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Following the Wave with Maria Valle-Riestra

The Long Wave Home by Maria Valle-Riestra (click for larger image)
The Long Wave Home by Maria Valle-Riestra (click for larger image)

The first time we interviewed this artist, it was for an award for a figure painting — not the sea and surf that’s her signature subject matter. So when juror Elizabeth Peak selected The Long Wave Home for the Potomac Valley Watercolorists’ Award this month, we took the opportunity to ask Maria Valle-Riestra about the marriage of water and watercolor:

Where is the scene in The Long Wave Home?
Maria Valle-Riestra: The scene is from a seaside beach town called Pulpos, approximately 25 miles south of Lima City, Perú, on the Pacific coast. I was born in Lima and have lived a good part of my life in this city. Pulpos is a beach where I have spent innumerable days and nights with my husband and friends (who have homes in Pulpos) for the last 25 years during the southern hemisphere summer.

What keeps you coming back to surf and waves as subject matter?
The ocean continues to enrapture me and has not lost its power over me. I continue to paint it with renewed desire each time. I have spent many hours of my life in awe and in pure contemplation of the ocean, mostly the big wave, rough ocean of the coast near Lima. It is beautiful and scary at the same time.

The Long Wave Home (detail) by Maria Valle-Riestra.
The Long Wave Home (detail) by Maria Valle-Riestra.

Each time I begin a painting of it in my home/studio in Arlington it is a little bit like free travel to this place I love. Surf, waves and the zone of clash between land and water are favored in my waterscapes because these are places of action, dramatic encounters between both.

How did you arrive at the very vertical composition for this painting?
The vertical composition was a premeditated distortion. I stretched the y axis or vertical axis approximately by a scale factor of three.

From the vantage point I was standing to get an image for this painting (an outcrop of rocks at one end of the beach) I could see the wave coming onto the beach sideways. The incoming wave was breaking at the level where I was standing on the rocks, so instead of seeing the white surf of the breaking wave away and horizontal to my eyes — as I would see it it if I had been standing on the sand in the middle of the beach — I saw it as a long, white, vertical mass going away from me into the distance. I decided I would exaggerate this natural perspective even more and see what would happen when doing this vertical scale augmentation. The result is seen in this painting, The Long Wave Home.

The Long Wave Home (detail) by Maria Valle-Riestra
The Long Wave Home (detail) by Maria Valle-Riestra

What was your biggest challenge with this painting?
My biggest challenge was to stay firm on my decision of vertically distorting all aspects by the same factor, not only the breaking wave but the shape of the rocks, little houses at the top, etc. I would be tempted sometimes to draw and paint in a more realistic way and had to challenge myself not to.

What’s not yet a big challenge, but might become one soon, was my venturing out on my bare feet onto the irregular, sometimes slippery and unstable rocks that jut out to the sea.

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