When I met Geraldina Interiano Wise for the first time at her studio just a few blocks from Musiqa’s Silver Street office, the first thing I noticed was her hands. They were constantly in motion — graceful, sweeping gestures and small, twitching movements. Her fingers are long, a trait any pianist would envy: she could probably get eleven or twelve white keys between the thumb and pinky of one hand. Like her hands, her mind churns at a thousand miles a minute. Imagine a mountain stream during the winter thaw — water droplets rushing over themselves, one second of sound encompassing an entire piece worth of fortes, pianos, and everything in between, but always toward a singular destination — her words are delivered like a brook flowing and falling, then coming to rest in a pond of freezing, refreshing ideas.
It’s taken her a lifetime to wind her way through the arts: architecture, history, archaeology, and finally studio art. Originally from El Salvador, Wise crafted her worldview — and her artistic ideals, techniques, and materials — by reflecting on her experience as an immigrant, a Maya descendant, and a champion of the idea that we are all interconnected. As a composer, I was interested to ask Wise about her process as a fellow artist. We discussed how an idea becomes a piece of art, what has shaped her mission, and what music inspires her when she’s painting.
EW: How do you prepare to paint a piece?
GIW: Because I’m an abstract painter, it’s not about seeing a beautiful flower and thinking to myself, I have to reproduce this. But there are feelings, there are gestures, that mean something. When I start thinking about a painting, I think, really, about a series of thoughts behind what I would like to portray. It’s never about one painting… when I was beginning painting, you start with one painting – what we call “onesies.” I don’t do onesies anymore. I do series. So it’s really an overarching thought of the series that I have to be very clear in my mind. When something really congeals in my mind as to, what is it that I really need to do, that’s when I start a series.
EW: From that, you would have to know yourself really well… to be able to take the thoughts in your head and nail them down and say, yes, this is at the core of what I’m thinking.
GIW: Yes, I think that’s quite accurate. There are quite a few thoughts going through my mind of things that are important to me. The overarching thoughts, and what lets me know if something is in the purview of what I want to express, in every case, is “does this fit into my ultimate values of coexistence and connectivity.” So those are the two words. And it took me a long time to come to that, those two words. They exist in the dictionary, but they were not mine. Yet, when they came to me, I couldn’t separate them. They don’t easily fit into a hashtag, and yet I put them into a hashtag. They’re mine. If some gesture or shape that I’m thinking about doesn’t fit into that, I don’t do it.
EW: How long did it take you to come to your final power statement?
GIW: I’m going to say that it took a lifetime in the making. It has to do with the fact that each one of us has a story. I knew the facts about my story, but I didn’t know the “why” of so many of those facts. I knew that I’m a very scientifically-minded person, so I asked myself, how can I be this artist, and yet be so scientifically-minded? It took me going into my Maya patrimony, which I had never really focused on in El Salvador, because when I was there I was just me, and the people around me were just like me… but when I came to the United States, I became “the Hispanic,” and I had to rethink in my mind what that word means. I had to redefine, but I was thinking, I’m just me. Other people were defining me. So when I finally went back to just doing art, it became really important to me to know the answers. I went looking into my Maya patrimony, and I found so many of the reasons that I am me.
EW: That’s so interesting that such an ancient culture would be so prevalent in your life.
GIW: It’s not only so prevalent, but it’s also so deep that it’s in everybody’s life. That is the reason that I came up with connectivity. I understood that I am connected to the Maya, and that’s in my DNA. If I’m connected to the Maya, then how is everybody else connected? That’s a question I still wonder about. One of the many reasons I am so proud to be a Latina artist is because it’s almost like my reason for making art is to spread the hope — the hope that all these immigrants, who come from all walks of life, if they could know that they’re connected to this incredible intellectual patrimony, would they not tell their children, “look, you don’t have to do what I’m doing. You too can be somebody, because you have this inside of you.” Wouldn’t that be a beautiful message to give to all these people who are basically transparent in our society? I feel like because I found it myself, I wish that every child could find it. That’s what I want to put forth with my art.
EW: Something so primal, something older than nations, is such a good connector. It brings us together more than it separates us.
GIW: It’s a hard mission too, because how do you put that into visual codes? The idea of coexistence and connectivity needed to be that meaningful to me to be able to do it the hardest way. I needed to have that understanding in order to put all my energy and all my time, for the rest of my life, into this. The coexistence part of my value system for art has to do with the planet. Not only are we here coexisting with each other, and maybe art is that bridge, but it’s the coexistence with the planet. We are coexisting at the same time with the planet. We are sharing this planet, right now, with this group of people. As large as this group may be, the fact that we’re crossing paths with people when we go on a train, or a plane; it’s these random connections that, when I think about the fact that we’re sharing the planet, that these connections are meaningful to me. I think that’s a really hopeful way to look at the community. And I think art is a beautiful platform to put forth those types of conversations.
EW: Have you ever painted with music before?
GIW: I paint with music all the time. And it’s not that I always paint with music, it’s that there are times that I am feeling the energy of the universe at such a high level, it’s almost like a vibration, that I have to have music. And it never comes in low volume. It comes in as so immersive and big that I literally find myself dancing to the canvas. And it’s all kind of music, from violin music to classical guitar, which I played when I was young… and then there are the repetitive patterns of Bach’s fugues. And then I’ll get into, what’s her name? Camila Cabello. And she goes into the high-pitched, “nicotine, heroine” and that repetitive pattern of that just makes me dig. Music informs me, it always has. The music connects to me at that moment, and it’s reading me… it’s like we’re one. I know it sounds really strange.
This conversation continued for another forty minutes, spanning from her use of brooms and rakes in her art to her love of the number 13, to what she sees in her mind as she listens to the pieces you’ll hear at Traces of Blue. She’ll be on Musiqa’s podcast, “Inner Chamber,” in late December, sure to bring more discussion of art and music and how we fit into the culture of the world, and definitely much more Camila Cabello.
Geraldina Interiano Wise’s playlist