Mercat de Sant Antoni (oil on wood panel, 30x40)

Jessica Bastidas’ Passions of Art and Travel Converge in a Wealth of International Experiences Artists Network

Art on the Move

Maryland artist and teacher Jessica Bastidas has a deep love for both travel and art-making, and she sees many connections between the two. “Both art and travel require being fully present in the moment,” she says. “When traveling, you must develop cognitive flexibility to adapt to new situations or form connections across disparate worldviews. Travel breaks the monotony, forcing you out of your comfort zone in a way that allows you to understand your shortcomings, celebrate your strengths and learn more about yourself and the world.

“As in art, it’s OK to be uncomfortable, or feel lost, or even fail,” Bastidas continues. “It’s all part of the process. You may stumble using a new language, or misread a map, or get caught in a storm, but the important lesson in travel and in art is to persevere, adapt and grow.”

The Melding of Travel and Art

As an artist, Bastidas tries to remain open to new experiences. “Travel allows me to meet new people and engage in challenging and complex dialogues with individuals who hold different perspectives and values,” she says. “It’s a way of confronting, challenging and dissolving the borders we create between us.

“Although borders are often used as a means of separation and marginalization,” she continues, “the periphery is also an area of dynamic exchange that demands that we critically deconstruct our own prejudice and privilege. By combining travel and art-making, you can use art to acknowledge power, politics and diversity.”

Bastidas has traveled extensively, both internationally and in the United States. Her first memory of traveling is of the time her mom piled her five kids into an RV for a wildly unforgettable road trip across the Southern states. “It was her way of coping with a particularly rocky divorce—and our first introduction to the incredible complexity, diversity and beauty of our country,” the artist says. “My sister and I have a dream of hiking in every national park in the United States. We’ve visited 37 of the 63, having ticked two more off our list last November.”

The Lure of International Travel

Many of Bastidas’ destinations have been inspired by her interest in social justice and equity that was sparked by her college studies. The artist graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art and Design (MICA) in Baltimore, Md., with a dual major in illustration and humanistic studies; a minor in art history; and concentrations in printmaking and book arts.

In 2017, Bastidas completed MICA’s Master of Arts in Teaching program. “My decision to get a dual degree in illustration and humanistic studies was motivated by my desire to better understand human nature in a global context,” she says. “I took classes in creative writing, global perspectives and ethnography. I explored themes that impacted my art practices, including art as research, and the analysis of power, cultural mixture and intersectionality.”

These studies combined to pique Bastidas’ interest in studying and teaching art in international settings, and she has done stints in several locations over the years. “While on scholarship at MICA, I did a semester abroad in Florence, Italy, through its partnership with Studio Arts College International,” she says. “It was an amazing experience to travel throughout Italy and study Renaissance works on-site.”

Bastidas spent the next summer living with a German couple on their family farm in Tuscany through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. “I spent my mornings taking care of goats, painting shutters and tending a garden in exchange for free housing and food,” she says. “I had afternoons and weekends free to explore. As you can imagine, the Tuscan countryside was the perfect place to draw, paint and journal.” The artist also applied to various foundations for summer travel opportunities. “For example, my time in SãoTomé [an island nation off the coast of Africa] was funded by the Fund for Education Abroad, which supports students of color and first-generation college students participating in education-abroad programs.”


The Environment as Subject Matter

While in Dublanc, Dominica, where she volunteered for a month, Bastidas developed her skills in the art of assemblage out of necessity. She taught some community-based arts classes to a variety of age groups, but due to the lack of access to traditional art-making materials, her students adopted found objects into their art. “In my own work, the medium of assemblage demonstrates that memory, identity and experience are constructed patchworks,” she says. This, too, is true for her students.

