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In conversation with Eduardo Monteagudo

Early in August of this year, I found myself in one of those frustrating exchanges you land up having with a complete stranger on FB. This guy, let's call him Eduardo Monteagudo, responds to a picture containing some paintings I happen to like, and he doesn't. And let's just say we disagree. Who is this guy anyway? I wonder. I mean, he's got some pretty strong opinions. I'd like to see what he does for a living. Hah! And so I click on his name, and suddenly find myself on the page of an artist, and a good one at that. So I put aside my righteous indignation because now I'm interested. I like it when talented, intelligent people disagree with me and challenge me because I want to learn, and I think we all need to be pushed out of our comfort zones from time to time if we are going to grow and develop, especially with art. So I send him a FB request, and we start messaging, and pretty soon I discover that he's not only really talented, refreshingly experimental and prolific, but also an incredibly nice and articulate guy. And the way he talks. Wow. In our exchanges he manages to conjure poetry and imagery with his words. He sees the world in colour.

We start talking about art, and I told him I was struggling with a particular background (the painting of my daughter) and asked him if he had any advice on the matter. He replied "A painting needs a heart and it has to be placed at an strategic location, that heart will contain the energy that will make everything else vibrate accordingly. So it is the orchestrator, the spirit of the piece. There you need to pack the most punch and then compose the rest in tone with it."

And there was more, some of which I didn't understand because I come from a very different place. He communicates much the same way an abstract painter does, and that is something I don't dare go near. Abstraction that is. I genuinely believe that good abstraction (like Eduardo's) is far more difficult to pull off than even portraiture. Also, up until this point so much of my training has been about technique and the form, and capturing a likeness - all of which requires a great deal of detail oriented work. There's not been a whole lot of room for feelings or even imagination. To which Eduardo responded: "Pursuing perfection is not the way to go, it's like wanting to hug the moon."

It's hard not to like someone who speaks like this.

Eduardo is a professional artist based in Northern Spain. He had a unique and fortuitous start to his artistic life by being born to parents who were both respected artists in their own right. He attended the Facultad de Bellas Artes de Cuenca, in Spain only to find that this standard academic education was bringing more confusion than clarity to what he intended to do, so he chose to make and follow his own path. He has lived and worked in Paris, where he worked alongside artists in diverse disciplines and earned the support of the City of Paris for several projects. He was also awarded recognition on his innovating use of traditional techniques in oil and watercolour painting. His work exists in private collections and has been featured in art galleries in Toronto, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, London and Munich. He has permanent representation in Canada and in the USA at the Miller Gallery. And although he doesn't mention it to me, I discover he's got quite a nice collection of awards under his belt too.

In his artist biography he writes: “What motivates my work as a painter consists much more in questioning reality as we experience it than in venturing its interpretation. I consider painting an essential way to attenuate the human anxiety to assimilate into his reality and environment, to transform the perpetual fight of man against its nature into a state of deep understanding and empathy shedding light onto the enigmatic and exceptional nature of his conscience.”

The small gallery featured above contains just some of his many many works. The ever growing body of which ranges from portraiture to landscapes, figurative work and abstraction. I really admire his willingness to experiment and how he communicates through his work. Our correspondence in the last two months has had a marked effect on how I approach my art now - an important and essentially liberating one in helping me move beyond technique towards hopefully finding my voice as an artist in my work.

You can view more of his work and contact him on his website at

Here are Eduardo's answers to (what I like to think of as) my equivalent of Vanity Fair's famous Proust Questionnaire, so here goes:

Q: How do you work creatively on days when you lack inspiration? You know you get up, you don't feel like doing anything - but you owe someone work or there's a show to get together. I'm interested in how you get yourself going, how you work through blocks.

I know perfectly well what you are talking about as that amounts to almost the entire time an artist is at work. I do not believe in inspiration or, if you want, I have a different name for it (I love to challenge what’s the meaning behind tags like this one). I believe it would be better to call it motivation or more mysteriously, “magic”.

This whole matter has to do with the reasons that lead an artist to put his efforts towards the accomplishment of a work of art. I like to picture it with an image, the artist creates a forest (or maze)to get lost into and then find his way out. It is a way to challenge oneself, raise your own bar, could you do it? There is only one way to find out, try to do it.

So, in my opinion, what we do rather than works of art they are attempts of works of art, “studies” like Francis Bacon used to call his works. So how do you do it? I think that human beings produce a particularly strong response to challenges and that is one reason of our prevailing position in nature. Sometimes, when experiencing a block or standstill, the best way out is through pushing further into the maze, get lost a little more to where is darker and you could appreciate the light that you were looking for a little better. Or, else, reach a level of frustration and despair that would force you to break loose from all prudence and security, do things you would not do usually do (they call it “get out of your comfort zone” nowadays), be something else, project yourself and bring out “THE MAGIC”.

Q: How do you know when a piece is finished? At what point do you stand back, put down the brush, and say: OK this is it. (Related to this - the risk of overworking something)

My conception of art is not linear or deterministic, and I do not usually have a plan in mind when I paint. Therefore, when I work on my painting, “A” doesn’t always lead to “B” and the shortest distance between two stages of my work is never a straight line. Although I do start, I do not intend to “finish” a painting in the sense of completing it. I am not as interested in the object it is than the effect that it has on me (and then others). So, the moment I sense a strong response to what I have done on the canvas, for me the painting is done.

