When asked about his life motto, Alvaro simply replied: “God!”. I thought at first he might be one of those fanatics, you know? But he’s no monk. He’’s seen the world. He traveled and lived in other countries more than a decade. Álvaro Barcala is a 38 years old Spanish artist whose artworks made me think at some sort of combo between medieval architectural gothic decorations, Nirvana, Russian chritian iconography and sex. Da Vinci would have been proud of him, as he is not only a visual artist, a vicious writer, book collector and composer but also a lover of Renaissance. He seems to feel a special attraction to Saint Augustine’s philosophical concepts and ancient history, themes that he instinctively embeds in his sinister illustrations and paintings. Frankly, his complex personality left me perplexed. Read the interview for yourself:
Cultartes: My first thought when seeing your works was that you’re a visual artist, an illustrator, so let’s start there. When and how did you begin your pen-sketching journey?
Álvaro: I started quite old already, being almost 30 years. During my 20’s I worked for music magazines, fashion photographers, marketing and advertising agencies as graphic designer and creative… but I literally collapsed. There was a big personal world that was pushing and craving to be filled or better said, to get out. In order to cut that cycle I left Madrid and went to London. There I worked mainly with video but it was not till two years later, when I left London and went to Berlin, that I discover a pencil. After so many years working with computers and technology I found out that with a simple pencil I was happy. Maybe the austerity of that “media” freed myself and let my inner world flow intensely. The calm and solitude I found in Berlin helped me too, as the chance to be in contact with other artists.
After some years I felt my time in that city was over and at the same time they gave me an art residence in Hamburg for some months. That way I could continue my search with the pencil quietly. After that I moved to Arizona and stayed there for a long time. Maybe it was the strong heat, the mesmerizing desert or my personal situation, but I needed to vent a lot of accumulated things in a quick way… that’s when I started to make pen-sketching drawings. Along the former years I devoted myself to an elaborated and thoughtful way of creating. Thanks to that I developed a meditated and symbolic inner world that now I could express quickly and automatically in my drawings. Nowadays I use one way or another depending on what the project as a whole needs.
“My hand cannot help but re-printing on the paper
all the experiences life has printed on me”
What’s your special technique, what’s the usual process and, most important, where do you find inspiration?
I would start with my source of inspiration: books. They offer me stories, concepts and ideas, but I have to develop myself the images in my head to set and synthesize them. Normally I chose a theme I have meditated or read about for a long time to create a series of drawings, that way I have to develop those images I’ve visualized while reading/thinking and create visual patterns along the way. Having those “foundations” I free myself and simply let my hand flow. Normally the outcome ends up being a different thing than I expected. It is a constant discovering but purposely caused and guided. Having said that, my hand cannot help but re-printing on the paper all the experiences life has printed on me, even in the most stealthy way. That’s one of the reasons I use pencils, pens or brushes… They are a “gesture” tool that gives away your secrets whether you like it or not.
I sense a very powerful attraction for ancient and medieval symbols. Is that right? Tell me more about it!
You are very right. I am very fond of ancient and medieval symbols. They are for me a way of writing, some kind of “meta-word” very connected with the way ancient and medieval people conceived Language: a “magic” tool to interpret life and existence, and not just to interpret it but to change it. You play with the language to change your perception of life and the world, then you’ve changed life and the world. You interact with the world differently. It is the power of symbols and of having a “poetical” attitude towards life.
When I started to draw I noticed my style was very similar to ancient religious iconography and medieval art, like the miniatures. They are based on clean geometric figures and fine lines. Thanks to that simplicity there are not obstacles between the essence that art wants to transmit and the spectator. That simplicity makes the message go straight into your mind. No wonder why that style has been used in all religious and spiritual imagery. Having meditated all of this I started to pay much attention to those past fellow “artists” and learned a lot from them, besides reading Mircea Eliade, Jung, Joseph Campbell and such. It simply came naturally.
How did you start creating music? What genre is it?
When I was a little kid I made songs with the piano of my grandparents but I didn’t start playing again till quite older. I was devoted to visual art and my travels, but four or three years ago I had the chance to have a piano very handy and I started to play it simply like an outlet. I didn’t even remember I could still play the piano, it was like finding out you have hidden superpowers. Things started to flow and since last year I’ve started to develop musical projects more seriously.
Since the beginning I like to make simple compositions through which I can vent my emotions easily, as with my drawings. All is based in subtleties and developing lightly a specific mood. Later I started to discover some musicians I feel related with, at least with some part of my work. Some people call their style neo-classical or post-classical. Some of my albums could fit somehow in those tags. Other projects are more experimental or eclectic. I am working now in a couple of things that sound like a movie soundtrack. I am very visual even with music.
It’s clear that you write music for a certain kind of people? How would you imagine the perfect listener?
I write music for myself, I cannot help but to do it naturally the way it is. Unless it is dedicated to someone specifically, in which case the only thing that is done for them and I am thankful about is the inspiration. Places inspire me a lot too. There is something very psychogeographical in what I do.
I create as the way I am, your character and personality empathize with certain persons the same way music does. In this sense there are not perfect listeners, nor perfect musicians. Having said that, normally there is something romantic and ethereal in my music, with a certain subtle tension under its melancholy. People who feel drawn to those features probably would find some peace in my music.
You also write books, as I could easily find out from your Facebook page. Have you published anything yet or is it more like a “tension release” kind of writing?
