Art Madrid'24 – 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…

 

Juan Miguel Quiñones. Courtesy of the artist.

ARTE & PALABRA. CONVERSATIONS WITH CARLOS DEL AMOR

I came across the work of Juan Miguel Quiñones (Cádiz, 1979) at a fair and for a few minutes I was transported to the faraway summers of a childhood where everything was possible and the game was endless.

Then we grew up and those memories began to fade, buried under the weight of adulthood and difficult to rescue later because we are always in a hurry and with worries that prevent us from practicing the healthy exercise of looking back.

Juan Miguel Quiñones, self-taught, carves these memories in stone so that neither air nor maturity can take them away. He works and studies with vehemence the materials with which to recreate them, and with that ingenuity that can only be achieved by mastering the language and the technique, he manages to make anyone who comes across his creations breathe a sigh of nostalgia.

The work I came across was a sculpture in black Atlas marble, Triana yellow and travertine. It was Dracula, the mythical ice cream. I did not know until then that memories, always immaterial, can be as hard as marble, cold to the touch and warm in thought.

If you had to define yourself in one sentence, how would you do it?

I consider myself a man with a man's body and a child's mind. I think that's the part that drives me to do what I do and what moves me in my whole artistic world.

Twelve Ice Creams. Sculpture. Marble. 2022.

Charles Baudelaire coined the phrase "My homeland is childhood", in your case it is evident that at least "your artistic homeland is childhood", isn't it?

Yes, it can be said that yes, my homeland can be childhood. Almost all my pieces have a very important memory of my life. They are based on the fact that, on the one hand, I make them tangible, a tangible element, but they take me back to a moment. We can talk about Dracula ice cream, a piece that I think is a mythical piece of mine. It is a very important memory that takes me to those summer moments, to those playful moments, with my cousins, with my friends, without "school" (very important) and always of childhood, which I think is a very important memory for all of us, since we are nourished by that, or at least I am constantly nourished in my work by those important memories that made me very happy. Those toys that my father used to buy me, I make them in stone so that they last forever, as that memory lasts in me, for me that is very important. I think childhood is something that touched me a lot and that I will always carry with me because I am very happy.

When and how was the spark that made you look back and recover for art elements that have marked so many generations?

From the beginning when I started to dedicate myself to this, it was always linked to memories. For example, my first works were abstract and were already linked to my own memories of the sea, the air, the wind, those beaches, Caños de Meca, El Palmar, where I grew up. So they were always linked, unconsciously, and eventually I realized that all my work was going to be linked to the theme of my memories. This whole story evolved and I started with memories that marked me a lot and I made them my own. But at the same time, when I exhibited I realized that I made them selfishly mine, and that no, none of them were mine, but that in the end they were common to all of us. And there began a progressive thing, I can't tell you exactly at what moment because it was something very progressive, but that's more or less how this story went.

Colajet. Sculpture. Marble. Alabaster and yellow onyx. 2020.

I know about your arduous research on materials, the constant search for "stones" that match what you want to show. How is that search process?

Well, the search process is sometimes complicated. Because with natural stones, in their natural color, I make works that represent elements that are often made of plastic or some material whose color is not like stone. Stone is stone and we cannot vary it. Only in some pieces like the ice cream, I make the resin filling, but the other works are all natural stone. The search is very important because this is not like you can call and they bring you the material you want, that's not the way the story goes, and even less in blocks. Within the search I have stones that I buy and other stones that are not commercial, that I look for. I inform myself well about ancient Roman quarries that no longer exist today, where maybe now there is a pine forest, but where I can recover some wonderful stones in that place. In this search for semi-precious stone, which is complicated when I use lapis lazuli, jade or malachite, it is difficult to find large stones, but little by little I am learning and meeting people to be able to find more, but it is quite complicated, since I always try to use semi-precious stone for my material. If you see my work you will see that, for example, the little green camera at the fair - a very important souvenir of mine - is made of jade, which is a marvel because it is quite a big piece, very difficult for me to find, and although little by little I am getting to know who supplies it to me, it is quite a hard subject. There is a material that I like a lot and that is one of the first stones that I started to work with, a wonderful serpentine green, which I take from this same terrain because it only exists in this area. It is a stone that I use a lot, especially when I make collections of my pieces, there is always one that goes with this type of stone from here in the mountains of Estepona.

Drácula. Sculpture. Marble. 2021.

Is there any impossible material?

Thank you for asking me that question. I think that in the end this is a language that you learn depending on each material. When I talk to other people who work with stone, marble, granite -I call everything stone- they always tell me: "This stone is very soft, very easy to work...". The stone that is soft has the ease of being soft but also the risk of splitting before; and the stone that is hard has the fact that it is hard but is grateful in the work because it does not split. In the end this is a language, a language that when you get to control you can attack any material. I have been able to carve from quartz, which is very complicated, to pieces that I make of bronze; they are not cast but I carve them directly, working them as if they were "marble", more or less similar to the work of marble. So, yes, there will be impossible materials, but I haven't found them yet.

Frigopie. Sculpture. Marble. 2022.

In your art the material, the marble, is as important as the memories and the experience of each person with the object represented. Are you aware that each of your works takes on hundreds of lives of its own because each one travels to a moment in his or her life?

As I said before, I realized when I exhibited the first works that I made them selfishly mine, as my own memory, but when I exhibited the work I always liked to listen to the people who came to observe and talked about the experience of each one. Then I realized that it was common to all of us, and that for me is very important because it is something of our whole experience, of our life. That each one is reflected and each one is taken to a moment or a part of his life. Like the smell of when you arrived at your grandmother's house, that her food was unique, and that smell takes you back there when you smell it somewhere else; I love that. To be able to take someone back to a moment in their life with something tangible, that's great. I find it incredible to be able to do that with something tangible, with a stone. Then, the other foundation that is very important to me is that I make the work in stone, which is a material that lasts over time. Saving distances, like the sculptures that the Egyptians have been able to make, the stone material has left something that will last forever. The memory lasts in our memory, and the stone lasts forever, so it combines one thing that is very good: durability, and that is something incredible that I love.

Twelve Ice Creams. Sculpture. Marble. 2022.

Art is a very serious game. I think that phrase would also suit you.

For me art is a game, because all this that I'm doing, the progress, has been like a game. What happens? That we see the artist from the romanticism of art, but then there is the commercial part, that you have to sell and you have to work. It is the part I like the least, even though we have to do it, but in the end, for me art is a fun game. That's the word I would put to it, because if I don't have fun, why do I do it? And that's very important for me, because I have to work a lot, I spend many hours in the workshop chopping stones, which is a very physical effort, but what motivates me is that I have fun, that I love it and I do something that fascinates me. So, art is a fun game.

Where do you think your art is going?

I think I let myself go. I'm still in my studio every day, working, inventing new projects, getting into my world and letting myself go. Let it go wherever it wants. The point is that every day I can enjoy what I do, work on what I like and enjoy my family. That's what matters to me, wherever I want to go, let it go, but let it go with me.