1984 – 2014 From "Bull" to "The nude Maja" – Paintings and sculptures
The "Picasso – Das Plastische Werk" (Skulptures of Picasso) exhibition in Berlin (1983) was a real driving force behind my artistic work. The way Picasso incorporated everyday objects into sculptures to give them a whole new meaning was something that really fascinated me. His use of two toy cars to represent the baboon’s head in his sculpture „Baboon with young“, or the feet modelled from two forks in „The crane“, for example, has made a lasting impression. The ingenuity of the "Bull's head" sculpture, made of a bicycle saddle and handlebars, is what ultimately inspired me to produce my own interpretation in the spring of 1984. In the same year, the sculptures "Admiral" and "Heron" came about from toy boats and an old bicycle handbrake. In 1985, I produced yet more sculptures such as "Elephant" and "Abdullah", along with "Crane", which was inspired by Picasso's original.
With "Jeans face" and "Shirt face", 1986 saw the inception of a painting technique in which I stapled everyday objects (clothes, in this case) to my usual wooden box lids and then painted them with brightly coloured synthetic resin paint. In doing so, I only ever used primary colours to emulate the style I had seen in Miró's work. Visiting his museums in Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca made me eager to paint on a large scale and in bright, unmixed colours. For the two pieces created in 1990, "Laughing face" and "Face of a dancer", I used lingerie to give the images the appropriate shape, adding the blue eyes, red lips and black hair with paint. Miró's influence is also apparent in the two images that I painted onto the black enamelled baking trays with synthetic resin paint. A further example is the "Miró meets the clock" piece from 1991, in which I painted his "Personatge davant el Sol (Character in front of the sun)" onto a box lid and then added a clock mechanism to the centre of the sun. We actually use this today in our living room.
When creating my pieces, I particularly enjoy painting onto transport box lids or baking trays rather than onto a refined canvas. The advantage of the box lids is that they have a wooden frame around the inner edge to secure the lid in the box and ensure it is closed properly, which doubles up perfectly as a picture carrier with its own frame. Sometimes, I have even been able to use the knot holes in the wooden boards for my artistic representations; the knot hole in the piece entitled "Nude", for example, provided an ideal navel. Using everyday objects as pieces of art – for example, transforming enamelled metal shovels into kitchen clocks or cheese graters into hanging lamps – provided a further opportunity to give these items a whole new meaning. We use a series of three metal shovels with clock mechanisms as our world clock, which shows the times in Tokyo, New York and, of course, Madrid and Munich. A series of lamps and clocks made from cake tins in 1994 completed the period of using objects in this way. Even the kitchen broom was given a face (to match its black "hair") and the parasol stand was given a Miróesque update.
While I resorted almost exclusively to objects that I had "found" for my sculptures and paintings until 1996 (see "Devil", which was formed from the corner piece of a Euro pallet), "Girl with black hair" saw me start to actively seek out or buy objects in order to complete the image. The straw bag that makes up the face was another object I had found, while the broom for the black hair came from the DIY shop. In the case of "Beautiful girl..." and "...on the beach" (1998), this was the first time I had created two pieces that were individual images in their own right, but which lined up perfectly to form a single work in the form of "Beautiful girl on the beach". For the "Native American lamp" piece, I bought steel pipes, had the silhouette of a Native American laser-cut out of a steel sheet, and got hold of the granite stone that forms the heavy base. I then used this Native American silhouette for another two pieces: the metal sheet that was used to cut out the silhouette became "Native American in the countryside" and another piece was even formed from the sheet I used as a base while painting. These two works from 1999 were the last to be produced in Munich.
After moving to Madrid in 2000, "Two sisters" was created in January 2001. The black and light brown brushes symbolise the hair colour not only of my own sisters, but also those of my partner, Agnes. Inspired by our friend Esther from Seville, in 2002 I created a series of works including "Andalusian woman". In "Marisol", I used the beach towel with blue and yellow stripes to represent the sea and the sun. For "Woman" and "Man", I manipulated some of the objects that I had bought on a visit to an ironmonger whilst on holiday in Calonge, Catalonia. To provide the beak in "Duck", I used an old garlic press that I found in our holiday home and got a matching frying pan at the ironmonger's to form the body. In case you're wondering, I did, of course, replace the garlic press!
