- Written by Clelia
- Category: Artists
Banksy is the pseudonym of the most high-profile graffiti painter in contemporary Street Art. Although there are no concrete biographical facts to go by, it is believed he was born in the outskirts of Bristol in 1974, later moving into the city where he spent his adolescence. A recent study by Queen Mary University in London identified the artist as Robin Gunningham and confirmed he grew up in Bristol.
According to the illustrator and graphic designer Tristan Manco, one of the most ardent researchers into urban art, the controversial Banksy was an apprentice butcher before getting into graffiti during the 80's "aerosol boom". In the 90's, he was a gang member of Bristol’s DryBreadZ crew, aka DBZ, at which time his fame began to spread like wildfire, mainly due to his tit-for-tat overpainting war with the top graffiti artist of the day, King Robbo, whose work along Regent's Canal in Camden Banksy took the liberty of "revamping" repeatedly until, on learning of the late Robbo's comatose condition, he put an end to their feud and paid his rival a series of heartfelt tributes.
Robbo inc, availible at streetartlondon.co.uk
On the 12th of July 2008, the Mail on Sunday announced it had discovered his real identity, revealing his name as Robin Gunningham, which the actual Mr Gunningham has always denied when questioned. According to other sources, his real name might be Robert Banks or Robin Banks although the latter would appear to be a play on the words "robbing banks".
Whatever the case may be, mystery still surrounds him. According to Will Simpson, secretary of the Bristol Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls football club, the artist accompanied them on a 2001 tour of Mexico in which he played matches against the Zapatista Liberty Fighters. There exist photographs of him painting a wall mural in honour of their cause, his pixelated face well-hidden under a handkerchief and no other discernible clues to his identity whatsoever. Those photos were published in the book 'Freedom Through Football: The Story Of The Easton Cowboys & Cowgirls'.
Banksy painting a mural in Mexico, availible at www.12ozprophet.com
In his book 'Wall And Street', Banksy remembers his early days as a street artist spraying the paint directly onto the wall. This technique required time, however, which posed a risk as graffiti was neither art nor legal at that time. He, therefore, began handcutting and using cardboard stencils and carspray to speed up the process and which had the added bonus of making his murals look far more 'accomplished'.
The term 'Street Art' encompasses all forms of artistic expression whose setting is outdoors, urban and, ostensibly, illegal. At the start, these paintings or texts left on walls, buildings and train carriages were given the name graffiti. Their origins can be traced back to the Afro-American and Latino ghettos of 60's New York as a reaction to the conditions and oppression they were living in. The earliest graffiti artists shared cultural tastes in music, dance and fashion and it was here that hip-hop was born. Later on, more artistic techniques came to be used, namely stencilling, wheat-pasted poster art, templates, installations, sculpture and sticker art.
The messages implicit therein were invariably politically or socially critical, as are Banksy's: "A wall is a very large weapon. It's one of the most unpleasant things you can hit someone with."
Few images illustrate this idea better than his "Maid In London" mural where a uniformed maid sweeps rubbish behind a wall as if to say: what we don't want to see, we hide from view.
Maid in London, availible at academics.skidmore.edu
Banksy began by painting rats all over the streets of Bristol which served as his instrument of ridicule against 'The System'. Influenced by, among others, the punk band Crass and the Ad Jammers movement which focused on deforming and transforming publicity images and thereby their message, Banksy's work has always sought out a social or moral criticism, in the guise of irony or satire, in the form of writing, stencilling or graffiti.
But if anyone was ever Banksy's inspiration or influence, it was Blek le Rat, a prolific Parisian graffiti artist of the early 80's. It was from him that he copied the stencil and aerosol technique as a means of expressing his criticisms and complaints: "Every time I think I've painted something vaguely original, I find out Blek already did it, better, 20 years earlier."
If graffiti changed anything – It would be illegal, availible at news.fitzrovia.org.uk
After those initial rat-taking-photos-of-passers-by or rat-listening-to-music graffitis came more work that continued to criticise social hypocrisies, only now they were also appearing on postboxes, doorways and drains. His 1988 "Naked" can still be seen on the façade of Park Street Clinic and it's not alone: a whole series of creations decorated first Bristol and then London, well-known examples being the two policemen kissing, the MonaLisa with bazuka rifle or the fleeing natives chased by a supermarket trolley.
Mona Lisa With Bazooka Rocket, availible at nohaycomolodeuno.blogspot.com.es
By then, he was already collaborating with an agent, Steve Lazarides, a former photographer who had documented Banksy's first teenage forays into graffiti art and with whom he shared the running of his website where both of them added photographs of each and every new creation and thanks to which there is still a record of those that have since been erased, demolished or painted over. Lazarides confesses to having helped organise the infamous stunts which involved infiltrating the world's most famous museums and dislaying Banksy art clandestinely, as happened at London's Natural History Museum with a dissected rat pinned inside a frame. And that was not all. In the British Museum, for instance, they managed to hang an apparent landscape painting that on closer inspection revealed a hunt scene with a supermarket trolley. New York’s MOMA unwittingly displayed his portrait of a lady in period costume wearing a gasmask. "Art will be neither beauty nor novelty. It will be effective and it will be troubling," according to the artist.