For her “São Tomé” series, Bastidas notes that some of the materials “came from dumpsters or the roadside. Whenever possible, I like to collect the assemblage materials from the locale.” (See Fastened Shut in slideshow.) Bastidas says the process of sculpting an assemblage frame is quite improvisational. “I lay all of my materials out on the floor and arrange them into piles depending on what elements seem to be in dialogue with the portrait,” she notes. “Then it’s all about call and response as I try to balance the sculptural elements with the 2D image.”

Even when she’s not including physical artifacts in a painting, Bastidas’ images often feature the illusion of layered textures and objects, as in her oil painting After Floyd.

More recently, Bastidas traveled to Spain to walk the Camino Frances pilgrim trail. The engaging experience inspired many paintings of the lively and diverse villages along the trail, such as Via de Madrid.

As with her other travels, Bastidas approached this trip in a cost-effective manner. “As a single woman and art teacher, I have to be thrifty, so I find ways to make travel more affordably,” the artist says. “As a pilgrim, you can stay in the Donativo albergues, which are donation based. You can also stay cheaply in hostels. And beyond the flight to get to Spain, you don’t have to worry about travel costs because you’re just relying on your feet to carry you the 500 miles from St. Jean Pied de Port to Cape Finisterre.”

The Sketchbook as Visual Journal

During her travels, Bastidas creates detailed records of her experiences in sketchbooks. Unlike some artists who use a sketchbook to capture fleeting ideas or impressions, Bastidas works to develop fully rendered paintings and drawings such as those from her West Coast sketchbook.

“I’ve always been interested in the book as an ‘art object,’” she says. At MICA, Bastidas took courses in bookbinding, visual journalism, poetry and printmaking. “That education inspired a shift from viewing my sketchbook as a messy receptacle for half-done sketches, random lists and doodles to what it is now—a focused visual journal of my most impactful experiences,” she says. “I view my sketchbook as a safe place to experiment.”

One of Bastidas’ favorite teachers, Roger Brinker, used to say, ‘Learning to draw is learning to see.’ For Bastidas, sketching is a daily discipline—a deliberate practice that forces her to slowdown and observe. “A travel journal attunes me to my environment,” the artist says. “I regard my sketchbooks as my most personal work because they record experiences that are fleeting, and they allow me to reflect and remember.”

Bastidas finds that working in a sketchbook is a great way to connect to people. “I can’t count how many times I’ve been sitting on the side of a trail or in a café, and a stranger has approached to ask what I was working on,” the artist says. “Sometimes these strangers become travel companions or friends, but other times I may never see them again. I love to make quick drawings of these people and gift the sketches to them before they go.”

The Inherent Connectivity of Art

Although she now teaches high school art full time, Bastidas still undertakes some commissions. “The excitement and challenge of commercial work is that you’re working for a client who determines the timeline, content and parameters of the project,” she says. “It’s a creative challenge to translate the idea the client has envisioned into a visual form. The creative process is a push and pull, a compromise, but one that can transcend what either the client or the artist could have accomplished individually.”

Bastidas says that because her primary income is from teaching, she has more control over the types of projects she accepts. She worked, for example, on a project in partnership with the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum titled Women, Environmentalism and Justice. “It was wonderful,” she says, “because it highlighted women of color who made major contributions to environmental policy and reform.”

For Bastidas, the making of art is deeply personal. “In many ways, it’s inherently autobiographical in nature,” she says. “I’m drawn to subjects that echo people from my own past: powerful women and resilient children. In my personal life, I sometimes struggle to connect with other people. I think my focus on portraiture is, in part, motivated by that search for connection as well as a recognition of humanity’s capacity for compassion and resilience. For me, it’s important for a wide audience to see themselves and their everyday lives reflected in my subject matter.

“As an art educator and member of a minority, I believe that creating art that celebrates a wide breadth of identities strengthens community,” Bastidas concludes. “I hope that my work can promote reflections that lead to a deeper understanding of other peoples’ perspectives.”

This is just one of the helpful articles you’ll find in the May/June 2023 issue of Artists Magazine, which you can find here.

Canadian artist Ruth Rodgers enjoys writing about art and artists.

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