“I paint my personal life.”
Paul Zimmerman in conversation with Estela Robles Galliano
Paul Zimmerman: When did you become interested in art?
Estela Robles Galliano: As a child, I really liked to draw. I was fascinated with designing costumes for my paper dolls. I preferred to design their outfits instead of using the ones they brought. Loved to paint landscapes and flowers on their pockets, sleeves and collars. Unified themes with roads or rivers. My parents helped me deal with shyness by offering me the opportunity to take piano lessons. Loved it also, since it made me feel important, when visitors came and they asked me to play a piece of music for them. I studied piano until I entered university, at the age of sixteen. When I entered the University of PR., Mayagüez Campus, in 1959, I enrolled in the Department of Sciences. In the Humanities courses, I began to fall in love with the art classes. The teacher discovered artistic potential in me and I was very enthusiastic when my work was exhibited, for the first time, in an “Open House” activity at the University. I felt that I preferred the arts and decided to change for the Humanities Department. It was one of the wisest decisions that I have ever made in my life. For many years, I enjoyed my work as a teacher in different university centers, in the Departments of Social Sciences and Humanities and Drawing and Painting Instructor.
PZ: You work in various styles. Which one is your favorite?
ERG: My style has been intrinsically figurative but, as well as my tastes, it has varied through the ages, depending on the circumstances in which I am living. I have experimented with Goya’s romantic style, applying the Caribbean colors; Cezánne’s Impressionism; surrealism by Salvador Dalí, Kandinsky’s abstract fauvist and digital with Adobe.When I am painting realist, I am the teacher who wants the observer to clearly grasp what I am communicating. In this new pandemic world, I decided to do something different. As I like to experiment, I temporarily stopped using realistic watercolors and am excited to work abstracts with fluid acrylic, pouring out subliminal messages, generally unexpected, with my favorite colors and diversity of textures. I see advantages and disadvantages in all media and styles. With oil I can achieve more textures, it is slow to dry (which annoys me), but without glass it is easier to store and safer and cheaper to transport. With watercolor, I can achieve more details than with oil, it is more delicate, it does not take as long to work and the process is cleaner. Abstract acrylic, which I started my first washes with, is excellent in so many ways that it has recently become my favorite medium and style.
PZ: What subjects are you interested in? What topics are you interested in?
ERG: “Healthy for the soul” themes. I say that they are healthy for the soul because I capture and manifest the beauty, aesthetically pleasing. Nothing that involves violence, controversies or politics. I paint my personal life, my experiences, interests in different stages of my life, the people I have lived with, the places I know best, that I find interesting or beautiful, such as landscapes, flowers, children, still lives. I show my subject with poetic qualities, pleasing to the eye, with a touch of elegance, emotionally clear. Sometimes I present ordinary scenes, dramatizing them to transcend the ordinary. The subject will guide me whether I use cool and soft hues, or warm colors and strong strokes, with rhythm or stillness. I love tropical colors, where I can include my favorite color, purple, which I combine with everything. In addition, I like to publicize the cultural relevance and value of the existing art in Puerto Rico.
PZ: What is your artistic process? How do you create your paintings?
Some works I have been gestating and planning in my mind for many months, other times they arise suddenly.Whenever I go outside, I find multiple ideas as possible targets. I frequently take photos for reference, capturing positive aspects. I invent a situation, imagining and sublimating how I see and feel it, or how I want it to look. When I return home, I analyze my ideas and turn into themes that I sometimes write down as future “Titles of paintings”. I prefer to paint in my studio because I am comfortable and organized. Besides being more intimate, I do not have to struggle with wind, light, mosquitoes, discomfort and focus well without inappropriate noises. In my study-library-workshop, standing in front of my table, I look for my notes, play with my thoughts, my feelings, and communicate with my God asking for his help. Before I start to transport my drawing to paper or canvas I say to myself, “Dare yourself”, now, start experimenting and enjoying. When I see that I finished it, I give big thanks to my Lord.
PZ: Do you have a particular goal in mind when you start a new piece?
ERG: I usually do them for myself, to have fun, to enjoy it. I feel fortunate for this Blessing and I propose to share it with my family, fellow friends and Puerto Ricans living abroad who love to relive their experiences on the island. They have written to me “It touched my nostalgic nerve”. That please me because that is precisely one of my aspirations. In addition, I want to reach a new audience, for the new world post COVID 19.
PZ: How do you know when the painting is finished?
ERG: For me, the work is finished when I like the idea that I presented, achieved my way, with the planned mediums and tools. The observer complements the idea of seeing the finished work with his positive comments, showing that he understands it because they are part of them, he has lived the experience, wishes he had lived it or simply saying that he likes it.
PZ: How did your practice change over time?
ERG: He or she who studies my works follows the steps of my life. It can be said that they is reviewing my biography because my personal life, my philosophy of life, my experiences, interests in different stages of my life, the people with whom I have lived or known, the materials and preferred techniques are captured and exposed. It is that in my works I sincerely manifest myself, just as I am and feel, without repressing anything and in my own way, depending on the time and situations that I am living. I am currently fascinated with abstract or semi abstract fluid acrylic, experimenting with innovative materials and techniques. I have always considered Kandinsky’s works jewels, even if I do not understand his abstracts, I like them, like when I listen to certain music in a language I don’t know, but I l like its rhythm.
PZ: How would you describe yourself as an artist?
ERG: I am a happy artist; I love and enjoy everything I do, with joy and enthusiasm. Above all, by transporting the observers of my paintings so that they know more and better the beauties of the Boricua people, the traditions of my Puerto Rico and the beautiful beaches of my town of Aguadilla. I am committed to educating about the value of the arts for the mental health of children, adults and the elderly. In 1996, my book “You can be an artist” was published and sold at Borders Libraries in Puerto Rico. I have been the founder and member of the Board of Directors of multiple visual arts organizations. I have always valued my colleagues, encouraged and celebrated their successes. In 1999, I proposed to the Senate of Puerto Rico to celebrate the “Week of the Puerto Rican Artist Painter”, which was converted into Law 187, approving the event that is held annually in December. Currently, I am the President of Artistas Pintoras de Puerto Rico Asociadas, Inc.
PZ: Where do you find inspiration for your paintings?
ERG: Everything that is around me. “Subjects” with dignity as characters, be they children or adults, rich or poor, flowers, buoyant trees, contrasts of lights, the beautiful beaches of Puerto Rico, freshly painted or old yolas (boats). I capture their positive, poetic aspects, sublimating how I see and feel them, or how I want them to look. I create a situation or tell a story. I have used songs, literature and poems to inspire me, because I am convinced that the arts complement each other. I feel pleasure in pictorially capturing what other artists, such as our great composer, Don Rafael Hernández, with rhythm, color, sensuality and drama, felt. Inspired by music, I can paint applying all the colors, depending on the rhythm and the theme. I know that some artists have influenced my paintings. Consciously none. Unconsciously they have been Kandinsky, Winslow Homer, Goya, Salvador Dalí and Miguel Ángel.
PZ: How does the pandemic influence your work and sensitivity?
ERG: The pandemic prompted me to paint abstracts. I have wanted to do something new and different for a long time and the time has come for me, COVID 19. Its doubtful and deadly origin challenged me to change and face these difficult moments. At the same time, it stimulated my creativity, challenging my cravings for artistic freedom. I am immersed in creating with fluid acrylics. These techniques, so diverse and versatile, have my mind racing, susceptible, perceiving new situations, which I can present with luxury of colors. I have always said that painting is a therapy and now I say that fluid acrylic is the antioxidant vitamin to painting.