To begin with, I used box lids and wooden boards that I found in packaging waste. Since then, I have broadly standardised the size of my creations and I have the box lids specially made. Larger pieces measure 80 x 120 cm, which is the size of a Euro pallet. At 60 x 80 cm, the smaller items are half the size, which makes them easier to both store and transport. Two large pictures or four small ones put together and protected by a frame on all sides form a transportation unit the size of a Euro pallet. In terms of colour, I only use synthetic resin paint in red, blue, yellow, green and black, and never mix them together. I either paint all surfaces so they are completely covered, sometimes separating the colours with a black brush stroke, or use a loose freehand technique to add just a hint of colour.
When it comes to using objects, I never use plastic, as it loses its plasticiser over time and then breaks. The only exceptions to this are the artificial calla lilies. I only ever use complete objects that have not been modified; either an object is able to represent what I want it to, or it is unsuitable. Adding plaster-modelled elements or welding objects together would totally contradict my philosophy of "giving objects a new meaning". I use either staples or screws to fix things together, or else make small holes in the boards to secure the objects with florist's wire. I never use adhesive or glue as this deteriorates over time and loses its hold.
Of course, the manual labour involved in creating my images is not without its noise and mess, not to mention the smell of the synthetic resin paint. In both Munich and Madrid, I could at least paint on the balcony when the weather was nice, although I couldn't leave the unfinished pieces lying around the apartment until I found time to work on them again. With my original works of art already covering every spare inch of wall space, and the box lids and objects for pending creations piled up ready to go, I was in desperate need of space. As a result, my artistic activity was brought to a resounding halt between 2003 and 2005, although this was also due in part to regular visits to our new home in Spain along with my MBA course.
Once the course had finished at the end of 2005, I was desperate to start devoting more time to art again. My head was already brimming with ideas, much of the materials I needed were available, and even the box lids were lined up ready. What I really needed (and fast!) was a studio, and in the spring of 2007 I finally found one. I was able to share with two other artists in the Malasaña district of Madrid. Not only did it have enough space to store all of my objects and tools, but there was even plenty of room for me to work. I could leave the unfinished pieces to one side without them being in the way, and was finally able to give free rein to my creativity.
In the period of 6 months, I produced over 30 pieces that were, for the most part, based around objects that I had either found or bought over the five previous years. The sickles I had bought in 2002 were finally put to use in "Cockerel", and the cover version of "Still life with ricer" (also known as "Still life with garlic press") by Diego Rivera also came to life. I was even able to use the fish scalers I had bought at the Tokyo fish market in 2005 for "Geisha Sadayakko". All of the metal buckets finally found their new calling as the representation of women's breasts. I was able to use the 11 kg cast-iron hook I had found in Reykjavik for the "Sailor". The rabbit moulds, boot jack and rakes found their new home in "Forest", and I made use of the pear-shaped cake tins in the "Bathers" portrait.
The boxes used for transporting ham became part of the "Woman and man" sculpture, the wine and cava boxes were made into works of art, and even the box lid with the strip down the middle was able to be used with the two large buckets to form the piece entitled "Breasts". What's more, I was finally able to use the two large picture frames that I found at our place in Calle Viriato, where the local picture frame workshops regularly clear out old or damaged frames and put them out in the street. The rather shabby picture frame was perfect for the "Grandfather" portrait, and I had been planning the bed-leg moustache and window-lever nose for quite some time. Finally, I was also able to emulate Diego Rivera's "Woman with calla lilies", for which I already had the pear-shaped moulds and artificial flowers ready.
As the number of works grew, so too did my desire to produce a catalogue. The first catalogue consisted of a Word file with photos of my creations. To ensure the lighting was always even and to prevent reflections when taking the photographs, I constructed a mobile lighting device with eight fluorescent tubes that can be switched on or off individually. I then progressed to a photo book, which saw the images printed for the first time in a real, hardback book.
Of course, producing 500 to 1000 copies of a photo book would be far too expensive, so I requested some quotes to print a catalogue. A friend of mine, Said Messari, has held many exhibitions of the graphic art and installations he has produced to date and kindly offered his experience to help me put my catalogues together. And so, at the end of 2007, we started the catalogue production at a print shop in Madrid. I brought the photos and texts, while Said took care of the layout.
