Gloria Saenz Portrait

Inspired By Air & Water: Gloria Calderón Sáenz's Journey of Rivers & Artistic Possibilities

By Samourra Rene

Experimental artist, Gloria Calderón Sáenz, has found a home and creative inspiration in the vibrant North Adams art community. This is the story of her journey of growth and connection.

Gloria Calderón Sáenz's passion for art experimentation was instilled in her at a young age through her education, and it continues to drive her creative process. As a young child, Saenz displayed such a keen interest in art that her parents enrolled her in after-school art classes at Academia Martenot in her native Cali, Colombia. After completing high school, Sáenz moved to Bogotá's capital to study art at the national university, Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

Gloria Calderón Sáenz at work
Gloria Calderón Sáenz at work (Photo by Paul Olchvary)

She delved into various mediums, including silkscreens, batik fabric, and printmaking. Her specialty lies in printmaking which she describes as a "craft that can be very well presented along with pottery, fiber art, and even utilitarian things." Rather than being constrained by one particular style, Sáenz has created several distinct bodies of work, each with its character and approach. Sáenz has an art concatenation composed of recycled paper, cardboard, and other materials from her trash can, as well as a collection of prints and paintings on wood. "Currently, I am growing a new series exploring the microscopic life of water. I don't want to specialize in any of them. I want to continue in all of them." Saenz expresses.

"I have a strong affinity for water and air, which are both fluid, translucent, and constantly changing elements. We can determine the health of a geographical area by examining the state of its rivers, as they reflect everything that flows to the ocean. Rivers are also symbols of perpetual change and the source of life."

'House of Water' by Gloria Calderón Sáenz
'House of Water' by Gloria Calderón Sáenz

This ongoing microscopic life project draws inspiration from the Hoosic River, which flows through North Adams, where she lives. 'There's always this microscopic life in the water that I find fascinating." Sáenz marvels. Her artistic connection to rivers can be traced back to her childhood experiences of traveling with her father, a busy doctor with limited time to spend with his family. "The Sundays or camping trips by the Colombian rivers were some of the happiest memories of my childhood," she reminisces.

In one of her paintings, an unidentified woman dressed in red is seated on a blue canoe set against a tranquil backdrop of trees with shapes resembling the swirls of calligraphy. The river depicted in the painting is home to an assortment of colorful aquatic creatures that can be seen peeking through the water. "This particular image captures both a sense of adventure and curiosity about my journey, as well as a hint of fear," explains Sáenz.

Gloria showing one of her paintings
Gloria showing one of her paintings (Photo by Paul Olchvary)

Sáenz's inspiration from rivers also extends to her home country of Colombia. "I am still deeply attached to the natural beauty of my home country, with its abundant sunshine and lush landscapes," Sáenz laments.

Sáenz's namesake Etsy store features a print called "Sunrise in Colombia," in which she masterfully captures a range of emotions through the dreary shadows and mysterious silhouettes.

She recounts a time when she was struggling with family-related difficulties. She "felt tormented and decided to sketch the view outside my window."

"When I finished, I was pleased with how the carving expressed the sorrow and internal conflict I felt at the time. The carving became a visual representation of my emotional state at that moment."

The printmaking technique, etching, forms the basis of Sáenz's work. The etching process involves creating an image by carving or incising lines into a surface, typically a metal plate. Etching is a time-consuming and intricate process requiring great skill and precision. The intricate lines and delicate shading found in etchings can create a captivating sense of depth and texture. The meticulous lines, carefully etched onto the canvas, come alive, offering an immersive experience for those who engage with the piece, whether the artist portrays a serene landscape, a bustling cityscape, or a poignant moment.

In 1982, Sáenz moved to Paris and spent ten years participating in art shows and honing her printmaking skills. She attended various workshops held by the city of Paris, where she took classes in professional artists' studios. Her life took a big turn when she moved to Venezuela for six years and began illustrating children's books for a publishing house. Her familiarity with children's illustration proved to be an asset in her new job at the International School of Boston, where she served as the after-school program director.

After 20 years at the International School of Boston, Sáenz left her position to pursue making art full-time. In 2019, she relocated to North Adams, where the thriving art community significantly influenced her decision to move. "People are arriving to North Adams coming from different corners of the country to choose to live here and share their art," Sáenz said.

"It's not easy to live on art alone," Sáenz explains. She sold art at shows, but it was often not even enough to match the cost of living. Gloria found support through the Assets for Artists program at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. She received a capacity-building grant, which enabled her to partake in valuable training in conducting an art business. As Sáenz reflected on her journey, she shared, "Because I had a job, I didn't have to see my art as a business. It's something that I would recommend to all artists."

As an artist, Sáenz has learned to focus her efforts and define her business as a printmaker while still exploring other mediums. "It's important to have a clear idea of what you're selling to sustain yourself, so I've concentrated on cultivating a niche in printmaking," she said. According to Sáenz, printmaking has a unique quality that bridges the gap between fine art and craft, making it accessible and affordable to a broader audience.

'Tibisay' by Gloria Calderón Sáenz
'Tibisay' by Gloria Calderón Sáenz

Her prints can be viewed at Bear and Bee Books, a charming bookstore located in North Adams. She actively engages with the arts community by frequently participating in events like the Openbaar Market in Albany, NY, a vibrant marketplace and valuable community resource for artists to connect and showcase their work.

Recognizing the challenges of sustaining oneself solely through art, Sáenz discovered the power of building a network that offers support and encouragement. This network provides a platform for artists to showcase their work and as a source of inspiration and collaboration.

Sáenz acknowledges the North Adams arts community for stimulating her creative growth. Visual artists like her can sometimes feel solitary compared to musicians who often perform together, but Sáenz recognizes the importance of sharing their work and connecting with other artists.

Within this vibrant community, artists like Sáenz share ideas, exchange perspectives, and find solace in the collective journey. They understand that the path of an artist is not easy, and the road to success is often paved with uncertainty. By connecting with like-minded individuals, Sáenz has found the strength to navigate the ups and downs of the artistic realm.

"Even though we all have our unique language of art, it's still very stimulating to see others' perspectives,"

To foster such connections, Sáenz and her fellow artists have started visiting each other's homes and studios on specific evenings, bringing them closer and creating a vibrant, collaborative community.

Samourra Rene

Samourra is a senior journalism major with an English minor at uMass Amherst.

Photo Credits:

Gloria Calderón Sáenz portrait: Photo by Albert Cook

Studio shots with Gloria: Photos by Paul Olchvary

Other photos: Courtesy of Gloria Calderón Sáenz

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