The Theatrics of Tennis: Interview with Artist Març Rabal

”La terra batuda” | Març Rabal

 
Març Rabal is one of the contemporary artists who offer a new notion of collage as an artistic medium and as a fundamental concept of making art. Collage allows interacting with existing materials, deconstructing, repurposing, and then creating new visually dynamic hybrids. But Catalan artist Març Rabal carves out her own pathway in multi-media art. Her inventive collages are more than creative assemblies of images, textures and objects, they are choreographed playgrounds, theatrical stages where we can easily imagine an overture of a multi-act story, unfolding before our eyes. The mise-en-scenès take the form of boxing rings or tennis courts, and the characters take on the role of players ready to perform, game, set and match.

In our interview, Març shares her life-long relationship with tennis (just in time for the final acts at the Australian Open) from game to creative canvas, her conviction that inspiration has to find you work, and the good and bad of the online on an artist’s work in particular and on culture in general.
 
 

”It is in manual work where most improvisations and
surprises occur, which takes you to new and unexpected places.”

 
 

Dancing on the tennis court | Març Rabal

 
I have a passion for tennis. Your tennis collages are what have drawn my attention to your work in the first place. Where does your interest in tennis originate?

Tennis was my favourite sport during my childhood and adolescence, I practiced it for years and I was pretty good. I stopped practicing right at the moment when I decided to start “training” in art, that is, take painting classes. This series of tennis playing surfaces is a way to revisit those playgrounds where I spent so many hours.

How does dance and classic ballet come into play in your art (not just in the tennis, but also in the boxing collages)? What is the message you want to transmit?

The fusion between dance and boxing (and later dance and tennis) came naturally to me. Many of the works of my first pictorials were studies of the body in motion and many times my reference images were photographs of modern dance of the early twentieth century or of the Russian Ballets … plastically very suggestive images that I used as a starting point.

When much later I was researching the boxing theme and started looking for graphic documentation of this sport, I realised how well the two worlds fit together. It was like solving a puzzle. Not only plastically were they two aesthetics that matched perfectly. But also conceptually. The contrast of the brutality of boxing together with the delicacy of dance create a very powerful poetic. In the case of the collages of tennis players with tutu, they highlight the choreographic nature of the sport from a somewhat ironic look.

Your interest in tennis goes back to your childhood. What is your earliest drawing memory?

I think that for many children of my generation (who grew up before the digital era), drawing was our first language of expressing ourselves. We could draw before we could speak. I was also a very shy girl, so drawing was not only a means of expression, but also a refuge.
 

Terreny de joc | Març Rabal

 
 

”The profession of my father, set designer,
and my close relationship with the theater
have greatly influenced my plastic work.

 
 
You studied at Bellas Artes at la Universidad de Barcelona and at la École Nationale d’Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Do you find it important for an artist to have formal education in art?

I do not think it is essential, the history of art is full of self-taught artists to prove it, but learning some notions of technique can always help. I think it’s like riding a bike, it is essential that someone teaches you the technique, but when you start pedaling without falling, you can escape, and if you go alone, you can probably go further.

I don’t really like to ask artists to explain their work, but I would like to ask you one thing. You have a very distinctive style, especially in your collages. Multidimensional, reminding me of a production set, or a theater stage. How would you describe it? Has anyone in particular influenced it and how did you develop your style?

You don’t look for a style, it comes working… Picasso said something like that about inspiration, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you work…”, and I think it is perfectly applicable to one’s artistic style. I think a style is forged after many years of looking for forms of expression.

My work does have a significant scenographic element. Space and how the human presence in space is related to it is a permanent theme in my work. I believe that the profession of my father, set designer, and my close relationship with the theater have greatly influenced my plastic work. Many times I imagine my works as scenarios where different scenes occur.

How important was it for you to be exposed to a creative environment when you were growing up? And generally speaking, how can you foster creativity in children from an early age?

Growing up in a creative environment where not only is your vocation not questioned but encouraged and supported makes things much easier. I think children are curious by nature, and curiosity is essential for creativity. So leaving space and time for the child to discover and explore is basic.

Is there a specific medium you prefer in your creations, and why?

