Sian Faber

Sian back stage with Eliza Gonzalez
Sian back stage with Eliza Gonzalez Photo Sian Faber

Sian Faber

by Daniel Brierley

In the Sierra de Ronda mountains lives an artist, a storyteller. The artworks of beauty that she creates draw inspiration from both the natural world around her and the rich cultures of Andalucia in which she immerses herself. Working with performance and dance throughout her artistic career, she has found a unique way of capturing the captivating theatre and drama of Flamenco which has come to mean so much to her, firmly connecting her artwork with the natural environment that surrounds her by using the quills of the indigenous Griffon Vulture to immortalise in paint the movement and emotion of Flamenco.

An interview with an artist - Sian Faber

Sian Faber is an artist based in the white village of Gaucin, a pueblo blanco (white village) whose inspiring beauty has attracted many artists from far afield over the years. In the 2024 edition of the Art Gaucin art exhibition, her current collaborative collection of work, Drawn to Flamenco, stood out with its bold colours, unique materials and its captivating subject, the flamenco dancer, Eliza Gonzalez.

Andalucia.com - Where did you learn your craft as an artist?

Sian Faber - My artistic journey began with formal training at Auckland University at Elam Fine Art School, where I completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in sculpture and time based film. Since then I have trained in painting and photography in Sydney, Australia and in Byzantine Mosaics in Ravenna and at the Mosaic University in Spilimbergo, Italy.

AC - How long have you been living in Andalucia and what originally brought you to the region as an artist?

SF - I've been living in Andalucia for about seven years or so. After living in Australia for 30 years my husband and I decided to create our own European art experience. We came across Gaucin by both good fortune and design, having heard that it had an active community of artists.

AC - Where is your studio and what inspiration does its location bring?

SF - My studio is in Gaucin, a pueblo blanco in the Sierra de Ronda mountains overlooking the Costa del Sol. It is built on the ruins of the old covent right on the edge of the campo, with views down the river valley to the Mediterranean Sea and African continent beyond the shark like fin of the rock of Gibraltar, and Jebel Musa (Morocco) across the Gibraltar strait making up the Pillars of Hercules. The views surrounding Gaucin and its authenticity have been a source of many artistic inspirations.

Painting with feathers in the mountains of Gaucin (c) Michelle Chaplow
Painting with feathers in the mountains of Gaucin

AC - What inspires you to create art?

SF - I have always been a story teller who is not shy to portray things in her own way; I aspire to create artworks of beauty that reflect the world around me. Being a figurative and abstract painter and sculptor, working with both traditional materials and mediums like stone, glass and watercolour, in addition to not so traditional found objects of nostalgic or poignant memorabilia such as the vultures' feathers I used to create my current collection of work, Drawn to Flamencro, I rarely feel short for inspiration. Additionally, working with dancers who use their very own bodies to create art has also been a source of much inspiration for me.

AC - I understand that you've worked with performance and dance throughout your artistic career, what made you want to capture the movement and drama of flamenco?

SF - In a previous career I was a remedial masseur and pilates teacher so I have an intimate knowledge of how the body works, it feels natural to draw bodies in motion as a result. Working with the Sydney Dance Company in their rehearsals I learnt to capture the energy and vibrant gestures of their movements made in the moment.

Since then, I have found capturing these dancers in motion, with the theatre of flamenco with its amplified colour and drama, especially in the costumes of the bailaoras, an irresistible quest for me. Frankly, it's far easier drawing them than it is to learn to dance flamenco yourself! The more I learn about Flamenco as an art form the more engrossed I become; it has such a powerful influence over me, I find it absorbing.

Sian´s unique creative process
Sian´s unique creative process. Photo Sian Faber

AC - How did your collaboration with Eliza, the flamenco dancer in your current collection of work, evolve?

SF - Eliza Gonzalez performed in Gaucin and I initially approached her about a collaboration. Her imagination and energy are inspiring and its been an absolute pleasure to capture her at work both on stage and in the rehearsal studio.

As always, I began with scores of pencil sketches to try to catch the vitality of her moves and poses, then I worked to transcribe these into a painting series. Using inks on paper, layering washes, line work and stencils, I built up the compositions to best describe Eliza and the emotions her movements evoke. To give this series a geographical home, I have been using the quill of a Griffon Vulture, a familiar sight in the mountains of the Sierra de Ronda

Every summer, Gaucin is decorated by the village needleworkers in spectacular fashion, lifting the humble home craft of crochet to high art form. With this in mind, I have used a crochet stencil background around a circular centre to imply the moon, the sun or perhaps the spot lit form of the dancing figure in the backgrounds of some paintings, again to give geographical context and ground the dancing forms on the paper.

I find flamenco a powerfully feminine movement proudly elevating the traditions of domestic life and the importance of sharing and communicating that experience. Working closely with Eliza has also allowed us to share our own stories and how that shapes our own art practice, which then in turn further inspires possibilities for future collaborations together.

AC - How long have you been collaborating with Art Gaucin? 

SF - I was first involved with Art Gaucin as a guest artist in 2017, after which I then became a full member in 2018. 

AC - How does collaborating with Art Gaucin make you feel?

SF - Art Gaucin is a collective of individual artists from all over the world who have come to call Gaucin their creative home, and they have been successfully showing together on an Open Studios Platform now for over twenty years, so I felt very fortunate to have been accepted into their fold. The ongoing solid support of the local Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) is also vital to the continuation of this creative project, with the art loving crowd bringing further industry to the pueblo blanco tourist business. Being a member has provided me with a vital support group of artists and friends to share creative experiences with. Gaucin has so many individual art studios (and that's not counting the writers and musicians) per capita, (about 1 to every 20 people) it's almost like being back at university.

