CultureCritic interviews Angela de la Cruz...
Angela de la Cruz (b.1965) moved to London from her native Spain in 1989 to study art. She has since carved out a celebrated career, working in the space between painting and objects. She suffered a massive stroke in 2005, and is still recovering, yet for much of her preceding career she was making work out of collapsed and broken canvases, all born out of her 1995 ‘eureka' piece entitled ‘Ashamed', in which the central rung of a painting support was accidentally broken.
She was nominated for the 2010 Turner Prize, and last week saw the opening of Transfer, her first exhibition of solely new work since she began her recovery, at the Lisson Gallery London. It offers some typically brilliant de la Cruz trademarks - saggy, distorted canvasses, dark wit, seductive surfaces and suggestions of violence and defeat. We posed her a few questions about furniture, slapstick comedy and what she's trying to say about painting now.
'Transfer (ivory)', mixed media. Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery
Your works often use the proportions of your own body, where does the drive to do that come from?
It's something I've always done, to make my work more human and more real. I think it comes from the tradition of self-portraiture. All art is biographical to a certain extent – mine is too.
How much has the change in your physical health affected your work, if at all, practically or thematically?
The physical change has been very shocking to me. I still carry on developing my language, but I've had to change the way I work. I used to be very hands-on and now have to let others do everything for me, which I sometimes find very difficult, even though I have always worked with assistants. My work has become more ‘straight to the point' because I have no time to waste, and I have to think and plan before I execute anything.
The two works ‘Transfer (white)' and ‘Transfer (ivory)' on show at the Lisson juxtapose an immaculate, high-end sofa and armchair with grotty utilitarian chairs. What made you bring these two extremes together?
I wanted to show something very tidy and nice. I spent a long time in hospital surrounded by institutional objects and dirt. The chair is the kind you might find in any studio or institutional building. Practicality makes these two objects go together.
The colours used in this show seem fairly ‘dead' – industrial or commercial – although you have used more bodily browns and red in the past. Is there a shift going on?
Maybe. I wanted this show to be very neutral and sterile, about [objects] trying to exist in an almost perfect environment, but with the possibility of getting ‘dirty'.
Your work has been described as ‘almost Noir', a dark Hollywood genre, often featuring underdog protagonists. Your pieces have fairly humble titles redolent of failure. Why does the anti-heroic appeal to you?
The anti-heroic always tries to survive, and almost always makes it, because it's not a hero or a saint – it's a normal human being. It's what I am trying to achieve with my work.
'Deflated (yellow)', oil on canvas. Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery
To what extent, if at all, are you having a go at the art world's status quo?
With my everyday paintings and commodity paintings, for example ‘Loose Fit', ‘Ready to Wear' and ‘Nothing', I wasn't having a go, but I was highlighting that commodity paintings end up as just that. I was a bit disappointed about this fact, because I didn't want to loose my credibility, but at the same time I needed to sell my work in order to survive. I feel like I wasn't compromising my position by being aware of this, that's why I made commodity paintings. In fact, all my work has that knowledge built into it.
What do you think about the idea that high art and humour are incompatible?
They're very compatible. As a Spaniard, I grew up reading El Quijote and all the picaresque. The two are intrinsically linked, at least for me.
You have expressed an appreciation for old comedians such as Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Jacques Tati, and slapstick certainly appears in your work. Are there any other filmmakers or films you particularly admire?
Lars Von Trier, all the Italians from the 20th century. I love French directors, and also Werner Herzog. I love cinema in general.
Could you summarise your taste in music?
Very eclectic. At the moment I am obsessed with the group ESG. I am also listening to Warpaint a lot. However, I listen to many different things. What I don't like is The X-Factor, and its formulaic poppy music.
Why did you write your MA thesis about dwarves?
They represented the ultimate freedom. As I grew up in Spain, dwarves have always been part of my culture, they featured in art, film – in a lot of things.
What else have you carried with you from being brought up in Spain and what is your relationship with Spanish art?
I am quite critical of the politics in Spain, although I like the lifestyle. I consider myself a Spanish person, and I love Spanish food and culture, but the religion was too much for me. I admire Goya but I don't really know what's going on in terms of contemporary art. I only know mainstream artists, which are not necessarily representative. I've lived in London for 23 years, and so look at Spanish art like a foreigner.
Is there anyone in the contemporary art world you particularly admire right now?
Transfer is on show at the Lisson Gallery until 30 April, for the latest reviews click here.
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