You don’t make a such a discovery every day. Not long ago I picked up a random stranger, unknown to most, with a growing influence on national art circles. My encounter with him happened out of pure chance, but that’s a whole other story. His name is Íñigo Navarro.
Here’s the conversation we had in full: it’s certainly worth a read.
“May I come in?”, I said timidly from the corner of the studio.
“Just a moment, I’m getting dressed!”
“Oh goodness me, ‘getting dressed’?”. Navarro appeared a couple of minutes later wearing a leopard-skin dressing gown and a dazzled expression.
“Holy Mary, you’re beautiful! Are you a goddess?” Before answering him, I grabbed the can of pepper spray that I always carry in my jacket. He looked harmless enough, but you can never be completely sure with artists.
“Well… I’m Calíope, Calíope Garmendia.”
“And what have you come here for, Calíope Garmendia?”
“I was curious, I wanted to find out more about you and your work. What were you doing there naked, anyway?”
“I was exploring my body.”
“OK, never mind…”
“Oh no, no no no, it’s not what you think… I have a friend who’s a performance artist… How can I put this? He undresses in inappropriate places, like the men’s toilet of a bar — there’s always someone who gets angry and ends up attacking him. He then goes back to his studio and takes photographs of his wounds. He puts the photographs together in series of five and sends them off to his gallery in Cologne, who pay him handsomely for them. He believes that an artist simply resides in a body, and that knowledge of one’s own body is absolutely essential. I personally am very interested in the conceptual relevance of my work, which is why I spend a lot of time carefully studying each single element of them.”
“This friend of yours seems interesting, perhaps I could interview him too.”
“Of course — I’ll put you two in touch as soon as he’s out of the hospital.”
“What? On second thought, forget it, let’s get down to business. I want to talk about you. I can see that your studio is full of your work, and some pieces are very large. For example, how big is this one over here?”
“Three metres tall. Actually, I think it’s too small. I’m preparing a large event in Ávlia, with more than a hundred models, and I want to have the models in the foreground look like they’re life-size. This means that my next painting will need to measure four metres by eight.”
“The models will be in fancy dress, right?”
“It’s a ceremony, an interpretation of the exotic cruelty that’s all around us. Would you like to take part?”
“Not for now, thanks. Could you tell me more about these anthropological digressions you just mentioned?”
“Of course. What I meant was that we still celebrate the bloody bull runs of Pamplona, we send enxanetas to the top of the Castells (human towers) without fear of their death, atheists shed tears accompanying the Macarena, we walk bare-foot over burning coals, parents happily buy their children fireworks to celebrate the mascletades, among many other peculiarities.”
“Spain has changed a great deal.”
“It’s certainly true that we have changed, and we’re many other things now, but these other things, which can in fact be found everywhere else in the world, don’t interest me as much. Nor do I think they are particularly interesting from an artistic point of view. This is exactly what globalization in art is about, a conceptual homogeneity that is terribly harmful to creativity.”
“Is this why you paint?”
“Actually, yes. Spanish painting education is world-renowned. If we can learn something from the relentless tautology that is contemporary art discourse, it is that there is no technique that is superior to others. By choosing painting over newer artistic media, I do away with all the showy, technological factors that new media bring with them, and in so doing I can get straight to the core idea that I want to express. And paradoxically, I also distance myself from institutional tendencies, from contemporary academicism.”
“What is that idea?”
“Fatality. Whatever we may do in life, we end up dead. I’m interested in everything we do to fill our days until our time comes to die. Deciding to occupy one’s time with such an old activity as painting can be considered a joke or something extremely important — it’s ambiguous. I personally don’t fear death.”
“Of course not; I’m convinced that death is not final. In fact, I can prove it to you mathematically. Would you like me to show you?”
“No, thank-you! By saying that “death is not final”, are you not contradicting your beliefs in fatality?”
“Well… no. I’m generalizing. Here in the West, we are living in the best time that we’ve ever seen, yet I think we can see symptoms of decadence. Materialism is the new God, and this brings its own dangers. People’s greatest fear is death. This has never happened before in the history of humanity, and its consequences on our daily lives — let alone on art — are far more serious than we think.”
“Are you saying, then, that belief in God is a prerequisite for creating great art?”
“No, certainly not, but it does help. You can’t just make something exceptional by sitting around. You need to invest many hours of hard work without the certainty that you will be rewarded with a great piece of work. Some kind of faith — any kind, it doesn’t really matter which — is required in order to overcome this phase without falling into materialist temptations. Would you like a coffee?”
“I’ll put one on for myself, if you don’t mind.”
“Many artists find it difficult to talk about their work, but you don’t seem to have any trouble doing so.”
“On the contrary, I love talking about the work I do. I spend hours on the phone talking to my colleagues about art, like an excited teenager. Perhaps something I don’t do is explain my work in detail. The only way I can explain my work is by exhibiting it. I create my work for it to be shown — that is how it reaches its expressive peak. At one of my exhibitions, Scope London, a gentleman from Bristol got so emotional at the sight of one of my photos that he couldn’t help but relax his sphincter muscles.”
“Oh my goodness.”
“He farted so loudly that he ended up buying two photographs”.
“Poor man. I have never felt so honoured by a visitor’s reaction to my work as I was then.”
“Who are your references?”
“In terms of writers, Conrad, Kennedy Toole, Sharpe, Amélie Nothom. In terms of artists, I’d single out two, among the many that I like: Velázquez — not only for his clear technical ability, but also for his sensitivity and worldliness — and Antonio López, for what he taught me in his workshop and for being a true artist, full of energy and love towards painting. If I had to pick a soul-mate in the art world, I’d choose Berlanga, the late film director, God bless him.”
“A film director!”
“Berlanga was a genius story-teller, without ever taking away the mystery that is always present in a work of art. That’s my leitmotiv: to express myself, and to be understood, without losing the magic.”
“What are you working on now? What will you do with all this work in the studio?”
“What you see here are four years of research. In these four years I have tried to understand what it is that I do best, and how to express it. It’s a complex and ambitious project, and I aspire to immortality.”
“You’re certainly not modest, are you?!”
“It’s been a pleasure.”
“The pleasure is all mine. It’s rare to be visited by one of the nine muses from the distant city of Argos.”
To learn more about this fascinating artist, visit www.inigonavarro.es.