Meet Teresa Zerafa Byrne, an artist who questions the validity of memory and challenges our concepts of personal identity.
Fascinated by how memory can be prompted, and how individuals’ perceptions of the same information can lead to wildly varying reactions, Teresa is an artist with a captivating and unique creative process. Discover Teresa’s story, the power of ‘controlled freedom’, and the value of patience…
Hi Teresa! You pursued a different path before completing a fine art degree in 2015. Did you always know you’d make the career switch to art? How did you find the process?
I always wanted to study fine art, however it was something on the distant horizon. I finally realised after quite a while, that if I didn’t make the leap at that point then I would probably never would. To be honest I initially planned to only complete a foundation course, however I was encouraged by my wonderful tutor David J Batchelor to continue onto a BA course.
The foundation course was a great entry point for me. I had spent so much time out of education, and with David’s support and encouragement I realised that I wanted to commit absolutely to becoming an artist. Completing the BA Hons Fine Art course at Chelsea was a dream come true. The course enabled me to explore all types of fine art, without having to label myself as a painter or a sculptor and that is still the case. I create works in different media depending on what feels appropriate to the idea or project. I don’t like to describe myself as a painter or a sculptor. I’m an artist.
Your artwork leaves a lot of room for interpretation, covering themes of identity, memory and perception. What story are you telling?
My current work continues the theme of memory reconstruction and I have been focusing on creating paintings, often using my Maltese heritage as inspiration. The paintings are drawn from memories and abstracted such that the elements collate to form an emotional response using colour, rather than a literal interpretation.
I’m fascinated by how memories can be prompted by those of others, so whilst my works are mainly inspired by my own of Malta, I want people to feel a connection with my work, and to discover something about themselves. Through exploring my memories I’m hoping to prompt a reaction of familiarity with the viewer that makes the work personal to them too; I suppose a shared affinity, which then creates that connection.
Another of my fascinations is how individuals’ perceptions of the same information can lead to wildly varying reactions. My works often prompt the viewer to ‘see’ images or shapes within them. It’s a phenomenon called pareidolia and it’s when we try to make sense of random shapes and see relatable forms amongst the abstract shapes; like when we see an elephant in the clouds or a face looking at us amongst the shadows in a curtain. It’s amazing how different audiences perceive different images in my paintings and once something has been pointed out within the work it suddenly becomes obvious!
I’ve heard you talk about ‘controlled freedom’ in your creative process. Can you tell us more about that? Is it true you don’t always see the finished piece until the end?
‘Controlled freedom’ is my description of how I often apply materials within my paintings. I use lots of different ways of application and I sometimes like to allow the materials to find their own path whilst at the same time restricting and manipulating them. It sounds like a contradiction in terms but it’s the best way I can describe it.
I mainly use the ‘controlled freedom’ method when I’m painting on acrylic glass and the painting is created in reverse. I liken each layer within my paintings as a separate detail of a memory. These layers overlap and interact with each other affecting and changing those that come before and after. Just as a memory is a collection of details ‘seen’ together, my paintings are multiple layers seen together; responses to an event which are collected together in a single view. I meticulously plan the order and placement of the materials however when they are created in reverse I don’t see the piece until the very end. It’s only at that point that I get to see whether the finished piece reflects what I was thinking of.
2017 was an exciting year for you! What’s the most important thing you learned?
It’s certainly been a busy year. I’ve had my work in quite a few events and I was delighted to be included in the Young Contemporary Purchase Prize 2017 run by the Ingram Collection. Thankfully the young in the title refers to stage in artistic career! Not only was my work in the show at the Cello Factory, the organisers held sessions for the selected artists which were exceptionally helpful.
The most important thing I’ve learnt is defiantly the value of patience. After graduating I was so eager to start my career I was impatient to succeed. It’s exhausting! This last year I’ve found it’s more important to consider my choices rather than jumping into everything with both feet, and to allow myself the time to select those things that I really want to do and concentrate on them.
You’ve done a fantastic job of building an online presence. How important is it for emerging artists to embrace the digital world?
I don’t think artists can afford to not embrace it. By its very nature the digital world is a visual medium and as such is perfect for artists. We are able to have our work seen, albeit a digital version, around the world and reach a massive audience. Prior to social media, promoting one’s work was much harder and expensive, however now we can reach a huge number of people and mostly for free! Whilst the bricks and mortar galleries and shows will always be important, the ability for artists to promote themselves on the internet means that they can make themselves discoverable. It’s because of the internet that my work has been purchased by collectors in America and Canada.
The ability to search other artists has been very helpful. I discovered whilst looking online that there is another artist called Teresa Byrne in Australia. I was once taking part in an art focus group and the intern put up the wrong website for my introduction. Whilst she has a very different style to me it was confusing, hence I changed my working name to Teresa Zerafa Byrne. A new website (www.teresazerafabyrne.com) which reflects my working name, has finally been launched so the complete transition over to that site will require a bit of planning. I’ve had to learn a few new skills to embrace the digital world but I’ve had fun doing so.
What are you looking forward to in 2018? Do you have an “artistic” new year’s resolution?
I’ve a few events lined up already for 2018, so I’m going to be busy with them. I’ve been producing more works on canvas recently and I want to continue with my latest series of works. I’m thinking about studying for an MA, and I’ve found one course in particular that I’m really eager to look at as it seems perfect for me, however it depends on a few other things so it’s not definite!
As for “artistic “ resolutions for the new year I suppose it’s to continue pushing myself, and to make sure that the work I produce excites me. If I don’t feel excited about my work why should anyone else?
