Talking to Edra Soto

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Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been talking to painter/conceptual artist Edra Soto. I’ve been a long admirer of her work and it’s probably the first time I’ve had the chance to ask her about it. While I continue to try and think through the idea of structure and hierarchy in these interviews, I find I’m much more interested in how those interests offer a kind of subtext–for instance Edra talks about her experience of the art world in Puerto Rico versus her experience of the Chicago art world. One of the things that comes up in that conversation is this issue of conceptual work and what place it has. Anyway, she’s amazing. I’ve inserted an excerpt from the first part of conversation, but you can read the whole thing by going here.

Hybridity of Thought: An Interview with Edra Soto

CP: Can you tell me a little bit about your background? How did you come to Chicago and how does it contrast with the other places that you’ve lived?

ES: I’ve been interested in the arts since I was a girl. I love theatre and wanted to be an actress. I also love music and used to write songs and sing them accompanying myself on the piano. I focused on visual arts during the last part of my high school years and ended up at the Escuelade Artes Plasticas de Puerto Rico, which is located at one of the most beautiful landmarks of the island: San Felipe del Morro, a 16th century Spanish fort. The school has a ridiculously beautiful view. Those were the days! I completed a bachelor’s degree in visual arts and started a minor in education. After graduating, I won a fellowship to live and work in Paris for a year. I was 25, and that experience changed my life. I still think of the person I was then and how I thought Puerto Rico was the last place on earth. At that time, I was a painter in the commercial art scene of Puerto Rico. I had no idea about the financial aspect [of the art world], the types of people I needed to meet, what a curator was… I was selling paintings for $5,000 dollars and being interviewed for the local newspapers. The gallery that was representing me at the time also represented the premier artist of Puerto Rico, Arnaldo Roche. He was a graduate from SAIC (1984), and the gallery owner kept telling me, “You should go to the Art Institute”…so, I did. Again, it radically changed my perspective. I learned to understand American sarcasm and cynicism and I learned about the real me, the one I didn’t understand when I lived in Puerto Rico. I stopped painting because I needed to explore the part I had denied myself because I thought it was unimportant, irrelevant. I always had the need to make things that were not paintings, but didn’t understand their importance.

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