The Others

Balcones Artist in Residence at the Other Art Fair Los Angeles: Madeleine Tonzi

The Other Art Fair has partnered with the award-winning Balcones Distilling to celebrate the artistry of whisky-making and the connection between craftsmanship and creativity for its spring 2024 fairs.

At the heart of this collaboration is the “Spirit of Balcones: Artist in Residence Program,” a new initiative to empower artists to transcend traditional studios and create artwork that showcases their interpretation of bold free thinking, reinvention, and embracing the magnetic sense of possibility that comes from expressing your full self.

Read on to discover the inspiration and experience of Madeleine Tonzi, the Balcones Artist in Residence at The Other Art Fair Los Angeles.

Tell us a little more about your journey as an artist.

I have been an artist my entire life, however I wasn’t always sure what that would look like or how my career would unfold.  Would I be an art therapist, an arts educator, or would I become a working artist? When I graduated college in 2010, the economy was still recovering, and jobs in arts education were hard to come by.  That’s when I decided to pursue my visual arts career and dive head first into it.  One of my interests was to learn how to paint murals.  Painting on that scale seemed monumental, and so slowly but surely, my practice evolved into what it has become today.  Through a lot of dedication, some tears, and perseverance, I have a thriving and active art practice and career.

What/who inspired you to get into the space?

I have been fortunate to have many creative people around me throughout my life, and a lot of support in terms of following my path as an artist.  From early educators to artists in my family, to the wonderful artist community I have the joy of knowing and witnessing, I have many sources of inspiration to do this work.  I am inspired by so many artists as well.  From Agnes Pelton and Georgia O’Keefe, to contemporary movements like the artists of The Mission School, Bay area street art, and underground movements.  It’s hard to point to just one thing.  I feel so lucky to exist in the creative sphere.  

What drives you to create?

I truly believe that it is in our human nature to create, and  we are all driven by the same forces of the mysterious universe we live in,  which at its essence is in constant motion, making and destroying things all at once.  There is something innate within each of us that is yearning  to emerge into this world.  For me, it happens to be art.

What message(s) are you trying to convey with your work?

My work focuses on concepts of memory, place, environment and the relationships we form with the world around us.  It’s not always straightforward, and often we fall out of step with the land and the world around us.  I hope to convey a message of awe and appreciation for the world around us.  It stands as a reminder that we are stewards of the land, and compels the viewer to think about what that looks like in their own life.  How are we fostering that relationship? 

Congratulations on being selected to be the Balcones artist in Residence at The Other Art Fair Los Angeles! What made you want to take part in the project?

Being a part of big events that are centered around the arts is always an energizing, inspiring and fun experience.  With a shared appreciation for the arts, design and craft, I felt the collaboration between TOAF and Balcones felt right.

You were asked to create an artwork that embodied modern independence, celebrating self-expression and individuality – how did you interpret this?

I paint landscapes that are reminiscent of the Southwest.  I created this composition of the wide open skies, grandiose mountains and volatile weather of the American West, in order to convey a sense of wild openness, exploration and space to express one’s self.

Your work is often inspired by nature and landscapes, were you inspired by Waco, Texas where Balcones is made?

I grew up in New Mexico, and had never been to Waco.  So I took it upon myself to do some research and get an understanding of the look and feel of the land there.  Combined with my knowledge of the Southwest, as well as a sense of how big and open the area surrounding the town is, I was able to conjure up this imagery to create an inspired landscape.

Can you describe the themes or message behind your artwork and explain why you chose to create this specific piece in response to the residency brief?

Much of my work is about place, and the relationships we form to the places we live.  This piece needed to include some key elements that give Waco, and many places in the Southwest their sense of place.  What defines those places, and how do those elements shape the way people live in those places.  A powerful storm felt like a good way to convey just how small we are compared to the faces of nature.  Balcones takes pride in working with the elements to shape and craft their product, so this felt right. 

Can you walk us through your creative process and approach to crafting this artwork? How did your methods differ from creating smaller pieces in a studio to producing a larger-scale work for a public audience?

My process, whether I make big or small work, always starts with many thumbnail drawings in my sketchbook.  Once I come up with a design I gravitate to, I transfer that into my iPad and work digitally.  There I am able to scale my canvas to the dimension of the mural, and play around with color combinations, and move around all the various elements to find the perfect balance for the composition.  Once a final design is selected, and I am ready to install the mural, I generally eyeball the design onto the wall.  However, in certain cases, a projector comes in handy.

The Other Art Fair visitors loved your artwork! How was your experience attending the fair and meeting visitors on opening night?

Opening night was a lot of fun.  I was able to converse with some of the visitors, and getting to see all of the other artists’ work was really great!  I love being in spaces that flow with creativity, as well as with people who love to support the arts.

What would you say to other artists approached to be a Balcones Artist in Residence?

Working with Balcones was wonderful.  The folks there are artists themselves, and truly have a great deal of support for and understanding of the creative process, which naturally lends to great collaboration!

Tell us why art fairs, like The Other Art Fair, are such an important part of the artistic ecosystem and why is it so critical to support independent artists?

What struck me about The Other Art Fair, is that it is a space for artists to self represent, contrary to other fairs where the gallery represents the artist.  This not only gives folks a chance to widen their audience, but also allows for a direct artist to buyer relationship to unfold.  Furthermore, it gives artists a chance to meet one another.  Community building is key!

Looking back at your younger self just starting out, what would you want to make sure to tell that person?

Oh boy!  This is a big one!  The one thing I would tell my younger self is to trust the timeline.  Everyone’s timeline is different.  Some folks find success immediately, and for many others it is a slow and constant process, and sometimes it’s a battle.  But, if you persevere, your beautiful creative world will continue to unfold in the most unimaginable ways.  That’s the magic of the art community.