Aster da Fonseca, native of Brazil and self-taught artist, talks about opened doors and his inspirations.
By Sofia Griffith-Gorgati
21 years ago, Aster met his now-husband, the person to whom he attributes the genesis of his painting career.
Over the phone, and after indulging me with some conversation in Portuguese, he tells me his story.
At the beginning of their relationship, Aster explains to me, he would leave little notes for his lover accompanied by small drawings.
Then, in 1998, for Aster’s birthday, his boyfriend purchased canvasses, brushes, paint, “everything.” His painting career began.
Aster’s husband was the most important catalyst for his career shift, but the artist recounts other key moments throughout his lifetime, including his relocation to Washington, D.C. from his native Brazil in 1995. He recounts the awe he felt when discovering DC’s free museum network:
“You can go there and just let yourself feel all that beauty.”
Early on in his painting career, he became inspired by artists that specialized in abstraction, and began painting more figurative works.
In 2015, Aster felt the “urge to do something different.” He describes how he fell in love with geometric art, which was new to him. He names artist Mary Heilmann as a particular source of inspiration for him.
Early events in Aster’s life may also have helped propel his shift to geometric style. Aster’s father, still living but now suffering from dementia, used to work with wood. Thoughtfully recalling his childhood, Aster remembers that his father used to create professional drawings as part of his work, and that he also produced models as part of his career. The art Aster produces now is reminiscent of the color schemes and clear lines, and early on in his career he was motivated to produce drawings because of his memories of his father.
He also cites Roberto Burle Marx, a well-known Brazilian landscape architect, as an early inspiration. He remembers the famous Copacabana sidewalks.
Changes in his personal life continue to open doors for Aster as he sees his painting career grow and change with the tides:
“Moving to Florida is what is bringing me the chance to pursue my art professionally, full time, and the opportunity to have a gallery here where I can show other artists that I really like and I can give them an opportunity.”
In describing his main challenges to continuing to paint, Aster da Fonseca had one word: space. In his recent relocation to Florida to set up his own gallery, he was confronted with a new reality: “My studio,” he explained, “is the garage.”
Undeterred by spacial constraints, Aster has recently completed a new series, “The Green House Across the Canal,” which has an elegantly simple history:
“The house is a little green house across the canal. I sit there, and I look at it, and that color, depending on the time of day, of the canal and the sun inspire me.”
I ask Aster what he hopes viewers will take away from observing his work. He responded that it is not so much about his intention, but about the viewer’s interpretation. He mentions another great inspiration of his, whose book he is currently reading: Agnes Martin, a minimal and abstract painter. She, too, discusses the importance of art as something that tells one more about the viewer.
I ask Aster how he believes that different communities can speak to one another through art. He states, with no hesitation, that social media is a powerful tool not to be underestimated:
“The best way of interacting [with artists of different communities] is through social media. It’s a very good way of seeing and knowing what’s going on, especially if you’re following artists that are emerging… the internet is something that has become a door for many people, including me.”
We spend some time discussing Western versus non-Western art, and his influences, which he states have been almost exclusively Western. “But that’s what’s powerful,” he reminds me, “now that you have brought this up, I can go research artists of non-Western origin like Iranian artists.”
Finally, I ask Aster if he has any word of advice for aspiring artists. His words would sound cliché if not for the fact that he is a non-native English speaker with no formal artistic training. He blows me away:
“Art is something that you do because you love it. Sometimes you can be really successful at it, sometimes nobody will appreciate it, but it’s you. And you should be doing it until you die.”
You can discover more of Aster da Fonseca’s work at http://www.asterdafonseca.com/, on Instagram (follow “Shawpainter”), or by visiting his gallery, da Fonseca Contemporânea (2201 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors, FL 33305).