Lupe Núñez-Fernández’s paintings look effortless, as if the inky brushstrokes rendering pensive humans, curious animals and bleeding landscapes were applied in just a few deft wrist-flicks. But her relationship with art is hardly casual: in addition to technical training, Núñez-Fernández holds a PhD in modern art history, and over the last few years, she has spent time writing about, researching and curating contemporary art for a variety of publications and galleries. This is all in addition to her music career, which she began in London more than ten years ago as one-half of the punkish twee duo Pipas, and which she most recently continued as one-half of the experimental bossa-nova duo Amor de Dias, a collaboration with The Clientele’s Alasdair MacLean. Though she keeps most of her artwork private, she’s been responsible for both bands’ album covers and was happy to shed a little light on her creative process — or, I should say, creative processes.
Design*Sponge is also super excited to debut the video for the song “Late Mornings” from Amor de Dias’ debut LP, Street of the Love of Days, out May 17 on Merge Records. The video was animated by artist Xana Kudrjavcev-DeMilner, with whom Núñez-Fernández attended undergrad and collaborated in the past on video-art installations. Kudrjavcev-DeMilner collected found materials for the video, then scissored them into a kind of visual stream-of-consciousness that plays on the song’s shimmering instrumentation and Núñez-Fernández’s shy, dreamy vocals. — Rachael Maddux
Tell me about how you first came into being a visual artist — did you take lessons as a child?
Lupe Núñez-Fernández: It’s actually something kind of funny because I’ve never really thought about it being a thing that I did, but it’s something that I’ve always done from the very, very, very beginning. My family always encouraged it — I remember being very young and always drawing at home. My parents were not professional artists, but there’s a kind of artistic streak on my mom’s side of the family — my great-grandfather was a court painter in Spain. There used to be a lot of court painters in Spain. He wasn’t, like, Velasquez or anything — but there was always this myth in my mind. So it’s kind of like, there’s a reason I’m into this stuff. My great-grandfather and my grandfather used to paint, too — we had his paintings in my house. There was just something that was just really familiar. Nobody gave [my art] any special attention, and I never really gave it any special attention.
Fast forward a little bit and when I went to school, art was something I did on the side — even in college, I was in small group shows and things, but it was more like my hobby. I didn’t really study it in a fine-art context. I was studying art history, but I wasn’t painting. And then in 1999, I was living in New York and I just decided, “Look, I’m going to see what I can do, what kind of classes I can take.” I ended up going to the place called the New York Studio School. It’s very traditional training, mostly based on drawing. So I did a couple of weeks of that and it just blew my mind. That’s really my only actual education in terms of art school. I’ve done a lot of — I’ve gone to grad school in art history, I work in contemporary art, I work on books on contemporary art. I’m surrounded by other people’s work, but my own track is very slowly evolving. I think now I’m finally having more time, making more time to do it.
CLICK HERE for the rest of Lupe’s interview after the jump!
I was wondering — as a person who thinks about contemporary art a lot and is around it and studies it and has to have a dialogue with it, how does that affect what you’re actually creating, if it does at all?
Lupe Núñez-Fernández: I think there’s something about knowing and thinking — when you’re looking at other people’s art, you try to view the scope of it, see what immediate reaction it provokes and try to communicate something about it so you can share something about it, and you have to do it in words. I think it makes you really self-conscious about the way other people might see your work. (Laughs) So what’s hard is that I’ve kind of developed a very, very personal relationship with art-making in that I sort of almost don’t want people to see it. (Laughs) So that’s part of why there’s not much you can find, because there isn’t much online. And I think that’s why people don’t really discuss my art or consider it except on the sleeve of a Pipas record or the Amor de Dias record. It’s like I sort of want to keep people from talking about it in order to keep it really sacred.
Image above: Cover art for Pipas’ Bitter Club LP, photography by Lupe Núñez-Fernández
You make music and put it out in the world — do you have that same kind of hesitation about sharing that aspect of what you make?
Lupe Núñez-Fernández: Strangely, no. It seems counterintuitive, but with music — maybe it’s because it’s collaborative, it’s something that’s been already created and already shared and I think that sharing, it’s a very personal thing. And I feel that in a way [visual art is] something that’s kind of like a private language sometimes. So there’s amazing joy in being able to share, and I’ve done it before and I feel like, “Oh yeah, this is why I made the image,” in a way — it communicates something. But somehow it’s like, I dunno, with music it’s a more open type of thing.
Do you have any kind of process or routine for making art, or is it more scattershot in between your other projects?
Lupe Núñez-Fernández: I try to draw — that’s something I do almost like a meditation. For example, I’ll go for a walk then sit down and do a really long drawing of an idea. And it’s almost like after that I can do something really very quickly and kind of spontaneous — somehow there’s something more imperfect about the final work than the [original] drawing. It’s almost like an exercise in seeing and making something. I’ll sort of work on it over and over and over again and the end product is more like a — almost like the film director Robert Bresson, who used to force actors in some of his films to do the same take twenty times or thirty times and at the end they’d be so tired, and he’d have them do it again and that’s the take that becomes the moment. It has the most meaning. That’s kind of my approach.
Image above: “Moody Corgi” (original, non-music-related artwork)
When you’re making music, if you’re working on a song or collaborating with someone else, what does that look like? Do you also take walks for other kinds of inspiration?
Lupe Núñez-Fernández: It’s funny because I was thinking about that today. I think, like, every song I ever wrote has come up during a walk. It’s almost unconscious. I guess I do a lot of walking and that ends up being one of the only times I’m alone and not distracted doing something else. So music, a lot of times, in my first band Pipas — it’s [was] a similar approach, unconsciously, to the drawing. I would just sort of do a lot of really odd exercises, live takes, and then eventually when we actually recorded, just do one thing. Actually, with Amor de Dias I tried a completely different approach, which was much more craft-based, where I actually tried to affect something as opposed to just doing something in kind of a exercise, meditative way — sort of an odd explosion. With Amor de Dias, there’s much more labor and working on things, layer by layer, so that it builds organically. So that’s been kind of amazing. And that’s kind of how I started — when I was talking about that experience at Studio School, for a summer, that’s when I was doing oil painting, which is so boring. (Laughs) It’s this very traditional style — it required so much patience, and I would sit and kind of stare at different stages of the layering. It takes so much patience, and craft and ingenuity.
Looking through the Pipas discography, I can tell a couple covers are yours — are there any others?
Lupe Núñez-Fernández: On all the proper releases, not the compilations, I did the artwork, and Mark Powell — who’s the other member of Pipas — he did the design. The ones with the photographs are mine. . . . I did the photograph for [Amor de Dias], too — I don’t know if you can tell, but the photograph [on the cover], Alastair and I were looking down into this artificial lake in the middle of a park in Madrid. And I was taking pictures that day, and we were looking down into this lake, and he said, “Oh look, there we are,” so he basically showed me the photograph — you can see that I’m holding a camera. That’s kind of like we collaborated.