Amadeo Peñalver: Interview
How to define my work?
I asked myself, what place do human beings occupy on this planet and in nature? To answer this question, I embarked on a long journey of discovery, which first took me to primitive cultures. In 1988 I went to the Sierra Madre in Mexico, where I lived with the local indigenous population. In 1990 I spent a month with the Yanomami Indians in the Amazon jungle. I like these cultures because they are in direct contact with nature. To survive they have to respect their environment.
From this experience, I drew two conclusions: first the human being is very limited. Limited because nature is so powerful that we need to protect ourselves from nature to survive. The second conclusion I came to, was that no matter where we are, as human beings we have the same exact desires. The only difference is that it's manifested in different forms. Through this search, I was able to created very intense work. I was in full harmony with the energy of the jungle and with all the people who live there.
From this point I looked how we protect ourselves from nature. I wanted to know which place we occupy within our modern society. How we relate to each other and how we interact with each other? That's when I moved to New York. New York the symbol of western capitalism. There I opened a public space, where I could show my work and see the kind of reaction the public would give to works dealing with questions of society.
This was between 1991 and 1993. At that time I concentrated my work on installations. There I combined water, animals, toys and the representation of human beings. In this period I created "Don't touch me, I am glass" which is about protection through isolation. In our modern society we do not only have to protect ourselves from nature, but we also protect ourselves from feelings. Then I created "The pasture of hungry mouths, dark labyrinth and insatiable cult". . I made another piece called "Angel with shopping cart". It's an angel who comes to earth to live. What he wants is a house, cars, a woman and pleasure. This is a series of work where the meeting point is our life in society. How isolated we are from each other, how we protect ourselves, how we exchange tenderness, love and possessions.
After 3 years, I started to realize that this experience was not enough and I needed to look for something more. I got the feeling that something in our modern society was missing. The foundations of our modern society lacked spirituality, community and a clear sense of direction. And we don't know the direction where we are going, and to the question: "What place do we occupy in society, and what kind of society we are looking for.”
My journey needed to continue, and I started thinking again about my Mediterranean culture. I went back to Spain, looking for a culture with tradition, an old culture where the relationship between man and nature is more conscious with the past and present. I made the white paintings where I looked for the contrast of light. I used black and white to illustrate the contrast between truth, clarity and darkness. My search took me back to New York and once again it left me wanting for answers it could not give me. I wanted to understand who we are outside of our social environment.
With my new experiences I went again to the amazon, and other places, not inhabited by humans, like a deserted Caribbean Island where I stayed for 15 days. I spent 2 months in the Amazon, in places where nature had not been disturbed and had only very little human presence. What did I discover? The importance of absence. For example in the jungle where you have every color like blue, green and brown, where nobody has the possibility to see magenta, it makes you see everything in magenta. It's a way to keep in presence what one does not see. Absence makes presence and makes it vibrate so much that its non-existence makes the rest flow with its presence. From this I developed the Magenta Period.
Another very important discovery was silence. It's very important how silence gives you the chance to think. How silence allows us to discover who we are and where we are going. Silence is independent from time, it allows us to communicate with ourselves and lets us know what's happening without any imposition. I started to apply this concept as the base of my choices. Why choose painting as a medium? Because I used painting to apply the concept of silence.
I discovered that there are two levels of reality, the conscious and the unconscious
. I wanted to develop both of these in my work, over and over, creating
a ritual in my painting. First the conscious, in which there is a social
consensus that everybody understands, using the same symbols that everybody
understands, what a tree is, what a house is or what concrete concepts are,
what we understand by visual language.
And second, the subconscious, where the symbol of reality is a communication where there is no agreement, where as people, we don't know how we are communicating but we do so anyway. We perceive it in different ways. How do I translate the information between the rational and the subconcious into painting? Let's give two examples.
For example the cry of a child: We all recognize the sound of a child. It sounds the same in every country and culture. But how can we visualize the cry of a child? This is what I set myself to do. How do I translate feelings into painting? By trying to connect myself with the outside world, without looking at a visible reality, but by feeling the reality.
For example, a pianist creates an emotional experience for the audience. We look at the pianist but the emotions we feel do not come from the act of his fingers moving across the keyboard but from something less direct. He makes us feel something that we don’t see. What he makes us feel we cannot see. It’s another type of communication in which there is no rational concensus.
In my most recent body of work, I have taken on new challenges and enriched
my life with what I have learned, that is to love, to caress, to care, to look
for the good things. I already knew the relationship we have with nature,
the relationship we have with each other. Now I am looking for happy
answers, such as how to enjoy existence. In my new work I have found
a happy union of the elements I discovered on my journey;
The first element, absence, I learned in the jungle, as a way of understanding presence. Second point, silence, which is why I decided to use painting as my medium of expression. Third, color. Color for me is the magical part in a space. Color is what cannot be concretised. This is what gives beauty, a magical beauty, in which there is nothing concrete and that you cannot touch, nor pick up nor catch. Fourth point is a ritual. What am I doing? How I paint, the ritualualised nature of it.