His work reached another level after being installed surreptitiously and viewed in four New York museums (the Metropolitan, Brooklyn, Natural History and Modern Art) and also when his street art started being seen across the world in other large cities like Melbourne and París. Come the year 2000, he decided to organise a solo exhibition and did so on the Severnshed, a floating restaurant, thereby distinguishing himself from all other street artists. Then, in 2003, came another exhibition, this time in London while later, in 2005 and 2007, two of the most important and striking creations of his career ~ the Gaza and West Bank murals.
Banksy, availible at prospectornow.com
Banksy, who considered it "the world's largest open-air prison", covered the 'Wall Of Shame' on the West Bank with al fresco paintings that spelled out his opposition. Pictures of little girls clutching balloons in an attempt to escape, glimpses of blue sky and idyllic landscapes seen through holes and cracks are a cry for attention against its construction and existence. The repercussions were such that, even today, there is an alternative sightseeing tour to visit them.
Girl and Soldier by Banksy, availible at http://www.stencilrevolution.com/
By this point, Banksy's works could be found all over the world, everywhere from Los Angeles to Barcelona. Amongst them, imitations of Miguelangelo's "David" wearing a bullet-proof vest and Van Gogh's "Sunflowers", completely withered. In 2006 he painted an emaciated, malnourished black child wearing that crown associated with a very well-known fast-food chain.
One successful show that stands out is his 'Banksy Versus Bristol Museum' in 2009 which involved closing the building to the public for three days while secret, large-scale preparations were made. The irony of this all being financed by those who had previously censored him was not lost on Banksy who remarked: "This is the first exhibition I've ever held where the donors' money has been used to display my work rather than erase it."
Availible at www.plataformadeartecontemporaneo.com
One of the main bones of contention between his followers and detractors is the extortionate price paid for some of his work. For such an anti-establishment and stern critic of capitalism, it seems to some rather ironic that his works are amongst the most expensive on the market. For this reason, some street artists accuse him of having "sold out" to the powers that be. Banksy, who once said that "Commercial success is a disaster for graffiti artists", saw his set of portraits of Kate Moss in the style of Warhol's "Marilyn Monroe" sell for $80,000 at Sothesby's in 2006. And then again in April 2007, his "Space Girl & Bird" (spray paint on steel) sold for half a million dollars. A few months later, Bonham's sold ten of his works for a total of half a million pounds sterling (€700,000). And the bids show no sign of stopping there. Nevertheless, in 2013, Banksy decided to open a pop-up street stall near Central Park selling original, signed canvasses for $60 each. Oddly, only eight of them were ever bought.
Kate Moss, availible at www.banksy-prints.com
During his New York tour that same year, Banksy carried out an illegal exhibition called "Better Out Than In" whereby he created a different artwork every day somewhere on the city streets. He tweeted: "Looking forward to getting my hands dirty tonight!" And he most certainly did, using graffiti, sculpture and even video to get his characteristically sarcastic humour across.
Never far from controversy, there are many who have denigrated his work: some calling it vandalism; others pure hypocrisy for criticising capitalism whilst working for large corporations like Puma and MTV. For others, take for example Gareth Williams, head of Urban Art at Bonham's in London: "The most incredible thing about the Banksy phenomenon is not his meteoric rise, nor the high prices collectors pay, but the fact that the very establishment he satirises has welcomed him with open arms."
Rat Photographer,availible at www.whatsonyourwall.com
And so to the controversy surrounding his 2010 documentary entitled "Exit Through The Gift Shop". Many were hoping for all to be revealed about their mysterious artist but hoping was as far as they got. The documentary was nominated for an Oscar, as well as an Independent Spirit Award and a BAFTA, and got excellent newspaper reviews in the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Sun Times to name but two. In it, Banksy introduces us to Thierry Guetta, a French man living in Los Angeles, whose unique obsession is filming the artist on video. The two meet and Banksy decides to turn the camera instead on Guetta, persuading him to infiltrate the Urban Art world with the alias Mr. Brainwash and turning him into a celebrity in his own right.
Clips from "Exit Through The Gift Shop" (Thierry, Banksy: Can marketing create an artist?)
And this is where the controversy took off. Is what the documentary says about Mr. Brainwash fact or fiction? Is he an actor or for real? For many, it was just an elaborate montage of Banksy's to show what has become of street art, namely just another consumer product, an investment opportunity seized upon by the upper classes and Thierry Guetta or Mr. Brainwash was nothing other than the alter-ego of Banksy himself. And to thicken the plot further, the artist Ron English confirmed that Thierry Guetta was totally real and that Banksy himself had explained in conversation his motives for making the film ~ to ridicule Guetta for his egoism in refusing to share hundreds of hours worth of filming the artist in action.
Girl with a pierced Eardrum found at Banksy.co.uk
In October 2014, Banksy created a new graffiti 'portrait' of "Girl With A Pierced Eardrum", a parody of Vermeer's" Girl with a Pearl Earring" in which he exchanged the jewel for a security alarm on the front wall of a recording studio in Hanover Place, Bristol. The work got a lot of media attention, especially because it was done back in the artist’s hometown and shortly after the rumours of his alleged arrest started to circulate. 24 hours later, however, the work was ruined by black paint in a clear act of vandalism and antagonism towards its author. And nor was this the first, last or only time Banksy's work would be damaged: his "Art Buff" in Kent, for one instance, was vandalised with a crude penis. Due to the prominence he has achieved over the last few years, however, some of his public artworks are now protected behind sheets of clear perspex, allowing them to be protected or restored more easily.
