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Illustrating the subconscious

At the beginning of the 20th century, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung invented the term “collective unconscious,” which suggested that all people share inherent subconscious ideas and dreams. Attracted to Jung’s idea of a universal thought process, Jackson Heights artist Clara Fialho has transformed this concept into her work by painting dreamy, child-like images onto large, enveloping canvases of pleasurable colors.

Some of Fialho’s paintings bear an uncanny resemblance to those of Spanish painter Joan Miro, whose artwork was considered part of the surrealist movement in Europe during the 1920s and ‘30s. Similar to Jung and his belief in the collective unconscious, surrealists created art from the subconscious mind that often appeared irrational or illogical.

Fialho admits to being “interested in the ideas that came behind surrealism with Joan Miro,” but she doesn’t consider her work to be surrealist. She does, however, identify with Miro’s series of “anti-art” paintings that he created in reaction to the tumultuous events that occurred during his career — the Spanish Civil War and World War II.

While Miro angrily rebelled against this era by drawing darkly distorted images, Fialho chooses to paint “an alternative” to the hectic reality that surrounds her. Her pieces allow the audience to escape into a world of reflection, whimsy and daydream.

Fialho, who used to create more representational art, has discreetly added small portraits into some of her paintings. These images appear minute next to the larger, abstract figures which resemble the innocent drawings of a child.

According to Fialho, her interest in drawing started as soon as she could hold a pencil. Although she grew up in what she describes as a “sad and depressing and cold” area of southern Brazil, Fialho attributes her preferences for vibrant hues to the Brazilian comic books she would read as a child.

When she was 14 years old, Fialho and her mother moved to the United States where she attended the LaGuardia High School for Music & Art in Manhattan. Shortly thereafter, she enrolled at the Cooper Union School of Art. While enrolled at Cooper, she studied mostly photography and drawing. Her fascination with drawing has never left her as seen by the numerous sketch books and works on papers that fill her apartment.

Since graduating from Cooper in 2006, Fialho has exhibited primarily in the New York city area. Recently, she has incorporated clay figures into her drawings and hopes to devote more time to sculpting. Given the large size of her canvases, Fialho also sees herself doing set design for theater productions.

For the time being, she is content creating her art and bringing some momentary joy to those who admire and appreciate her vision.

“People write to me, ‘Oh, your paintings make me so happy.’ I just want people to feel good when they look at it,” she explained. “I’m interested in the collective unconscious and Carl Jung and how people feel connected to each other, to everything. I think that’s where a sense of happiness comes from.”

For more information about Clara Fialho’s artwork and upcoming exhibits, you can visit her website at

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