GETTING REAL WITH XEVI SOLA SERRA
WALT MORTON: The first question I have to ask is how you see your artwork. Your paintings usually set people in mostly familiar environments but beyond that, it gets strange quickly. Are these portraits? Or narrative? Psychological portraits? Or is this the surrealism of a dream? If you were being shown in the USA you’d probably be labeled a “pop-surrealist.” Is that a correct label?
XEVI SOLA SERRA: I could define my work like filming a horror movie, except I am using relaxing pastel tones in order to achieve more effective “scares.” The starting point, the motivation to make the first draft of each work, comes mainly from the need to transmit a disturbing message, subtly disturbing, if possible. I seek ways to give clues that refer to the darkest part of consciousness, the part referring to the instincts, sex, the pre-human and animal part, that part considered amoral, beyond the good and evil. Also, I try to tell a story. In order to do this one tool most useful for me is the idea of psychological portrait, which helps me to express the intention of each character. As to being labeled, I think I am more pop than surrealist since my paintings seem strange but I always strive for the appearance of being true or real, whereas sometimes surrealism seems too easy in my opinion.
WALT MORTON: Who do you get to pose for you and what kind of model do you seek for your paintings?
XEVI SOLA SERRA: The female figure is central in my paintings; it is a thin, ethereal woman, away from carnality. In medieval Christian iconography, maybe to represent the Christian resignation and partly due to the technical difficulty, it is difficult to recognize the pain in the faces of the martyrs when they are being subjected to terrible tortures. That gives them a melancholy aspect, that is illogical, but also attractive. The women in my paintings come from that Christian imagery, and undergo uncomfortable situations with a smile; at first sight it's incomprehensible. On the other hand, her nakedness, like a crucifixion scene, is made more obvious and striking accompanied by other clothed characters. And just as the white does not exist without the black, at the other end of this binomial, there are the male figures (sometimes represented by another woman), a figure related to Thanatos, earthly, dark, vicious and dangerous beings, though always losing the battle, as they have no power against this feminine melancholy. Besides these historical and mythological ideas for reference, I have been working in a psychiatric hospital, and ever since that time, I have a lot of available faces in my head that I sometimes use in my portraits.
WALT MORTON: Many of your paintings include nudity or sexual situations. What is your thinking on these subjects in 2017?
XEVI SOLA SERRA: For me the most interesting thing about nudity is the anatomy itself because nowadays no one can be surprised by nudity. We are too used to it and it has become uninteresting. I feel being dressed is in some ways more appealing.
WALT MORTON: Sometimes you will make a little cultural quotation, showing Superman, Jesus, Van Gogh, etc. Why do you put these kind of appropriations in a painting?
XEVI SOLA SERRA: As I've said before, I like pop art and I try to avoid elitism and the mysteries that only the “artist" can understand. I like to think that I look for a language affordable for everybody. It's easier to get this using global icons.
WALT MORTON: Some parts of your paintings are painted with realist detail while other areas are sketched in. What’s your guide in this process? When do you decide you have enough detail and can move on? Many artists feel they must render it all to the same level of finish, what do you say?
XEVI SOLA SERRA: I seek not only the contrast between appearance and intentions of the characters, but I also try to communicate the visual strength in formal terms, for example with the use of complementary colors or with the use of the contrast between vertical and horizontal lines in painting and as you say with the contrast between the more finished parts and the less finished ones. I think the final result is more energetic.
WALT MORTON: Another obvious feature in your work is a bright, saturated palette. Cobalt blue skies, lime green grass, turquoise water, sunny days. How are you using color?
XEVI SOLA SERRA: I consider myself first, a person who draws. Painting has been for me an extra effort, I would compare it to learning another language. Maybe I paint this way because I don't know to do it better. I only know that I've discovered color and if I wanted to paint in muted colors I would keep on drawing.
WALT MORTON: Do you work from photos or collage? Live models? Imagination? Preparatory sketches? Please describe your work process.
XEVI SOLA SERRA: All you mention is included in my work process. I usually force myself to think about an idea and from that I make some sketches looking for the best composition and positions of the characters in order to get the idea similar to what I have in my mind. Then I start the process of documentation in which I use photos, collages, movies, live models, real landscapes among others. Then I start to work on the canvas, maybe the most fun phase in the process.
WALT MORTON: Two recurring elements in your work; one is the inclusion of some kind of animal (duck, elephant, shark, fish, horse, etc.) Second, is the use of a Victorian home as part of the background. What’s the idea?
XEVI SOLA SERRA: I started to use animals mainly because of a formal reason since in the composition of the painting it is always necessary to complement the main figure with other secondary figures. Later, when I started getting censored on social media, I started using the animals as a sexual or a genital metaphor. About the use of a Victorian home, my scenes almost always occur in front of a house, a house with large windows, where someone might be watching, without being seen by anyone. The house is a psychological character, present in the collective unconscious from "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Poe or from "Psycho" by Hitchcock, the house on the hill becomes a third character, a silent witness of the scene, a veiled threat, and even a greater danger if we consider that characters turn their backs on the house.
WALT MORTON: How is your work received both locally in Europe and globally. Where have you shown and what kind of reactions do you see? Are you painting with any specific audience in mind?
XEVI SOLA SERRA: Some time ago, I had the insight that to get people to like my work I had to make my images radiate energy. I know my images can make people feel uncomfortable and they can provoke repulsion in some kinds of people. I want to think people like my work and have a sense of humor. Lately I've found out a nice thing for me, that my work is followed mainly by young people.
WALT MORTON: What’s next for you? More painting? Something else? A big coffee-table art book maybe?
XEVI SOLA SERRA:
Thinking in the future, my intention is to discover a new pictorial language in which the power of color becomes increasingly prominent but without stealing, if possible, too much away from the narrative. I also would like to keep on exploring the combination of figure and landscape. About publishing an art book, it would be fantastic but I need a sponsor... Is anyone willing? Great!
Xevi Solà lives and works in Girona (Spain). He studied Fine Arts in the University of Barcelona. He worked in a psychiatric hospital for years, experience that he considers important to understand his work.
His work has been exhibited in galleries and Art fairs in Spain, Germany, France, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Peru, Brasil or Taiwan. In 2014 he won the Young Art Award in the Taipei Contemporary Art Fair.