We had the good fortune of connecting with Brenda Ciardiello and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Brenda, how do you think about risk?
I’m not sure I have ever thought of myself as a risk-taker consciously, but I am. I have never been afraid to try new things – or make leaps into the unknown. It’s probably part of why I love being an artist – the unpredictable sky is the limit at all times.
Taking risks is a great source of joy and excitement for me and and that has directly impacted my life and career in very big ways, starting with one of the biggest, and earliest, risks I took. At the age of 17 I chose to move abroad for school. Despite already being an immigrant myself – my family moved to the U.S. when I was 4 from Mexico City – I chose to leave my family and home to study in the north of Italy for two years before college as part of the UWC (United World College) movement. From there, I did return to the U.S. for college but shortly thereafter left again to live in the UK, and then the UAE. These experiences have fundamentally formed me and inform how I see the world. After seeing and experiencing so many other wonderful places on this earth, I will never stop wanting to travel and see new things. It was not easy being a foreigner for so many years – all told, I was gone from TX for 20 years – but those risks allowed me to find my true passion: my thirst for culture and understanding the world around me, a love of beauty, and a need to express it. These things are fundamentally the greatest sources of inspiration for my artwork. My compositions often pull directly from source photographs I take while traveling, or are inspired by experiences, places, or natural beauty I’ve encountered while traveling.
On a more practical level, even within my artistic practice I am drawn to a very “risky” medium: watercolor. It’s a difficult medium because water is so unpredictable. In some ways, watercolorists have to accept a certain lack of control and roll with it – especially when working very “wet” like I do. I love the wild and serendipitous results you get from painting with water. Often something turns out more beautifully than I could have ever made happen on purpose – and that’s thrilling. That is not to say that I haven’t worked diligently at my education and in honing my abilities to paint or write for years, but I believe it is crucial to maintain a certain kind of balance in life: some stability, commitment and control with a good dose of risk, excitement and newness thrown in. In this sense, being an artist is an ideal career for me. I am always rethinking my ideas and delving into new and unknown territories. Art allows me to take risks and travel new places from the comfort of my studio every single day. That’s something I’ll never stop loving.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am a working studio artist in Fort Worth. My studio is in my home and I live within walking distance to Fort Worth’s amazing Cultural District. Where I am today professionally is both exactly where I want to be and also a constant work-in-progress. My background is in Art History and Education. I am the classic case of the kid who was told she was better at writing than drawing and so I always thought of myself as better suited to being an Art Historian or writer than an artist. It took years of painting as a hobby “on the side,” always feeling like an imposter, as well as a lot of self-reflection to finally make me realize that what I wanted was to make art for a living. It was a slow transition both mentally and professionally, partly because I took time away from my career to stay at home with my sons when they were really young and also because we’d been moving all around the world for 10 years. When we finally settled in Fort Worth four years ago, my sons were all in school and I had a minute to catch my breath and really think about where I wanted to go with myself and my career. It quickly became very clear that all I wanted was to paint. It has been a challenge to learn “the art world” without the benefit of an MFA and the network that usually brings with it. It has also been a lot of work to get to a place where I could start showing my paintings. I had to figure out how to monetize this career and to some extent I am still doing that as I develop and tease out my own professional goals. I just opened a two-person art show at the BRIT (Botanical Research Institute of Texas) – “Of the Land: Two Artists Find Renewal in Nature” (running through 6/25/21) – which is a big accomplishment for me. I am also very proud that this year I was selected by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art as a Carter Community Artist. This opportunity has defined 2021 for me in many ways. The experience has helped me maintain a dedicated studio practice while also actively working with the community / museum to create art programming and educational opportunities. Another opportunity I am excited about is having been selected by Art Tooth as one of the recipients of their “You are Here” grant – a grant that allows local BIPOC artists to create bespoke artwork for the soon-to-open Hotel Dryce, an amazing boutique hotel situated in the heart of Fort Worth’s cultural District. Through all these new opportunities, and despite the pandemic, 2021 has allowed me to feel hopeful that I am on my way to finding what truly feels like a long-term career path. I hope my story is one of hope and perseverance for anyone who, like me, has ever felt like an imposter because of how others have previously characterized them. I decided one day that I would ignore what I’d always believed – that I was not a “real artist” – and just decided to be one. And after some uncertainty and a lot of work, now I AM one. And I am so happy.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
One of the reasons we live where we live – in walking distance to Fort Worth’s Cultural District – is because of all the beautiful and interesting places we can walk to. If a friend were coming to visit I would absolutely take them to the Amon Carter Museum, the Kimbell Museum, The Modern. We would have a coffee next to the beautiful water feature at the Kimbell, then walk to get a margarita and birria tacos at Maestro Tacos off of West 7th. That night we might make our way to South Main Street for pre-dinner tiki drinks at The Tarantula Lounge, and then head to Magnolia for dinner at Nona Tata – a delicious Italian joint that is BYOB and cash-only. Lastly, if they wanted some sweet digs, I’d recommend they stay at the soon-to-open Hotel Dryce (Jonathan Morris’ brain child of the Magnolia Network show “Self-Employed”), located across from Dickie’s Arena where we could enjoy an amazing patio, drink and take in some local artwork by artists like Nikki Dionne, Guillermo Tapia, and myself! Throughout the week, I would take them to Downtown to see Sundance Square, check out artwork or have a coffee at the Sundance Pavillion, and lunch would be raw bar at Waters Restaurant. That night we could see a show at Bass Hall, pre-showtime dinner would be steaks at Wicked Butcher in the new Hotel Sinclair, and a night cap at Thompson’s, a speakeasy with prohibition-era cocktails. That’s just two days – and there’s still a lot more to see and do!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Besides the unwavering support of my husband Matt, who is a champ at dealing with my crazy artist ways, I’d give a couple of other shout-outs: My college mentor and Art History professor at Notre Dame, Robin Rhodes, was a great source of early inspiration for me. Apart from introducing me to the world of ancient art and archaeology, he invited me on a trip to research Archaic Temples in Ancient Corinth, Greece, my junior year of college. As an Art History / Classics major, I credit that trip as being one of the first times I realized I loved making art more than writing about / researching it. I also credit my experience as a Girl Scout during my entire childhood, and very specifically my leaders, for a deep love and appreciation for nature and our planet. My family was not big on outdoor adventures and those camping trips with Girl Scouts as an adolescent really opened my eyes to the natural world – a lifelong inspiration of mine. More recently, I have also had so much support and encouragement from Art Tooth, an art collective here in Fort Worth. They have done a lot to help so many artists in our community start to climb the art world ladder. They encouraged me, believed in my art (almost before I did), and helped me build a network and gain opportunities I otherwise would not have had.