Interview by Hailey Hirst
Alexandra Rubio is a rock climber, teacher, and artist, currently based in San Diego, California.
We discovered Alex’s work on Instagram, and were struck not only by the dreaminess of her abstracted landscapes, but also by her conscious separation of climbing and creativity.
Although Alex’s art and outdoor life speak to one another, physically combining them via plein air painting isn’t a creative practice that works well for her.
We were interested to know what does work well: what flows in her artistic process, what draws her to abstract landscapes in smooth lines and colors that nudge reality toward a dreamscape, and what climbing and painting have in common.
Find out more, in Alexandra’s words:
Meet Alexandra Rubio
Your painting style includes a lot of lines. What do you like about abstracting a landscape or a granite face in this way?
I paint a lot of lines because it feels good! I create with the intent of capturing an experience I’ve had, and I do this in two steps: (1) Painting what I “see” and (2) painting what I “feel.”
I start my paintings by forming correct shapes, colors, and objects. If the goal is to paint El Capitan on a slightly cloudy day, then I make sure to paint El Capitan surrounded by a blue sky and fluffy clouds. Though the longer I paint, the more I start to daydream. My sky turns into a bright shade of pink, and El Cap starts to develop a lot more lines than it would in life.
Though the longer I paint, the more I start to daydream.
Eventually, I become less interested in my reference photos, and I start to paint from memory, getting lost in the fine details and making things up as I go. I start to notice random shapes and I become more interested in patterns and color. Playing with texture and lines is my favorite part of the painting process and I find it very meditative.
Climbers talk a lot about ‘lines’ too—so you’re trained to see many kinds of lines in work and play. What do your climber’s eyes and your painter’s eyes have in common?
Maybe it’s because climbers train their eyes to see “lines” in rock. We have to be somewhat creative in order to climb, and that we try so hard to make what might look like nothing, turn into something. Other than that, I don’t think there’s much of a relationship between seeing lines as a climber, and painting lines.
I do think there’s a relationship between the feeling of climbing and the feeling of creating lines [by painting]. Both activities require a certain amount of concentration, relaxation, and tension in order to get in the flow.
You say you’ve felt pressured to be a plein air painter because other Instagram artists combine their creativity and outdoor time, but you intentionally do not. How did you recognize that this separation was right for you?
When I paint, I get really lost in my thoughts and I become completely unaware of anything around me. While I may be physically outside, mentally I am in the studio.
Even though I love the complexity and challenge of plein air, I’ve realized that what I enjoy most from painting is creating the impression of the memories I’ve had outdoors. My paintings consist of experiences, and If I take out these experiences and focus only on painting what I see, then my paintings start to lose meaning.
I also just don’t have time anymore. I tend to paint for long sessions, so I have to block out several hours of my day to paint, which is not very convenient if I have only several days at a location. When I do get outside, I would rather spend all of my time climbing.
What do you like about mono-tasking?
I wouldn’t say that I love mono-tasking, but I can admit that I love being efficient. I love getting things done. If something challenging needs to be completed, then I make sure to follow through. Really, accomplishing even the littlest tasks makes me feel super happy and I tend to feel sad if something is not checked off of my to-do list. I’ve realized that mono-tasking allows me to feel more focused on achieving my goals, which then leads to a more fulfilling day.