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Meet Angela Alés of Alés Art Studio in Lowell

Today we’d like to introduce you to Angela Alés.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was born in Barranquilla, Colombia in 1971, of an Andalusian father and my mother of Lebanese decent. My parents divorced at a very early age, I might have been 4 or 5 years old at the time, it is still not clear to me. I lived with my mom and both of my maternal grandparents shared the house with us, something very typical of a Latin-American household, except this was anything but typical. If the walls of that house could talk, it would probably cry while manifesting a very acute anxiety attack, or a very profound depression.

If asked to remember the overall atmosphere of my surroundings growing up, I would say that castanets, “taconeo” (flamenco tapping of shoes) and flamenco music was the soundtrack. People of all ages walked in and out of my home all day long. My mom had a dance studio, (flamenco was her forte), in the back part of the house, and her students would have to come in and out through our home. I remember how stressful it was at times. My grandmother would complain about how dirty the floor would get due to the students or how she did not want them to wait outside for their rides because they would damage the lawn. It was a struggle for my mother, a constant fight between the two since this was the main source of income and my mother would worry that the students would not come back.

So, even though I was the only child of an only child, the house was rarely quiet. If the dance studio was not on, then the arguments between the grownups could be heard throughout. But there was silence, or maybe it was the internal monologs of each one of us. I remember being in elementary school, maybe 7 or 8 years old and walking into the chapel during my recess, alone, (it was an all-girl bilingual, catholic school, “where the girls with money” would go. I was there because my mom worked there and we got a break with tuition). I would sit in the front bench looking towards the altar and the different religious statues. Some days I would cry and ask why my family had to be the way it was, and other days I would be grateful for being surrounded by such authentic, unique individuals. Sometimes I would watch them as if I was the audience observing a theater performance.

My grandfather Cico was my first art teacher. He was an alcoholic and a lawyer and my favorite person in this entire universe till this day. He had a small studio in the back part of the patio. It consisted of just one room filled with books, a table with his oil paints and brushes (some of those brushes I still have and use today), and an easel, a hammock that smelled like alcohol and cigarettes, and a single lightbulb hanging from a string in the middle of a bare ceiling. I used to love that space especially if he was in there. I could watch him paint for hours. He would teach me how to mix colors and I especially remember the day he showed me how he painted water and explained that water reflects the objects around it. I remember that moment as if it was yesterday. I must have been around six years old.

My grandmother Pity……. I have to take a pause while millions of thoughts invade my mind as I try to put her down on paper. She was a tormented soul. During my early twenties I learned of something that made it clear of why she was the way she was, but growing up, I never understood. Who knows, now a days she might have been diagnosed as bipolar. I just know that her emotions, triggered by her thoughts, got the best of her most of the time. Later on in life I also learned that she was the one that had taught my grandfather how to paint and that at some point, she had had a small art school in her garage. She was a seamstress, a very good one. My mother would design the costumes for her dance performances and my grandmother would execute them beautifully.

She was my first Guru. For what seemed like endless nights when my mother was not home, my grandmother would teach me about God, the spirit world, and anecdotes of her home town, Mompox. She was an amazing story teller, fantastic at painting pictures with words and gestures. It was a nurturing experience when she was doing fine, but then there was the other times. I remember her taking me to my room, locking the door and turning off the lights while she proceeded to tell me that the devil would come and eat me if I did not tell her where my mother was. That I was crucifying Jesus over and over again every time I told a lie. I must have been five or six at the time and the devil never came.

My mother was a very strong, talented woman and the way I see it, her roles shifted between mother and sister, teacher and friend. She was my mother because she reprehended me, took care of me and loved me. She was like a sister because somehow I protected her from my grandmother. She was my friend, because she confided things to me that might not have been the norm. She was my teacher, because mothers often are to their children, and because she taught me how to dance and draw. She was my second art teacher.

