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EXTRACTS FROM A CONVERSATION WITH PABLO REY

By Carles Lapuente, (Poet). 2008

Carles Lapuente To open a door, in this passageway to the dialogue we are about to
establish, I would like us both to accept a premise which rests on the profound belief that art
can be a path towards wisdom. Starting from this point, do you believe, Pablo, that
furthermore, this path can facilitate contact with a higher level of understanding? Or, to put it
differently, is it possible to understand art as a kind of mysticism, as a parallel to the emotional
and rational sensibilities?
Pablo Rey Well, this is rather a sore point, I dont particularly want to talk about it because I
wouldnt like people to think it was just a pose, on the other hand neither would I like that
people didnt understand given that in this situation we find ourselves before the kind of
experience which has a very personal quality, almost not transferable. However I do believe
that art, insofar as it is a tool, broadens the range of our field of perception and interpretation
of the human being, of life and the phenomena which derive from it. In this sense, and
intrinsically related to my own experience, there is an example in a series I produced Campo
Policrnico. Well, there was a time when I was working very fast. I painted some extremely
large pictures, even up to two metres, in sessions which rarely lasted longer than half an hour
or an hour at most. I tell you this to illustrate in some way how my way of working in those
pieces came close to a limit which went much further than the mere act of painting. Obviously
if I was painting so fast it wasnt just to increase output
C.L. What was it you were after?.
P.R. What I was looking for was that the painting should flow without it being conditioned by
previous ideas or rational decisions, which is to say, above all letting feelings go, and it was in
this letting go that the work took form, that it showed, to put it this way, a reality which wasnt
as it appeared, new. I can tell you, that even if the sessions were short they were also very
intense, so much so that after each one I felt completely exhausted and empty. Then I needed
two or three days to recover, to fill me up again with experiences, images, visions, feelings,
and sensations, which I would later pour out, like a storm onto the canvas. So that, going back
to the question you asked, the only thing I can say is that in that moment I felt like a vehicle, an
instrument for revealing the work that had already been conceived, a lightning conductor
which attracted the runaway forces of nature. And the strange thing is, despite what I say
sounding extremely irrational, that the pictures worked, when all is said and done they had
density, there was an order in my work which organized chaos. (/)
C.L. Until now weve almost been talking like art historians and Id like us to come back to the
present day. What painters who are currently working interest you, Pablo ?.
P.R. In Spain Im especially attracted to the work of Juan Usl. Also Gordillo for his approach
to his creative work. There are many in other countries, but I would especially like to mention
David Reed, Richard Tuttle o Jonathan Lasker. Among the figurative painters John Currin seems
to me really exceptional. (/)
C.L. Knowing about your passion for Pollock and the place he occupies in relation to your
painting what youve never told me is how you came across his work.

P.R. I first came into contact with Pollock at University, in a course on American abstractexpressionists, but where I really discovered Pollock, without a doubt, was in New York. I had
seen his work in reproductions, books, and this weve already talked about in some depth, we
live in a world where mechanical reproduction changes the original, we suffer in an age of
mechanical mirages, of simulations and in the case of Pollock its essential to his work to see it
as it really is. One of the pictures which made the greatest impression on me was by Pollock,
an action painting, which dominates one of the rooms at the MOMA, it must have measured
something like eight metres by four, and , on seeing it, was literally fascinated. It affected me
quite a lot. I always disagree with those friends who see me as quite an American painter,
but its inevitable. I was born in Europe, my academic background was in Europe, and also with
my father, being that I learned to paint with him, who was a realist painter, from the open air
school, and yet up to that point I was still not fully formed in the artistic sense, I hadnt taken
any decisions, I was simply absorbing. It wasnt until I arrived in New York, got to know
Pollocks work and lived through a new set of experiences that I took my first step. The works
of the American abstract-expressionists interested me a lot, De Kooning, Franz Kline, Arshile
Gorki, Rothko, but without a doubt, for me Pollock stood out amongst them.
(/)
C.L. Since weve also talked about Velzquez and incidentally the excellent book by Ramn
Gaya, Velzquez, solitary bird, which is one of your most treasured books, Id like you to tell
me how important his work has been for you.
P.R. Well, to start with, what Id like to emphasize is that Im very interested in this book
because it goes much further than Gaya. I think that Gaya was really inspired in this essay and
even though he was for me a painter who was extremely orthodox in his views on painting, in
this book he managed to propose an idea which goes further than art. In so doing he uses
Velzquez as an excuse and manages to express a specific attitude towards life which is
precisely what we admire in Velzquez. Thats to say that in making a comparison between
Velzquez and the figure of the solitary bird, which is the bird in the poem of Saint John with
the five attributes of mystical resonance, that it flies to the highest, that it wants no
companionship, that it puts its beak up into the air, that it has no particular colour and that it
sings softly, achieves the perfect synthesis to enable us to understand the figure of the painter
as human being in relation to the artist.
C.L. There is a recurring idea in Gayas book which I connect with your work where he refers
to Velzquez in terms of being a painter not who, at certain times, has stopped painting, his
famous laziness, but that he is actually aspiring to not paint.
P.R. Thats quite a profound concept.
C.L. Although on the surface it might appear meaningless.
P.R. But no, it isnt. There is one thing, which is present in Pollock and Im referring to when
he manages to create a distance between himself and the painting, which is to say when we
stop allowing ourselves to be enslaved by the painting, when were not just trying to do
something but actually doing it and this happens in exactly the same way as in Velzquez. Its a
very complex posture which involves building a distance from oneself as a painter, since what
ends up restricting many painters is precisely this, that they are painters, that they were born
painters and as they feel it in this way then, in the end, painting controls them. I always give as
an example the contrasting cases of De Kooning and Pollock. De Kooning is still struggling on

