AN INTERVIEW WITH ISABELITA VALDECASAS

Although Isabel began her pictorial trajectory in the world of figurative art, later she began to explore the expressive power of abstraction, with strong plasticity and the use of real materials extracted from the places she was visiting. Her latest series, "Cosmogonías", is an abstract expression of a moment of Genesis, a metaphor of the origin of life that coincides with a moment of change in her career. Today we interview this Sevillian painter and we approach her to know her work in a more personal way.

You studied Art History and soon after you moved to London where you worked at Christie's, could you describe how your experience was there and what are the differences between the British and Spanish markets?

After I studied Art History in Seville, I managed to go to London to continue studying. My hunger to see the museums, the wonderful works of art and everything that was going on was insatiable. I learned a lot not only about art but also about the world that surrounds it: exhibitions, galleries, auctions, market, etc. I realised that in Spain we were very far from the artistic dynamism that was breathed there. There were weekly auctions of a whole artistic period, for example, the week of the Impressionists was terrific, you could see Monet’s, Manet’s, Renoir’s, Van Gogh’s, etc. all together on sale. The same happened with the old painting, the furniture, the jewels... Britains have always had a long tradition of buying and selling works of art of great value; in that, Spaniards go behind.

 

As a result of your experience in London, you started painting. How did you take that step and in what style would you currently place your work?

I already painted a lot before moving to London, although it is true that I did not dedicate myself professionally to it; that came after my return. I needed to work since I did not know where to start living from this. In Madrid, I worked at Christie's for a few years while I was drawing in my spare time and painting furniture by order. The step was not sudden, little by little, I painted more and more, each time I filled more, and each time I needed more to feel good. One day I was offered to make a mural. I had never painted such a large surface before. I jumped without hesitation (with a very short time, what a foolish kamikaze!) And I understood that I would never be completely satisfied with myself if I did not dedicate myself to what I really liked and I was good at. So I began to make murals, I remember it as an exciting, difficult, learning and monumental-back-pain period. Then came the crisis and with it a huge personal crisis... that's when I went from the figurative art to the abstract art, and the Cosmogonies were born. So I cannot define my style, right now I'm doing abstract and very material works, but I start from the classic and figurative, and, in the end, I always go back to basics.

Isabelita Valdecasas

Cosmogonia Corales, 2017

Mixed media on canvas

100 x 100cm

Isabelita Valdecasas

Tríptico cosmogonía, 2018

Mixed technique on canvas

120 x 55cm

Isabelita Valdecasas

Textura lunar, 2018

Mixed technique on canvas

80 x 80cm

In some press statements, you have made it clear that both music and travel are two key elements when painting. Could you explain what your creative process is like and how does the travel and music influence that process?

The creative process is slow; it is not only the moment of execution of the work. In this, trips play an important role, although I could not define precisely which one. I am fascinated by the nature and sensuality of the landscape, and by sensuality, I mean the senses: smell, light, colour, the sound of the wind, the touch of sand or moss, the local product of the land that one eats during a journey. Everything is related to the land that is visited. The painting that comes out after a trip to Germany or Sweden with those greens and grays, those clouds and skies, the smell of cold or grass in summer, the sensation of stillness... has nothing to do with a painting you make after a trip to Cartagena de Indias where everything is colour, noise, humidity and Caribbean joy. I take many elements for my work every time I travel, and sometimes I think they will stop me at a customs office for the amount of local "souvenirs" I bring.

The music is also inspired by the places where it is made. I paint because I do not make music and I'm almost not able to get out of bed without it (I do not know who once told me that I exaggerate, like a good Andalusian). I do everything with music; it's like an engine; it gives me joy and accompanies me in my long hours at the studio. I listen to everything, well, not everything... but almost. It is my great, great hobby.

 

What does art bring to your life?

Art brings a thousand things to my life. On the one hand, it is my job, so it gives me responsibility, challenge and gratification. Art is my concern and, at the same time, it is what comes naturally to me. The art of others, whether plastic or not (literature, music, movies...) is my passion, my intellectual food. But I like more when shared, commented, analysed and discussed with more people; from there, interesting reflections, ideas and sometimes big laughs always come. It is fundamental to laugh seriously.