One of Banksy's murals before being cut into 3 pieces and moved to an exhibition. Found at banksy.co.uk
One of the most recent exhibitions on the artist, set up by The Sincura Group under the title "The Stealing Banksy", took place in London in 2014, exhibiting 7 street artworks that were then to be auctioned afterwards. Not for the first time, Banksy vociferously rejected the whole project despite the organisers assuring him of the building owners' consent. He is quoted as calling it "simply disgusting that anyone can take art off walls without permission."
Banksy's Dismaland. Published in Flickr by Peter Gasston
In August 2015, Banksy inaugurated the temporary, theme-park-styled installation "Dismaland" in collaboration with 58 other artists. When this closed its doors, the construction team moved what they dismantled to a refugee camp in Calais and built various housing units and a playground funfair for refugee families. After the recent, forced evacuation of the camp, the official Dismaland website (http://www.dismaland.co.uk/) says simply: "Dismaland Calais has now closed".
Son Of A Syrian Immigrant. Found at Banksy.co.uk
That December, a new Banksy painting entitled "The Son of a Syrian Immigrant" appeared on a camp wall, picturing the late billionaire Apple founder Steve Jobs with a bag of belongings slung over his shoulder. It is a clear attack on the conditions endured by Syrian migrants in the infamous "Jungle” camp at the French port.
Found at banksy.co.uk
His criticism of the situation continued into January of this year when his first interactive artwork appeared. On a wooden board placed outside the French Embassy in Knightsbridge, he painted Cosette, the little girl from the "Les Misérables" poster, with a ripped French flag behind her, tears rolling down her cheeks and a billowing canister of teargas below. A scannable QR code at the bottom of the picture links to a Youtube video showing police firing teargas whilst raiding the camp in Calais, on 5th January 2016. Photos of the picture went viral and 42 hours later, thieves attempted to steal it which meant the Metropolitan police were forced to intervene and safeguard it.
In February, the portion of wall in question was completely covered over by Cheval Property Management Limited who own the land the building stands on. They confirmed this as a temporary measure, however, until such time as the "future plans for the work are decided".
From 13th January til 29th February 2016, Banksy's works were on show for the first time in Istambul in the exhibition "The Art of Banksy" with the patronage of the Turkish Ministry of Culture. The exhibition, coinciding with the inauguration of the Global Karaköy gallery, took a group of 80 experts almost a year to set up, taking it upon themselves to track down, requisition and catalogue the artist's last 15 years of work. "Banksy has done a huge amount of artwork, the majority of which has never been seen by many people. I've managed to get hold of it thanks to collectors who made a massive effort to reveal the pieces and their whereabouts," said Steve Lazarides, the exhibition's curator, who also confirmed it as the most extensive ever undertaken of the work of the elusive Banksy.
Visitors to the exhibition were able to enjoy it in singular fashion as it included detailed replicas of both the streets of London and Banksy's studio workshop, allowing them to access more closely and experience more vividly the context of the graffiti's creation and the poetic, critical and humorous energy of this mysterious and much-talked-about artist.
The artist in his studio
Whatever might or might not be going on around him, it's undeniable that Banksy is the most sought-after, controversial and admired artist in his field. He doesn't need publicity, nor does he seek approval because his creations speak for themselves and provoke reflection in those who view them. Too many of his pictures have disappeared, like, for instance, nearly all of those to do with the 2012 London Olympics. People have tried to thwart him by ruining his work, destroying and damaging it or stealing it to sell on at exhorbitant prices. Many others, however, find his work and words inspiring, aspire to follow in his footsteps and imitate his unmistakable style.
Banksy vs Bristol Museum
Picture Gallery: Banksy - Works, click on the photos to see them full sized
(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)
- Written by Clelia
- Category: Artists
The sculptor and painter Antoni Tàpies was born (Barcelona 1923) into a well-to-do Catalan publishing dynasty and it was here and how his love of reading started. Lung disease left him unable to continue his law studies but did allow him to exhibit circa 1940, in what turned out to be the start of a long artistic career, his earliest pieces which featured mainly graphic art. Due to the destruction wrought by the Second World War and the impact of the atomic bomb, he expressed, through innovative new techniques, his interest in dust, earth, matter and atoms, all elements that became intrinsic to his later textured paintings.
"Grattage Rojo" (Red grattage). Image available at www.tiempodehoy.com
"Cruz y Tierra" (Cross and Soil). Image available at www.repro-arte.com
Image (right): Bed, available at www.tallerdecartasdeamor.wordpress.com
Image: Antoni Tàpies, available at www.trianarts.com
(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)
- Written by Maira Herrero
- Category: Other Arts
Author: Maira Herrero,
"The most intelligent and most important poet our country has produced this century has died, in hospital in Rome, as a result of the burns she suffered, apparently, at home in her bath according to the Italian authorities' investigations. I have travelled with her and during our travels, she shared many of her philosophical opinions as well as her concerns about the way the world was heading and about the course of history, both of which frightened her throughout her whole life." With these words, Thomas Bernhard summed up the death of his dear friend, Ingeborg Bachmann.
(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)
- Written by Elena Cué
- Category: Guests with Art
Author: Elena Cué
Lita Cabellut. Photo: Elena Cué
The art of Lita Cabellut (Barcelona, 1961) is pure feeling, like the haunting voice of flamenco singer Camarón de la Isla whom she so greatly admires. The colossal format of her paintings and subjects, whom she endows with great psychological potency, are the clamor of an artist who needs her voice to be heard. Her work exudes the wisdom of life that runs through her gypsy veins. She portrays souls with expressionist strokes that spring from forces underlying all thought. Their gaze is by turns defiant, nostalgic, beseeching, proud, sensual, wise… Every portrait tells stories: the stories of the artist, our own, and universal stories of the human condition. Gaze, gesture, and skin convey the scars of life’s wounds but also all its beauty. A constant dichotomy exists in her life and work: the formal and the wild, light and dark, reason and passion, but always there is beauty.
