Andrés Mérida Paints Live Alongside Guitarist Daniel Casares in Manhattan
Flamenco guitarist Daniel Casares performed a selection of songs from his most recent studio album, ‘Picassares’ at Joe’s Pub in Tribeca on Saturday night, as part of this year’s Flamenco Festival in New York.
‘Picassares’ draws inspiration from Casares’ home region of Malaga in the South of Spain. While also commemorating, as the title suggests, the work of the city’s most famous natives, Pablo Picasso; who shared a great admiration for the Malagueñan landscape and its unique cultural roots, namely flamenco and the Spanish guitar.
Joined by Nelson Doblas on violin, Miguel Ortiz ‘Nene’ on percussion and Flamenco dancer Sergio Aranda, ‘Picassares’ is a testament to the phenomenal talent of Daniel Casares and the incredibly rich cultural legacy of Southern Spain that the organisers of the Flamenco Festival have tirelessly worked to present to international audiences for 18 years.
‘Picassares’ as it was presented on Saturday in Manhattan drew on a special collaboration with Andrés Mérida, a well-known Spanish contemporary artist who joined the band on stage to paint live during a longer version of ‘Caballo de Guernica’; merging music, dance and art. For eleven minutes, Mérida painted an improvised scene to the rhythm and melodies of the musicians next to him; revealing a lanky sombrero’d man enjoying a glass of red wine with the glaring light of the moon and the New York skyline behind him.
We spoke to Mérida before the show about why he collaborates with other artists in this way, his great appreciation for New York and his future projects.
You have painted live many times before with Casares and other artists, how did this specific collaboration in New York happen?
Well I told Daniel (Casares) that I planned to come see him play in New York and he said, ‘then you should paint!’. It immediately became more a question of doing it because I wanted to, rather than for work, so I’m really happy to be here. We had to go get the canvas, the stand and all the rest today somewhere in Soho during the snow storm, so it’s really been an adventure already!
So you enjoy painting live in front of an audience?
Painting live can be scary, you really feel a high sense of responsibility because you don’t know exactly how it’s going to turn out or how you’re going to do it. But the adrenaline drives you, and I enjoy it more and more. I identify a lot with people who sing and act etc. because it’s all about releasing what you have inside of you in that moment, and its always new, because even if you practice many times before the audience will always be there when the time comes and it'll always feel like the first time. All audiences are different.
I have painted live many times in Malaga and once in Boston, but this is the first time in New York City at a theatre with music, where you might assume that everything is very planned but improvisation will inevitably be there, because I never make the same brush-stroke twice.
Did you always imagine that you would become a painter since you were young?
I never imagined I would get here, no. I remember one time driving to Seville with my parents as a child, where I later studied Fine Arts at the University there, and seeing the countryside filled with sunflowers. It reminded me of Vincent Van Gogh, and I remember thinking that I wanted to be like Van Gogh someday - a real artist.
But I never thought I would get to New York when I did to exhibit for the first time here in 2003, but I really think that if you believe in your dreams you can accomplish them. And I say that because it’s true. I fought a lot to get here, I came to New York with my suitcase and a little bit of money that first time and that was the beginning of what today has become a reality. The world really belongs to the brave.
What inspires you?
Flamenco… I love my country, but I’m crazy and passionate about music. So music is really an important thread that runs through a lot of my work.
Do you like to work with a particular emotion?
With emotion in general, as long as it comes out true. I want my brushwork to come as it comes, and not be posed or calculated, because I’m letting myself be driven by the music. So what is most pure to me is when one type of art feeds another.
Do you always paint with music when you work in your studio?
Not always, I paint in silence sometimes as well. Because the sound of the brush has it’s own music. Art has a lot of nooks and aesthetic spaces that are unrecognised until you delve deeper, that’s why a lot of art is so misunderstood until a lot of time passes; like Van Gogh, like the German Expressionists, like Pollock, who also investigated other ways of making art because he felt that Picasso had already done everything. Until one day he threw the canvas on the floor and started painting that way and realised that that was something Picasso hadn't done before.
Your paintings are characterised by bright colours and strong light sources, whether it is from the sun, moon or a city skyline, what can you say about that?
Colour is fundamental. The light in Malaga influences me a lot, specifically the contrasts that exist there - I’m used to seeing a lot of contrast. Painters from the North often paint in grey’s, painters from the South of Spain paint in colours like those of South American artists, because they have such bright sunlight there too so there are similar contrasts. But I do like to paint in tones too like I will during the performance; using just black, white and grey. There will be a bright red in there too of course, that contrast will still be there.
What upcoming projects do you have?
