Spanish painter left her paradise isle for a broader horizon

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 November, 2008, 12:00am

I left the Spanish island of Mallorca after secondary school to expand my horizons and stand on my own two feet before going on to university in London. I really do believe that everyone should venture out of their own country to experience different cultures.

For me, I don't think I necessarily knew what I wanted to do and it was travelling that helped me to mature and open my mind to the world around me.

I worked doing waitressing and secretarial work, moving first to Paris to learn French then London to learn English.

Of course, it all seemed such a long way from home in Mallorca in the Mediterranean, which had been a paradise to grow up in. It has beaches and mountains - not so different from Hong Kong in that respect - but without the pollution.

There's also a special quality of life there. It's slower - it's as if time stops - and you spend time with your friends.

In fact I try to emphasise that with my son in Hong Kong now. It's not the material things that matter but to live properly and to enjoy doing that.

We lived in the Mallorcan capital, Palma, but as I was to find out, living in a smallish place has it drawbacks in terms of studying options, which was another good reason to spread my wings.

My first school where I went to kindergarten and stayed until 13 was run by nuns.

They were very strict in every way: how you ate, the way you sat and studied. But it was where I had my most memorable teacher. She really took good care of her students, trying her best to stimulate and educate us.

The school was regarded as offering a good education and I found I loved maths, as well as arts and sports.

But most of all it was the friendships that I formed that I remember with great fondness.

My sisters and I were always painting and drawing, and at a young age I won a newspaper competition, with my drawing appearing in print. I can still remember it being a view from my bedroom window. There was a park and space to park cars.

At the age of 13 I moved on to a school run by monks, which was co-educational and therefore very different. It marked a different phase in that I became more rebellious. I wore my hair differently and made my eyes very dark and this was my way of wanting to be me and not to follow.

I veered towards the sciences, such as physics and maths, probably because they were regarded as better for finding a job.

As part of that I also did technical drawing, which appealed to my creative side, and was on the basketball team, did athletics and swam.

When it came to choosing what to study at university, I found there was lack of support from teachers. In fact, I think they failed in that respect.

I strongly believe that if, as a teacher, you take the same lesson after lesson and don't care for your pupils, you fail as a teacher.

I wanted to study fine arts but that meant studying in Barcelona on the Spanish mainland, as there was no faculty in Mallorca, but we couldn't afford it.

So then I thought about maths but again there was nowhere on the island for that either.

As a result I went out to work and that led me to travel overseas.

When I finally reached London, I worked in a Spanish bar and embarked on studying properly again.

I'd enrolled on a number of foundation courses and was worried whether my English was good enough, but was fortunate to be accepted by University College, London, where I studied civil engineering.

In my final year I met by husband and it was he who persuaded me to go on to study fine arts at Central St Martin's College of Art and Design, as I'd found civil engineering lacked the creativity that I thought it would offer me.

I came to Hong Kong four years ago with my husband who moved here for work.

Initially, I felt Hong Kong lacked creativity and wasn't very fertile for me.

Then suddenly I felt: 'Wow, I can see the opening.' That's important as painting is a dialogue for transmitting for my ideas. I want to use it to express my views on society and life.

It's interesting, but for me painting is very much a state of mind at any one time.

That's why I can't bear to see my work hanging in my home.

I only have one piece and it's been left unfinished deliberately as a reminder that I'm never satisfied with what I do.

Vicenta Valenciano's exhibition, My Impressions of Hong Kong, is on show at the Sofia Gaspar gallery at the Time Centre, Unit 8B, 53-55 Hollywood Road. She was talking to David Phair.