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 is matter to you when your viewer read 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.