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


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