"Project catalogue" was almost complete when Said contacted Jesús Carrobles, Head of Art for the city of Toledo. This is why, in the summer of 2008, I was finally able to start dreaming of my first art exhibition. The oldest Roman-style church on the Iberian Peninsula, Santa María de Melque, is home to a centre of interpretation and a building with three exhibition rooms. In February 2009, the decision was made about how to plan the use of the space, and my exhibition was scheduled to run from the end of July until the end of September.
It was around this time that I felt the weight of the global economic crisis pressing against me, as the reduced working hours only left me with a three-day week and so I had two days a week to prepare for the exhibition. The vernissage for my exhibition in Santa María de Melque was held on 25 July 2009, and I was able to celebrate with friends from both Madrid and Germany. We rented rooms in the nearby village, La Puebla de Montalbán, and spent the evening celebrating the start of the exhibition with the local speciality (garlic rabbit) and copious amounts of red wine!
The pieces with the wooden watermelons I bought in Mexico came into being artworks from autumn 2009 onwards. With the table top that was found left out waiting to be taken to the rubbish tip, and the chair from the antique shop, I was finally in a position to create my interpretation of Diego Rivera's "Watermelons", along with a variation on the theme using the sawn-off chair back. My holidays at Japan in April 2010 had a strong influence on the two "Sakura" pieces; the flourishing cherry blossom branches above the roof of a Japanese pagoda, against the backdrop of a blue sky, are depicted by pieces of wood that once decorated a wardrobe, Japanese chopsticks and 250 pearl buttons per scene, each fixed with two copper nails.
It was also these two works that made the journey from my art studio in Malasaña to the basement of our house in Calle Viriato, Chamberí, while they were still in the process of being completed. The advantages of the move were that I was so close to the studio, where I had a separate storage area and a third room that I used for taking photographs. There was more than enough space in these rooms to hang a few pictures and at the end of December 2010, I was ready to invite my friends to another studio vernissage.
Using the guitar that I had found waiting to be taken to the rubbish tip years before, I was able to produce another piece based on Diego Rivera's "Woman with calla lilies", this time in the larger format of 120 x 80 cm. This piece, along with the Paul Gauguin-inspired "Two women on Tahiti beach", became the first two pieces in the "20 famous paintings" project. This is also how the interpretations of Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers" and Claude Monet's "Water lilies" came into being, not to mention Cubist works based on Georges Braque's "Guitar". "The artist and his model" was produced in homage to the artist who has had the greatest influence on my work – Pablo Picasso.
Even as I was buying them, the silvery glass vases reminded me of fish, and I could now start work on "Tuna fishing" using a piece of wire netting. It was at an ironmonger's in Porto that I found forty aluminium moulds for roasting biscuits in hot oil, and these I transformed into the petals in "Window bouquet", one of my Marc Chagall-inspired pieces. Following a holiday in Brazil, I brought back 30 kg of bricks that were perfectly shaped to represent high-rise buildings, and had them cut into 4 cm pieces at a brick factory south of Madrid. This is how "Rio" and "Sao Paulo" came into being, along with the two pieces that depict the Baixa Grande village in Lencois Maranhenses, northern Brazil.
For "View of Fujiyama", I had to find a coat hanger that was flat rather than rounded at the top to represent the volcano. In "Redheaded woman and sunflowers", inspired by Paul Gauguin, I was able to use the decorative lock elements I had found at an ironmonger's in Munich. I took the coloured wooden balls from twelve abacus counting frames to create the Roy Lichtenstein-inspired "Blonde girl". With the last of the pear-shaped cake tins, I was able to produce the perfect representation of Peter Paul Rubens' "The three graces", while the large aluminium vases came in very useful for the two images inspired by Francisco Goya: "The nude Maja" and "The clothed Maja". These two works are also the last ones in the "20 famous paintings" project.
These twenty pieces are the focus of the exhibition entitled "From Picasso to Monet, from Gauguin to van Gogh – Paintings and sculptures" which, in January and February 2014, is taking place in Buitrago de Lozoya, 75 km north of Madrid. Held in the birthplace of Picasso's barber, Ernesto Arias, whose gifts from the artist are on display in the local Picasso museum, this exhibition provides the perfect venue for showcasing the pieces on which Pablo Picasso has had such a significant influence.