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Painter Sergi Barnils talks about how his Christian faith influences his art in an interview with a Spanish newspaper.
LLUIS BUSQUETS I GRABULOSA / DIARI DE GIRONA
Sergi Barnils was born in Bata (Equatorial Guinea) in 1954. In 1965 he had already studied in the Arts department of Viaro, with Xavier Cabanach, Xavier Figueras and Francesc Casademont le Vieux.
After winning two extraordinary prizes at the 8th National Youth and Provincial Art Contest in Barcelona, he first studied in the Barcelona School of Work, and in 1975 he studied at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the same city, where he now lives.
Barnils has been exhibiting throughout Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium, among other places, since 1995. His exhibitions have taken him from Tori to Amsterdam, from Zurich to Vienna, from Geneva to Carrara, from Bologna to Madrid.
Its current exhibition in the VolArt Space can be visited until 26 March.
He welcomes me in his spacious and light-filled studio of Sant Cugat (Catalonia, nort east Spain). I tell him that I do not want to interfere, he puts on the work apron and he guides me through fabrics, packaging, easels, paint tins and turpentine.
Question. Have you been influenced by being born in the old Spanish Guinea?
Answer. I did not spent very much time there, just in the womb of the mother and a little bit more than a year and a half. But the art critic, Josep M. Cadena, analyzed the colors, shades and textures of my paintings for a catalog of an exhibition I made in Bologna and he said that I do have such an influence.
Infant prodigy? I was not at all. I was a disaster academically. I only excelled in arts. I entertained myself looking through the window of the Can Volpelleres farmhouse with its trees and birds, or the movement of the clouds, and I did not pay atention to the school subjects.
Q. How would you define art?
A. Art is the attempt to harmonize the chaos that boils within us all, into an ordered and significant cosmos. It has been said that both the boy and the prehistoric man scribble, trying to shape the world. That need for expression shows our instinct of perpetuity. There is instinct, gesture and reverie in my work.
Q. Why abstract art?
A. As José Camón Aznar said, abstract art is the vehicle that helps us shape a first-level spiritual art. Abstraction art is the best way to elevate the spirit of the receiver, he said, because it is like a floating field of colors and stains that the human soul perceives more easily.
Q. Do you think painting shouls elevate our spirit? It reminds me of Kandinski´s “the spirituality in art.”
A. Of course! I do not value my work through the eyes of those who contemplate it. I try, as Kandinski said, that the state of my spirit, of my soul, communicates with the spirit of the spectator through art. I want spiritual communication.
The judgment of anyone who contemplates my work should not affect me. I've already opened up. The work is still alive, waiting for others to enjoy it.
Q. Your art, therefore, has a religious component...
A. Painting has spiritual rather than religious connotations. Every person has a desire for the absolute. The effort of the human being to reach God is unsuccessful because the initiative is always His.
Q. Your first paintings were, generally, landscapes and Cubist or Fauvist figures. Little by little, you developed an abstract style, characterized by a childish primitivism until you began a dialogue between painting and geometry. In addition to Joan Miro or Paul Klee, what other painters have influenced you?
A. My very first paintings were not even geometric, but stains... It is difficult to define my different stages... It was a very free painting: clouds, spots, marks, just like Turner. Suddenly I was worried, I felt empty, and the painting became a need for research.
The geometry began with basic shapes: circle, triangle, square. The circle represents the eternity, a time without beginning or end. The triangle is God, the only star. The square represents the earth, the whole universe that at first was believed to be square. I imagined a lady confined in a castle, and painted stroriesusing geometric resources.
Miro influenced me a lot, maybe too much. It annoys me when the critics said that I was "too much like Miro."
Klee also influenced me, and afterwards, Cy Twombly and the first stage of Kandinski. The lady was my soul, the castle the situation of captivity in which I felt. I spent years waiting for my release. This came not so long ago, when I began to relate to the transcendent or, if you prefer, the divinity.
I began to read the Bible and that liberated me more and more. Renoir said that the painters were very self-centered. According to him, the ancients, living a modest life and with fear of God, made a more sublime work. Renoir went on to say that without religion there was no art.