I have expressed myself through collage for a long period of time, it is a medium that I like very much for the richness of the paper textures and for the immediacy it allows. But lately I have returned to painting and I enjoy it a lot. I do not have a favorite medium, I am looking for the medium that best suits each work I want to do.
 

Grass court | Març Rabal

 
How did you start doing collages? Do the materials and objects you prefer, bearing the mark of time, signs of wear and tear, have a particular significance?

I’ve always loved books, reading, but also the book as an object and as raw material. Over the years I have collected many books and all kinds of old paper that I naturally started using to make the backgrounds of my paintings, for breaking a little the initial white of the fabric, as I preferred to start from a background with textures and paper was the ideal material. I like the texture they bring to the skin of the painting or collage. In my opinion, the whole story behind an old piece of paper represents a texture that enriches my work.

You said you have recently returned to painting. Have you ever encompassed painting in your collages?

Yes, I think at my collages as pictorials, paintings in the sense that I use papers just like working with the painter’s palette. The brushstrokes in this case are fragments of paper of different shades and textures. In my most recent works, I play the surfer. I literally paint small characters who surf in a sea of colours. It’s like a representation of myself finding a balance in painting. I have once again embarked on a sport, as a metaphor of the creative act.

Do you do everything by hand?

Yes, except the editing of some videos, which requires technology. Sometimes I also do some sketches in digital, but I still prefer to work directly with the material, because it is in manual work where most improvisations and surprises occur, which takes you to new and unexpected places.

How challenging is for an artist to do commissioned work? How does it relate to your personal, freelance work?

I like commissioned work for two reasons: on the one hand, they are secure jobs, from an economical point of view, a difficult issue in the artist’s trade, and, on the other hand, because working from an imposed starting point forces you to explore different territories where otherwise you would not have arrived and where sometimes you discover new paths to explore.

Artists are often asked how much talent and how much work one needs in order to be successful. But I often think of another quality, childish enthusiasm, especially when it comes to paintings, drawing and illustration. As Picasso said, “every child is born an artist, the problem is staying one as you grow older.” Do you agree?

Yes, regardless of how much talent one has, the essential thing is perseverance and hardwork. And I totally agree, it is essential that the artist finds joy in his work, just like a child. This does not save you from an implicit suffering when you work, when you create, but it is part of the vulnerability of the child/artist. We are people with a pronounced sensitivity and attention to what happens to us, so it is inevitable that pain also comes into play. This could be illustrated with one of the collages of the Dancing in the ring series, this dichotomy of dance (pleasure) and boxing (fighting, pain).
 

Dancing in the ring | Març Rabal

 
 

”I use papers just like working with the
painter’s palette. The brushstrokes in this case are
fragments of paper of different shades and textures.”

 
 
Some of your works can be found in galleries and private collections. How important is it to be present online? Does it help when an artist’s work becomes more visible in this way? Or do you sometimes feel that your art is drowning in the mass of social networks?

Nowadays it seems important to me to be present online, although this means a lot of work for the artist. In my case, thanks to the social networks, I have the kind of visibility that I could hardly achieve without the internet. I have customers from Hawaii or Asia who have bought my work. I love that my art pieces travel so far! I wish I did, too … all in its time, I hope.

But there is also the downside to it. Have technology and social media made people forget how to have a conversation, how to communicate, and, yes, how to be more receptive to art and culture?

Yes, I think there is a setback when it comes to human relationships. Before, we used to spend more time in the company of other people, to look into each other’s eyes, to touch each other more. Now we spend more time with our machines than with other people, I think we have to fight this.

I also believe we have to take care of our relationship with culture. It seems that people are constantly watching images on the Internet, but they only stop briefly before a painting. It is true that it is a matter of rhythm and that the present day life is happening at dizzying speed, but you can not have art and culture on the go.

So what do you wish people appreciated more in this day and age?

I would like people to try harder to take care of their relationships with other human beings and also to slow down the pace a little so that they can better appreciate art, culture and their surroundings.
 