I’m going to Nuremberg in Germany in just over a week for a solo exhibition where I will be presenting twenty brand new works that are based on variations of Flamenco dance which I’m working a lot with recently, and some that don't have anything to do with Flamenco, like works on paper using pencil and cigarette ash, some crazy characters and weird personalities.
These quirky and strange characters appear a lot in your work, where do they come from?
They are crazy people who could be Andalusians, New Yorkers, Canadian, French… I remember one time I was in New York walking down Broadway and I saw this lady just walking around brushing her hair with a plastic fork, and I saw it and thought, insanity is international! It doesn't only exist in Andalusia. The notion that they do and say what they want is really inspiring to me, they teach me a lot because they really aren’t self-conscious about anything. You know someone who brushes their hair with a plastic fork in the middle of the street really doesn't care about what people think. I paint these characters with a lot of affection, because they’re so genuine and authentic to me.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future as an artist?
I want to continue to evolve, I have a lot of ideas and I think I’m in a very good moment in my career right now. I’ve reached a moment of maturity as an artist where I don't care as much; I’m going to do X and Y and I’ll re-do things, re-work things and throw things away if I feel like it, and I think that is noticeable in my most recent work.
Were there moments where you were more calculated?
Yes, because unfortunately you have to eat. And having to eat makes you produce works in a more calculated way. You prostitute yourself a little bit in the beginning but everyone has to do it because if you know you can make paintings that will sell you will do that. But I’m in a better moment now where I don't have the economic pressures I once did, so if I don't sell something straight away it doesn't matter as much. I also don't aspire to have a huge house and an expensive car, I have what I need to live so because I know that I don't need more I can take more risks. I know that if I do an exhibition and I sell everything I can last a whole year and then I can have fun and paint what I want.
Do you have a daily routine?
Yes an artist has to in order to continue producing, but its a beautiful routine. I have my studio in the entrance of my house, so I might come home one night after a few drinks and return to something I was working on the day before, its like a poison, a nice drug.
As for a daily routine, I do some exercise in the morning, go for a walk or a swim in the sea in the summer. I usually walk for an hour and a half or so and I get a lot of ideas during those walks. Then I work in the afternoon, after my siesta, like a good Andalusian! Until 8, 9, or 10. And then I have some days where I don't work at all, because I don't feel like it.
I’ve been working a lot towards this exhibition in Germany but again, it comes naturally to me, I feel the need to produce and I never know how many works I will make or what they will be about and then suddenly I have fifteen or twenty works done and I will talk to my gallerist about which ones to choose for the show.
You generally like to work a lot
Yes I do, I’ve always produced a lot, making art is really a necessity for me, I have to express myself. I’m so passionate about painting, and experimenting with mixed media and digital creations, drawing on rocks, lots of things.
What other artists inspire you?
I like lots, none specifically. I like everyone. That’s really difficult. It’s like someone saying whats your favourite dish? I like lots; I like paella, I like oysters, I like fried eggs with potatoes.
Miquel Barcelo, I love…I like a lot of artists from Malaga that are really good and not very well-known. It’s just that there really are so many, there’s a South African artist (Ryan Hewett) that I see on Instagram often and I always click, ‘like’!
But they never change you as an artist
No, but they definitely inspire and feed you as an artist, I might add a little touch that I draw from someone else here and there. We are all constantly giving and taking.
Do you want to be considered a Malagueñan artist or an artist first?
Artist first. I’m very Malagueñan, very Cádizian which is where I was born, but I don’t necessarily like to categorise or define myself that way, artists are universal. I want my audiences to understand me beyond Malaga… in New York, Mexico, and around the world. Where you’re born doesn't matter. Besides, Andalusians are from everywhere, it was a little New York in its time because it was invaded by so many different populations and cultures, so it really is a mix.
Is that why you feel such an affinity for New York?
I was on the subway today and on the bench in front of me there was an Asian girl, an African-American girl, another European or white American girl, and another couple guys from somewhere else, five or six people from completely different countries and continents. The entire world was sitting on that subway bench in front of me. Humans need to understand that we live alongside so many cultures and it adds to our every day realities, it doesn't take away from it. That is the essence of New York.
Andrés Merida (b. 1964, Cadiz) gained a degree in Fine Arts from the University of Seville in 1988 and has exhibited extensively in galleries and museums worldwide since then; including solo exhibitions all over Spain and in cities like Miami, New York, Hong Kong, Leon, Prague, the Philippines, Mexico City, Lisbon and Vienna. He recently had a large retrospective exhibition of his work between 1981-2011 at the MUPAN Museum in Malaga and is included in private collections in Spain, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Argentina, Italy, Portugal, China, Philippines and the U.S.A.
Words by Rebeca Laliberte