“First of all, I would like to explain to you why a British artist unknown to most of you is here to collaborate with Juanma Romero, a renowned poet who enjoys a certain notoriety in Spain.
Eight years ago, I came to live in Seville for a whole year and set up my workshop there.
Everyone in England was telling me how lucky I was to work in such a hot and sunny place, and how great the light would be for my job.
During the first months I worked in a “conventional” way, like any other painter. I hung up large canvases, bought a lot of paint and worked every day with the sun bathing my studio. But, little by little, it was getting hotter and hotter …
As you can see I am very fair skinned and have a problem with my eyes which makes me extremely sensitive to light. Let’s say I’m not a fan of the sun. From the month of June I could hardly leave my house. It was 40 ° outside and “the incredible pictorial light of Seville” blinded me. How could I work in such conditions?
In my work I use several mediums, including ultraviolet light. I’ve done several fluorescent paintings and installations for clubs in London and New York – works done in the dark and meant to be seen in the dark.
That was the solution, so I put on my sunglasses and went to buy some UV lights and fluorescent paint. When I got home, I closed the curtains and spent that summer working in the dark.
“What a waste” you might reasonably think, but necessity is the mother of inventions, turning my days into night, I think I had some of my best ideas.
My work always seems to revolve around the idea of memory and especially the absence of memory. I know that time has altered and blurred many of my memories; that’s why I tend to speculate on those bits of memory and in the end – recreate another story.
It’s as if working in the dark had distilled my memories.
Working without any visual stimuli other than the monotony of violet light, a felt in hand, was close to silent meditation. The tiniest visual memories began to invade my mind.
So I started to draw them with a black pen on shiny white paper. I didn’t think about what I was doing. I let go a bit like automatic writing. Dozens, hundreds of little pieces of memories were strewn across the floor of my studio.
It was around this time that I first met Juanma.
My wife and I were planning a party at the house, where I had my studio, and I started hanging these works from the UV lamps on the ceiling.
I remember our discussion with Juanma trying to understand each other, me with my terrible Spanish and him with his even worse English. The same phenomenon happened when I discovered his texts, I only understood fragments, but so precious.
I remember looking at my drawings, white, tiny, floating in the dark, shaken by the blast of the huge fans constantly plugged in due to the lack of air conditioning. They arose and disappeared immediately into the dark.
It was the beginning of a work on memory that I am still pursuing and which will probably never be completed.
I called it A boy’sown story.
In contrast to the work I have just described, some of my paintings involve the repetitive use of indeterminate forms often seen from above or in aerial perspective, to use architectural terminology.
It’s a series that I started in 1998. And despite their tiny variations, it’s a work that I’m still developing.
These paintings that I call Figurescapes are the antithesis of A boy’sown story. With them, I aim painting for the sake of painting.
The figure is the only motif, the sole raison d’être of which is its familiarity to me. I would love to have a vocabulary as powerful as that of artists like Jackson Pollock, Jean Dubuffet, Piet Mondrian or Joan Miro. They are painters that I really admire; all of them undertook a long apprenticeship in the figurative motif before reaching their own abstraction from human and natural realities.
This is a step that I am aiming for in my own practice. In the meantime, these Figurescapes provide me, due to the almost arbitrary repetition of the same image, a kind of meditation. What I’m looking for is to establish a representation of the most powerful image there is – the human figure. I now have mastery of this representation and I am moving away from the simple construction of the image to focus on more objective concerns such as composition, the theory of color or, to be less arid, rhythm. and mood.
I have probably produced more than 200 works in this series, but I take comfort in thinking of Mondrian who painted trees for thirty years to achieve his minimalist and his final works.
On a more personal level, these formal works provided me with an antidote to memory. When I no longer want to remember anything and only want to exist in the present, the Figurescapes are refuges from the past.
When Juanma asked me to design the cover for one of her editions, I was very flattered. Here you will see works that are the beginnings of stories or ambiguous narratives. For me, they are closer to a certain poetry.
I would like to describe for you a small painting, Park, with which I have just won a prize in England.
Park is from a series of watercolors called Small change, in homage to an album by Tom Waits. I really like Tom Waits songs. They are laconic, sinister, sometimes sentimental, always fanciful representations of lunatics and outsiders. Drunk clowns howling at dawn or playing in traffic. These characters are not necessarily “real” people but just dark specters that appear to us on sleepless days. That’s what I’m trying to say – sometimes.
I think, like most artists, Juanma and I seek to come to terms with the things we don’t understand and I’m very happy to walk with him on such a… futile path. ”