June 29, 2016
From magazine covers to digital advertising, illustration has endless applications that we consume on a daily basis. Thanks to such events as The London Illustration Fair, this form of art is only becoming more and more popular every year. In Spain, illustrated books are currently capturing the imagination of wider audiences, while the number of exhibitions dedicated to the work of illustrators has multiplied in the past few years. Below is just a small selection of the amazing talent spread throughout the country.
Simple but very powerful compositions and a subtle use of colour are the trademarks of Elena Odriozola’s work. Her beautiful illustrations for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Nórdica Libros, 2013) are one of her most interesting projects so far. She has recently received the 2015 Spanish National Illustration Award for the “capacity for renewal” and the “narrative potential” of her work.
Maria Herreros’s drawings are full of life and animation. She uses mainly graphite and watercolour to recreate, in her own style, the image of film stars and pop culture icons. She has just published her book Marilyn tenía once dedos en los pies (Marilyn Had Eleven Toes on Her Feet, Lunwerg, 2016), a carefully illustrated collection of Hollywood anecdotes and curiosities that constitutes a unique and fascinating trip through the history of cinema.
Pablo Amargo conceives his illustrations as a poetic clash between image and word. He looks for the unexpected and establishes a certain distance between his visual world and the writings that he illustrates, so the readers can establish their own connections between text and image. I love how he manages to play with visual paradoxes and double meanings through a very clear and direct style. You may have seen his work in The New York Times, The New Yorker, or The Boston Globe, with whom he regularly collaborates.
Fernando Vicente’s stunningly sophisticated images, particularly his portraits, are some of the most recognisable in Spanish illustration today, although his work first appeared in different magazines during the 1980s. He has reimagined the works of Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, and Emily Brontë, among many others, and has also recently illustrated a book about the Spanish Civil War (La Guerra Civil contada a los jóvenes, Alfaguara, 2015).
What I find most interesting about Paula Bonet’s creations is that she is often her own model. Her lively self-portraits are emotionally charged and often illustrate strong human emotions through the use of expressive colours, dark lines, and dramatic gestures. She explores her interest in film in one of her latest projects, 813 (La Galera, 2015), an illustrated homage to François Truffaut.
Oscar Llorens’s work seems to be inspired by street art and technology. His most personal projects usually feature strange, half-animal half-machine creatures that are often suspended in the air. One of these, entitled Migraine, explores the pain and sensations felt by those who suffer from this disorder. Coca Cola, Mercedes, Cirque du Soleil, and Red Bull are among the companies that have chosen Llorens’s intricate designs for their advertising campaigns.
Cinta Arribas likes telling stories through her art. Her work is fresh and optimistic, but not in any way naïve. I particularly like her ability to simplify shapes and the eloquence of her characters’ poses and gestures. If you are feeling adventurous, check out her awesome map with all the European St James’ routes to the city of Santiago de Compostela, featured in the book A Map of the World. The World According to Illustrators and Storytellers (Gestalten, 2013).
What first caught my attention about Carla Fuentes‘s work were her wonderful portraits, in particular those from her recent personal project Los Sentados. Through her very distinctive palette and the spontaneity of her lines Fuentes captures the character not only of people, but also of places. One example of this is her Motels series, inspired by the work of American photographer Stephen Shore.
Minimalist, enigmatic, and very evocative. Jesus Cisneros’s illustrations take us into a different world, one populated by small characters that seem in complete harmony with their mysterious surroundings. Cisneros’s unique style comes from his exquisite technique and great sensitivity. In his creations, colour becomes particularly relevant through its scarce but significant presence.
Ricardo Cavolo’s work is full of detail, symbolism, and eyes, eyes everywhere! He takes inspiration from old school tattoos, art history icons such as Frida Kahlo, and myths from different cultures to create bold and colourful illustrations and murals. If you want to dive into his very personal style, I recommend his book 101 Artists To Listen To Before You Die (Nobrow Press, 2015). A real treat for music lovers!
Louise Bourgeois: No Exit is currently on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Bourgeois (1911-2010) is best known for her large-scale sculptures, one of which is located in the museum’s sculpture garden. However, with twenty-one works, including drawings, prints, and sculptures, the exhibit provides an intimate look into the mind of a truly remarkable artist as she contemplated themes of life, death, domesticity, and womanhood.