Isabelita Valdecasas

Textura azul bicolor, 2019

Mixed technique on canvas

90 x 90cm

Isabelita Valdecasas

Textura rojo, 2019

Mixed technique on canvas

80 x 80cm

Natural elements such as sand, moss or rocks are components that can be found in your work. What is the intention of using these materials in your pieces?

The natural elements that I use are both a compositional part of the work and a symbolic part. All this was emerging little by little and unconsciously. On the one hand, they add texture and volume to the work, create reliefs and material bodies; but they are also there with a purpose, they reflect that everything is part of nature, no matter how processed or intervened it is in the hands of man, it comes from the earth and end in it by good or bad, resurfacing, though in the process we end up extinguished by brutes, beasts and self-destructive. I am obsessed with recycling and with the ambiguity or duality of this language, since we are part of that nature that we are destroying, it is us who are going to destroy ourselves since we are a symbiosis, an "everything" in a fragile equilibrium.

Could you talk about the underlying meaning of “Cosmogonías” and how it arose?

“Cosmogonías” emerged little by little and almost by chance as a small Big Bang. Then, they shaped and consolidated in my head and the canvases. On the one hand, there is the idea of ​​the immensity of nature in the face of our insignificance, both towards the boundless infinite and towards the infinitesimal and microscopic. They coincided in time with a change in my life when I started doing abstract works, so they were like a genesis. I needed to give them a name, and that is where the word Cosmogenesis, the origin, comes from. So they can also be interpreted as a new beginning, the gestation of something. They are works inspired by the source of life, the fascination and mystery of creation from the tiniest cell in a microscope and its chemical reactions to the infinite of the cosmos, so similar among them. They are also introspection and a call for attention to the basics, the classic, the natural and the organic in this digitalised, denatured and plastic world.

 

How does an artist of the 21st century keep a little apart from the new digital habits and the imperative of social networks?

New digital habits do not interest me much. I think they are necessary and useful, of course, but they do not particularly attract me. I need contact with the material, with the tangible. There is also an aesthetic and compositional part that I believe should go beyond what is marketing and is fashionable. But there is no doubt that to survive in the 21st century we have to keep up to date with social networks and the digital age... what can I say? It is like the child coming back from school and wants to play, but knows that he must do his homework first.

Isabelita Valdecasas

Textura blanco y negro I, 2019

Mixed technique on canvas

70 x 70cm

Isabelita Valdecasas

Textura círculo rojo, 2019

Mixed technique on canvas

90 x 90cm

Isabelita Valdecasas

Textura blanco y negro II, 2019

Mixed technique on canvas

70 x 70cm

Do you think that concern for the environment is more and more frequent among contemporary creators? What difficulties and innovations have you found to work accordingly to these principles?

Fortunately, there is much more awareness in this generation of caring for the environment, recycling, not polluting etc., and, in fact, this is reflected in current art. It could not be otherwise. Each era must be reflected in its contemporary art. But it is also true that this destructive madness is more aggressive than ever. There is more pollution increasing without measure and it is something that scares me and worries a lot. I will not be hypocritical, I recycle and I try to be as careful as possible, but I cannot stop thinking that it is never enough. In the end, we live in the place and time we live.

Difficulties I have found several, innovations ... I think none! One has to test the materials well to verify that they will be durable or, for example, to have faith that the pigments and other products of Fine Arts sold as "organic" or "ecological" really are so. Another difficulty has been to be doing a work inspired by the Mediterranean Sea with algae and sand collected on the beaches and suddenly I have run out of Posidonia or some other local element, then I have to resort to a charitable soul that will collect materials to send them over... I do not even want to think what the postmen face would be if they have ever opened one of those boxes full of seaweed, weeds, shavings and sand...! Once a friend came carrying 15 kg of Tarifa’s sand for some paintings.

Innovations I do not think so, everything is invented; the question is to make unique pieces with their own style. Time will tell…

 

Fernando Gómez de la Cuesta is an art critic at ABC Cultural, an independent exhibition curator, a researcher and a teacher. He has a Degree in Law from the UB and in History of Art from the UIB. Member of the ACCAIB and Territorial President of the IAC. He is critical of ABC Cultural and is part of the publication Ministerio de la Verdad of the Sublime. He has been a resident curator at the Casal Solleric in Palma with different exhibition cycles (2010-3), Director of the PalmaPhoto photography festival (2013-5), he has curated CRIdA (artists' residence of the Palma City Council from 2011 to 2012), the 1st Festival of Contemporary Art of Saltillo (Coahuila, Mexico, 2015) and the Contemporary Art Fair MARTE de Castellón (2018).