We begin our conversation in her studio and home in The Hague.
Elena Cué: You were abandoned by your mother just months after you were born, taken in by your grandmother and lived on the streets of Barcelona until you were adopted at age thirteen. You knew you wanted to be an artist at that age, when your adoptive family took you to the Museo del Prado for the first time. In your earlier life, before you began to paint, how did you channel your artist’s energy?
Lita Cabellut: Through fantasy, I think. You aren´t aware of what you are living or doing at the time. But what I do remember is that I was a ghost: I sold stars, for example. Now I think about it, and the artist was already present. Though of course, talent that isn´t developed doesn´t grow.
What do you think art is about?
It’s a way of conceiving, seeing and feeling about life. Art is much more than material. It is a great empathy for the world, for life. That is what art really is, because much of it is ethics, and fundamentalisms. It’s unavoidable: freedom and dictatorship at the same time, life and death. It’s so complicated and so simple at the same time. We always want to idealize art, isolate it, and make it individual.
Which it isn’t.
Which it isn’t, and that’s why art is suffering right now. We’re determined to isolate it and make it individualistic. Plato said that beauty was love materialized. I think that´s sort of it. Art absorbs, because it is a constant death and rebirth in the same day. You have to give it everything, and that’s why there’s a lot of risk in my work. The line between good and excellent is so fine, and that excellent has a risk. Not to be better, but to overcome what you don´t know. When we love and cherish what we don´t know, that´s when we start to understand what art is. Because art is ugliness as well, and it is beauty, and hardness. Art is velvet on the outside and bleach on the inside, because it burns you.
Lita cabellut. Impulse. Courtesy of the artist's studio.
Why did you choose figurative painting as a means of expression and focus on portraiture?
It´s an obsession. In reality, my great passion has always been psychology. When I was a small child I was already aware that by studying people you could prevent calamities. I knew very well what my next three hours were going to be, what the situation might or might not be. And then that turned into a form of survival, and then a way of living. What interests me most are human beings, because humans are so complex, so beautiful and ugly at the same time, so much so that it is fascinating. So I began to pay attention to figurative artists, and then I switched over completely to Saura, Tàpies and abstract artists. And you can see it in my work. It’s a communion of figuration and abstraction.
What is the importance of abstraction to you?
Abstraction is very important to me. I went back to the museums, to study Velázquez, Goya... I realized that they were the great abstract artists, and that they used it as a means for illusion to give form to a figuration that did not exist. That´s when I began to see abstraction as interesting, from that philosophical point of view. The great masters use figuration as an illusion of something that doesn´t exist and that our brain finishes. For example, if you look closely at a clothing in Velázquez, with its cuffs and fabrics, it’s totally abstraction. It´s an illusion of what you are seeing. It is points of light, of matter, placed in such a chaotic and anarchical way that from a distance they form an image that forces you to see. So if the artist has the power to manipulate the eye of the person who is seeing, and takes the eye to another place where it would not normally see, that’s art. That seemed very interesting to me, and I began to use figuration much more. At first without faces, just bodies. Because I wanted to study position for people to see gesture.
Lita Cabellut. Photo: Elena Cué
How do you choose your subjects?
They´re models. But first is the theme. I always work by themes.
And how do these themes come up?
For example, the trilogy of doubt came to me one night when I was talking with a friend who told me that she was having a legal problem. And I thought, there is so much doubt in knowing who is right, and truth is so difficult to find. And suddenly the title came to me: the trilogy of doubt. It will be about power, impotence and ignorance. Because through ignorance, tremendous things are done.
And in what way are you in each one of these portraits?
All portraits are great self-portraits. They are a way to relive distant, hidden, present and latent emotions every time. Every portrait is me. In the trilogy of doubt, where there is the great dictator, a victim and an ignorant, I’m all three. When I paint, I am in the painting. It´s me. You know what happens? You can only paint or create what you know. Empathy happens because we recognize ourselves in something. We cannot feel something we don´t know. It´s impossible, just an illusion.
Is art a cure or a palliative?
It´s difficult for me to imagine life without art. It´s as if God had turned out the lights of the world. The sadness I feel at living without art is so deep that it makes me dizzy. Art has cured me a lot. I am a happy woman, so to speak, of course. But I am a woman who lives, and I love life, and my children, and I love who I am and what I am not. I see possibility in everything. I owe all that to the possibility of dying every day and being reborn: I’ve been able to do away with so many things that weren´t good for me, so many emotions, and give that form in these images.
Lita Cabellut's studio. Photo: Elena Cué
Has art helped you forget or remember?
I’d say acknowledge. Provide a place. Listen, for example I painted monsters, images that were monstrous. I painted everything that frightened me and was still in my subconscious, and would suddenly appear like a capricious dog that sits in an unexpected spot. Feelings and images would come to me that I didn´t know what to do with. These days I don´t title my works, though I used to, because I wanted to identify them, I wanted to see all of those feelings. And it´s really interesting, because once you give those names and see them, they become very small. The more intelligent you are, the more fears you have. For children, who dream about that, it´s a kind of active intelligence. There is so much risk in the world, so many dangers, that intelligence needs to calculate those dangers in order to survive. It´s the law of the strong. I´ve always had many fears, like not being able to sleep with the lights off. Now I sleep with the lights off in the house, but not in the garden.
