Susana Mulas Lastra: Artist of the Week
Updated: Feb 24, 2022
This week we will be talking to artist Susana Mulas Lastra whose practice is focused on the ways in which we look at our planet as well as exploring the impact of climate change through her own reflection on the nature around her. Through a process of chalk drawing she displays an otherworldly depiction of a magnified landscape.
Image description: a landscape poster showing a detail of an intricate chalk drawing showing magnified elements of (micro)algae, drawn in bold yellow, orange and purple. Bold white text in the centre reads Susana Mulas Lastra, underneath in a smaller black font reads @susanamulaslastra.
Can you give us a brief introduction to yourself and the artwork you make?
When I finished high school I chose to study fine arts, but I didn't get the necessary support to do so. That is why I decided to study biology, where my interest in nature and drawing intensified. From my city Madrid I moved to live in the Netherlands in 2001 and there is where I decided once and for all to study fine arts and start my path as an artist. Through drawing I find an intimate way of connecting with the beauty and mystery of nature hidden from our eyes. I am also fascinated by their complexity and their importance to life on our planet.
Climate change and the imbalance in our ecosystems reflect for me a call for help from the Earth. Re-establishing a healthy relationship with nature is a must. With all nature, also the one that we do not see with the naked eye. In my work I approach this nature, using paper as a microscope. Somehow this metaphor unifies my past as a biologist and my art.
What inspired you to explore the planet and our relationship with nature?
How do we relate to our planet? This question lives with more intensity in me in recent years as a result of the growing problems related to the plastic pollution of our waters, climate change, the decrease in biodiversity... As a biology student I read the book Gaia by James Lovelock, who along with Lynn Margulis , developed the Gaia hypothesis: the planet Earth as a whole all organisms and their environment are closely integrated, to form a complex and self-regulating system, which maintain the living conditions on the planet.
And we human beings have forgotten that we are part of the nature that forms our planet. Our relationship has become impoverished and rarefied. Recognizing that we are part of the planet and that we do not own it, is really important. Re-establishing our relationship with the planet begins by learning to look with different eyes, also what we do not see with the naked eye.
What drew you to using drawing as a process to express your ideas?
Drawing is intrinsic to human development. As a child I drew in the sand on the beach, with my fingers on the wall of my room when everyone slept. I drew my experiences of the day, my dreams… And this I have always continued to do. Last years with more intensity, drawing has become for me a path of thought and imagination. It's very direct form of expression in which you can use endless materials. To me is the way to translate an (in)visible reality and thus be able to transmit it to others.
Susana Mulas Lastra, Untitled 2, pastel on paper, 20cm x 14cm, 2022
Image description: a portrait drawing showing a magnified (micro)algae drawn in highly pigmented pastel shades of yellow, orange and purple.
Do you keep your drawings very literal to the images you reference or are your colour choices more an abstract representation?
The choice of the colours is born during the drawing process. You could say that the colours speak to each other and to the shapes I draw. A matter of 'listening' and observing. The colours have nothing to do with the reality of the creatures that inspire the drawing. The final result can sometimes let one guess its origin, but the resulting drawing, its colours and shapes are the result of an 'intimate conversation' with my drawing.
You describe how you use paper as a microscope. What is it that fascinates you about these magnified subjects?
Using paper as a microscope is a beautiful metaphor that I use to get closer to the invisible world of microscopic life. My interest is not only to show the enormous beauty of forms and patterns that we cannot see with the naked eye, but also the great importance of these tiny invisible beings for life on the planet.
On the other hand I like to zoom in, magnifying the size and at the same time transforming, recreating and sometimes also 'creating' new beings. By increasing the size of the image I play with the imagination, the perspective and the scale is transformed and sometimes you no longer know what you see. The closeness between the macro and the microcosm becomes real, I am often surprised by the result. Basically it is also a way to continue playing, to smile and having hope.
How do you approach creating a new drawing?
Before starting with a new drawing, I carry out an investigation based on images and texts that I find in books or magazines specialized in science or on the Internet. If I have the opportunity I collect photos directly from scientific researchers. The collected images and the investigation inspire me and are the first step in making a drawing.
Often after this research process I have a clear picture of where the drawing wants to start. I don't make sketches, I just begin with charcoal and simple lines. Generally, the paper is large and is fixed on the wall. When drawing with pastel and charcoal the distance between the paper and my hands is minimal. That's why I have to be careful not to forget to step back from time to time and observe. In this kind of dance during the drawing process my imagination comes into action, plays and find its way (creating) between the colours and shapes.
Susana Mulas Lastra, Untitled 2, pastel and charcoal on paper, 100cm x 70cm, 2021
Image description: a portrait drawing showing a magnified plankton drawn in bright pastel shades of blue which is offset from the dark charcoal background.
What one thing would you like to change about the art industry today?
I would like the art world to have a deeper awareness of sustainability and how our artistic practices can help improve the environment and also contribute to help against climate change. At all levels, from our work as artists in the use of materials to the means of transport used from art galleries. In this sense is important the birth of the GCC (Gallery Climate Coalition), with the mission of facilitating the decarbonisation of the visual art sector and promoting zero-waste practices.
What kind of artists influence you the most?
This is not an easy question to answer. Artists who are inspired by nature (visible and invisible), for whom colour is important and whose works intrigue me and make me wonder what I am looking at. Artists like Ernst Haeckel, Jeroen Bosch and Georgia O'Keefee.
David Hockney, Leonora Carrington, Pippilotta Rist fire my imagination and tickle my soul. And also artists who combine art and science in their work, as Olafur Eliasson, Anicka Yi, Anna Rierola. And maybe it sounds a bit strange or stereotyped, but the artist that has the most influence on my work is nature itself.
Susana Mulas Lastra, Untitled, Pastel on paper, 70cm x 50cm, 2021
Image description: a portrait chalk drawing showing an intricate network of (micro)algae, with detailed petals and segmented stems, drawn in bold yellow, orange and purple.
What projects have you recently completed?
Earlier this year I did an exhibition for Upscale Galerie, 'Breathing Water'. A special gallery that 10 times smaller is than from real world: a 1:10 scale model of reality. A beautiful challenge that I enjoy and that has filled me with inspiration.
Right now I have a drawing exhibition at the BMB gallery in Amsterdam together with 10 colleagues, 'Look what we found!'. We met last year at the Master for professional artists organized by Drawing Inventions Academy. We all seek to deepen our drawing practice, experimenting, investigating and reflecting critically. After our experience, we decided to organize an exhibition and thus show our latest works.
What are you working on right now?
At this moment I am preparing a solo exhibition for mid-March in Amsterdam. I have also started to research and collect information about phytoplankton in Antarctica to make a series of drawings that I want to use for a possible publication and an exhibition next fall.
For more information on Susana Mulas Lastra you can find their Instagram @susanamulaslastra or on their website www.susanamulas.nl.
If you are interested in being featured as an Artist of the Week you can fill out a short application form here.