Borderstan welcomes new contributor Eliza French, a recent transplant to the Borderstan area. On the weekends you can find her volunteering at the Phillips collection, eating at Hank’s Oyster Bar, or window-shopping on 14th Street.
Aster da Fonseca has been a prolific artist since he first began painting in 1996 at age 35. As a new immigrant to the United States from his native Brazil, he discovered an instant affinity for the art form. Using self-taught techniques he closely observed in works at DC museums, da Fonseca brings the memories of his past in Brazil into the present immediacy of his paintings.
His section of a shared studio on 14th Street NW in Logan Circle overflows with varnished acrylic paintings whose bright color shine against on square wood panels. He paints with sponges and spatulas to add on thick layers of paint and manipulate the medium with an almost sculptural technique.
You can see da Fonseca’s paintings on display at gallery plan b in the gallery’s Year-End Group Show through December 24.
Most recently, da Fonseca has been experimenting with abstract works. A group of paintings with boldly colored organic forms floating against a slate gray background comprise his latest work, the “Silver Series.” However, like his earliest works, these abstract ones remain firmly grounded in concrete inspiration. He imagined water as he painted the designs, but what he most appreciates about pure abstraction — as a painter and as a viewer — is that each person can bring his or her own vision into the interpretation of the work.
Pointing out various paintings around the studio, he guides me through his transition from representational works, such as a contemporary take on a Dutch Golden Age portrait, to increasingly gestural works that evoke elements — water, sky — or a specific place. Da Fonseca says he rarely sketches directly on the background or plots the exact composition of a work before he paints.
Although his creative process is free-flowing, he carefully pre-meditates each work. His Copacabana series, with is undulating curvilinear forms and hot colors, vividly recalls the tropical locale. Da Fonseca shows me a sketchbook of sketches for the series, with early 1900s photos of the Copacabana landscape affixed to the pages. He skillfully translated that 20th Century terrain into series of works that speaks of his personal past as well as a nation’s collective cultural heritage.
As his artistic style evolved, da Fonseca settled into his role within the developing local art scene. Aside from a brief time in Capitol Hill, da Fonseca has lived and worked throughout the Dupont-Logan-U Street area for most of his time in the District. He is a member of Mid City Artists and works in his studio alongside four other members.
Da Fonseca talks easily from memory about the changing gallery landscape, about Paula and Dave of gallery plan b, and about Alex Gallery and Gallery A on R Street. He speaks of other local artists with admiration and laments the historically lackluster coverage of art in local media outlets. There is a high level of competition among many talented artists in DC, and da Fonseca believes these artists deserve more recognition.
At 50, da Fonseca has resigned himself to the necessity of a steady day job with the Brazilian Air Force to pay the bills and provide stability in his life. Still, he wishes he could live life exclusively as an artist working in his studio every day.
Surrounded by the art that track the arc of his career, he says, simply, “I wake up thinking of it, and I go to bed thinking of it.” He may never list “artist” as his official occupation, but da Fonseca’s passion and dedication show through the lines, shapes, and colors of his works.
You can see da Fonseca’s paintings on display beginning November 25, when gallery plan b will again feature da Fonseca’s works in the end-of-year group exhibit, Holiday Art “Bizarre,” through December 24.