In other words, you’ve been getting rid of those demons through art, by giving them form and getting them out of your unconscious…
Exactly. I´ve been able to paint it all: ugliness, cruelty, tenderness, all of those elements… You have to think that you´re like an octopus, with tentacles that need to touch all kinds of emotions. If you are unlucky, some of those tentacles will be stunted, because they haven´t been able to recover or have not had the right space. I´ve been able to use them extensively in my own work. I´m certain that are has cured me. I have a foundation for children so there can be art. Because I´m absolutely sure that art goes much further than psychiatric methods. These are necessary as well, but art goes much further.
Art... and love?
I remember when I was small how difficult not feeling loved was. It was really tough. I’m a mother and I know what that is. No one can imagine how important the love of family is for so many things to grow. It´s true that tragedy, for artists, is like a box of jewels. You can´t paint suffering or pain if you haven´t lived it. It will always be an imitation, a caricature.
Lita Cabellut. Silence of the white. Courtesy of the artist's studio
Do your paintings tell your story?
In reality, they are all my stories. For example, Impulse is a series about the ultimatum of female beauty. You see how I threw puddles of paint on those paintings; they are really violent attacks. Impulse is always an act of violence, but an act of violence is also an act of love. I´ve lived a lot of violence, I´ve seen a lot of female violence. For me, it´s also a way of dealing with this topic, and of letting it go. It´s not that I am trying, through my work, to better the world, but that I simply try to show the world that these aspects must be considered, must be seen, named and above all given a voice.
Everything about you is learning and overcoming.
That is what I always try for. Elena, in everything that is ugly, you have to find that spot of beauty. Because it´s there, it´s always there, in the most horrible things that happen to you. I always say: if you haven’t walked on the carpet of sorrows, you can´t kiss life. It´s important, so you can know what you love and what you don´t. Imagine getting to the end of life, at an old age, and regretting everything we haven´t done, because we didn´t want to get into trouble, we didn’t want to commit or suffer too much. Can you imagine that?
Courage, that great virtue.
Courage is an act of responsibility. It´s so important, it allows you to change things, to move forward. What frightens us most is to be responsible for our actions. If you are brave, it means you accept that things can go wrong. Do you know how beautiful it is to accept that things might go bad? That´s freedom. Courage is freedom.
Lita Cabellut and Elena Cué during the interview. Photo: Elena Cué
- Written by Elena Cué
- Category: Guests with Art
Author: Elena Cué
Jean-Luc Nancy. Foto: Aïcha Messina
Jean-Luc Nancy (Bordeaux, 1940) is one of the foremost French thinkers of our time. For many years, he was Professor at the Université Marc Bloch in Strasbourg. His Christian background, present in his beginnings, evolved with his discovery of Heidegger’s philosophy. Another decisive influence was his discovery of Structuralism and his contact with Derrida, which among other things served to strengthen his preference for the contemporary in his philosophical reflections. We began by talking about the challenges that philosophers face nowadays.
What would you say are the greatest challenges that philosophical thought faces today?
In philosophy, nothing is a given. No meaning can be considered obvious. For example, it isn’t possible to talk about “man”, “society” or “science” as if these words designate well-identified realities. The challenge is precisely not to latch on to any acquired identity. For a philosopher, nothing should be taken for granted. Preconceived and established meanings must be constantly reevaluated, and new possibilities opened.
How can a philosopher teach a society to think this way when it is as anxious as ours is for answers and truths that it can cling to?
It is precisely this impatience that can be a trap. In one sense, impatience is right: there is no reason to wait, and the conditions for a decent life can be demanded at any time. On the other hand, there are obscure and complex questions to which emphatic or “radical” answers, as we like to say, can be dangerous. The recent Brexit is a good example: the vote has just taken place, and its supporters have already become nervous and begun to question it. Or Podemos, which started off very strong but has quickly lost strength instead of gaining it. Furthermore, the current complexity is the result of opposing “impatiences”: the one felt by those who are excluded and the impatience of those who fear exclusion (the middle class); the impatience of people seeking refuge and the impatience of those who fear being overrun by refugees; and the impatience of those who miss how things were in the past vis-à-vis those who want to accelerate the arrival of the future.
At present it’s much more difficult to set a course than it was at the time of the workers’ struggles or the end of dictatorships. How did Franco’s dictatorship last so long when many people were against it? Because it was a time of societal transformation and transformation of the European economies, and in turn these transformed the conditions that would prepare the end of the dictatorship. Why are the European Socialisms and Communisms in crisis? Because their motors are too old. We have to find new ways for a new state of affairs in which techniques, powers and expectations have transformed slowly. And in fact, this is what needs to be made understood: a patience that is active rather than passive. An impatient patience and a patient impatience.
You have written often about terrorism, especially after the grave attacks in France. What is your opinion on this subject?
This terrorism is the combined effect of two forces: that of the change in Western dominance and of the assertion of Islam, which has seen its equilibrium destroyed by colonization and the end of the Ottoman Empire. This terrorism reveals an extreme situation created by the very strong contradiction between the Western model of development and wellbeing, and the reality of existence in countries that feel marginalized, and where the upper classes or casts preserve the enormous differences in terms of wealth and status.
