Joan (Juan) Canals Carreras is an artist who lives in Barcelona, Spain. His work has a very strong, folksy yet sophisticated vibe. It’s strong in color and figuration http://www.canals-carreras.com/ and gives me the sense that Juan is telling stories on canvas. We conducted this interview with the help of translator Ana Tipa. What inspires Juan? Ana helped me to find out …
“… I realize that I am telling stories in my figurative paintings, but right now, I don’t know to which extent there is an intention of telling or explaining something … The story that is told afterwards is the result of the process of gradually getting aware of something while I am working ...”
MICHAEL: Hello Juan! I love your work. It seems very simple and almost childlike, but it's very sophisticated like Picasso. What inspires you to create such work?
JUAN: I like Picasso, especially the period in which he was influenced by German Expressionist painters. He mastered structure, composition and color. I simply love it. What inspires me to do my work? I’ll try to be brief, but I am afraid – and those who know me are very aware that being brief isn’t really one of my strengths.
MICHAEL: Well, it’s a good thing that you’re chatting with me. I’m listening.
JUAN: My first approach to art took place at the Applied Arts School of La Llotja. Mostly Catalan artists studied there - Picasso did too. The first stages of my training were very academic. I used to attend the classes in the afternoon and worked in the morning, helping my parents at the family’s shop. Later, I did a number of different jobs and had a number of different influences.
I used to love academic education. I enjoyed thinking about perspective, linearity, composition, chromatic combinations and an endless amount of canons that I was not able to apply to my work during the school exercises with the intensity and the depth I was aiming for. It was difficult for me to complete those exercises; I did not have the time to move forward, since I had to work in the morning. Those circumstances caused a disharmony between the amount of time I would have needed to learn those contents with enough care and the amount of time I really had. A need emerged from that disharmony and I got aware of my desire to express and make my reality prevail over the academic teachings.
I remember an exercise; we had to paint a mural and I wanted to paint something very figurative, but I didn’t have enough time to do so and, without realizing it, I started to abandon the figure and to get into something more symbolic. From that moment, my style began to change, opening itself to something more automatic, expressive and symbolic, to the archetypes that we carry in our inside. From that moment on, my search started to change its path. This awareness raised during a one-year course in which we learned about psychomotor activity and body language, that helped me to be aware of what it is that really belongs to us, and to abandon those patterns that we often follow without being conscious of doing so.
This was the beginning, many years ago. But I think I am talking too much already. Shall I go on? Or shall we change the subject?
MICHAEL: Wow Juan, I can tell that you like to tell stories, which is fantastic. I can also see lots of storytelling and narratives in your paintings. Do you think of stories to tell while you're painting?
JUAN: Michael, Your questions give me stuff to think about. I realize that I am telling stories in my figurative paintings, but right now, I don’t know to which extent there is an intention of telling or explaining something preconceived before starting a work. The story that is told afterwards is the result of the process of gradually getting aware of something while I am working. It is like a search that ends up in finding something that, even if it was there, you were not aware of.
When I was a student, the possibility of visually telling an idea or emotion was something basic and started by having a defined consciousness of an emotion or a subject. Presently, I do most of my paintings on paper, in most of cases, I create them in endless sessions. I keep some works filed for years that I consider not to be finished. Somehow, the time that goes by or that I spend in those processes becomes a part of the work. I can divide my work in two phases: the first one is the moment of creation that means the moment in which I make the first intervention on a white surface that is completely free of anything. In that moment, to begin a work, there must be a big load of something - that is not defined. There is an expressive need that can be narrative or emotional. Afterward, the work will not be closed or finished in one session and I keep intervening on it. From that moment on, the present time prevails. I will choose the works that are already begun, but the most important thing is that I apply what the DAY suggests me to go on working on it, much more than continuing an initial idea or impulse.
In most of my works, I write down the dates of each intervention on the back. Those interventions are probably the result of the impulse of capturing my way of seeing or feeling what surrounds me, what is around me. It’s from the place where I am, as a way of projection and assertion of my being, my reality and my way of seeing society.
MICHAEL: Juan, Where do you live now? Are you inspired by your environment and the city where you live? Do the people and culture of your town inspire you to create?
JUAN: I live in Barcelona, the city where I was born, and I spend most of my time here. I also rent a small house in a village nearby, called Espinelves, which is surrounded by woods. But I must admit that finally the city always seizes me and I don’t go too often to the village.