I do not recall if I asked for this or if my mother wanted me to, but after my parent’s divorced, I used to sleep in the same bed as my mom, even though I had my own room. For a large percentage of my childhood, my mother dated Carlos, the man that later became my stepfather. “Seven years of calvary”, like she likes to call it. It was not the typical relationship since she was the only one committed to it. I can’t begin to count the times she would get up in the middle of the night to paint, trying to exorcise the turmoil within her because of him. I would accompany her down stairs and quietly observe her paint her sorrows, until the sun came up or until I could not stay awake any longer. Her brush stroke was dynamic, expressive, strong and very organic. I must have been eight or nine.

And what about my father? He worked on a boat. He was the mechanical engineer of the vessel, so while they were married, I did not see him that much, or I simply don’t remember. After the divorce I probably saw him for a few days maybe every other year or so. He would call for my birthdays and Christmas and besides that, not much communication with him or that side of my family. There was a period there where I did not know of him for about eight years. My identity, my existence was based on these amazing, complex characters that shared my everyday life, and the absence of a father. I was told and could see, conflicting reasons of why he was not there. I was an anxious, lonely, angry child, or at least that is how I remember feeling. I had a few close friends, but felt most comfortable in my bedroom drawing or dancing (about 4 hours a day), especially performing. Art became my escape. I could submerge so much in it, that nothing mattered except that moment, the now.

At some point around the time that I was eleven, Carlos, my mom’s “calvary”, proposes matrimony to her. Of course she said YES! And since he was living in the United Stated, we packed our bags and left everything we knew and loved behind. So far my life had felt like a roller coaster combined with scenes from a dark comedy. I had no idea what was up ahead.

I had known Carlos for most of my life. As a matter of fact, he was related to my mother in a very interesting way, which I’ll explain in another time. No, they were not brother and sister. Him and I cared allot about each other, but it was hard for me at first, actually, it was probably difficult for him as well. He now had an instant family, child included.

Carlos was a very charismatic, intelligent and funny individual. Oh boy and could he dance! After about six month into their marriage, my mom had to go back to Colombia to get our residence visas. Her return was delay due to some bureaucratic issues and Carlos and I were left alone for about four months. By this point I was attending an Art magnet school program thanks to a teacher who had seen me draw and dance. I had tried for both disciplines but chose fine arts thinking that my mother would always teach me how to dance. I had to be up and ready by 5:30 am for the school bus to pick me up, and Carlos, being the non-morning person that he was, would always be there by my side. I still smile with love and gratitude every time I think of that.

I was finally going to have the opportunity to experience a father daughter relationship. I remember, with great joy, that one late afternoon we went out to get green mangos from trees in this abandoned lot. We could not reach them so he let me clime on top of the roof of his car while he slowly and carefully drove close to each mango. We had green mangos with lemon and salt for weeks and lots of laughs.

That summer Carlos and I went on a trip to meet some of his friends. It was going to be my first trip to Orlando and maybe my first opportunity to see Disney World. It was not the magical experience I expected. There was a car accident. I was not in the car but Carlos was. From a three car accident, only Carlos was injured. He was paralyzed from the neck down. From that moment on, my life became divided in two. I would now relate to things as before or after the accident. I was about to turn thirteen.

The time spent at the hospital, at the ICU, was difficult for everyone. My mother was able to travel the day after the accident. Her calvary had returned darker and more painful than ever, and I felt nothing. I guess it was my defense mechanism, or the fact that I had to be strong for her. I just remember not crying. I do recall having taken my sketchbook with me on the trip. I never left home without it. This book became my oasis, and where my artistic language was born.

Realistic looking hearts with bleeding aortas, open wounds, spinal cords, and things of that nature started to appear in my art journal. Visions of heaven and hell, light and dark, were there as well. I became obsessed with the flesh and the spirit. I must have gotten angry at God, but I know I also got closer to Him. My Catholic faith was coming through but there was also signs of another kind of spiritual awareness. Black and white labyrinths and twisted floors were one of my favorite things to draw. I now understand them as part of my visual language. They represent our duality. By fourteen my style was define. I was a surrealist.