At the same time, the West is weak in its own strength. It doesn’t believe in its own civilization any more, it is preoccupied with its own technique and sees how capitalism grows without lessening differences in standards of living, while no Socialist economy has been able to last long (the Soviet economy was a State capitalism). In fact, there is no “West” anymore, and instead there are techno-economic poles of power whose visible heads are the United States of America and the Non-United States of Asia, but whose possessions and actions are found almost everywhere, and wherever there are resources to be exploited. Europe no longer has a consistency of its own, and it is subjected to this division of world powers.
Therefore globalization provokes explosions, tragedies and social and cultural collapses of all kinds. For five centuries we believed that utopias were achievable, and we have believed in their vanity. Now we have to think differently, and reflect on our place in the world. This will take a very long time… centuries, forcibly… But societies have always shown that they are able to overcome considerable challenges.
What are you referring to when you talk about the “surprise of liberty” Do you believe that we are free, or not?
Liberty is not a faculty we possess, or a right that we have at our disposal. Liberty resides in the fact that our existence is not programmed, and must find its own path. However, it has to do so as existence in a world that has conditions and limits. We are not free if that means “to be able to do what one wants” and “be independent of everything” because we depend on a lot of things, and most times our “will” consists only of propensities, hopes and yearnings that come from somewhere else. Understanding this and what that means is the beginning of liberation. And that is why liberty surprises us, because we discover that there is something other than what we thought was obvious.
For example: I become ill and cannot do my job, but I can see my state as an experience; the experience of not being in charge of all of my decisions, or of my preferences. Sometimes the ailing “give lessons” to those who are in good health.
Could you explain how suffering is an opportunity to broaden liberty?
That’s not what I am saying… and above all I’m not saying that it is an “opportunity”. Suffering is not a favorable occasion, it’s a reason to rebel, and especially to look for how to rebel, in the best of cases. In other words, to what end? Surely the aim is to not suffer more, but even that must be defined. For a long time, that goal was grounded in the word “Communism” or “Socialism”. But these concepts were never truly developed, except for in the Soviet form, and that form failed.
Why did it fail?
That analysis has not been done yet, or not sufficiently. Instead of looking deeper into that question, communists are happy to just deplore the dirty capitalism that has supplanted any idea of a fair society with that of consumer freedom. They complain about injustice, but they don´t know where justice is found. For example, we often hear talk today about a universal minimum wage. It seems like a fair and good idea, but it is also a very dangerous idea that would contribute to keeping many people at that minimum. The truth is that nowadays, in order to invent, first we must think. And we must scream as well. Brexit was an outcry by those who have been treated with contempt by the ruling class in Europe. We have to listen to that outcry. But what should we understand from it? That is what remains to be seen.
In your book The Deconstruction of Christianity, you talk about religion in today’s world. Could you tell me a bit more about that?
It isn´t about breaking, or annihilating, but about taking apart or de-structuring an edifice to show what it is made of. Now, Christianity is not made of religion. It was made from a profound mutation of Mediterranean humanity when it needed to emerge from the Ancient World, a world of limits, a finite world, and what we could even call de-finition. Everywhere there were gods with precise functions, rules to comply with, models to imitate and fixed horizons. At some point, that all crumbled. Undoubtedly, with the Roman Empire we saw the first “globalization” – when there was a departure from closed territories and fixed conditions (such as “free man vs. slave”). So then a desire for the infinite, and the promise of infinity began. This attainment produced a change in civilization, culture and society gave rise to the great adventures of the modern world, with all of their risks.
And with this deconstruction of Christianity, what specific conclusions have you come to?
The first conclusion is the most important: the profound transformation of the culture that occurred with the arrival of Christianity was the departure from religion as idolatry, as superstition, towards a cosmo-vision with an infinite horizon. The universal, the “whole” of Christian catholicity means, above all, the unlimited: no more idols, and instead an open infinity. So there is also energy for enterprise: we can and we must transform ourselves, and transform the world, infinitely. Christianity has materialized itself as humanism, as capitalism and as technical progress. This all becomes problematic and obscure, but we are always looking towards infinity. And religion as a collective point of reference has disappeared from the West.
The second conclusion is just the opposite: if Christianity took on the imposing religious form that it has had for centuries, it is because the certainties and references on which it is based are always desirable and highly desired. Then there are those who appropriate these references to construct meaning, as an instrument of power, an ideal of beauty or of the gratification of thought, and those who (and strangely, they are sometimes the same) seek representations, images and legends they can deliver themselves to. Atheism is unable to resolve many doubts. And that’s a shame, because religion as assurance is a lack of liberty, except for mystics and great spiritual men who have, on the other hand, helped many religions evolve as well.
To end, let’s talk about art. In what ways do you think that the meaning of “contemporary art” is different from traditional art?
Traditional art was linked to the possibility of the representation of truth – a religious, political or heroic truth, or a truth of perception, sensation or feeling. The modern world sees truth as an infinite process of searching. There aren´t stable and accessible figures or forms anymore, not even in what art has been able to produces in terms of forms we call abstract or colors without precise forms (Rothko, Newman, Pollock). A whole culture is being invented where the very meaning of “art” is becoming more obscure, precisely because it is no longer about representing given truths.
What would it mean?