Març Rabal painting

 

Instagram: @mrabal.com | Website: mrabal.com

 

Posted by classiq in Art, Culture, Interviews | | Leave a comment

An Impromptu Style Talk with a Stranger

Photo from the book “Alone in the Crowd”, by Giuseppe Santamaria

 
When I bought Giuseppe Santamaria’s street style photography book Alone in a Crowd a little while ago in a bookstore, the shop assistants at the cashier desk, both guys, started to comment upon how cool a book it was. That’s all I needed to suggest an impromptu style talk with them. One of them agreed, as long as I didn’t photograph him, just the book, and that I mentioned Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (see why below). I was right on board.
 

 
Street style

“I am sometimes influenced by it. I am a film student. I like to observe. I don’t look for style inspiration, but if I see something that I like, I may remember it and find a way to incorporate it into my own style. Even if my own style veers towards the classic, I appreciate individuality. So weird, quirky is good, too, as long as it represents yourself. Bear your own mark and be comfortable with yourself.”

Attention to look, not clothes

“I don’t pay much attention to my appearance, but I like quality and I do pay attention to what I put on out of respect for myself and for the others around me. Also, it has to be something I feel comfortable in. I work in a bookshop and I am also a film student. Comfort is everything. I don’t like to think about what I am wearing, I just want to do my thing. I like relaxed clothes, I am not at all partial to a close fit, which I know is the norm today. It’s not me at all. I like a straight cut, layers, stripes, all in good measure, keeping a balance.”

Take film as style inspiration

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Not to emulate, but to adapt it. It’s the characters as a whole really that call the attention. Three Days of the Condor, too. In fact, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Steve McQueen, too, in just about anything. They were cool, just a matter of being themselves. Dusty colours, jeans, leather, denim, I love a uniform. I like a hint of Americana. But I sometimes look up to Alain Delon, too, for the way he wore a suit, but right now I don’t see myself wearing a suit.”

The power of the uniform

“I love workhorses. I have a few well worn/well loved vintage pieces that I live in. And even when I do need a new garment, I hate wearing it new. I usually wear it around the house until that brand new look starts to fade out and then I am comfortable to wear it outside too. I don’t like to shop, I just do it consciously and sparingly, with an emphasis on quality. I prefer to mend what I already own. My uniform usually looks like this: Levi’s jeans, worn-out boots, Converse of course, vintage white or black t-shirts and maybe a denim shirt on top, biker jacket or windbreaker. Sometimes a leather waistcoat in the summer. A hat, too. And I’d choose an overcoat, maybe with a denim jacket underneath, over those bulky winter coats any day.”

Posted by classiq in Books, Interviews, Style | | Leave a comment

A Third Face: Life (and Film) Lessons from Samuel Fuller


 
I love facts. I also love good stories. Movies based on facts, concocted with no small input of creativity, originality and imagination, are among those few things that give me the greatest joy. Samuel Fuller started out in the newspaper business, with no formal education in the field. He dropped out of high school because the journalism bug bit him early and knew right along that that’s what he wanted to do in life. After several formative years in New York City in the front line of reporting, he set out to see the rest of America, freelancing as a reporter during the Depression. He started to write novels, pulp fiction they were called, and get published. He finally arrived in Hollywood, where he wised up to a different kind of writing, writing scripts, first ghostwriting for more famous screenwriters who were in a creative rut but under contract with one big studio or the other, and then starting to write his own screen stories, yarns he called them.

Writing was his life, his life was his work. Be that as it may, when World War II hit, he put everything aside and enrolled in the army. He ended up in the infantry, the front line of war. He was offered the safer job of war reporter (his superiors having heard of his background) behind a desk. He refused. The only way he wanted to fight the war was to fight along with the other soldiers. The memories of war would haunt him for the rest of his life, and the only way to deal with the horrors of war was to talk about his experience in his stories, his scripts, his films. He hated to be called a director of war movies, but he knew he made them better than almost any other director, they came naturally to him, because he had battlefield experience.

His movies touched on much more diverse subjects, such as race, discrimination, social injustice, psychological thriller, western, with stories drawn from real lives, with characters human, many times deeply disturbed, flawed, ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. He didn’t judge nor favour his characters, that’s not a writer’s job, he observed, recounted, described. He hardly cast stars in his movies, he didn’t want simplistic, make-believe tales and mystifying false heroes and idols, he wanted reality depicted in his stories, gripping, hard-hitting, truthful stories with believable characters without sugar coating.