Sian Faber, an artist residing in the white village of Gaucin, paints with quills from the indigenous Griffon Vulture to capture the movement and emotion of Flamenco in her artwork. © Michelle Chaplow
Sian Faber, an artist residing in the white village of Gaucin, paints with quills from the indigenous Griffon Vulture to capture the movement and emotion of Flamenco in her artwork.

AC - What do you love most about being an artist/creative?

SF - I love the freedom and the independence that creating artworks has given me, and the ability to express myself and be accepted for who I am and feeling supported in my creative endeavours. The immense satisfaction I feel when completing an artwork is unbeatable, and multiplied ten fold when someone wants to buy it.

Sian´s unique creative process

AC - What are you trying to communicate/achieve with your artwork?

SF - I love capturing movement whether large bodies of fluid movement or bodies moving fluidly, and capturing moments, suspended in time. 

Where I am living has influence as well, using techniques both modern or traditional, and blending them through happy accident and/or careful design as I seek to create my own unique visual language of what I am seeing around me, to tell my own story.

AC - What are the most important qualities of an artist in your opinion?

SF - Oh I don't know, sincerity I guess, the authentic marks of a person communicating honestly, like an open conversation with a friend you can trust. Artisanship and skill of course is always admirable but someone honestly trying to communicate visually is always going to reach out and touch you. Perhaps that is why I love watching dancers using their own bodies to communicate, it is so raw, vital and personal a thing, and yet so transitory. The most important thing is to share your art, to have the expression of your life witnessed by others, it's how we all learn and grow.

AC - Can you tell us what a typical day looks like when you are creating art?

SF - I always aspire to have a regular calm balanced routine, however the reality is when I am physically creating it can tend to be an all or nothing messy experience, especially when an exhibition deadline is looming like the recent Art Gaucin. Having the time to enjoy the process, make all the mistakes and try out all the crazy things I think might work is always a great luxury to have. I find there are always highs and lows for me, sometimes I'll hate something once its finished and then I find I love it to bits a week later, and/or vice versa. The satisfaction of seeing a body of work come together is enormous. All the usuals of self employment come into play, eat well, exercise, rest, don't draw drunk. Actually making the art only accounts for about 40% of the things that need doing when you are a full time artist, sometimes I feel we are all glorified furniture removalists. 

AC - What is the best time of year in Andalucia in your opinion and where in the region do you like to spend time during that period?

SF - Andalucia is stunning in Spring, it is hands down the most amazing time of year to be here. It is so beautiful, for example the flowering wild peonies that have a short 2-3 week on Mt Hacho behind Gaucin season in late April are particularly amazing. Spring is also the best time of year to start going for long mountain walks or bike rides and to test the temperature of the sea and the rivers, or star gaze as the nights grow warmer and longer. To be honest its a great time of year to get some really good work done in my art studio, however, I had a magical visit to Alhambra in Granada one spring, the memory of which makes me eager to return. Living in Andalucia reminds me that we humans are seasonal creatures as well, just like the foods we eat.

AC - What's your favourite cherished Andalucian tradition/custom?

SF - It has to be flamenco. In every sense of the word, it pervades through everything here, the way they dress, their fantastic horses and the cork bearing mules and burros. It's everywhere and I can't get enough of it. There is nothing better than seeing the women, men and horses dressed to their flamenco best during festivals, drinking Tinto de Verano eating fabulous tapas, it's such a great way to celebrate being alive. That said, watching the workers in the forest harvesting cork and loading up their beautiful mules is also very special. I also thoroughly enjoyed harvesting a friends olive trees one year and delighted in receiving a bottle of the best olive oil I ever tasted, although I was surprised by how much gin we needed to get the job done!

AC - What five words best describe what Andalucia means to you?

SF - Campo, Flamenco, tranquila, multicultural, openhearted

The enchanting white village of Gaucín, home to artist Sian Faber, where traditional charm meets creative inspiration © Michelle Chaplow
The enchanting white village of Gaucín, home to artist Sian Faber, where traditional charm meets creative inspiration

AC - What is your favourite pueblo blanco (white village) in Andalucia?

SF - Gaucin in the Sierra de Ronda remains my favourite place to be, close enough to access the coast if I need the beach or the bustle of the city, but with its own world of beauty in the surrounding mountains and rivers. With the rich traditions of Southern Spain and her many festivals, her adherence to the agricultural seasons of olive picking and cork harvesting, the rock of Gibraltar rising like a shark fin for a touch of England and the treasures of Morocco in the distance, it Is like a cultural apex of cultures and religions and customs forever blending.

AC - Where do you go in Andalucia for an escape.

SF - Putting on my hiking shoes and going for a long walk or an electric bike ride or finding a hidden swimming spot along the river or a beach with soft sand. Or for a more cultural immersion, a day trip to the art galleries of Malaga, Marbella or Seville, we are so spoilt for choice in Andalucia. Sometimes, turning off all devices and reading a great book can be the best escape of all.

AC - What is your favourite beach to visit in Andalucia?

SF - Tarifa, its like a windy Bondi Beach for me.

AC - What is your best-loved inland natural destination in this beautiful region?

SF - Although the view from my studio never fails to bring me peace, my favourite place right now is on a finca near El Colmenar, watching the view out both sides of the house of the valley below Gaucin and walking up the nearby Guadiaro River.

Sian Faber, an artist residing in the white village of Gaucin, paints with quills from the indigenous Griffon Vulture to capture the movement and emotion of Flamenco in her artwork. © Michelle Chaplow
The enchanting white village of Gaucín, home to artist Sian Faber, where traditional charm meets creative inspiration

 

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