"Is it Possible to Speak of Beauty with Current Art?"

Interview with the Spanish artist of contemporary art David Lopez

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By Inma Alvarez

VALENCIA, July 28, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Last Friday July 15, in the Palacio de La Musica of Valencia, an exposition of the spanish painter David Lopez that was open to the public for various months has come to an end.  A piece from this exposition will be integrated into the contemporary art show titled ‘Art+Faith’, which will be inaugurated on the 10th of August within the planned events for the WYD 2011 in Madrid (see www.zenit.org/article-40041?l=spanish). Subsequently, the exhibit will travel to the National Museum of Catholic Art of Washington D.C. (USA)

The closing of the art show took place during a type of “Atrium of the Gentiles” for art, in which a musician and a Poet participated.  Lopez believes that it is necessary for Christianity to be able to dialogue with contemporary art.

David Lopez (Valencia.1972) has done expositions in Valencia, Madrid, Paris and New York, both individual and collective.  He is the Cultural assessor of the Cervantes institute of Pairs. He is also one of the collaborators of the painter and initiator of the Neocatechumenal Way, Kiko Arguello for the making of icon murals.

His work is not – nor intends to be – sacred art. Nonetheless, it intends to be a reflection on the possibility of entering into a dialogue with faith, as he himself explains in this interview given to ZENIT.

ZENIT: Is it possible for contemporary art to enter into dialogue with Christian thought?  How can it be done?

David Lopez:  Not only is it possible, but it is necessary. The Philosophy and anthropology which accompany it are translated into culture. Nietzsche has a cultural consequence which is the art of Duchamp. When Nietzsche was dying, Duchamp was being born as an artist:  Nietzsche said “God does not exist”, and thirty years later, his cultural “offspring” would say: “Beauty does not exist”.

I cite Duchamp because he is the father of all contemporary art. Beauty does not exist because God does not exist. He makes an ironic gesture, which is to take a urinal and place it in an exhibition hall as one of his pieces.

They call it ironic… for me it is also an act of violence. When God disappears, faith also disappears; the meaning of suffering disappears… Duchamp lived in between two world wars, in a period of skepticism.  If God does not exist, how can we speak of something so absurd as beauty?  Since that time, art takes this path.

In fact, to speak of beauty today is something that does not make a lot of sense.  But it is an issue which I want to re-propose as a value.  Hundreds of things have been written on beauty, my intention is not to propose something new, but to actualize something that has always been, because it is no longer present.  As a Christian, this aspect is always present, because what one lives is what is reflected, whether he is doing a bird or a lemon.  In this sense, my recent exhibition in Valencia went a little further; I took an anthropologically Christian motif, in order to speak of the existence of God, of the existence of beauty, of the existence of meaning.

People approach a landscape, contemplate a landscape, and they like it, they sense an aesthetic pleasure, a pleasure which is linked to love. And that is enough, there is no need to delve deeper.  In what shapes that aesthetic experience, there is  math, but the spectator does not need to comprehend it.  One does not need to scientifically understand an orange in order to enjoy it, even though there is a scientific explanation: the combination of sugars with amino acids etc…

When there is something beautiful, there is math, a relationship between materials, textures, etc. and that shapes beauty.  The majority of people enjoy it, but it is the artists who have the capacity of intuitively coming close to the relationship which is behind that beauty: Subjects give each other mutual value because they are in relation.

We artists translate this into works, materials textures, colors… for example, a curve requires a straight line, a blotch needs a line, a solid color needs an off-color… these are the tools with which beauty is recreated, whether it be a painting or music;  sound also requires silence.

This forms part of the existential experience of man, and it has to do with the blessing: he, who has never experienced cold, has no notion of heat.  If we had never lived through cold, we would never be able to bless for having a chimney, if we never experienced hunger, we could not bless for eating a good Segovia lamb… everything is in relation, and contributes to mutual value.

The artists translate this material relation in forms and colors; that is a painting. That painting must be beautiful in its relation of materials, whether it be a virgin or a donkey, or it is nothing.  This is the first level of art.

In my case, I am also interested in giving content, and this would be a second level.  These forms which have to “function” between them and be beautiful must also have content.  Because art is not only relation between materials, but relation between people, it is communication.

This is another aspect which post-modernity has destroyed by exalting individualism. If you ask many artists the meaning of their work, they deny that it has a meaning, but they paint for themselves, they close off to the dialogue, “they don’t wish to express anything”.

There is a third level of art, and it is that of spiritual relation.  Art has always been spiritual; it has expressed relation with the divine, which is not to be confused with actual sacred art.  Since Altamira until the 20thcentury, art has expressed the spiritual; it is precisely in the 20thcentury when for the first time in history and “Atheist” society appears.

There have always been people who did not believe, but this had never been an actual approach of society. Art, as John Paul II told the artists, is the “nostalgia for God”.

Due to this reason, for the Humanist atheist of today, the concept of “beauty” makes no sense… and he or she are correct, because in this century, beauty has been trivialized, it has been transformed into a financial item.  Beauty has been used to sublimate reality, not to transcend it.  To sublimate supposes to change reality, to “Photoshop it”; to transcend reality is to know how to see through it.

ZENIT: Is the problem then to reach a universally acceptable concept of Beauty?

David Lopez:  That is the point indeed. In a recent book, Umberto Eco writes: “God has died, beauty has ceased to exist, and history has ended”. With Gods disappearance, a universal concept of beauty also disappears, which is one of Gods attributes.  With relativism and subjectivism there is no more room for the universal.