He made his first film, I Shot Jesse James (1949), a western without it being a western, not in the John Wayne-western kind of way anyhow. It is a portrait of guilt and psychological torment, with the real violence happening in the criminal’s mind. Every time you see Bob Ford (John Ireland) walk after he shots his friend in the back and is acquitted, you see a man descending into his own hell, you see the psychological load he is carrying on his shoulders. Park Row (1952), named after the street in Manhattan where all the important newspapers in New York City were located, was a film Fuller produced himself with his own money because no studio would back him up, it was his tribute to his newspaper years, to the lives of those early reporters and editors who were the backbone of New York newspapers and to the birth of free journalism. White Dog (1982) was an uncompromising film that conveys a racial tolerance message through events that unfold in the eyes of a dog that was destroyed by a crippeled, twisted society when he was a puppy, having been trained to attack black people. This may as well be the most original, shocking, truth-grabbing movie on American racism ever made. It was misunderstood and withheld from release in America when it was made.

Sam Fuller was an original. Facts were the bedrock of his stories. He was after the truth, nice or ugly, just as in journalism, and gave it to you straight. But he put just as much imagination into his characters and action. Here are a few words to take away from his extraordinary autobiography, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking.
 

”I Shot Jesse James”, 1949 | Lippert Pictures

 
 

Life

 
“I understood for the first time the quicksand nature of fame, a seductive mistress I’d never court.”

“I relearned the difference between joy and pleasure. Pleasure was transient. Writing, listening to music, sharing, and real friendship gave me joy.”

“Many soldiers did go nuts. If you retained any sanity, you never thought about time the same way again, you were grateful for every moment of existence you were granted, and you didn’t want to waste another split second on bullshit.”

“You young people sitting around watching the goddamned television! Get off your asses and go see the world! Throw yourselves into different cultures! You will always be wealthy if you count your riches, as I do, in adventures, full of life-changing experiences.”
 
 

Work

 
“I’d like to inspire others to be hopeful and daring, to follow their dreams, no matter the odds.”

“To this day, I don’t give a good goddamn where I sleep or what I’m wearing as long as I’m involved with a project I love.”

“In those days, memory was in a person’s mind, not in his computer’s electronic chip.”

“I never did get my high school diploma, not any other diploma for that matter. Over the years, I’ve had to educate myself, gulping down all the classics I got my hands on, hungry for great writers like Flaubert, Faulkner, Dickens, Twain, Hugo, Dostoyevsky, and Balzac. By reading them, I was in touch with great minds without the fluff of a classroom.”

 

”The Big Red One”, 1980 | Lorimar Productions, Lorac Productions

 
 

Filmmaking

 
“Show the action, for Chrissakes, don’t describe it! It’s a motion picture you’re making, not a god-damned radio show.”

“It took many years and a helluva lot of trial and error to learn how to create a movie from a blank piece of paper.”

“Ever since my journalism days, images of real people in real-life situations had always had an intense effect on me. One moment’s emotion, frozen in time, was very inspiring. I’ve tried to construct my movies around those kinds of simple compositions that bring up complicated feelings. They speak in a way that people everywhere understand.”

“When I write a book or a script or make a movie, I’m only interested in one thing: a good story. If the story has conflict, there’s action. If there’s action, there’s emotion. That’s what I call a movie. See, 95 percent of all movies are made because people have to earn a living, and that’s okay. Only 5 percent are made because one passionate man or woman had an idea and nothing could stop him or her from getting it up on the screen.”

“All artists are anarchists, okay? We want to shake up the audiences to question what’s acceptable, to set off earth-quakes in the brain. Otherwise, why not look for a secure, regular-paying job as a teller in a bank?”

“No associate producers, co-producers, executive producers or any producers admitted herein.” (The sign he hung on the stage door of The Steel Helmet)

“See, music is an essential part of every picture I make, maybe as important as the story. Before photographs and movies, people were listening to music and getting strong emotional messages. When I write, I visualize what I want to happen on the screen and imagine the accompanying music. I can actually ‘see’ the action and dialogue better by adding music early on in the script.”
 

