Semillas by Tenaya Sims

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Tenaya Sims



251.46 x 177.8 cm | 99 x 70 in

Oil and 23k gold leaf on linen

  • Best in Show ($8,000 Cash Award)
  • ARC Purchase Awards ($28,000)

Exhibited at the MEAM

Exhibited at Salmagundi

This work is in the Collection of the Art Renewal Center.

"I've always been fascinated by fire; its role in the development of our civilization, its quiet warmth and illumination, its power, speed and destructive potential. While I can't consciously claim that the stories below inspired Semillas, they were evoked as I developed the piece, and upon reflection after it was completed.

A childhood memory encompassing this fascination involves me as a curious six year old boy, lighting a ball point pen on fire over the concrete floor of my basement (much to the chagrin of my parents). The plastic case bubbled and shrank as it burned. Then, to my surprise and panic, little fire balls of ink began to drip from the ignited pen, creating a flaming puddle on the floor. Startled, I attempted to stomp it out, but only succeeded in getting the flaming ink stuck to my shoes. Only after escalating my stomp up to a full-fledged freak-out dance was the fire puddle finally extinguished.

Several years later as an adolescent, I recall images of Kuwait's burning oil fields on the nightly news. Like the ink ablaze in the basement, I remember finding this storm of fire utterly terrifying and almost other worldly. How those oil wells could burn incessantly, too powerful to be extinguished, and fill the sky with clouds of smoke as far as the eye could see. 

It is entirely possible that these memories were woven into the content of Semillas, but to me this is hypothetical. The gilded fire droplets in the painting harken back to those ink fireballs from my youth. Whether these memories subconsciously inspired me, I cannot say for certain.

I can say that it is the tiny figures inside those droplets that ultimately inspired the title Semillas, which means 'seeds' in Spanish. 

In the experimental stages of Semilllas, I began working with the elements of fire and gold on both visual and thematic levels. Semillas was developed through many studies and iterations. Like many of my projects, I began with a vision in mind that I presumed simply needed extraction to the canvas. However, like trying to translate a dream, the moment pencil hit paper, the friction began.

The extensive studies were the result of frustration as my initial vision grew elusive as I attempted to translate it to paper. I tried many variations: in one of its early incarnations, the figure had multiple arms in a spiral gesture. Another had a frenzied pattern of hands and blades. Yet another with the figure descending out of a cloud formation, its head and arms obscured.

None of these studies flowed directly from that original vision, and ultimately, I’m glad they didn’t. They provided the raw material to allow the project to evolve. Through this process the painting became more simplified and elemental. Interestingly, I think that helped bring out the essence of the original vision, just in a different form than I had imagined." - Tenaya Sims