I placed a quote of the Russian filmmaker Tarkowsky In my exhibit, one of the greats of this epoch, which says:” An image is an impression of the truth, towards which to direct the gaze of our blind eyes”. There were some in reading it that were bothered: Truth? What is truth? Who does this guy think he is…

There is another issue; I do not intend to relate the universal with the particular in my work, because in the particular, in the everyday, the most important universals are present, such as love.

-Is it possible that an artist does not believe that beauty exists for lack of personal experience of it?  That is to say, is it possible the violent and difficult 20thcentury we have lived has had an influence on art?

David Lopez: Be careful, it is not quite so.  The artist has an intuition of beauty, even though he has never heard any speaking of God or does not believe in him.  But certainly contemporary art is the fruit of the 20thcentury, and expresses the anthropology which the 20thcentury produced.

It is the case of Duchamp and of the world between wars and post war in which he lived.  After him, there are two artists who together with Duchamp form the “trinity” of contemporary art: Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol.  Both express this anthropology:  for Andy Warhol, art is money, openly; for Beuys, art is melancholy, loneliness of the artist with himself.

Regarding your question, I have a friend who is a painter, Juan Olivares, which I think is one of the best, at least in Spain.  He is a painter which has an experience of beauty, because his paintings area of a true beauty.  It is abstract art; he utilizes a combination of materials which expresses an intuition of something which is in nature.  If you speak with him, it is possible that he won’t be able to express it in words, but he has understood it, if not he would not be able to paint as he does.

ZENIT: So an artist needs to have a personal “revelation” of what is beautiful, even though he is not able to connect it with a universal beauty, but it is his ”particular manner” of seeking it…

David Lopez: That’s it, to be sure.  In fact, one of the series of my last expo in Valencia is called “art is revelation”. To recognize that art is a revelation requires an act of humility: it is not ones “stroke of genius”, but it is something which is revealed to us, which has been confided with us. Another battle horse is the dichotomy between originality and tradition. Today an idolatry of originality exists, of a poorly comprehended originality.  Originality comes to our own being person, unique and unrepeatable.  Originality appears when one is sincere, shows himself.

ZENIT: This loss of the universal meaning of Beauty, has it also affected sacred art?

David Lopez: the last two popes have said that Faith is truly welcomed when it is transformed into culture.  This is very profound; if you evangelize a person, how do you know if that evangelization has truly “taken form” in that person? It only becomes visible if it is transformed into culture, in a form of living.  According to how one believes, one lives.

In some places of the church today there is eclecticism in art, an escape from tradition, we should ask if this does not reflect a much more profound crisis of faith. We must pinpoint another aspect:  The Christian west is today living through a process of approach to the East, and this will bring to more, much more.  The day that we are closer, we will begin to ‘drink’ many things from the East which will help us very much; for example, the importance that they give to beauty.

ZENIT: A curiosity regarding your work, which catches the attention of the viewer, why do you use white so much? Pure whites, cream, off-whites, opaque and transparent, with different textures… and the blacks aren’t solid, they aren’t consistent or defined.

David Lopez: It is very important.

ZENIT: Why?

David Lopez: I don’t know, it is an intuition of mine, but it is very important.  I have never articulated it in a logical form… it is a difficult question to answer.

I will confess something: the movie that has scared me the most I saw when I was 7 years old, which is Star Wars (Star Wars IV – A new Hope) .  When the movie begins, the attack to the ship, the door explodes and the bad guys come through… dressed in white! For me white cannot be the color of evil… that terrorized me, I still remember the fear I lived.

In reality, white is a color that is used abundantly in conceptual art, because it is a neutral color which allows concentrating the attention on what wants to be expressed. In my case, in the case of my work… Somehow, white is linked with true things.

ZENIT: In concluding the expo in Valencia, there was a kind of artistic “Atrium of the Gentiles”.  Explain it a little.

David Lopez; the preoccupation of the pope to create an “atrium of the gentiles” is an intuition which was shared among some artists. St. Phillip Neri already did it: for the people that would not enter the church to listen to the preaching, because of difficulties, prejudices or whatever; how to begin a dialogue with them? Neri realized that culture was an important vehicle for dialogue, because there are common truths which are not common to many- truth, goodness, beauty- and we must seek what unites us and not what separates us.  So he would organize evening concerts which were followed by gatherings.  One of the great musicians of the times participated in them, Palestrina.  In the WYD, among the artists that participated to the contemporary art expo, there were Catholics, protestants and orthodox, but it will undoubtedly be a meeting point with modernity.  I presented two pieces, a painting and a video-installation.

The painting, a work from the series Nowa Huta, is a large Christ. The language is contemporary, because they do not understand this language, but they recognize the content.

The language of contemporary art is very interesting and has many possibilities.  My work in this sense wants to be a bridge.

Why Nowa Huta?  The communist project in Poland of creating a city without God is famous; the modern city of the Future; after a few months of being there, the inhabitants began to raise a cross in the place where they gathered to pray. At night they would pray, during the day, the authorities would throw down the cross.  They lived like that for years, placing the cross which the following day was thrown down.

-In fact, according to Cardinal Cordes, Pope John Paul II’s concept of “New Evangelization” was born there (n.d.r., ver www.zenit.org/article-39534?l=spanish) .

David Lopez: I was there two years ago, in Nowa Huta. I wanted to go see it. It is impressive.

Returning to our little “Atrium” in Valencia, there was a Cuban poetess exiled to Spain which came to see the exhibit. She proposed to write some text – beautiful, naturally – about art as relation. A friend of mine, a musician, composed an opus with the same theme.  It was celebrated the day of the closing ceremony, July 15th. A very positive experience, very beautiful.

[Translation by Francesco Gennarini]