He is currently preparing several exhibition projects for the CGAC of Santiago de Compostela, Cabildo de Lanzarote, Centro Párraga de Murcia and La Regenta of Las Palmas. He has curated multiple individuals and collective exhibitions in spaces such as, among others, TEA Tenerife, MUCA Rome of Mexico, Niemeyer Centre of Avilés, Kunst Haus Wien, Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation in Mallorca, Cervantes Institute in Prague, Es Baluard of Palma, Michael Horbach Stiftung of Colonia, Las Cigarreras of Alicante, Hilvaria Studios of Tilburg, Espai Rambleta of Valencia, MUU Helsinki or CEART Fuenlabrada, with the participation of artists such as Carlos Aires, Ana Laura Aláez, Irene de Andrés, Verónica R. Frías, Jorge García, Martín y Sicilia, Rosell Meseguer, Guillermo Mora, Santiago Morilla, PSJM, Avelino Sala, Amparo Sard, José Luís Serzo, Javier Vallhonrat or Simon Zabell, to name a few.

 

How did you receive this proposal from Art Madrid?

With great enthusiasm. For professionals who work from peripheral locations, in my case from a town in Mallorca called Artà, we find it very difficult to access the programs and projects that are developed in the capital. It is always a pleasure (and a responsibility) to have the opportunity to curate a proposal in Madrid, much more if you do it for a prestigious structure, as consolidated and organised, as is the international contemporary art fair Art Madrid.

 

How did you tackle this curatorship?

The truth is that since I received the invitation from Alberto Cornejo and his team I have enjoyed absolute freedom and total support to develop the idea I had in mind. Curating a section of a fair is a kind of special curatorship, you should never lose sight of where, how and why one is taking care of the selection and content of a proposal, and a contemporary art fair is a context marked by very powerful limits: one of them is the payroll of galleries that apply and the artists who present themselves; another, that all have as their first objective the sale of work. Starting from these initial conditions, I had a lot of interest in investigating something that has to do with the market as a legitimising institution within the professional developments of the current art world, also about fashions, trends, currents and about those resistant artists who decide to take paths away from them. I wanted to raise awareness about that dichotomy that already occurred between the great official salons and those creators who subverted the state of the matter from their participation in them or generating new alternative devices such as independent or des refusés salons.

 

What do you think is the role of One Project within Art Madrid?

One Project is a project that precedes me and has a foundational basis and a broad development over time. Both Carlos Delgado Mayordomo and Nerea Ubieto (colleagues who have previously curated this program) have done a great job. One Project must serve the fair to introduce new artists and new galleries, but at any cost, it must fulfil that function, no doubt, but it must do so by establishing a forum for reflection and debate, a place to put the prism on some concrete aspect of contemporary creation to be able to analyze it with a certain depth. One Project is a section that must have that plus of research, of calm, effort and rigour, to try to give another type of depth and visibility to the work of artists and gallery projects within a fair of art.

 

How do you expect the public will live the format used in this idea of ​​debate-conflict?

The title of the proposal, “Salvajes. La cage aux fauves”, already puts us on the track. Our idea, apparently contradictory, is to generate that friction based on a peculiar symbiosis, in which we have counted on artists who walk the path of creation through a path that is autonomous, personal and, sometimes, in conflict with the usual, with the recurrent, with the trend, with fashion... Artists who paint and sculpt with effort as a form of resistance and who do so in an epidermal, superfluous and vertiginous era, where hardly anyone pays attention to anything. Artists who believe from expressiveness, impulse or iconoclasm, from a passionate and vehement, visceral, desacralising or irreverent perspective. We hope that the public lives it with the same interest and the same intensity we aimed when building this story. For this, we have counted on Virginia Rivas, Roberto López, Julio Anaya Cabanding, Pichiavo, Santiago Palenzuela, Juan Carlos Batista, Andrés Planas, Alona Harpaz and Nicolàs Laìz Placeres, who are represented by DDR Art Gallery, Plastic Murs, Kaplan Projects, MA arte contemporary and the Agency of Cultural Transits.