No, I haven’t published any of my books yet. Not the drawing books, nor the illustrated stories. I have created them very viscerally and paid not much attention to the publishing thing. And I would need to feel there is a real empathy between the publisher and my work. Although obviously it would be perfect for my books to leave the “virtual” state and be materialized and incarnated in paper. They need to be something touchable, a relic.
What is it your last book about? Can you give some hints about its plot or its characters?
My last book is an illustrated trilogy which forms one single volume. It is an allegorical and mystical poem/story that shapes in the form of buildings, streets, rooftops, querubs and albinos many of the concepts I’ve extracted from readings of theologians like saint Augustine, saint Anselm, meister Eckhart… or more current ones like John Caputo, Peter Rollins, Mark. C. Taylor, and of course my own reflexions and visions. Each part of the trilogy is a holy city and the whole thing is illustrated with golden paintings.
I am retouching another book that is the story of a killer who adopts the personality of different known writers who are related with chaos magic or some kind of dystopian future. It is fully illustrated with fine graphite pencils.
You find it hard, like a struggle, the attempt to mix, to harmoniously combine your multiple art preoccupations into a single artistic process or movement? Or maybe it comes natural?
At the beginning it was very hard. Each discipline needs a lot of devotion for itself. But little by little they started to intermingle. Currently, creating a piece of piano sets me in a good mood for drawing and vice versa, for instance. Each discipline has its own language, but they motivate and influence each other… lets say… allegorically. You end up extrapolating some musical discovery into a drawing, or some visual finding into a text. And technically speaking each activity stimulate your imagination so that you use that stimulation into other fields.
What do you want people to think when they see one of your drawings, they listen one of your tracks or when they’re reading some of your texts?
I want the same thing than when people know me personally. I mean, people simply should be themselves at the time of creating and being themselves at the time of being an spectator. That way the empathy, if created, is real and fluent. When it comes to art I like to leave the doors of meaning open. I believe in suggestion, not in imposition. I like to believe I base the foundations of my art on very universal archetypes, but then every single person interpret that universal archetype through their own individual sense. That way I am pleased to believe every piece of art has almost infinite interpretations and that they all are connected to a single universal source, even if those interpretations apparently contradict themselves.
Contradictions can share a common truth, and the existence of different opinions and interpretations about a single truth can reaffirm it at different levels rather than reject it. I know that when I materialize in thoughts something abstract I am already interpreting, and that when I decode those thoughts into drawings I’m re-interpreting again the essential thing. There are so many steps along a communicative process that I love to simply keep that playful phenomena and not enclose the essential truths with a rigid rhetoric. That’s why I like symbolical language and symbolical interpretation, because the essential truths breath and shine with all their splendor when they are manifested and taken open and diversely.
Can you tell me what’s your sweetest dream and the darkest nightmare?
My sweetest dream is managing to be totally in harmony with God, so that I can be in harmony with myself, with everyone and everything. My darkest fear is to lose my faith.
What do you think about the old concept of Homo Universalis? It might be a little off, but it seems you’re on that path. Is it possible these days to be an “art erudite”?
As I insinuated before, every part of our brain and mind is connected. Exercising all of them with different and diverse activities makes the whole “mechanism” be more fluent and linked. This phenomena brings us more “awareness” and I believe that makes you feel more in harmony with everything and the most important thing: happy. Being very intelligent is not relevant, the significant thing is to learn how to use the intelligence you have to be happy. One way to learn it, in my opinion, is diversifying your activities or at least your interests. Being in a constant quest and knowing where to make that quest. When very young I used to search in darkness, living my particular “saison en enfer”.
Then you come to realize that depending on where you make your quest, that you become. If you search in Heaven you become Heaven. If you search in Hell you become Hell. The path in which you make the questions is your answer and what you finally find. Heaven is heaven because there is just heaven in there. Hell is hell because there is just helI. In real life both things are mixed and a bit relativized but in the world of ideals, which is what fashions us, both things exist as different entities. Diversifying your activities and interests helps you to know where to search and how to do it. I am tired of seeing all those genius, specialized thinkers and philosophers from late XIX and XX century (the century of specialization) who had a brilliant mind but they used it brilliantly just to create sophisticated, sophistic and existentialist arguments simply to justify themselves for being unhappy instead of making something about it…
I think Wisdom has nothing to do with that, no matter how intelligent you are. The “Homo Universalis” knows how to laugh at the existentialist premise of “Nothing Is True” (which is a product of a specialized thinking)… a premise that tries to fight “Absolute Truths” but being an “Absolute Truth” itself (a very deceiving strategy). The “Homo Universalis” sees that if “Nothing is True”, then “Nothing is True” is not true either. A logical argument that gets destructed by itself is called a sophism, a fallacy. The “Homo Universalis” knows that logical arguments that are self-destructive lead people to be self-destructive too. Needless to say the “Homo Universalis” and Wisdom have a clear target: Happiness.
I think erudition can be a good thing not just in art but in life if used wisely and as a tool, not as a purpose. Sadly there are too many people who use erudition merely as a way to feel themselves superior to the rest. That, besides giving away a notorious lack of self esteem (and despite its mere appearances), makes all that accumulated information useless and makes people look like an intellectual caricature or some kind of pedantic hard drive with floppy legs. Having said that, when erudition is used as a serving tool to free your mind, to find different perspectives and guide your emotions, then it is a treasure. I believe you can reach a good level of erudition these days if you don’t let all the distractions of modern life mislead you from your fascination and your inner quest.
Find more artworks on Álvaro’s blog.