Interview: Oriol Vaz
Luca Curci talks with Oriol Vaz during BARCELONA CONTEMPORARY – 3RD EDITION at Valid World Hall Gallery.
Oriol Vaz is a painter, sculptor and Opera stage designer born in Barcelona (1983). Oriol Vaz combines his artistic and teaching career with academic inquiries, focusing on the cultural objects of childhood (toys, illustrated books, furniture and children’s rooms) and their representation through the history of art. European Doctor in Learning Sciences at the Sorbonne University (Paris-13) and in Fine Arts at the University of Barcelona (UB). For his pictorial and stage design works, made between 2002 and 2006, he has received the Extraordinary Degree Award (2007). He is a painting professor at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the UB and he teaches “The History of Graphic Illustration” at EINA, Centre for Design and Art attached to the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the Lycée Français de Barcelone (France Embassy in Spain). As a passionate explorer of the border between art and play, in 2007 he undertook his ambitious study on the history and semiotics of toys and playthings thanks to a Research Grant of the Generalitat de Catalunya (2007-2010). From 2008 he has been part of the EXPERICE Laboratory (Universités Paris-8/-13), specialized in Childhood’s Material Culture, under the direction of Gilles Brougère and Michel Manson. From those years of study in Paris, his doctoral thesis “The Artist and the Toy: trips to the western imaginaries, from Antiquity to the Romanticism (2011)”, distinguished with the Extraordinary Doctorate Award (2012) and the Doctors’ Senate Award of the UB (2014). He is a member of ITRA (International Toy Research Association), and, more recently, an academic of LOCUS LUDI (The Cultural Fabric of Play and Games in Antiquity) at the Universität Freiburg (Switzerland), directed by the archaeologist Véronique Dasen. He has been part of several teams
and research projects funded by the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, as well as international projects of the Mexican Government and the French Ministry of Education. He has also been hired as a scholar member in projects on art and the human face by the Bosch i Gimpera Foundation (Barcelona).
Luca Curci – What’s your background?
Oriol Vaz – I studied Fine Arts at the University of Barcelona between 2002 and 2006, specializing in Painting and Opera Scenography. I got my Ph.D. in 2011 at the Sorbonne University (Paris) with a doctoral thesis on “Artist and toys: Journeys to the Western imaginaries from Antiquity to Romanticism”. Thereafter, I have dedicated a big part of my career to academic teaching, together with the publication of scientific papers and books on toys and the material culture of childhood, and its connections with art history.
LC – What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
OV – In 2004, I was able to gaze at Mark Rothko’s works at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, many of which turned upside down my conception of what painting is, and made me acquire a great love for color, which is the main “heartbeat of a picture”. Furthermore, I am still fascinated by Paolo Uccello and Piero Della Francesca’s compositions. I envisage the Christ by Grunewald and Blake’s colored etchings, the pastels by Odilon Redon, and the poetics by Gauguin and the Nabis, the Russian and Baltic Symbolists; the flowers by Seraphine de Senlis and these others sculpted by Giacomo Balla; the architectures by Klee and the sea balconies through the gaze of Derain; the texturized forests by Max Ernst and the stained glass windows designed by Chagall; the storms painted by Constable and Nolde; perchance the knights of ancient Russia imagined by the young Kandinsky, the non-places of Ràfols Casamada, the pagodas drawn by Albert Gonzalo and the casein temperas for Tirant lo Blanch made by Francesc Artigau… Both of lasts, teachers of mine. Too many love stories to be told here!
LC – What are your thoughts while you paint? Do you have any habits or rituals while you work?
OV – Some of the paintings I present at BARCELONA CONTEMPORARY – 3RD EDITION are a synesthetic exercise, an attempt to translate symphonic languages into chromatic vibrations. I try to find an artistic language in which tradition and modernity could dialogue without a shouting match. It is not only a matter of aesthetic taste, but of choosing the subject well, and the right colors to narrate it. Although the work of art is a sensory creation, its invisible dimension should not be neglected, as it is like a window opened to another world of which man only intuits a small part. When painting, I don’t think about any specific affair. Or, if I think about it, it’s not a conventional cause-and-effect way of thinking. For the time of creation, there is something irrational, unlike any other. It is work, work that exhausts, infuriates, and sometimes grants us a special grace. It is a lonely experience similar to a religious prayer. The fatigue of painting does not empty you, but builds you up inside, even in failure. The artist indeed must know how to live better with failing than with success, since the former will keep him much more company throughout his life than the latter. I look for ‘new epiphanies of beauty’ over traditional themes. Tradition never expires, while the iconoclastic spirit of today’s art industry always exhausts its own strength and devours itself. In return, I try to achieve a synthesis of shapes and colors in the manner of Plato’s theory of Ideas, such metaphysical forms which are more perfect and imperishable than the earthly forms. The painter’s task is not an option but a mission, that our job is to make this world less brutalized, less egotistical, capable of suggesting a smile and look of wonder in the spectator. When I paint, draw or make wooden toys, just like when I imagine the scenery for an opera, I like to listen to my old music records, I also start singing and I beg Heaven to direct my hand. But the tension that is experienced during the creative process does not allow us to think about much else either.
LC – What is the most challenging part about creating your artworks?
