Sandra Vásquez de la Horra

by Annalisa Giacinti, studio photos by Ryan Molnar // June 20, 2024

Sandra Vásquez de la Horra is a mother, a psychologist, an anthropologist and a cook, she tells me, when I ask her about her practice. Experienced in a variety of creative techniques, from xylography and typography through painting and drawing, she’s without a doubt a polyhedric artist with a propensity to experimentation. Born in Viña del Mar, Chile, De la Horra arrived in Germany when she was 28 years old—a figure that keeps recurring in her life: “Numbers are such a big thing in my life,” she says, captivatingly—to reunite with her former husband. She enrolled at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, where she studied under Jannis Kounellis—who believed in her drawings and encouraged her artistic career—before attending the Kunsthochschule für Medien in Cologne and finally ending up in Berlin.

However, it was back at Taller 99 in Santiago, while studying print, that the Chilean artist first became aware of her own creative freedom. Alone at the studio and unsupervised, De la Horra recalls the tingling feeling of stepping out of the strict confines of school-taught disciplines and tapping into the endless possibilities of creation. She had a go at multiple crafts; experimented with collage, performance and became interested in psychology. Today, painting and drawing—many instances of which are scattered all around her studio—are her preferred mediums.

Located on the first floor of a Kreuzberg altbau, the studio is gorgeously bright even on an overcast day. The main room, which is where De la Horra primarily works, faces the street, its wide windows framed by trinkets and plants of all sizes and kinds. A large white wooden table constitutes the heart of this room, and as we circle around it, De la Horra shares bits of her creative process. Kept in a display case is ‘Muertos Vivos’, a leporello she made to capture the “quite strong and complex feeling” of having to give up her Chilean citizenship to be able to stay in Germany. The drawing shows an open wooden casket from which a woman, her eyes wide open and knees up, raises a hand to a blank background. On the back, the same figure is ablaze.

The two drawings are made with graphite on paper and dipped in beeswax. “The graphite kept moving and shifting,” she explains, so the wax became a way to seal it, preserve and capture its softness, conferring the picture an object-like feel. The coating process takes place only after 4pm (once the kindergarten on the ground floor closes to avoid the smell reaching the children downstairs) in the guest bedroom, where four camping stoves are arranged to hold the wax bath.
On another corner of the table are some black and white sketches she is currently working on, and one bigger accordion-like leporello illustrating a woman’s head lying horizontally, her eyes closed and mouth agape. As the artist ventured from bidimensional to three dimensional, sculptural works, she started to implement colour too: from crayon, gouache, watercolour, to less common materials like sanguine or walnut essence. Because I’ve never heard of the latter before, De la Horra explains that it’s an old technique originating in landscape painting, while she paints a little doodle on a white piece of paper to show me its effect. “I love mixing anything traditional with wax and achieving something new. It’s fun, you can always discover new things.”

For De la Horra, it’s important to stress how novelty, variety, diversity are the qualities that underpin and motivate her artistic journey. “I’ve been reading the works of [Brazilian novelist] Clarice Lispector, Ecuadorian writer Mónica Ojeda, Spanish writer Irene Solá: for me it was reading about people travelling, maintaining and passing along an interest in other cultural heritages that introduced me to art in the first place.” She’s the offspring of an exiled Spanish family in Chile, with a mix of Aymara and Bolivian roots, and attended an Italian school as a child: “In Chile, there’s so many people from around the world, it’s what makes us so complex.” For the same reason she finds Berlin so fascinating: “There are restaurants from everywhere—it’s a dream!”

Food and cooking, much like painting, allow De la Horra to trial different colours, textures, alchemies. It’s an essential part of her daily routine and a source of inspiration, as is taking care of her plants and watching them grow, listening to the birds that come visit her balcony sing and walking her beloved dog. She’s a woman of many pursuits, and her versatility allows her to move seamlessly from one project to the next: she enjoys working on several ideas at once, and when she gets bored in the middle of a task, she’ll simply take on another one, often without knowing where she’s headed but confident in the process that will lead her there. “Like in a collage, you put a lot of things together and they’ll eventually make sense. It’s a mysterious process, which you can’t always manipulate or dominate, like a relationship. Everything is meaningful, even my ugly kids are so important!” Evidently, collage for De la Horra is no longer just a creative technique, but her life’s modus operandi, a natural disposition.

She speaks nonchalantly, is easygoing and collected, her experience shines through. Such a serene and patient approach to art-making may be the result of years of meditation, a habit she’s incorporated into the development of her drawing, ultimately conflating the two activities. “Drawing is meditation. When you go inside a drawing it’s like going on a trip, you travel around the landscape you create—you can go into an astral dream, out of your body, you can access vivid memories.” With meditation De la Horra convinces me she’s able to become “totally empty,” a channel through which new ideas travel from her unconscious to the paper. The artist inherited her passion for the oneiric world from Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung, whose tradition was continued in Chile by one of his disciples, Lola Hoffman. Amongst her biggest influences—alongside literature, reality and herself (“Most of the time I copy myself!” she jokes)—is the Jungian belief in the universality of dreams and the presence of parallel worlds where similitudes arise; dreams, myths, symbols, themes recur and inform our collective impulses.

Last year, Sandra Vásquez de La Horra’s prolific career was awarded the Käthe Kollwitz Prize by Berlin’s Akademie der Künste. The award includes a show at the Akademie, which opened shortly after we visited the studio, on June 18th. “AdK’s team is fantastic, and the exhibition is looking great. They have done incredible work to put my ideas in place and I’m very thankful. They’ve been so generous.” She admits being a bit nervous, yet delighted to be receiving the recognition she’s worked so hard to get, from the city she’s called home for almost 30 years. “You need to believe in yourself so much to keep doing art, and when you have the opportunity to work with visionary people, you have to do things and be grateful for it.” Despite the decades of experience, De la Horra’s inclination for the surreal has kept her spirit whimsical, her mind curious; her work a testament to her enthusiasm for all forms of creative expression.

Artist Info

Exhibition Info

Akademie der Künste

Sandra Vásquez de la Horra: ‘The Murmur of the Cosmos’
Exhibition: June 19-Aug. 25, 2024
Hanseatenweg 10, 10557 Berlin, click here for map

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