My surroundings definitely inspire me. Barcelona is not a big city, but culture is everywhere and history is written in its ancient walls. In half an hour, you can walk from the city center and reach the sea shore. In so doing, you leave behind the city’s bustle and meet the horizontal calm and relief of the sea and the waves. I consider this to be a big privilege that I enjoy in a conscious way.
I am not someone who has travelled a lot and even if I feel inspired by my city, I sometimes feel the need to spend some time working somewhere else, to become more conscious about my relationship with my own place. In my atelier’s yard, at night, I can hear the city’s murmuring, like a machinery that is never stopping. I am not always conscious of that noise, but when I stop to listen to it, it reminds me of my childhood. Then I know that the surroundings write on our souls.
I usually create my paintings during many sessions. I look at my work and it is my work that tells me if it wants to be continued or not. An exchange arises between my surroundings’ influence on me and the influence my own work has on me. The influence my surroundings have on me is not as strong now as it was when I was younger, but this influence from my youth flows into my work and comes back to me through it. When I enter my atelier, planning to work on my paintings, I am carrying with me all of the impressions I have captured on the busy streets of Barcelona and these impressions can transform in a new color or into the initial outline of a new work.
MICHAEL: Juan, So many living artists today are struggling while famous, deceased artists like Picasso and Rothko are still bringing in huge crowds at museum and gallery exhibitions. What do you think the world should do to help living artists?
JUAN: Painters and sculptors need a place to do their job and enough space to store the works they produce. To have a working space involves a considerable effort, since you must pay the rent each month. If you are selling your art or not, and if you do not have time to produce because you are working temporarily to earn your livings, you must also keep that space to store your works and tools. It is difficult to make a living from art and all the taxes and fees you have to pay, depending on the place you live, do not make it easier. So be an artist only if you have rich parents or if you can live off your investments, Ha, Ha.
I remember my first exhibition abroad. We were travelling in a friend’s car to Southern France and we found an exhibition room in a small town, Ceret. We organized an exhibition that was successful but had no sales. We didn’t declare the art works at the border, since our financial situation does not allow us to do so, so we didn’t fill out the paperwork required by the government. Institutionalization excludes those people who do not have financial power.
Rothko and Picasso attracted crowds because they were geniuses. They have a special place and this is normal. The world can do many things to help living artists, but there are different cultures and different ways to proceed. When I see how the art councils in the United States work and compare them to those in my country, I see that there is much to do in my country, but right now it seems they are working. Yes I do. In past times, there seemed to be only one "caste" or elite and everything else was invisible. Most of the jobs were given through contacts and friendship, for example all the public sculptures in the city of Barcelona.
I think art history teachers are the ones who can help grow consciousness about helping living artists since they have the power to communicate a set of values and a way of understanding contemporary art and artists. They are responsible for the humanistic education in years to come.
I still remember how shocked I was when I was a student at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Barcelona and two of my teachers said that in order to be an artist, we had to leave the Faculty. I think the Faculty of Fine Arts molds and educates the artist. An artist is the one who has an audience and is able to create a plastic experience, an aesthetic or intellectual reality through his work. University education can develop his faculties, but not certify the authenticity of a creator and tell who is a creator and who is not.
Teachers and art History teachers, museum educators and politicians lowering the tax burden for the artists would help. The individual who purchases an art work because he likes it also helps. Everyone, if they are aware and want to help, can help improve the lives of the living artist - more than the artist himself. And especially the art collector, who is the greatest benefactor of the living artist.
MICHAEL: Finally Juan, When you are no longer here and people see your work, what message do you want them to get? What do you want to say to people through your work?
JUAN: I would tell people in the first place not to get influenced by any brand advertised incessantly in all media. Do not ignore the importance that this or that artist seems to have. I was going to see exhibitions in museums, art centers, galleries and the artist's own studio.
Possibly in that circumstance of space and time, the observer finds experience, respect, communication, emotion and that in the end is what counts and validates the work and the artist.
Many times when mounting an exhibition, minutes before the opening, I wonder if all that effort-sacrifice is worth it. I have the answer as soon as I have observed when a viewer connects with this or that work.
My work is an intimate act of creation. But as an artist, I need an audience and a receiver, no viewer means no work is possible. I am an artist because I exist in the eyes of others.
Ultimately, with my work, I want to tell people that the most important thing is to build. I build my world and show me from it. We all have something that is authentic and maybe we do not give it enough value. You have to show it. I do it.
MICHAEL: Thanks Juan. Nice chat. Also, thank you Ana Tipa for serving as translator between Juan and I!
Check out Juan Canals Carreras at http://www.canals-carreras.com/.