Getting to know Elisa Alcalde

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Getting to know Elisa Alcalde

Born in Santiago, Chile, Elisa spent four years studying Cinema at Escuela de Cine Chile from 2006. Having her son halfway through the course saw her priorities shift for a while, and she didn’t jump straight into a career in the advertising or film world.

Her life changed again when an aunt gave her a watercolour painting set for her birthday in 2012. In time, she moved from tracing images she’d found on the internet, to composing her own still life pieces and taking a photo on which she could base the painting. During this time, Elisa had also worked on Pequeño Zine and had a book of short stories, No Corresponden, published. And worked in a variety of jobs, including community manager, in communications and audiovisual roles.

Since 2020, Elisa has been a full-time painter, using watercolours on 100% cotton paper, and painting her own compositions of objects she’s borrowed or bought.

We’re very pleased to have Elisa becoming part of our roster of talent. You can get an idea of her work by clicking here and seeing her folios. But in the meantime, we wanted to have a chat with Elisa to get her take on what she does and how she came to be doing it.

You started painting in 2012 when you were given a painting set for your birthday. How did your work develop from there?

Since my birthday is the last day of the year (December 31), I really received that painting set in 2011, but it wasn’t until July 2012, when I was unemployed, that I took it and started painting. At first, I painted some gemstones and then I discovered the world of minerals, so I got obsessed with them and started painting minerals. At the same time I was thinking “This is what I love the most and, hopefully, someday I want to live off painting, but I have to be the best watercolourist in at least Chile” or something like that. So, I painted almost every day. At some point I started to show the paintings on Instagram and then to sell them. Until I thought I was ready to paint something else, something that would constitute more like a real and personal work than only painting images that I took from the internet. That’s why I started to paint still life, because it was what I have to hand, like some objects to compose a scene to paint. And then it was the same, all practice and painting every day. 

You often create still life works based around food. Are these things you find, or sets you curate before you paint?

I paint both. Sometimes I go to meetings where I know there’s going to be food, for example a birthday, and I know that maybe I can get a painting from there. So, I look at the table or whatever and, if I like it, I compose it a little and take a picture. Or sometimes I just think in a colour or a colour combination or an object or food in particular. Like once I wanted to paint a watermelon, but it was winter so it wasn’t easy to find one, but I made it and I composed a still life with that watermelon in it. I think mostly they are sets curated by me though. 

Talking of food – do you have a favourite dish, and, while we’re at it, do you have a favourite drink and sauce as well?

I love almost everything with potatoes, especially papas rellenas which are like a smashed, fried potato ball with meat inside. I don’t drink, but I love any natural juice. And sauce – I must say pebre, a Chilean sauce according to taste atlas, because I’m not sure it is a sauce but it’s great. Also, guacamole and pesto. 

You’re a painter but your work crosses over into illustration. Do you approach each differently?

I think so. I mean every time I use watercolour to get to the result that I or a client want, I consider it a painting. I only consider it an illustration if I’m using other mediums as markers. Also, I think the difference is very blurry between what’s a painting or what’s an illustration, like what are the rules? I really don’t care. 

We love your large-scale murals. Can you tell us more about them?

The first one I made because I had already painted a big work, like 2m height, but then I thought “I can do it bigger”. But my workspace is very limited, and since I have a very good friend who is a painter and muralist, I felt ready to paint a mural. I asked a friend if she would let me do something at her backyard wall for free and she let me, so that was my first one. After that I´ve made six murals and I’ve finished the seventh today. It’s a big one, like 7 x 4m, something like that. Painting murals is always a challenge and it’s completely out of my comfort zone, which is something that I like, because it pulled me out to new places. 

What are you working on in Chile at the moment?

Tomorrow I have to check some details of the mural I finished today, which is in a very good restaurant, and I´ve been working on that for the last week. Then I have to paint two commissions. And I am working with a curator to make a new exhibition hopefully at the end of this year, if not for the beginning of 2024. 

You also paint portraits within scenes and settings. Would you consider yourself a portrait painter?

I consider myself, above all things, a painter. I think I should be able to paint anything that comes to my mind. And that requires practice, so sometimes I’m challenging myself with paintings that are not food or whatever I’m used to painting. I think since I use watercolour, I still have a lot to improve in terms of human skin. It’s very difficult, but I’m always keen to keep pushing my own limits. 

Can you tell us a little about your work process – for example, the size you work at and whether there’s a medium you prefer to use?

My favourite size to work is the 100 x 70 sheet of paper and I prefer watercolour or markers. Sometimes I light a candle in my workspace so I can see the passing of time. Meanwhile, I paint and that way I don’t get anxious about it because the little flame of the candle calms me a lot. Also, I always listen to music when I’m painting. Always. From when I pick up the brush till I finish my working day. 

Danny Sangra introduced you to Breed. How did you and Danny come to know each other?

I followed him on Instagram long ago and sometime last year he followed me back and he liked my work as I liked his. Then we talked sometimes and we got along. 

You studied cinema at Cinema at Escuela de Cine Chile. Do you feel your work ever takes some influence from film frames and the language of cinema?

Yeah, cinema is a very important thing in my life, not only because I studied it, but because most of my references are from movies. Sometimes, when I create a set I think “this must be like some movie still”, with the lack of people in most of my paintings. It evokes something in me when in movies sometimes the camera is moving and you can see the set and decoration, which are fundamental to the movie but not the main thing. I’m making them the main thing. 

Who would your dream clients to work with be in London and New York respectively.

That’s a difficult question, but in London it would be JW Anderson, The Guardian, adidas, Lazy Oaf, Winsor & Newton, Vivienne Westwood, Cadbury, Dr. Martens, and any museum. In NY I’d love to do something with Penguin Random House, M&M’s, Patagonia, Sandy Liang, MAC Cosmetics, and I’m forgetting every brand I know, but there are a few.

When you’re not painting what do you love to do?

I love to wander through the city, any city, and find places that I didn’t know. Also, I love to see movies, listen to music and be with my friends.

To view Elisa’s folios in full, please see here.