Interview from http://about.zealous.co/articles/meet-Teresa/
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Artist in Focus: Teresa Zerafa Byrne
Hi Teresa! When did you start to make art?
Like most artists, I suspect, I can’t remember a time in my life when art wasn’t a part of it. I remember as a child looking at things around the house wondering how I could make them into sculptures and that sense of curiosity never left me. I created work for my myself and friends however I didn’t become a full-time artist until a few years ago, after I saw my son studying for his degree in art. I realised that he was doing what I wanted to do, so I completed a foundation course and then studied Fine Art at Chelsea and I haven’t stopped creating since.
Do you have a favourite tool?
Not really, I like trying out lots of different application techniques. I do use conventional artist’s tools however I also make use of many household objects and more often than not my fingers. Actually, if I was pushed I’d have to say my hands. I love the direct connection with the materials. The down side is I have permanently stained fingernails, and nail varnish is a complete waste of time.
What part of the working process do you enjoy most?
One of my painting techniques means that I apply the paint in reverse and don’t see the finished piece until I turn the work over. That’s my absolute favourite time in that process, as up until then I am working purely instinctively and emotionally, so it’s at the final reveal when I find out whether the piece was successful. I’m usually an impatient person however some of my pieces take months to create and thankfully I’m able to control the desire to sneak a peek. I also enjoy the planning that happens before any paint has even touched the substrate. I liken each layer of paint to a detail in a memory. These layers overlap and interact with each other forming the whole painting just as all the details form a whole memory. I dissect the memory and plan how I’m going to complete the work so whilst I don’t have a completed image in mind I have a sense or feeling of what it should be like.
If you have an idea of what a particular piece should look like, how close do you get when making it?
My paintings are mainly emotional responses rather than literal representations which result in abstract pieces. Whilst I have a general idea of how I want the work to look, the nature of the paint’s application means that it can’t and shouldn’t be predicted precisely. Some of the work has to be produced in reverse, so I have to plan meticulously but at the same time allow the materials to find their path. It’s a process I often refer to as ‘controlled freedom’.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
The best part of showing my work is being able to hear what people think, and I’ve been incredibly humbled by some of their responses. One of my first buyers told me that the painting felt very personal to him and that it summed up his emotions at the time as he was starting a new chapter in his life which was full of joy and hope. I consider a piece as really successful when people relate to it and tell me what it reminds them of, or if a feeling that they get from it then prompts a memory of their own. I also get excited when people see ‘things’ within the painting. Another frequent comment is how they love that some of the layers in my paintings change colour and appearance depending on their position, which is a result of the metallic and iridescent materials I use within them, and how the paintings have a real sense of depth.
Is being an artist a lonely job? Would you change that?
It can be a very lonely job however it doesn’t have to be. As my paintings are inspired by my memories I find I work best when I’m on my own anyway, however I do enjoy meeting fellow artists and discussing our practices. I make a point of finding time to meet up with other artists as often they have an interesting perspective on things which you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
Is there any preconception about art and artists you particularly dislike?
I’m afraid I was rather guilty myself of having a preconception that artists were aloof and elitist, and it actually put me off from following my dream for a while. Yet on the whole I’ve found the opposite to be true. I’ve met so many wonderful artists who are friendly and supportive, and I love exhibiting with them.
Does it matter to you when your viewer reads into your art things that you have not intended?
Absolutely not! It’s an important part of my work that the viewer can make an individual connection with them. I’m fascinated by how memories can be prompted by those of others, so whilst my works are mainly inspired by my own of Malta, I want them to connect personally with the viewer. There’s a phenomenon known as pareidolia and it’s when we try to make sense of random shapes and see relatable forms in the abstract shapes. It’s great fun having discussions about the things people perceive in my paintings and often once something has been pointed out within the work it suddenly becomes obvious!
Teresa creates stunning, layered compositions with acrylics where the acrylic glass adds to the depth and luminosity of the work. The hues seep into each other and create organic patterns that flow across the surface. She is inspired by the weather, memories and ideas of self.
Teresa exhibits across UK with her work finding its way to the home around the world .
Chelsea College of Arts Degree Show 2015 - Abject Dynamism Prevails
A second prevalent investigative theme was this idea of deconstruction/reconstruction. Teresa Byrne's Reconstruction recalls the famous 'Combines' of Robert Rauschenberg in their hybrid interaction between painting and sculpture and the evocation of experiences and recollections of the everyday world. Akin to veritable and tactile puzzles, each facet of the total is abstracted to the extent that only an essence of its original form remains, assuming a new identity of its own. As such, the constructions remain incomplete, locked in a space/time continuum and open to a 'multiplication of gazes'.
Not even a comprehensive catalogue can do justice to the works on display at Chelsea so much as can this brief synopsis give the full picture of the true scale and versatility in this show. And yet through just a comparatively feeble admiration of a few works are we be able to appreciate the exceptional quality of the cognitive realignment on offer in this 2015 degree show. Visitors will be sure to feel at times uncomfortable, challenged, humoured but moreover realigned with the contemporary world as they knew it.
Words Hannah Rosanne Poulton artlyst 2015
Full article available on
Degree Show Top Picks
So as the show heads into it's final few days we here in the Wood Workshop have once again come up with our top picks from the body of work on display. There is an abundance of good work on display throughout all the courses but for the first time that we can remember, all of our choices are from Fine Art. We also have a guest choice from new 3D Technical Coordinator, Frank Brown. Below are the picks.
Teresa Byrne BA Fine Art
Full post available at http://chelsea-workbench.blogspot.co.uk/