the surface of the canvas, with gestural brushstrokes, with substance, with light, with the
paintbrush, in other words, he hasnt stopped being a slave to painting, its in the struggle, also
in a material sense, Pollock though, has already won this battle, hes overcome it. Or lets bring
up, now that were talking about Velzquez, another archetypal case which is that of he and
Rembrandt, seeing as the two are contemporary. Exactly the same thing is happening to
Rembrandt, hes at a dead end wrestling with painting while Velzquez has already gone
beyond this, hes already won this battle, hes been able to distance himself from his natural
instinct as a painter, from texture, from colour, from the brush mark, hes already managed to
avoid this stage, has transcended it and its then that we get the feeling that he has only
passed by, and with a slight gesture has mastered painting, its as though he has passed
through the canvas, his paint flows, it overcomes instinct and shows us the reciprocal objective
of something which goes beyond the hand to hand struggle between the painter and his work,
and this something is magic, imperceptible, but real.
C.L. Gaya qualified this very precisely when he said that art is nothing more than a beautiful
place to stay for a while, a state of passionate and feeble adolescence which the creative artist,
the creator, knows all too well he has to leave behind. I like this concept of the work of art as a
transitional space, like a door that is open at the limits of sensory perception towards another
new vision.
P.R. Yes, there are those who use art to improve their standing in the world, whose work
relies on mere technique, on ingenuity, on dazzling effects, however painting is something
else, art is something else, its not a question of ability or originality. Theres an additional
element in the great painters which transcends this, as in the case of Velzquez, and we can
also detect this aura in Pollock.
C.L. - And Duchamp too?
P.R. Duchamp is fundamental for another reason. The merit of Duchamp, amongst other
things, is that he puts painting in its place. He transcends theme, representation and in starting
the conceptual movement he gives us back the principal which values content over form. And
this is absolutely essential for the history of painting. Having said that its important to add
that Duchamp wasnt a painter in the strict sense of the word, of course he started out
painting but immediately realized that he had other needs, that he felt the urge to find a new
language and in the process, as a result, opened the door to conceptualism. In any case it
would do well to remember that phrase by Duchamp, in the scathing tone which characterized
him, in which he said, given the fact that we live in a period when a general in battle no longer
dies on his horse that neither did it make any sense that a painter should die on his easel.
C.L. Its the same thing with Warhol, in my opinion.
P.R. Of course, Warhol reveals a new, contemporary reality, which, whether you like it or
not, whether you agree with it or not, forms a part, inescapably, of this tangled web we call
the history of art. I would almost dare to say that nothing occurs in art by chance, Warhol had
to happen, I refer to that network of phenomena, which we can call evolutionary, of
restructuring, of exploration, which is what prevents painting from ever dying. It always makes
me laugh whenever the death of painting is announced