The French-American artist was born to a prosperous Parisian family in 1911. Her family owned a gallery in Aubusson, the tapestry producing region of central France and home to Bourgeois’s mother’s family. The artist spent part of her childhood working in the gallery where her family sold and restored antique tapestries, helping repair them by filling in worn areas, using lines to indicate where stitches should be made. These experiences made a lasting impression, as displayed in Bourgeois’s early works on view in the National Gallery’s exhibition. The images recall the cascading rivers and mountain peaks of Aubusson, while simultaneously recalling the interweavings of textiles.
She began her long and prolific career as an artist in the early 1930s after being introduced to the Surrealists, whose ideology centered on the creative potential of the unconscious mind. After marrying the American art historian Robert Goldwater and moving to New York in 1938, she became reacquainted with the European Surrealists who were exiled during the war. Yet, the artist herself denied the label of a Surrealist. “At the mention of surrealism, I cringe. I am not a surrealist.” Still, it is difficult to separate the whimsicality and bizarre juxtapositions of her work from that of the Surrealists, or even their predecessors, the Dadaists. The works in the show bring to mind Francis Picabia’s mechanical portraits, Max Ernst’s collages, or Joan Miró’s landscapes.
Instead Bourgeois preferred the label of existentialist, admiring the works of Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and, of course, Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre’s 1944 play, No Exit, from which the exhibition takes its name, is the story of three recently departed souls on their way to hell, anticipating the physical torment they are about to endure. As it turns out, the pain they experience in hell is not physical, but psychological. Their hell is being trapped in a room from which there is no escape for all eternity with the people they despise the most, each other – just imagine going to a dinner party with all the people you’ve ever blocked on Facebook, and then multiply that feeling by infinity. As Sartre famously says, “Hell is other people.”
While Bourgeois draws her inspiration from Sartre, her personal hell seems to be the absence of other people. The nine engravings and enigmatic parables that volume He Disappeared into Complete Silence (1947) show Bourgeois at her most Surreal. The subjects, ranging from a little girl who buried her coveted candy in the ground, only to find that it has been ruined by the damp soil, to a man who cuts up his wife and serves her at a dinner party, represent what the artist referred to as “tiny tragedies of human frustration.” The characters of her story show indifference, or even cruelty towards one another, conveying the deep sense of isolation that often embodies Bourgeois’s work. We are left with a sense of ambivalence towards them, they commit acts that signal both internal and external conflict. One plate tells the story of a loving but overbearing mother, and a son “of a quiet nature and rather intelligent,” but who is indifferent to his mother’s love. The prodigal son leaves, and later the mother dies without his knowledge. Three haunting, elongated figures occupy the space, prompting us to wonder who the third figure could be. The feeling we are left with is one of remorse and sympathy for the mother, but also for the son. The print could be semi-autobiographical, Bourgeois lost her mother at 21 years old, around the time she was beginning her career. This loss had a profound effect on her artwork, seen especially in her series Maman, and again in what could be seen as a companion piece, M is for Mother (1998). The latter, on view in the exhibit, is a drawing of an imposing letter M that conveys both maternal comfort and control. With such a conflict, Bourgeois forces us to question our relationships with those around us.
Like Sartre, she believed that free will was the essence of existentialist thought, but unlike Sartre, she also believed that our pasts inform our future. Deeply fixed memories inspired her oeuvre over the course of a remarkably long career. This reluctance to let go meant that she rarely considered a work finished, generally leaving open the possibility of a future iteration. One of her later books, the puritan (1990), deals precisely with this theme. This bound volume of eight hand-colored engravings on handmade paper takes place in New York, and is a story of lost love. “With the puritan,” Bourgeois explained, “I analyzed an episode forty years after it happened. I could see things from a distance…I put it on a grid…I considered the situation objectively, scientifically, not emotionally. I was interested not in anxiety, but in perspective, in seeing things from different points of view.”
A number of sculptures are included in the exhibit as well, ranging from her small but recognizable cast Germinal (1967), to the life-sized sculptures the artist referred to as “Personages.” These sculptures, Bourgeois said, were made to be exhibited at ground level so that they could be interacted with “like people.” While they exist in our space, they also stand isolated and detached. Made from modest, often discarded materials and employing simple methods of construction, these totemic figures reflect a wartime sensibility of salvage and reuse in a damaged environment.
Bourgeois’s work asks a timeless and essential question: in periods of conflict, uncertainty, or hostility, can we live meaningful lives? It seems to me that Bourgeois would say that it is in these moments that we are at our most authentic, and that the greatest struggle we have to overcome is not external, but internal. This is, however, a question Bourgeois would want us to answer for ourselves.
Louise Bourgeois: No Exit is on view until May 15, 2016.