From Suzy Gonzalez

26.10.2015 - 09.12.2015

My trip to Peru was nothing short of amazing. I knew I would be spending most of my time with The Trelex Residency in the rainforest, but I also wanted to explore the mountainous parts of the country. Before heading to Puerto Maldonado, I was a photography volunteer with an incredible conservation organization called Fauna Forever. I earned some great hiking, bird watching, and photography experience with them and was fortunate enough to get to visit Machu Pichu as well. I would highly recommend spending some time around Cusco before or after the residency to take advantage of the diverse regions and climates of the country, and it never hurts to volunteer for a good cause!

From Cusco, I chose the 30 minute flight to Puerto Maldonado rather than a 10 hour bus ride. I first stayed at Refugio Amazonas for about a week before heading to the Tambopata Research Center. I didn’t want to get too comfortable there, so I worked on collages from the photographs I had gathered in Cusco, and decided to not start painting until I settled down. Moving to TRC was such an exciting time. It is much more secluded and I felt I had all the time in the world to experience nature and conceptualize my work. The trickiest part for me was balancing the urge to explore with producing work. I didn’t let this stress me out though. I knew I could always paint back home. 

Pedro Peruano y Los Siete Borreguitos, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24''

Min Kim and I were each given a room with two twin size beds. As there was no easel available, I worked with what I had and used my second bed as a sort of painting table. There was a small side table that I could also place my paints and palette on. I would recommend to never leave wet paint uncovered as the macaws will step in it and then continue to step on everything else in your room! On that note, I used acrylic paints here, as I was pretty sure oil paints would never dry in this climate. On rainy days, the acrylic would act a bit like oil paint, not drying until the next day. However, on days when it was incredibly hot and dry, my paint was almost like glue, and this was frustrating to work with (I tend to prefer the consistency of oils).

Selva vs. Agricultura, digital collage

The time frame to work for me was from 7am-5pm, as the sun was my only light source and it would get dark pretty early. The evenings were a great time for me to get some reading done, but I should have brought more books as I finished mine about halfway through my trip. I was constantly taking photographs as inspiration for my paintings. My favorite time to go out was at night, taking micro photos of insects and spiders, and catching a nice starry night every once in a while. The daytime was best for capturing monkeys, birds, and plant life. With these photos, I would make collages by hand or mostly on my computer, which I would then paint from. I brought a travel printer with me, which was nice, but not totally necessary in retrospect. I was able to make three paintings there, and I’m continuing to work on the series. Sometimes when I didn’t feel like painting, I would try to do a daily blind contour drawing of something, usually of my face or an insect that had been hanging out in my room. I was able to travel to Peru on a Grad Studies Grant from the Rhode Island School of Design, and my proposal had been to make paintings that observed colonization and deforestation, and how these resulted in the displacement of beings. I stayed true to these concepts in an theoretical manner, collaging parts of people, animals, and objects that I came across. My original idea of Hybridizing the Rainforest evolved after my experiences ran together into more of a hybridization of different beings that I came across in Peru.

Muter Llama desde Cusco, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18''

The food was fantastic, and the kitchen was incredibly kind in preparing vegan food for me. There was no shortage of nutrients; I ate very well. It was also incredibly helpful to know enough Spanish to communicate on a basic level with non-English speakers. Min and I would go into the forest with a guide a few times a week, usually after lunch so we could have the mornings to work. We would either join up with a tourist group or go with a guide who wasn’t working at the moment and just wanted to explore (Julian). They all knew their way around quite well and knew so much about the wildlife. I really learned a lot from these excursions, and was able to go back to my field guides afterwards and check off all of the animals I had seen that day.

I learned so much in Peru about Mother Nature, the life, death, and rebirth of all of the organisms in the rainforest, and about my own connection to, and appreciation of it all. It is a rare opportunity to get to be surrounded by the pure beauty of nature for so long, and I’m so grateful to have gotten to experience it. I’ll never forget this trip and the many friendly faces I met along the way. I have so much to relay from my time there that I’m in the early stages of making a comic book about it. I hope to return some day soon for my art and my spirit.

Muter de Flor, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24'

For more information, please visit the website of Suzy Gonzalez here.

For more photos from Suzy's trip to Peru, please go to her Facebook Album here.

Min Kim's Blog 

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