Posted by classiq in Books, Film | Leave a comment

8 1/2 on Federico Fellini’s Centenary

Marcello Mastroianni in “8 1/2”, 1963 | Cinerix, Francinez

 

There is no other film that has made me aware that one’s taste in cinema evolves as the years past by more than Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2. The first time I watched it, many many years ago, when I knew nothing about cinema and I wanted to watch as many films as possible in the shortest amount of time, I couldn’t finish it. The second time, some years later, I did make it to the end, but did not make much sense of it. I watched it again last week, anticipating today’s centenary of Fellini, and it was like I was watching it for the very first time, perfectly aware that I was viewing a masterpiece (a word I don’t use lightly) in cinema-making and artistic vision. And I know every time I will watch it again from now on, the more it will be revealed to me, the more absorbed in its revelations and mysteries I will be. Don’t all great films unlock new depths every time we watch them?

This intricate portrait of a famous film director, Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni), who is experiencing an acute crisis of confidence and creativity, draws largely on Fellini’s own experience that he encountered just as he was having a hard time to find an idea for his next film, notes Chris Wiegand in the book Federico Fellini: The Complete Films, the film that would become 8 1/2. Just like Mastroianni in the film, Fellini lost hold of the film even before starting shooting, and one day on the set he began writing a letter to his producer, Angelo Rizzoli, explaining his difficulty in directing the movie, while constantly being interrupted by the arrival of different cast members. When he finally could not take it anymore and got away for a breath of fresh air, he realised he had found the story idea: “I got straight to the heart of the film,” he told film critic Giovanni Grazzini. “I would narrate everything that had been happening to me. I would make a film telling the story of a director who no longer knows what film he wanted to make.” That’s 8 1/2.
 

Images above: Federico Fellini and his alter ego, Marcello Mastroianni on the set of “8 1/2”, 1963,
photographed by Gideon Bachmann

 
 

”Simply stated, I love to invent stories. From the caves to Titus Petronius
to the troubadours to Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen, I
would like to be in this tradition with films that are neither fiction nor
non-fiction, but approximate autobiography, archetypal tales of
heightened life, told with some inspiration.”

 
 
From the astonishing opening sequence – Guido’s nightmare where he is trapped in a traffic jam, unable to get out of his car and eventually succeeding to rise out of the car and float away only to be pulled down from the sky by a rope by his crew members eager to tie him down by his contractual obligations – to the memories of his childhood (another autobiographical element of Fellini’s) and the recurrent appearance of a mysterious vision, Claudia Cardinale, this is the imaginary world behind the chaotic life of a director. But everything is so spectacularly filmed in crystal clear black and white, with the camera constantly moving, making great use of surrealist elements (this is a surrealist comic film, after all), in the true vein of Luis Buñuel, that you can always tell when the reality ends and the fantasy begins, even though it is done so seamlessly. Guido’s escape to the dream world is so obvious because he feels at ease there. And 8 1/2 is a free space for dream and memory. It is a celebration of images over ideas.

Talking about the evolution of his work, Fellini said that “as I progressed I acquired more faith in images and increasingly tried to do less with words while filming.” This is the medium of cinema and Fellini was the master of its art. It’s Fellini’s tribute to cinema, the film that marked the apotheosis of his talent, the one that defined “Felliniesque” for good, freed from any remaining commitment to neorealism (as good as I Vitelloni and La strada may be and as much a fan of them as I may be) and unapologetically embracing personal fantasy and pure cinematic creation. Because Federico Fellini was the ultimate dreamer and how fortunate for us that he reached the point in his career when he could give shape to his dreams in film: “The best part of the day is when I go to bed. I go to sleep and the fête begins.” He said that Ernst Bernhardt, the psychoanalyst, “made me grasp that our dream life is no less important than our waking life, especially for the artist.” Fellini’s cinema is not fact, but feel, not a real life depiction, but an invention of new life.

