Anna Valdez is Slaying the Still Life Game How one Oakland artist weaves personal narrative into her work

Anna Valdez Cooking WithBacon

The first time I laid eyes on an Anna Valdez still life, I instantly became obsessed and probably thought I fell in love. Decorated with an assortment of green leafy plants, books, tropical textiles and quilts, and painted with soft yet colorful hues, a scene of a signature Anna Valdez oil painting takes you to a perfectly breezy summer afternoon. The careful detail put into the textiles and the weaving of numerous intricate patterns in one scene makes Anna’s paintings unmistakable.

As an Oakland-based visual artist, Anna has established herself, with her work appearing in exhibits across the country. With inspiration drawn from her childhood interest in archaeology and an academic background in anthropology, Anna’s painted interiors and the array of objects captured within them are meant to act as windows into her life. We caught up with Anna to ask her a few questions about how her paintings act as self portraits and contribute to her own personal narrative.

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Recently, you’ve been doing a lot of still life paintings, how did you get into still life?

I began working from still life as an accessible solution to study space and composition. By working from observation of my immediate surroundings I have been able to create arrangements or find interesting moments to use as references for my pictures. In the process of working out compositional problems I realized the objects I was choosing to incorporate created a personal narrative and started to serve as a self-portrait in addition to a still life.

How do your still lifes represent your personal narrative?

Considering I own all of the objects in the pictures of my still lifes, they weave a story of choices, taste and gifts given to me and selected by me throughout my life. In addition to the objects, my sense of humor or a conversation I had will leak through into the painting. By nature these pictures are documents of my environment and myself at the particular time where and when they were conceived.


Do you have a certain method when it comes to setting up the scene in your still lifes?

I do not have a particular method. Sometimes I simply find the composition in my studio. Other times I will create a massive installation to work from. It depends on my intentions that day and what it is that I am aiming to learn from a particular painting. Because my objectives change rapidly so does my approach. The only consistent part is continuing to push myself to learn and discover new things through the process.

Why do you choose the particular items that are in the scenes?

Because painting in itself is a series of decisions, my choice to select specific items in each scene varies drastically from image to image. In the case of a recent painting I just finished, Trove (2016) I constructed the painting in this piece based off an observation in my studio and then I built off of it. I have a shelf unit in my studio that holds many of my vessels, books, paintings, and plants, a type of studio trove. I noticed something that I wanted to make a painting out of and thus constructed the rest of the picture with that idea in mind.


The textiles and quilts you paint in your scenes are very gorgeous and detailed, are there stories behind them?

Yes, my mother is a quilter and thus most of the quilts I feature are ones she has made and given to me. I’m sure my attention to detail has a lot to do with the intimate connection I feel to those particular items. A lot of the woven textiles were obtained when I visited Western China a few years ago; others are made from friends who weave. The rest of the textiles are pattern motifs/designs taken from dresses that I own. The choice to combine these intimate fabrics constructs a self-portrait through the objects.

What do you think about the overall changing landscape of Oakland as an artist in Oakland?

I have mixed feelings about Oakland’s shifting landscape. I think for a lot of artists there is more opportunity to be involved with community and exhibitions. However, it is now really expensive to live in Oakland so that in itself is taking away a lot of opportunity. This is reflected in a lot of aspects of the city and it’s community. Through gentrification the city is changing to a landscape that benefits some and displaces others. I’m not sure exactly where I fit in with this shift yet but I’m learning to navigate through the changes for now.


Anna Valdez lives and works in Oakland, California. To view more of her art you can visit her personal site and keep up to date with her latest work via her Instagram.