The meaning of “art” is, in a way, necessarily enigmatic and elusive, because it does not allow itself to be formulated by language. Think about music: with twelve-tone music, serial music, electronica, jazz, rock and mixes of tonal and atonal music, our panorama of sound has changed considerably (as has our visual landscape, but sound has a stronger sensual penetration; think of electrification, techno, rap, slam, etc.). We look for new sensibilities, and that has its risks, of course. We search for what sensibilities and what enigmas of the senses are becoming “ours”.
Foto: Jean-Pierre Daumard
- Written by Cristina Ojea Calahorra
- Category: Art
William Kentridge: Tango For Page Turning, 2012-2013. Single Chanel HD video. Picture courtesy of Galleria Lia Rumma Milan/Naples.
Irma Blank. Radical Writings, Vademecum VI, 1994. Ballpoint pen on paper. Courtesy of: Gregor Podnar, Berlin / P420, Bolonia.
José Antonio Suárez Londoño. Untitled (1), 2015. Mixed media on paper. Courtesy of Bernal Espacio Gallery, Madrid.
Galeria Bernal Espacio. 10 - 29 de February 2016.
(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)
- Written by Elena Cué
- Category: Guests with Art
Author: Elena Cué
Jenny Saville. Photo: Elena Cué
British artist Jenny Saville (1970), one of the Young British Artists, deconstructs the stereotypes of beauty and eroticism of the female body as seen through art and through men, and then broadens them. She experiments with obese women and changes in the body, but above all she uses her own body as a model and means of reflection. She reveals the natural beauty of the individuality of the women she paints, and her own. Through the body, she expresses states of sensibility that bind us to our existence: uneasy, anguished, painful fleshiness… This defines her artistic language as much as her traditional pictorial technique. Figures are the sole focus of attention of her huge canvasses, which often cannot contain the whole figure in the same way that our selves cannot control our bodies. Her painting and her skill at drawing spawn a multiplicity of realities that build movement.
We begin our conversation in London surrounded by her latest drawings.
Your bodies experience anxiety, strangeness, sorrow... Do you recognize yourself in your multiple representations?
I think you are in everything that you make, to be honest. But I like to include everything, even to show sadness and violence. I want to encompass the whole world when I make art, I don’t want to exclude anything. The best work I’ve ever made has been through my instinct. When I try to be too clever or too analytical, it doesn’t work. I don’t ask myself too many questions during the making of the work because I follow my instinct. It holds a truth which is greater than the truth that I’m trying to get at through over-analyzing something. That was a lesson to me quite early on – that there’s something within that truth; that there are truths greater than knowledge. And if there’s a knowledge, sometimes you have to let go and follow your instinct to get to that greater truth. If you over-analyze or over-critique something, there’s almost no point in doing it. There’s no risk involved. I like the risk and the change and the transformation that’s possible in the making, and for me, that gets you to a greater art. It’s beyond reason. That’s what you’re trying to get… truth beyond reason. Because if you could write it down or you could speak about it, you wouldn’t need to make it.
Jenny Saville. Reverse, 2002 - 2003. Oil on canvas. © Jenny Saville. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery.
The figures in your drawings overlap as a plurality of identities. Your face is present in most of your portraits. Is identity an important subject for you?
It’s not really my identity… I lend my body to myself, that’s the way I’ve always looked at it. But sometimes people aren’t prepared to put themselves into as painful a position as my body is prepared to be in. I’ve been conscious - since I was very young - that one day I’m going to be under the ground, I’m going to be dust, I’m going to be nothing. So what’s the risk? There’s no real risk. What could it be? Judgment? That I have a different body? That I don’t have an ugly body? I don’t care about that. I care about trying to use my capacity as a human. How far can I go as a human to make something that’s interesting? It’s not really about whether it’s my identity or not. It’s about a human identity. If you look at the Velázquez dwarf paintings, there’s an identity that goes across all of humanity. Or a great Rembrandt portrait – it covers everybody. I’m not an old woman in a Rembrandt painting; I don’t know what it’s like to be a seventy year old woman, but I feel the humanity when I look at that painting, so that’s the way I’ve looked at it.
If my body can offer me the ability to get to something interesting, then I use my own body. If I can’t, then I work with somebody else. So it’s not about this endless self portrait, it’s just that I’m available and it’s the ability to use my body to say something or to get to the emotion that I’m trying to get at in the work.
Jenny Saville. Compass, 2013. Charcoal and pastel on paper on board. Photo: Steven Russell.
Where does your interest or fascination for imperfect, violated, wounded or operated on bodies come from?
I don’t really know. It’s something I’ve had since I was a child. If someone fell over, I wanted to see what had happened. It’s curiosity; I just have a curiosity for that. It’s also an aesthetic interest. I mean, I’m not so interested in a kind of surface beauty, I think there’s a certain humility to getting underneath the surface of something or being prepared to show the reality of something. There’s a humility involved in it that I find in the work that I like. If you look at ancient Greek theatre or Greek tragedy, and you’re harrowed by the emotions on stage and the extreme violence, somehow that gives you a humility in who you are as a human being in the face of gods, or in the face of the universe. You’re so small and nothing. I think that’s the drive, because that’s the kind of art I like across the board – whether it’s in film or music – it’s the art that touches that part of us.
You spoke earlier about the influence that clasical artists from the past have had on your work. There is also a carnal tradition on Western painting. What is your opinion on art from other eras?