OV – The most difficult part of my job is finding the time to do it, to isolate myself from classes, papers and lectures. The time we have been given is finite and today’s society robs us of the time for contemplation. The patience to continue when something goes wrong in the painting process is also a challenge, as well as knowing when to rest or finish the work. Likewise, I believe that painting, like music, requires a refined technique, a certain precision, without ruling out chance, so that the work becomes a small treasure of gestures, nuances, horizons and paths of delightful mystery.
LC – Did your style change over the years? In which way?
OV – I don’t think I’ve ever had a ‘style’ of my own. I have tried more to learn from other artists. In fact, I would like to look through the peephole to see how they did their masterworks. Artists are not forged based on images of reality, but on other works of art and other artists that we take, in a more or less explicit way, as “our masters”. The ‘style’ is important for designers and dressmakers, but the unexplored abyss is the playground of the painter and the sculptor. Undoubtedly, from my first oil paintings of anthropomorphic trees and fantasy characters to my current abstract landscapes and Platonic icons, there are very clear differences, but there is also Ariadne’s thread that runs through everything: the love for color and the quest for a non-photographic language.
LC – How do you feel when you see your work completed?
OV – I am almost never sure that I am in front of a perfectly finished work of mine. This general dissatisfaction is, perhaps, what makes us want to carry on, to continue painting and searching. Creative fervor does not end in each work, but, like an insect that returns from flower to flower and from valley to valley, seeks new opportunities to overcome what we have not been able to solve in previous works. Perhaps that is why the painter is a beginner until the day he leaves this world.
LC – What do you think about the concept of this exhibition? How did it inspire you?
OV – As an Art academic professor, I realize that the ‘Art market’ has taken a complete revolution in a very short time. The public has changed, their sensitivity towards art has changed as well. In Spain, the lack of artistic culture is increasing among the new generations. Artistic/aesthetic education doesn’t count at all during school time, and many Arts schools bet on the complete dematerialization and delegitimization of the Fine Arts. So, the BARCELONA CONTEMPORARY exhibition, like the other ones organized by ITSLIQUID GROUP, offers to teachers and students, amateur and established artists the opportunity to exhibit their work and share it with other international artists.
LC – In which way the artwork presented in our exhibition is connected with the exhibition’s theme?
OV – From this third edition of Barcelona Contemporary, I was attracted by the concept of “Future Landscapes”. I have worked with scenery and landscapes iconography for years and have always tried to represent the theme of the ‘frontier’, physical or metaphysical. The edge between heaven and earth, water and rock, tree and man, desert earth and ruin. Thus, I thought that my work could contribute to the question of that ‘futuristic landscapes’, which always are an inner journey. The landscape doesn’t’ exists ‘out there’, but ‘inside our imagination’.
LC – What is your idea about ITSLIQUID GROUP?
OV – In addition, Itsliquid Group allows original work to be exhibited in prestigious galleries and spaces throughout Europe. It is important that each exhibition has an aesthetic line capable of confronting very different artists around a unique theme, distinguishing the essential from the superfluous. Luca Curci’s team must continue working to fine-tune the selection of works and artists, as well as occasions for artists to present their work and techniques in front of viewers potentially interested in acquiring artworks.
LC – What are your suggestions about our services? Is there something more we can provide to artists?
OV – Of course, these are not comfortable times. Neither were the times of Michelangelo, Millais or Gauguin, those of Goncharova or the Catalan painter Lluisa Vidal, not even the early days of Casorati and Munari. Today, certain Instagrammers, influencers, politicians, athletes and journalists have become the idols of postmodern or post-human media. But their preaching promotes falsehood or, in the best of cases, a ‘great nothing’. Public institutions no longer count on real artists and craftsmen to improve the lives of their citizens, to provide them with more beautiful and pleasant
gardens, better monuments and more humanized shared spaces. As Tarkovsky said in his feature film about the Russian painter Andrei Rublev (1966), art is all the more necessary the greater the suffering of the world. Despite appearances, Western people of all ages suffered an inner sorrow, because of the loneliness and materialism that rule our lives. So, I believe, in effect, that artistic creation, its audience and its sponsors and benefactors are more necessary than ever. Hence, the ITSLIQUID project is also more necessary than ever. It is necessary to make young people understand that they can’t just spend hundreds of euros on a mobile phone, on brand-name sneakers, on a trip to the Faroe Islands, but they can also buy original works made by a professional artist for the same price, or maybe less.
LC – Do you think ITSLIQUID GROUP can represent an opportunity for artists?
OV – Itsliquid Group undoubtedly represents an opportunity for trainee artists, since it makes visible what is often lacking in visibility. There is a lot of talent in the shadows and too much mass media light thrown on some specific authors themselves, regardless of the quality of what the latter offer. As Donald Kuspit used to say, there is a whole generation of “new old masters” who hopes to contribute to new forms of art far from iconoclastic grants. I think it is important that each ITSLIQUID festival has a greater connection with the life of the city in which it takes place: social networks,
gallery owners, antique dealers, art critics, universities and design schools. I also believe that Itsliquid Group should work with a portfolio of companies and foundations with a patronage program to make the exhibited selling artworks easier and more fluid. It would also be good, for each exhibition, to publish a catalog, on paper or online, with a selection of artists and works. In this sense, art critics, historians and artists from each city, for each event, could write a text and even transform the exhibition into a traveling exhibition through different cultural institutions of the city.