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MAXAM Foundation
Alfonso Albacete: "A commission puts your painting to the test"
Alfonso Albacete: "A commission puts your painting to the test" Alfonso Albacete: "A commission puts your painting to the test"


MAXAM Foundation - Press room - Interviews - Alfonso Albacete: "A commission puts your painting to the test"


Alfonso Albacete, author of Vanitas (MAXAM Calendar 2019 stands at that midpoint where he has a solid career behind him and a future ahead in which to tell, express and show as much as he has said up to now through his paintings, prints, drawings and installations.

Why do you paint?
I started when I was very young. My mother was an amateur painter and the smell of turpentine is as familiar to me as the smell of cooking. I suppose one way or another I incorporated this language into my development in the same way you learn to speak.

When you look back, how do you see your career?
I don’t tend to look back; it makes me dizzy. When you’re working, seeing all those images you’ve accumulated makes you think you’ve exhausted certain possibilities. But it’s not true; painting is a mental process and is inseparable from your life, and just as you carry on living, you carry on painting.

Looking at works I did some time ago allows me to put myself in the viewer’s position, which gives me mixed feelings. On the one hand it makes me I think I wouldn’t be capable of doing what I’m looking at again, but on the other, it makes me aware of the differences between how I painted then and how I paint now.

Is there something you’ve thought of or would like to do that you haven’t done yet?
My method of working is like the way people make films. I start from an idea, some isolated images, and on that basis I gradually work out relationships until a discourse emerges, what’s called a script in filmmaking. That’s the preliminary stage.

The painting process comes after this, and here new elements and cross-currents arise. You enter a physical world where you’re working with liquids which have their own gravity and history, and somehow you have to take hold of it and control it. That’s why I’ve always thought painting is a bit like a performance, perhaps because of the period when I was associated with Conceptual art: the end result is as if you had finished an action.

What role do you think art plays today?
The same role it’s always played. Now or in the past, it makes no difference: art is a form of human expression which emerges in the difference between what human beings are capable of thinking and what exists. That’s what leads to creation. What we create may be connected to the social or political environment, because
it always has an initial discourse. But here are works that manage to survive even in periods when the discourse they were originally linked to has disappeared. Something like this occurs with classical painting and its mythological or religious scenes, which we see in museums; in most cases we don’t know their discourse. Very few people really know the story they represent. And yet people can pour their thoughts into them. This means that the piece, apart from being The Supper at Emmaus or Diana and Actaeon, has a series of values that enable it to embody a modern way of thinking, separate from the myth it represents.

In the scenario you describe, what role do artists perform?
That’s something that should perhaps be answered from a sociological point of view. The roles have changed pretty radically. Up to the late sixties or early seventies artists were practically the only model for their discourse; they created it themselves. Then other factors began to come into play; the figures of curators and theorists appeared, and now they play a leading role in its development.

And from your point of view what should the role of painting and artists be?
At the time when a painting is produced it has a very direct discourse, but it has to be open enough to function as a container for thought that crosses the boundary of its period and enters into a more general and universal discourse, more related to being human in itself than to a specific situation. The job of artists, for their part, is to adapt to the time they live in.

How did you receive the commission to produce an image for the 2019 MAXAM Calendar?
I don’t usually accept commissions, but the challenge attracted me. If you do a work on commission where there are set requirements and you manage to acquit yourself well without having to force your style, it puts your painting to the test.
On the other hand, from a more theoretical point of view, I found it a curious experience. Sociologically the MAXAM Collection is a very interesting set of works. In rural areas when I was a child in the 1960s – I didn’t live in a city until I
was 17 – the Spanish Explosives Union calendars were perhaps the only images you saw. In my case those genre images – hunters and gatherers –which people adored in that part of the world, are associated with the music of Juanito Valderrama and Antonio Molina.

What are you telling us in Vanitas?
There’s a basic structural theme I’ve worked on a lot, and I’m still doing so, which is the idea of a painting within a painting, telling an image with the image itself. I also wanted to pay a tribute to those calendars that used to be seen in rural areas. That’s why I used a series of simple elements without any complicated symbolism, but at the same time open enough to allow them to be read from other perspectives.
The basic elements of the painting are a calendar with a hunter-gatherer character on the one hand, and on the other, the very particular landscape of the industrial facilities where this kind of product is manufactured, with their widely separated buildings. Both of these things are integrated into a still-life format in which explosive products are mixed with themes of painting on that life/death relationship you find in vanitas pictures, and this is why the painting has that title.

What is the process you follow from the initial idea until you’ve finished the piece you’re working on?
I always play with a series of elements like a kind of jigsaw. There are images that arise very quickly. I put them together and they live with me for a while – as you can see on the walls of my studio – and I gradually associate content with them. I combine them with each other until you can begin to see a discourse emerging between them and you work on it to see how you’re going to stage it. When you’ve got that job sorted out, you get into a painting process and what matters to you is the picture.

What impressions do you get when you go back to one of your works some time after it left your studio?
There’s a curious thing about paintings; sometimes they’re like those people you haven’t seen for a long time and you pick up the conversation as if you’d been talking only yesterday. In one of my pictures from 30 or 40 years ago I can tell you where I left it, the reasons for everything in it; it’s as if it were still living with me.

That makes you happy. It’s also a bit unsettling, because certain ghosts from the past reappear, and there’s a melancholy feeling, especially with the pictures I painted when I was very young, because you recognise the energy you had back then. I’m probably wiser now, but I have much less energy. There are works that when I look at them now I feel I should have spent more time on them, and with some of the current ones I tell myself that I ought to have the strength I c0uld summon up when I was 20 to tell a story once and for all without so much as a backward glance.

How do you feel about the fact that the ultimate purpose of Vanitas is to illustrate a calendar which will be distributed all over the world?
It’s something you have in mind when it comes to working out all the representation and drawing part of the project, since this piece is not going to be seen in a gallery or a museum, the typical settings for art, but is designed to be looked at in public places and in domestic surroundings. That makes you handle the iconography and technique in a particular way, since you know that the reproduction will not be able to capture all the subtleties of the textures and material details that the subject-matter might suggest to you.


Last update 2020.07.03
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