I’ve naturally always looked at older art. Especially because if you paint the figure when you’re young and you’re trying to learn, you’re going to look at figurative painting. So I learned by looking at Titian, Velázquez, Rembrandt, Leonardo, Michelangelo… I was very lucky as I had an uncle who, from when I was eight, really taught me to look. Also, if you want to have a hero to look at, choose a really great artist, because that’s your measure. You can think that you’re great in the time that you live in, but you only have to look at really great artists and you’re a long way from that level. I’ve held that very dear to me, it’s become the backbone for the way that I work. However much I try, I’m never going to get to that. It’s a long journey to try and reach anything like that. And then I have had an interest that has switched or moved around… I mean, I have a team of players around me who I’m in constant dialogue with – artists like Picasso, Velázquez, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Titian, Tintoretto, Rubens – and then I have other art which is ancient Greek sculpture that I love, fertility goddesses from the ancient world, all of those. After I had children, I wanted to find an art that felt like the rawness of giving birth. I lived in Sicily for a long time, so being in Palermo around those myths and ancient history really linked me to that and the myths of the ancient Greek world… gods and goddesses and the power of fertility. So that seeped into my work a lot then and it’s a big driving force in my work now, especially in the drawings. A kind of creative urge. I’m much more interested in what the life force is of a creative urge, or how to make something and destroy it and bring it back. Through that cycle, which is basically a cycle of nature, you get to a greater truth, or a more interesting area of the work. I only really managed to do that through looking at ancient art.
Jenny Saville. Propped, 1992. © Jenny Saville. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery.
You also had a dialog, this time through an exhibition, with Egon Schiele at the Kunsthaus Zürich last year. What held the most significance to you from that experience?
The whole experience was an amazing journey. As a teenager, I absolutely loved his drawings… the honesty and the brutality of his drawings, of both himself and the females that he was drawing. My aesthetic interest led me to Egon Schiele at a very young age, so when I was asked to do a show together with his work, it was a dream. It was an incredible dialogue.
In that exhibition, the Schiele paintings were imbued with a strong eroticism. Is this also an important subject for you, do you think it is implied in your work?
It has become more and more important, I would say. Instead of erotic in a sexual sense, I would say erotic in a life force or drive. That’s really vital to my work, especially in the drawings, because of the way that I work now. It’s almost like a performance when I’m working, so I do sessions of working for four hours for example, where I draw lots of figures and they start to collapse and then I build them back up again. And through that whole physical process, like a game, new forms start to emerge from the nature of the drawing. So it is a sort of game where you get lost, and through it, you’re almost sculpting out a reality from the process of that moment. It’s almost like a dance or something; you create things that you didn’t know were in you.
Instead of one thing that represents what it is, when you multiply you get closer to a greater nature. That’s become very interesting for me and I’ve only really developed that in drawing because I can change so much and have several toes interlocking, or a male body over the top of a female body and that suddenly become a hermaphrodite. But I’m not drawing a hermaphrodite. I’m drawing many bodies together so that the gender becomes fluid. So parts of the male body become the female body, and that becomes really exciting because it almost represents more what we’re like as humans, rather than these separate sexes. We’re made up of masculinity and femininity, so those are the things that become interesting by layering them up.
Do you feel that you have a body or that you are a body?
Some artists like Michelangelo worked almost with God working through him; he was doing God’s work and there was a kind of divinity involved in it. God has been slipping away for most of us, but when we make work, I’m interested in what the drive is. When I’m working in the middle of the night and I’m trying to get to something, am I working with a wager on God’s existence? I don’t make work for an audience. I don’t make work thinking that I’m going to show this to an audience. But it’s definitely a form of communication. So it’s almost as though there is a third person involved, whether it’s God or whatever. That drives me to go further in the work, and I don’t know what that is.
Jenny Saville. Fulcrum, 1998 - 1999. Oil on canvas © Jenny Saville. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery.
Are you interested in the outside world?
Landscape is hugely interesting to me. Especially the sea… I spend hours looking at the water. I look at the way the light moves on the water. I get up early so that I can see the sun come up. But I don’t want to paint landscape paintings. I’m interested in all of those things. But I’ve never wanted to paint those directly, like I have with the body. And actually, the older that I get, the more closely related to nature I feel, or the more interested I am in depicting that. My mediation is through the body. All of my work really has been a sort of landscape; it’s the landscape of the body, or the architecture of the body in nature, or the nature of flesh, or the way that light affects a body.
What is art to you? What is your definition of art?
I would say the ability to have freedom. That’s fundamental. I really believe in imagination and inventiveness. It’s a combination of factors including humility, incredible hard work – it’s going to take a long time to have any kind of mastery in this – plus being brave enough to take a risk. When, in the work, if I’ve made something look really good and I sit back and think that it is looking good, that’s the moment that I try to destroy it, whereas before I’d polish it off. Now I’ll say well, that was easy access, or an easy journey to get there. Where else can you go? If you’re prepared to do it, you can get somewhere far greater. That takes a lot of hours and a lot of risk, but you’ve got nothing to lose. Why not try to invent something? I have learned through Picasso that the really good art lies in the ability of not knowing how to do something. And the journey of trying to articulate something you don’t know how to do is where the art is. If you know the journey that you’re walking, in a way there’s not much point in walking that journey. It’s in the struggle of trying to articulate something that almost seems impossible, but you’ve got a hint in your initiative to do it, or an instinct, and you follow it. That struggle to articulate it is really where you can find something interesting and Picasso is the artist I’ve found who can do that, so he’s really been a guide for me in the last few years.