Frédéric Amat is a Barcelona-based artist creating striking murals. It was a real treat to encounter them during my recent trip to Barcelona and I must admit they have been hard to shake off my visual memory.
Thanks to my dear friend Natalia, I was able to set up a remote interview with Frédéric to shed more light on his inspiration, processes and projects.
Reinventingrid: Let’s start with Mur d’Ulls (2011). You installed 1000 ceramic eyeballs onto the facade of Hotel Ohla and these eyeballs are all directed in many different directions.
Is this about our society being under street surveillance and the fact that we are watched in many ways without realizing? Is this a theme you are preoccupied with and trying to fight it with art instead of real surveillance cameras?
Frédéric Amat: Your commentary about surveillance is very clever, and it is one of the evocations present in this work but not the only one. Back in the days, this building was a department store, then a police station and today it has been converted, again, into a hotel at the junction of two of the busiest streets in Barcelona.
My project was to resolve the skin of the building via an artistic acupuncture, if you like. I used needles with heads looking like eye pupils that offer passersby and hotel guests a constellation of eyes and shadows, perceived as reflections and mirrors of the urban surroundings.
Having watched your movie (linked above) on how these ceramic eyeballs were moulded, they almost look hatched and therefore very much alive despite their apparent uniformity: was this important for you?
The eyeballs, I worked on at Antoni Cumella’s ceramics workshop. They were made of enamelled porcelain, with different size moulds, to make it more interesting. For the final part of the process, I painted black over the white porcelain.
I am always tempted to leave my personal pictorial trace on my ceramics.
Is that why you also retained some of the dipped painting irregularities, perhaps affirming a very gestural part despite the large-scale production and installation of Mur d’Ulls?
Yes… and I will also add that I am always working in dialogue with the material possibilities, expressions, and accidents…
Part of me also sees these eyeballs as drop pins. Nowadays, everybody shares their locations with their phones. This makes your installation (from 2011) even more relevant. In your view, are we adding to the problem and feeding the surveillance beast as we live our lives glued to our phones?
My project is a dance of the iris. Eyes that see you. Eyes to see yourself. If we place two blots on a surface, the space observes us like a mask. If a bunch of eyes appears on a building, that building can now see…
A few years back, the writer Eduardo Mendoza wrote some notes about my work, from which I now quote:
«On occasions, Romanesque artists would treat eyes as if they were features that were separate from the human face. They placed them, ever watchful, on borders, also as a decorative element or festooning angels’ wings. They imbued them with a clearly allegorical meaning. In sculpture, the entire expressive force of the human individual was concentrated in the eyes. On the capitals in cloisters, there are saints and monarchs, hieratic figures by their very nature. Yet their eyes are big, alive, with terrible frequency. They bear no relation to the figures they belong to. We find those self-same eyes in the work of Frederic Amat. But in this case, they are stripped of any iconographic interpretation. They are not a learned reference but an element that has bridged the gap of eight centuries.»
Frédéric, I can’t tell you how these art history details further enhance the aura of your murals.
Moving on to Mural de les Olles (2000-01). You and your team installed 1500 ceramic pots on the walls of Institut del Teatre in Barcelona. No two pots are the same. They’ve been punched, broken, even bitten to alter their shapes as well as the way they take colors and create shadows.
Once more, your technique is extremely gestural: how important is this in your artistic practice? Can you elaborate on your very physical rapport with the making of your art?
One cannot forget one of the popular feasts in Catalonia, which was breaking the pot to reveal surprises, similar to Mexican “piñatas”. The image of “biting the pot” came to me as I was strolling through a market in Jodhpur, India. I saw mountains of pots piled up here and there, which I drew and photographed, later splashing ink on the prints. Who has not been spellbound by a pyramid of watermelons out in the sun? Or at the sight of pottery sellers in markets in the far south? How not to recall Picasso’s free transformations in clay, subverting the pottery tradition of Vallauris?
What would eventually become the Mural of Pots gradually revealed itself. It was a work commissioned by Barcelona Provincial Council, for the new home of the Theatre Institute in the city. My proposal was to install a considerable number of pots on the rear wall of the Mercat de les Flors, which measures 32 x 18 meters and can be seen through one of the large windows of the Theatre Institute. The almost 2,000 pots that make up the vast mural like clay tesserae were produced in the Artigas Foundation workshops in Gallifa. While the clay was still fresh, wet and ductile, before the pots were put out to dry and then into the wood-fired kiln, I took the opportunity to punch and even bite them. Without a doubt, the seed for this project was all the experimentation and work done on large plates and other pieces in the ceramics workshop in Gallifa in the early 1990s. When I finished Mural of Pots and observed the array in its entirety, a huge vanitas came to mind, a congregation of skulls with their grotesque expressions. On other occasions, it has suggested to me a varied constellation of performing art faces and masks at the doors to the theatre.
I cant recommend enough to watch this link to put a visual on your wonderful explanations about the genesis and process of Mural de les Olles (2000-01).
The ceramic pots in Mural de les Olles (2000-01) all look like very different “creatures”: are they a nice metaphor for human nature?
Most exactly, the public… many heads, but each one of them different.
Yet what strikes me watching your movie about the mural installation is how controlled it was, with very clear directional positioning on your part.
This seems in total opposition to the very spontaneous genesis of the ceramics shaping / de-shaping. It gives me as a viewer a constant push / pull effect which is visually unforgettable. How do you navigate these seemingly opposed creative forces?
I always have the will and intention of editing a ‘making of’ the processes of my work.
In this case, you can see the spontaneity of the bangs and even violent hits to the clay, and then during the installation I am extremely meticulous. It is as if I am weaving inevitable obsessions.
In terms of materials you use, ceramic appears a material you particularly like to work with. This was a revered art form in Islamic Art and to me, Mural de les Olles (2000-01) is not without connotation with Fatimid bowls made in 10th century Egypt. Called bacini, they were prized by Italians and inserted to decorate facades of some of their churches. Do you find your choice of material rooted in the rich multicultural history of Spain and Catalonia?
Yes, I have had a strange fascination with ceramics for many years now and the privilege of working in the ateliers of two of the most important ceramists in Catalonia: A. Cumella and Artigas, the greatest collaborator to Joan Miró.
I left Barcelona before the reveal of one of your new project. What can you share about it here?
It will be presented in Spring 2019. One must advance the mystery but keep the secret. But it will not be a ceramics one.
Lastly, I missed seeing Pluja de Sang (2010) at Teatre Lliure. Yet what strikes me once more is how your work seems to focus on the essence of life and what we humans can be. Blood, defaced ceramic pots, eyes, we are alive but there is palpable anguish…so what do we do next?
The artist’s task is to make visible what is invisible, as Paul Klee said…
My heartfelt thanks, Frédéric! May Barcelona keep on gracing itself with your thought-provoking murals. More on all of these can be found on Frederic’s website.
This post was made possible by Natalia and Estela. Muchas Gracias, amigas!
© 2018 Ingrid Westlake
All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.