. When we change our language we change our behavior.
This is why I was studying languages before I became an artist, and I am still obsessed with etymology.