I don’t recall how it got to me, but by fifteen I read, what I considered, the first book that got me started in this new spiritual search. I say “new” because I had always been searching for a relationship with God, even since I was a little girl. This time something was different. I was older so now I was questioning. The book was “Love” by Leo Buscaglia. I am terrible at remembering names, but I have never forgotten this authors name or how I felt reading his book. It came at the right time. It did not take away all of my anger, but it gave me hope.

By sixteen I was accepted to a Visual Arts high school, New World School of the Arts. I was exposed, for the first time, to print making, ceramics and photography, as well as painting and drawing. It was a wonderful experience because it seemed as if all of us, weird, creative adolescents, had found our niche. By this point art had become more than just painting pictures. It was a fantastic psychiatrist and a cheap one too.

I was later awarded 4 different scholarships to different art schools throughout the nation. I chose Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, in New York City. It had been my dream to attend that school. Here I was, having just turned 18 years old and living in the middle of Manhattan, alone. Freedom tasted really good.

The following 4 years at Cooper were amazing. The school gave me the possibility to explore techniques, mediums as well as my artistic language and New York taught me about life and my own inner strength. I stayed in the Big Apple 5 years in total. I often wonder how my path would have been different if I had stayed. Eventually I had to move back to Miami. I was living the life of the “starving artist” in New York. I had gotten my first solo exhibition in Miami, I had a year to prepare and no money for supplies. I did what seemed logical and I moved back home. Life in Miami was cheaper. With the sales from the first show I was able to get a car, a job, and life simply happened. I worked as an art educator for 23 years. For a few years I shared a studio with 4 different artists in Bird Road Art Connection in Miami. I later moved my studio to my home. I started teaching in my studio as well. I continued painting, exhibiting and teaching.

Fifteen years after graduating from Cooper, I went back to school for my MFA. My goal was to teach at college level. Once I graduated it seemed impossible to get a higher end job in South Florida. The North East was calling me back. Oh boy and did I miss it. I started applying to teaching jobs. I was looking all the way from NY to Vermont. I was fortunate enough to get a job in Massachusetts. I had never been to Boston or anywhere in the state but I followed my gut and took the job. Next thing I know I was rushing to find a place to live. I started researching all the different areas and came across Lowell, where “Art is the Handmaid of Human Good” is their slogan. After noticing that I had to take a closer look. I hopped on an airplane and next thing I know I had rented an amazing loft overlooking the Merrimack River, and a huge art studio.

I have been here for over four years and have never regretted taking this step. I am now back to enjoying the four season, and yes, one of the things I love is the winters. People from Lowell are warm and welcoming. I love the history, the architecture, the proximity to so much and of course, the amazing artist community. Since we moved, my husband and I started Ales-Lores Art studio where we teach all forms of Art, like Painting, Drawing and Sculpture. I am also an Assistant Professor at Middlesex Community College, and when I am not teaching, I enjoy the spacious art studio where I get to do what I love, paint. I still exhibit my work. At the moment I am preparing for a solo show back in Miami.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The struggles have been more about having the means to accomplish the goals. As an artist, one needs to promote the art work in as many places and countries as possible. Living in New England and showing in a place like Miami, requires money to ship the work, for travel etc.

Another struggle is being a woman in the art world. Things are changing, but we are not where we need to be still.

With the current political climate, being a Latin American woman is something that is now very present in my mind. I always knew that the kind of art I do definitely has the Latin American flavor, but now is more about being an immigrant. My latest series is all about immigration. These socio-political struggles are very present in my work.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Alés Art Studio – what should we know?
I am an artist and an educator. I love teaching my passion. I specialize in Drawing and Painting, but my main objective is for the student to discover their own personal language and artistic voice. I want them to paint paintings, not pictures. I want them to think of concept, of meaning. I want the student to step out of the comfort zone, to become problem solvers, raw and honest. I teach them that art goes beyond aesthetics and technique, that it is visceral

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Continuity, perseverance, constant growth.

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