Lately, if you ask me whom I look at, I should say that, although they have nothing to do with the biblical message, I am fascinated by the gesture of Jackson Pollock, Georges Rouault, Willem de Kooning, Emilio Vedova, Clyfford Still, Franz Kline. I believe that the more evangelical my art is, the more freedom it enjoys.
Q. How was your conversion?
A. One day I was painting and I was worried and aad. I was listening to the radio and Protestantism appeared in my life. They spoke about the Gospel without ornaments, the pure Gospel. And that was the fresh water I needed in my life. Because the Word of God, without dogmatisms, human structures or commandments, touches you deep inside.
It has happened to many artists and many other people. Everything was simple. You know that, for Protestants, it is "Sola Scriptura, Sola Fides, Sola Gratia", and Jesus is the only way to reach the Father.
Everything was so simple and that was what I needed, so it went very well for me. I go to a Baptist evangelical church. We praise the good things, working is no a curse... But if I saw that they alter the word of God there, I would leave it. I read the Psalms and the Gospels on my own.
Q. During the turn of the century you have worked really hard making many exhibitions, in many different places. Tell me what all this means in your evolution.
A. You said it all yourself. It simply means that I have been taking steps towards a job well done without turning my back on the divinity, which, as Renoir said, is necessary to obtain happiness.
Greek art, Giotto, Fra Angelico, Brueghel, Dürer, Rembrandt and others painted to give glory to God and it shows. I had forgotten God. After I met Him, my work got better, the shapes changed, the palette became bright.
A few years ago, if my paintings were too bright, I put Bitumen of Judea on them. As John the Evangelist says, man prefers darkness when the work he does is not good. My work has been transformed as I have been transformed inwardly. Going back would be a terrible failure; now I am inspired by the Bible and without it my work would die and I would die with it.
Q. After many exhibitions which were named after precious stones, the titles of the exhibitions that followed were inspired by the biblical concept of marriage between humanity and the divinity found in the book of Revelation. Most os them took place in Italy. Do they understand you better there?
A. Those who know that the Bible, and specifically the Book of Revelation, has inspired many painters throughout the history of art (such as great the medieval Beatus, the unknown painters of Pantocrator, or Renoir, Rembrandt, Cranach the Elder, Friedrich, Blake, Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Chagall, etc..), would understand me better
For those who do not have this cultural background, it will be strange that a 21st century painter talks about these issues.
Contrary to what some people may think, I'm not a fanatic or old-fashioned, every day more people are interested in these issues.
Milton is a delight, and he would not be who is without the Bible. God's revelation to men will never finish and it will never be a thing of the past.
Q. Work or inspiration?
A. Work, work! Inspiration comes in the midst of difficulties. I like to contemplate nature. I am like the bee that goes to the flower, extracts the nectar and brings it to the hive to make honey and wax... We painters do this: we contemplate nature to be inspired by it, but, after inspiration, as Picasso said, sweat must come.
Q. Since you initially worked in ceramics, do you think an artist must be a bit of a craftsman?
A. Absolutely. I identify myself with great painters, from Picasso to the tandem Mir-Artigas, who were decorating porcelain for years and years.
I have painted many ceramics to survive. Now I realise that, knowing the discipline of the craftsman, has helped very much in my painting career. The technical processes no longer frighten me, and I have the patience to see how my work grows little by little.
Q. When you illustrate books, do you feel like a graphic designer?
A. I do not feel I am a graphic designer or an illustrator. I put the same passion working with a ten centimeters paper or with a four by four canvas. I do not even feel I am a painter. I am just a simple imitator of the great creator who is God.
Q.You were born in 1954 and belong to a generation of artists. With which painters of your generation do you feel more affinity?
A. I do not want to say some names and despise others. Anyone who goes to work every day in their studio is worthy of merit. Anyone who has risked everything and work with passion has my admiration.
Q. Today we can analyse the details of Michelangello's Final Judgment better digitally at home than in Rome. Does that mean that we will return to Altamira or will we have new several ways for art in the near future?
A. Altamira is a benchmark. We must look back from time to time, keeping our eyes in the future, if we do not want to fail. And it is better to see the Last Judgment, on the Sixtine Chapel and even smell it, if they let us.
Many good things are being made, and more will be made in the future, because men are made in the image of the Creator, we have skills that we can not even imagine.
Learn more about Sergi Barnils' art by visiting his website.