When talking to Celeste Amparo Pfau, it's immediately obvious she is an artist at heart. Wearing a scarf featuring a print of her artwork and a hairclip that she fashioned from pine needles, Celeste's eyes sparkle as she shows me around her studio.
Located in the back of her mom's gymnastics gym in East Lake, the studio, flooded with natural light, features larger-than-life-sized artwork covering every inch of the space. A translucent silk printed with one of Celeste's signature botanical monoprints hangs from the ceiling--she stands behind it and says, "Isn't this cool?" referring to the way the patterns from the print are now projected on her face.
The artist, who finds beauty in nature and her surroundings, has been selected as the Emerging Artist for this year's Magic City Art Connection festival. The award is given annually to a talented Birmingham artist, and was established to spotlight, support, and present new artists of great artistic potential and integrity. For Celeste though, this honor holds something a little more special.
"Magic City Art Connection is very personal to me," says Celeste, who attended the Alabama School of Fine Arts from seventh grade through high school. "I've been going to the festival since I was 13 because ASFA has a program where all the young artists go to the Imagination Festival and help the teaching artists with their projects. It was the very first festival where I was exposed to so many living artists."
Celeste was always destined to be an artist--even if she didn't know it at the time. "I remember being in school and they were asking what we wanted to be when we grew up," Celeste recalls. "I found this book about inventors--I was like 6 years old--and decided I was going to be an inventor. My first sketchbook was filled with drawings of things I knew I couldn't make but wanted to make. And when I wasn't drawing, I was making things out of plants from playing around in the yard."
With the opportunity to attend ASFA, Celeste was exposed to formal art skills like life drawing, painting, sculpting, and the vocabulary of art. After ASFA, she received a full scholarship to get her Bachelors of Fine Arts from Cooper Union in New York City. She attributes her time there to helping her develop her artistic style. It was there that she discovered the botanical monoprinting process.
Similar to silkscreen printing, but wildly different, Celeste takes natural materials she's gathered, inks a piece of plexi-glass or metal with oil-based printmaking ink, places the materials on the surface, then puts printmaking felts over it, and runs it through the press. She often uses the 4-foot-by-8-foot printing press at ASFA, the state's biggest printing press, to make her larger prints.
Celeste enjoys the process because there are no limits to what she can do--she
explains that you can get a positive print that brings out certain aspects of the material or a negative print that brings out other aspects. "Each part of the process is different, so as time goes on, I get a sense of what the plants are going to do, and then I'm able to compose my piece accordingly and make a lot of layers."
When asked to describe her art, Celeste pulls out a graph she's drawn of all the words she would use to describe it--among them are practical, playful, process-based, and movement-based. She explains further: "In the past, I used to describe my creative practice as a cabinet of curiosities--that's where the foraging and gleaning of natural materials comes in. Because I'm making and inventing and dealing with spontaneous creativity, it's playful. It's movement-based because I like to work large and when you work large, you have to use your entire body. I also coach gymnastics, so I'm used to moving. Even when I'm making, I use my whole body, I kind of dance in front of it."
The results are works that celebrate diversity in plants and the natural world, as well as in people.
"Having a monoculture in any of those worlds is not good," Celeste says. "When I'm doing a community-based work, I'm looking at how to incorporate other cultures, and same with plants--I'm not worried if I'm using a native plant or invasive plant."
Each of Celeste's pieces feature natural materials that she has found during her
nature walks in Birmingham and on her travels. Some of her favorite materials to use are leaves from Big Leaf Magnolia trees found in Birmingham and Saw Palmetto Palm fibers from south Alabama. Of course, most of her inspiration comes from her surrounding community of Birmingham.
"What inspires me most about Birmingham is that it's big enough to be diverse, yet it's small enough to actually let real connections happen," Celeste says. "Culturally speaking, I feel like there's so much potential for everybody to connect and make things happen."
Through her art, Celeste hopes to connect people, as well. She often has
exhibits where people have to interact with the art. At Magic City Art Connection, she plans to show her botanical monoprints and also have a smaller interactive exhibit.
"Being able to interact with living artists is very personal, and it's an honor to be able to do that," Celeste says. "I hope I can share the beauty of the natural world with as many people as possible through this Emerging Artist role."
Celeste Amparo Pfau | celestepfau.com
Magic City Art Connection | April 28-30 | Linn Park | $5 General Admission | magiccityart.com
--Photos by Kelsey Freeman
This story appears in Birmingham magazine's April 2017 issue.