There had been made other films about film-making before, like The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), but Fellini’s opened the path towards a specific new type of cine-fiction, focused on a director’s creative dilemma, on an artist’s dreams and demons, which proved to be a direct influence on François Truffaut’s La nuit américaine (1973), Woody Allen’s Starsust Memories (1980) or Pedro Almodóvar’s Dolor y gloria (2019). There has probably been no other filmmaker more often identified with his work on a personal level than Fellini and there is probably no other film more a mirror to the profession of filmmaker than 8 1/2.
 

Marcello Mastroianni and Sandra Milo in “8 1/2”, 1963 | Cinerix, Francinez

 

Federico Fellini on the set of “8 1/2”, 1963, photographed by Gideon Bachmann

 
8 1/2 cemented Marcello Mastroianni’s reputation as Fellini’s alter ego. Apart from the role itself, of a director in a creative dilemma, he also dresses like Fellini. Black suit, black slim tie, hat and those legendary sunglasses, behind which he seeks the respite from all the media circus, all producers and actors and women that gravitate around him, all the creative decisions he must make – the same kind of respite he finds in his dreams world. No one has worn the black suit better on screen. Marcello Mastroianni remains the quintessential example of the sartorial Italian, the personification of proverbial Italian masculine style. And his look in 8 1/2 is to remind all mankind that the single-breasted black suit, fitted white shirt and thin plain tie are the canon of perennial style. More than ever before, we are in dire need of this reminder, of the staying power of classics, in a time when the caprices of fashion seem to get hold of an entire generation against personal identity and ineffable taste.
 

Posted by classiq in Film, Style in film | | Leave a comment

Louder Than War

¡Oye Esteban!, Morrissey

 
I heard Morrissey’s new single, Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?, in duet with Thelma Houston, on the radio in the car one morning this week. Always the controversial, never the predictable. And why not? He is uncompromising in his art and ethics and often misinterpreted by those who want everyone to think and speak alike. I remember Morrissey’s words from his autobiography, a book written with audacious skill and understated humour, sincere to the core, devastatingly articulate and completely authentic: “I didn’t want to live unseen, camouflaged within the crowd. I knew then that life could only ever be changed for the better because somebody somewhere had taken a risk – often with their own life.” So instead of reading what the press says about Morrissey maybe everyone should first read this book. For those interested, here is also a great interview Morrissey conducted with Joni Mitchell many years ago.

Later in the day I lay my eyes on the cover of the indie, alternative and post punk music magazine Louder Than War. Editors, one of my favourite bands, fronted the cover. It was a good day for music, I concluded, especially after I read the Louder Than War manifesto, of which I have taken the liberty to quote my favourite parts below.
 
Words are my weapons. The writing will be informative but also emotional. I want people who are immersed in culture and want to fire you up with their love of it.

Music is one of the last things we have left. No-one owns it. We can all make it. And we can all celebrate it. It is beyond the accountant’s grim fingers.

Fast forward to the future. We are always looking for the new noise, the next buzz, we have no borders, no boundaries.

Old, new, borrowed and blue. The future does not mean a fear of the past – we have a wonderful archive of classic features which we will exhibit; movers and shakers from any period always burn brightly.

Do you believe in the power of rock n roll? We still believe in the power of music and we still believe in the counter culture.

People once wanted to save the world now they are saving up to buy it. We are a break from that.

Here is a playlist with music that has something to say.
 
 

 
 

1. Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?, Morrissey ft. Thelma Houston/ 2. Everything Now, Arcade Fire / 3. Marching Orders, Editors / 4. Lips Like Sugar, Echo & the Bunnymen / 5. Another One Goes By, The Walkmen / 6. I Won’t Be Long, Beck / 7. Mr. Brightside, The Killers / 8. Do I Wanna Know, Arctic Monkeys / 9. Riders on the Storm, The Doors / 10. Age of Consent, New Order / 11. Modern Love, David Bowie / 12. Monkeyland, The Chameleons / 13. Nothing Lasts Forever, Echo & the Bunnymen / 14. Love Will Tear Us Apart, Joy Division / 15. Heartbreaker, The Walkmen / 16. Drive, R.E.M. / 17. Show of Strength, Echo & the Bunnymen / 18. Ready to Start, Arcade Fire / 19. First of the Gang to Die, Morrissey / 20. All the Kings, Editors

 

Posted by classiq in Culture, Sounds & Crafts | | Leave a comment