 

What role do you think fairs play in the Spanish art market and how would you frame Art Madrid?

This and other fairs fulfil a fundamental mission when activating the sector. I believe in the fair as a dynamic agent and as a node of that network of activity that is deployed throughout the national territory, and I believe in its importance for the creation of new collectors. In my opinion, collecting, the private initiative in general, is one of the keys that can make a sector like ours become a professional economic fabric where the participating agents can live from their work, preventing it from remaining this circus of juggling games where they stay in an almost permanent precariousness. For that, basic education, a lot of pedagogy and a lot of intermediation are needed. We must increase the affection and sensitivity towards culture in general, and towards contemporary art in particular. Art Madrid undertakes this mission in a brave way, with an evolution that consolidates edition after edition. The permanence and growth of its complementary programs, where One Project is framed, demonstrates this.

 

And what do you think is the place of contemporary Spanish art within the international artistic paradigm?

Unfortunately, far from where the quality of the agents that compose it should place it. We suffer from a main problem that affects basic structures and acts as an obstacle very difficult to overcome. In many cases, we still do not charge decent fees for our work, without respecting our elementary rights, our creations and authorship, from this preliminary situation it is difficult to project an international professional career, in addition, the market and private investment are very restricted. The institutional sphere that, as in other contexts, should be our fundamental support, is still marked by political interference. In Spain, there is an excessive dependence on the public realm in what refers, above all, to contemporary art and that makes us have some political interlocutors completely unaware of what we do. These people manage the spaces and budgets that we use since precariousness but, in reality, they have motivations that are far from ours. Contemporary creation moves in terms and interests very different from those of the political pace. We need long-term plans and professional criteria to decide and develop them, while the ruling class still wants to control the contents of cultural institutions so that they become spokespersons for the ideology of the party in power. Meanwhile, we, the palace jesters, endow them with “controlled cultural offer”: they see us as necessary (and needy) programmers who go through (almost) all the hoops because of that hardship situation. A situation imposed by the rulers that manage to dissociate us as a sector, causing us to accept works that do not comply with the deontology that, in social networks and other forums, we all defend (but that we do not always apply).

 

We know that the cultural sector maintains its almost inherent precariousness even though we are experiencing an extraordinary period of artistic hatching. Artists reinvent themselves and strive to continue creating. Do you think there has also been an evolution in public perception when approaching contemporary art? What can art fairs do in this approach to the general public?

The processes in contemporary creation always have to do with the society that welcomes them and the changes it experiences. The public (but also the artists), while having access to more media and information, appear overwhelmed by this same excess. We all have a concentration defect, it is harder for us to pay attention, time, effort, depth, especially when our role is that of the public. As we have said before, there is only one solution, an answer that, after so much repetition, is becoming harmless, empty of content: we need education, establish pedagogies and intermediations that generate a critical and cultured mass, that makes us evolve towards a society interested in current creation.

 

The work of a curator is primarily to generate discourse and content around creation to raise issues open to society. Many contemporary artists have reoriented their lines of work towards more reflective projects where the discourse has a priority charge in the work. How is this tension channelled between the reflexive impulse of contemporary creation and the pressing lack of time and the super information that the individual lives in the society of our time?

That situation can be a stimulus. Artists are intellectuals sensitive to everything around them. However, in most cases, this lack of time, basically the result of our professional precariousness, and that over information, ends up being more a problem than a means or motivation. There are many artistic careers that are buried under this precariousness of excess.

 

What do you think are the common lines that young artists are developing in the process of growth?

The truth is that there are multiple differentiated lines of research, many of them very stimulating. In line with the last questions of our conversation, I can tell you that I am interested, among other topics, in those artists who are referring to their own work, to the creator's own professional performance, to their economic, social and work situation, to the consideration of themselves and their work. A self-reference that is becoming a very accurate, tragic, ironic expression of the situation of culture in general and of the visual arts in particular. On this, I am preparing a project entitled “The sterile works” that will be presented next year at La Regenta of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria with the participation of artists such as Verónica Ruth Frías, Cristina Garrido, Cyro García, Núria Güell, Nauzet Mayor, Adrián Martínez, Eugenio Merino, Rosell Meseguer, PSJM, Avelino Sala, Amparo Sard, Pelayo Varela and Marcelo Viquez.