C.L. But painting seems to be in a permanent state of crisis, moreover it should be, like any
artistic manifestation, to survive, and not get tied down.
P.R. This is fundamental. Only after a great crisis can everything be reconstructed and a new
kind of work can appear.
C.L. Anyway, do you believe that abstraction is being experienced as a kind of crisis which
hasnt yet been resolved? And Im referring to the clich, to the view that considers abstract
art as a kind of chaos, eclecticism, a one-way street, an endless escape.
P.R. This is putting it too strongly. There is a rationalist element in the way the average
spectator contemplates art that cuts off any possibility of interaction with the work. But this is
obvious, weve been born in the century of the image, in the cinema, on television, of a
multitude of visual stimuli for which we havent been properly educated and looking, like any
other sense, is susceptible to being taught, and refined.
C.L. In the world of cinema, which figures have been most influential for you?
P.R. There are three names which, for me, are indisputable, one Spanish, one Italian and one
French, Im referring to Buuel, Antonioni and Godard. Three towering figures. Buuel because
of his fluent directing, which is not forced in any way, Antonioni for the revolutionary
appearance of a completely new and refined language and Godard above all for his dialogues.
C.L. I know about your great love of bullfighting and your admiration for the figure of Jos
Toms.
P.R. Yes, for me bullfighting can be almost exclusively encapsulated in this name. With Jos
Toms Ive felt excited and shaken, Ive felt a profound empathy, an expressive beauty which is
thrilling and alive, its a total experience in the broadest sense of the word, that completely
overwhelms me, like art. It produces emotions and feelings that goes beyond the individual.
Its an art which is very much tied up with reality, but at the same time transcends the
mundane, the earthly, a dance which carries us up to the divine. Because of all this I like Jos
Toms because he represents this transformation of the bullfight into art; the other side of
bullfighting which is purely spectacle would be something else altogether.
C.L. You establish a parallel between the bullfighter and the painter. As if they were both
searching for the same thing. A search for something which goes beyond. Into mystery.
P.R. Yes, because in some ways the struggle is the same. Well, to be realistic that should
probably be rephrased in that the bullfighter risks his life, but the painting, like the ring and the
bull, the bullfighter and his sword, are all part of the same framework, they are a means, a
means to transcend, they are not the end in themselves. The path may well be the same, the
only thing which is different is the form, but they both share the same end, this need, as I said
before, for being uplifted, for purification, in pursuit of the absolute.
C.L. Without leaving the subject of the pictorial, the other day we talked about that which in
the picture is not evident at first glance, which is hidden. You said that art encloses that which
cant be seen, and I find this very profound as it brings us close to an assessment of the work
of art which goes much further than exclusively aesthetic criteria. This might create a certain
confusion, but I think we should admit that sometimes we act in a way which is purely
instinctive, or in other words, that sometimes, in the creative act we take a stand which
contravenes the purely rational and consequently its logical that we should create from this

magma an unfamiliar landscape. I remember listening one day to Enric Cassasses who said that
artists work with unknown forces.
P.R. What I wanted to say was that sometimes when we are doing one thing we are at the
same time saying what it is that we dont want. Thats to say, doing certain things means that
there are other things we are not doing. One always has to choose, one has to take a stand.
We tend to concentrate on the final result of a piece of work, but the artists attitude, the way
the artist confronts the piece is just as important. Its this that determines the process of
constructing the work, of defining what does and what doesnt interest us, on a physical,
spiritual, and mental level. Creation is as complex as life itself.
C.L. Its a process of selection.
P.R. Yes, in which were constantly involved, which keep us away from some things and bring
us closer to others. But for this its also necessary to have faith, not the faith understood in its
religious sense, but the inner faith, the inner truth, being sure of oneself. And in this sense Ive
struggled a lot with myself. Its because of this that art is a process of revelation. Now, what
this revelation consists of, I dont know. I always say that the picture is a single work of art,
created by different painters. I cant explain it but I just feel thats how it is. I know that I live in
the world of painting and I take care not to step outside it. I always say that Im very orthodox
when Im painting because for me painting is something very simple but also complex at the
same time, which consists basically of the canvas, of the pigment and the brush, which means,
I never use, for example, a spatula, Ive used other techniques when its suited my purpose, in
the series Correction, for example, but that was during a period when I was still developing,
at the moment however, I depend entirely on the use of the three elements previously
mentioned.
C.L. Following this line of reasoning, there is a danger which has always obsessed me which
lies in the lure of the absolute, since in poetic discourse there is nothing more sterile than
letting oneself get trapped in the nets of symbolic language; I mean to say that following this
path leads to a dead end where, because of the multiplicity of meanings in words, one ends up
saying nothing. Its as if one allowed oneself to become chained to the idea. Do you think an
analogy can be established with painting?
P.R. Its because of this that Ive used graffiti, amongst other things, as a point of reference.
Because I consider that the creative act should never be onanistic or eclectic; we have to be
able to establish a communicative background. Its not a question of whether graffiti has
artistic, pictorial, or mystical value, however we do find ourselves before a free form of
expression, not conditioned in any way, pure, initially used as a means of protest and besides
its fast, spontaneous and unpretentious; on the other hand its a very recognizable image so
its in this sense that graffiti interests me, as an excuse, as a key. However, what should be
pointed out is that Im not a graffiti artist nor have I ever produced any graffiti, even when I
had the opportunity, especially in New York, which is its cradle. Its just that I dont come from
this background, so it would be impossible for me to use this language in the strict sense of the
word.
C.L. In which case it would appear fraudulent.
P.R. And yet it isnt. Its a pretext, in the same way that Warhol used the can of Campbells
soup as a figure recognizable by the public at large. In a similar fashion, I use this concept

which has arisen from popular culture to transform it and bring it back within the orbit of
painting, because that is what I am after all, a painter.