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Artist interview

Interview with Angela de la Cruz on the physicality of her paintings: “I like sex a lot”

How her paintings have the limitations of bodies

Angela de la Cruz gives her paintings a hard time. They start life as monochrome abstracts, built up in layers of oil on canvas and then stretched on wooden supports. Then all hell breaks loose. She smashes their stretchers, rips their surfaces, frays their edges and crumples them into strange shapes. Often they never make it back onto the wall, but are crammed into unsuitable spaces or forced into unholy alliances with pieces of furniture. Probably her best known work was “Larger than life” made specifically for London’s Royal Festival Hall in 1998. Measuring 14 x 10 metres, this behemoth was not only one of the largest oil paintings ever made, but also one of the most abjectly anti-heroic, wedged between the pillars of an open plan space and painted an unappetising shade of brown that made it almost vanish into the wooden floor.

Louisa Buck: What are you making for your show at Anthony Wilkinson?

Angela de la Cruz: I’ve told Anthony it’s a bit like “The good, the bad and the ugly”. In the main room it’s going to be very commodity-like; you go into the room and its going to be quite clean and nice with what I call “Commodity paintings”: two “Loose fits”, one large, one small, and four other small ones. Then I’m going to have a painting stuck on the door—it doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t come in and it doesn’t go out. Then you have to pass through this painting which is very physical and go into the office, and there is the shelf piece, “Still life” which is a painting and a set of shelves. It is really in-your-face. Physically it’s like an action painting. Then you go upstairs and you see the top part which is like the painting swallowing the table, which is a very odd object—someone said to me,”You must be very horny at the moment...”

LB: Your paintings are very fleshy and physical.

AC: My work is very sexual. I like sex a lot. Before I used to get really concerned about the sexual element of the paintings because I can see it too, I can see it big time; and it’s only recently that I have said, “Yes, they are sexual, they are violent because I do have sex and I enjoy it.” If you are working a lot intellectually, like writing or painting or whatever, you’ve got some attachment to your paintings and your emotions. I always think the work is me, and that’s why I get embarrassed sometimes, because I feel, “What if someone realises it’s me?”

LB: They are almost like emotional analogues: in the past you have given works titles like “Misery” and “Shame”.

AC: I think that they are figurative painting, in a way. It’s figuration, but the figuration occurs on the outside of the painting. But you reclaim the painting as yours, because before that, as squares, they belong to the language of painting, the language of the monochrome. But once you attack them, you start pissing on them or shitting on them or fighting them then they become like a figurative object—it’s got your stamp. The paintings are bodies and they are also about the limitations of the body, as well as the language of painting.

LB: It is almost as if you are slugging it out with the history of painting and then reclaiming it for yourself.

AC: I am very concerned about the history of painting and a sense of historicism. At the moment I’m thinking of things like that, and that’s why I call them “givens”. When I was a student, I was making minimalist monochromes and I realised one day, “Wait a minute, this language is not mine, nothing is mine, so I can be free, I can do what I like.”

LB: But you still work within the very particular language of the monochrome painting.

AC: I make perfect squares. I spend lots of money on the work and it is broken into pieces. In order to have this work, it has to be the best of everything. Once somebody said to me, “Let’s do a collaboration—I’ll give you a painting and you can do an Angela de la Cruz”—but you can take a painting and break it, but it doesn’t become my work at all. It’s not a collaboration.

LB: And this language is still full of possibilities for you?

AC: I realised the importance, even though I was trying to break the notions of painting, to keep on with them. You have to master the language in order to revolt. I think examples like Samuel Beckett or James Joyce or Cervantes all master the language and then they break the language. I think I’m still learning how to paint; I’m learning a lot about my work. I’m a researcher by nature.

LB: You have introduced these new categories of what you call “Commodity paintings”. There are the “Ready to wear” paintings, which are partially pulled-away from their stretchers; the “Loose fit” paintings, which are hanging in folds from the stretcher; and the “Nothing” paintings, in which the painting is taken off the stretcher and lies crumpled on the floor. Why?

AC: It is very important to have the very cynical commodity value apparent. I think painting, right from the beginning, has been a commodity and I think that if you are a painter, then you have to be responsible and use the medium and create something new. I see people who make a monochrome and it’s like 20 monochromes—I call them parasites, because you only need one. All my paintings are parasites—they are paintings which could be any painting. Potentially all of them could be a “Nothing”, a “Ready to wear” or a “Loose fit”. They come in three sizes: small, medium or large; and three colours: blue, white or red. They are kind of institutional colours and also I like fashion a lot. They are very cynical and I sell lots of them. But at the same time they are not a commodity, they are a concept—it’s playing with the enemy. They are very home-friendly and gallery-friendly.

LB: When you grapple with the monochromes, is it done in one burst or over time? Is it something performative?

AC: I let it wait and then I think a lot. I smoke 20 cigarettes and sit there thinking and then, suddenly, it just happens like that. It’s very scarey as well.

LB: Influences?

AC: I’m influenced by general culture and also where I come from, Spain. It’s such a strange country. When I was 10, Franco died—I had the first 10 years of my life under a dictatorship and that makes you very, very aware of a kind of displacement and the untruth of history. When Franco died, all the school books changed. If you grow up with this suspicion of how history can change so much from one year to another, then that informs my work, all of that. And I am a media junkie—I read all the papers, I like to feel the world.

Biography

Background: Born 1965, Coruña, Spain; 1985-89 BA Faculty of Philosophy, Santiago de Compostela, Spain; 1989-90 Chelsea School of Art; 1991-94 BA Goldsmiths’ College; 1994-96 MA Slade School of Art. Lives and works in London.

Currently showing: Anthony Wilkinson Gallery, 242 Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9DA, Tel: +44 (0)20 8980 2662, fax+44 (0)20 8980 0028

Solo shows include: 2000: John Weber Gallery, New York; 1999: “Everyday painting”, Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna; 1998: “Everyday painting”, John Weber Gallery, New York; 1997: Galerie In Situ, Aalst, Belgium; “Larger than life”, Royal Festival Hall, London; 1993: Untitled, Hackney.