Without a doubt, Art, especially portraiture channels, a better understanding of ourselves and others. It nudges us towards empathy, appreciation of diversity, and the grasp of emotions. From documentation to speculation, the category of portrait art is fascinating as it gives insights to the interior self. As Lucian Freud stated: ‘I think a great portrait has to do with the way it is approached … it is to do with the feeling of individuality, and the intensity of the regard and the focus on the specific’.
Dynamic and vibrant, Milenna Saraiva captures the spirit and the expressions of her sitter with a strong brush of paint in her portraits. Her strength in depicting the likeness inspired by the individual’s narrative and conviction is passionate. She pushes the age-old genre in new directions where the feelings are revealed, and the appearance utters the individual’s true essence.
Here is my interview with Milenna Saraiva
Jupilings: Your story-
Milenna: I was born in SÃO Paulo, Brazil. I grew up surrounded by musicians and Art in my family circle, so I was always stimulated to be creative. I recollect always drawing since I was very young. I was a shy child, so drawing helped me to communicate and protected me from the world. I ended up getting into dancing and then gymnastics and became an athlete at 12 years old. I used to practice for 8 hours a day, after school, and travel around the country competing with my teammates. Even then, I continued drawing on the side. When I was 17, I injured myself and decide to stop training. At 18, I decided to go to the US to study Fine Arts, and there I lived for the next 14 and a half years. Los Angeles was an excellent teacher and mother to me, but I missed my real base in Brazil and moved back to my country. I continued my education here with a post-grad degree in contemporary painting. I started to make my way into the art world here, doing all kinds of arts-related activities. One of them was live painting. Once I observed and connected with the visual performance, it changed the way I paint and my approach. It has also given me the confidence I need to loosen up and let my emotions come out with way less restrained. Today I have an art studio that I go to every day and spend at least 8 hours working. I spend my time discovering new ways to express myself through my work, painting commissions, murals, and performing live painting in all kinds of events.
Jupilings: What inner force shapes your artistic concepts-
Milenna: Art is the language of my thoughts. I find it easier to paint than to use words. The lights, the darks, and the layers of depth that come from playing with textures and colors give me a freedom that I cannot find in Portuguese or English. Painting is my quiet way of expressing my heritage and questioning social values. My work has become a tool for me to narrate my life experiences in parables. The paintings I make reflect my personal mythology.
Jupilings: As a portrait artist, you capture aspects of a person’s identity, likeness, and emotions. In your artwork, do you aim to portray the individuals as to how they see themselves, or how they perceive them-
Milenna: I want my portraits to give clues about the portraited people’s energy and essence. I do want them to identify with the works too. For that, I rely on trying to perfect my technique. Portraits are tricky, though, people want their portraits made still, in most cases are surprised when they see the final product. Their expectation is to see themselves as they see themselves and not how the artist sees them. The way we see ourselves is unique to ourselves. There are many versions of us, one to each different person that we meet, so it’s impossible to fulfill that desire unless you are a photo-realistic artist. And that will never interest me. In my opinion, an artwork will always have the artist’s perceptions engraved all over it.
Jupilings: What are your thoughts on “portraits” to create a visual dialogue to explore social justice, sexuality, race, and many other controversial subjects-
Milenna: I’m attracted to controversial subjects, clearly, lol. I think portraits have always been fantastic tools to create dialogues, subtle dialogues with those paying attention. Many artists have and are using imagery and symbols to tell stories, to convey hidden or explicit messages. At this moment, I’m not taking advantage of the allegories that painting offers in all its possibilities; instead, I’m investing in the emotions and expressions of the markings, brush strokes and the colors to do all the ‘talking.’ For instance, the portrait of Marielle Franco, a prominent Brazilian human rights activist, and politician, murdered in mysterious circumstances by the militia, I used a very warm color pallet, with red drips, splashes, a well-defined box behind it, and name it “Seed.” I narrated her story in an observable manner, and those paying attention will hopefully understand it. That means my Art allows me to say what I want to say, but only to those who want to hear it. If Art is a form of communication, my paintings are a language.
Jupilings: What is your life motto-
Milenna: It changes a lot from time to time, depending on what’s going on. But there’s a good one I always go back to that says “Live whimsically. Love extravagantly. Dream boldly. Create daily.”
Jupilings: How do you dial down the negative thoughts & self-doubt-
Milenna: It’s a constant struggle to balance everything that happens in my mind. But I think I usually sort it all out by painting. Negativity and positivity are only opposite sides of the coin. As well as self-doubt and confidence. I believe that self-doubt is essential for improvement. When I’m questioning myself if something is as good as I could make it, I will keep working on it until self-doubt is gone.
Jupilings: How do you minimize distractions when you are working-
Milenna: I don’t think I manage distractions that well. I could be way more productive If I actually do away with it. I’ve gotten used to doing many things at the same time. Working on several projects at the same time. The distraction is also an opportunity, or maybe a window, to take a moment and then return to something I was very focused on. And sometimes, this little break could give me the answer that I need to finish a piece. So, I guess I embrace them.
Jupilings: How do you deal with criticism-
Milenna: I will only accept criticism from people I respect and have more knowledge than I do. Otherwise, I ignore them completely. Sometimes you need to protect yourself from opinions since every person has a different one, you have to believe in what you believe in. There are many reasons you do what you do and how you do it, that precisely is what makes you unique.
Jupilings: Advice for aspiring artists-
Milenna: If you want to be an artist, study to be one, like a doctor studies to be a doctor. Learn every technique, learn how to draw and produce as much as you can. Only the practice of your craft will allow you to discover your true gift and unique style. Also, be organized with your works, photograph everything, and have an online portfolio since the beginning. It’s important to network, to be part of a group of people who think alike and have the same goals that you do.
Most importantly, what you love. Find out what inspires you and create based on what you love. When you do that, you will want to do it all the time, and you will never feel like you’re working. Know that not everyone will like what you do, and you’ll get many ‘no’s,’ but keep going until you get the ‘yes.’
Jupilings: What is the role of Art today-
Milenna: Art has many roles, in my opinion: To entertain, to express and provoke thinking and emotions, tell a story, shock, and sometimes to simply beautify the world. To me, it’s all of it.
Jupiligns: What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard-
Milenna: At Santa Monica College, my painting teacher once told me I needed to work harder if I wanted to be an artist and said that “talent isn’t enough.” When I was younger, I was reckless. I used to go out at night and was always come late to painting classes. After that day, something changed in me.