Q: How do you start a piece? What is the first thing you do? I appreciate this may vary from subject to subject.

It is something instinctual, I try to ponder the space within the canvas. I know that I have to make a distribution of elements (you may call them actions) each one of them has a degree of importance (or you may call it “weight”). I try to establish a vague sense of balance in my mind, like a structure of that space where those weights will be distributed. But that distribution can’t be arbitrary or symmetrical, it must be in asymmetrical equilibrium. Once this structure is decided, I place actions that may vary from laying down colour planes or brushstrokes to positioning certain sketches that would set up that structure. I use a diversity of techniques and search to stimulate myself as I work. My ultimate intention is to infuse certain poetry into that structure.

Q: Has there ever been a piece/s that you completed and then it felt difficult for you to sell, and why

Yes, quite often. I figure that I don’t always paint to sell, so that makes sense.

Q: Do you ever struggle with the dichotomy between being commercially successful and your personal aesthetic as an artist?

Yes I do and it is quite unpleasant. I don’t think you could ever bring about anything new if you don’t try anything new. Being commercially successful has nothing to do with being an artist, although it happens sometimes. Art is not about producing merchandise or items to be sold, but rather to question those same items (aesthetically) and that same “trading” behaviour (ethically). That is why art is not commonly considered a profitable professional career.

You have to take a stance about this, and in my experience I have noticed that it is only those artists daring to question their own work and moving forward leaving behind what reported them a certain commercial success are the ones acquiring greater respect and attention from the public. The paradox!

On the other hand, some art collectors appreciate recognising your work from the rest, to see that you are locked into a certain style identified as your own, a way of doing things they can differentiate. Consistency in your work makes it easier to appraise.

Having a consistent production (both in terms of style and number of pieces) is a good way leading towards commercial success, but then after a while you won’t be able to surprise anybody anymore, and you’ll be producing the same old items for a market with an appetite for new proposals. And the market will have no problem leaving you behind.

So the best thing to do, I believe, is to work until you are very good at something and immediately question it, take it to the limit, change the point of view on it, challenge it. And care less about the market; it will follow you if you keep a strong stance.

Q: What makes you want to paint/create? What drives you?

I am not sure. But an artist has a sense of transformation of the world, or rather, the perception of the world; he’s able to create and present a different or new reality based on the reality we commonly experience.

I often think of the cavemen that decorated the walls and ceilings of their dwellings. They profited from the shadows casted by their fire and torches on the shapes of the rock around them. And what they painted was what they desired the most, the food they long for, the animals they dreamt of capturing. They projected their wishes into the walls, those dancing shadows turned into nothing else but what they were starving for. Then, others saw those animals and felt almost like their wishes were granted, and it felt good, like a magical meal where you don’t eat but feel replenished. So they proclaimed those artists as rulers of their pack, the ones with a vision that could lead them to what they needed and those decorated caves turned into holy sites. That is the power there is in Art, then and now.

So, may be, I project into my canvases my most intimate wishes or obsessions. But I can’t say I do this consciously. I act free and unbound when I paint, and I can bring that to others longing to be and act free and unbound.

Q: Do you listen to music when you paint? And if yes, what's on your current playlist?

I do listen to music when I work and tend to prefer music that stimulates me, my imagination. Also, I believe I have a tendency towards melancholy in my choices. But I have pretty good musical appetite and also enjoy trying new things. I listen to anything and everything from Bizet operas or Haendel concerti grossi, through Phillip Glass and Kronos Quartet to Antony Hegarty, Stromae, Alt J, The Strokes. I always come back to Bob Dylan and when I do it is like a new revelation, when I was younger I became obsessed with understanding his poems and lyrics. I love Frank Zappa’s unbound creativity and am very proud of the complete discography I keep of him. And then the Jazz, and particularly Bossa Nova. It seems that music has the power of stretching time, it makes you go on and on at what you are doing. My father is an artist too, and he’s always listened to jazz when he painted. Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Sinatra and Big Band jazz were always blaring in his studio to the point that it was impossible to talk to him unless you’d scream right into his ear. At first I didn’t care much for it, but now I remember those days driving back home from a day painting outdoors listening to Armstrong and Ella sang Porgy and Bess, or to Sinatra with his “very good year” or “Summer wind” while crossing the Spanish countryside on a summer evening. Those times left a very deep impression on me that is an important part of my forging as an artist, certainly.

Q: Which artists, living and deceased do you most admire and why?

I really don’t like choosing a few names and leaving others unmentioned.

I am very fond of the Abstract Expressionism movement that started in the United States in the 40´s. To me it summed up some of the purest attitudes concerning art. Those artists at that time were ideologically and aesthetically in no man’s land, like a deserted island and set off to make their own art universe with amazing results. Certainly Pollock, de Kooning, Franz Kline, Jasper Johns, Rothko are an influence, whether I paint objective or non-objective their sense of space and action within the canvas stays in my mind.

I feel very connected to some of the Spanish abstract expressionist too, particularly Antonio Saura and Manolo Millares.

Very appreciative of some more “objective” artist like those from the bay area school, in San Francisco, Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bishoff and John Wonner. I feel deeply moved and take notion particularly concerning colors from the fauvism movement: primarily Matisse of course, but also Derain, Camoin, Gaugin, and Kees van Dongen. I also must mention Goya, Velázquez and Greco as beacons over all the previously mention.

I can’t say that I see much contemporary painting that moves me.

Q: At the end of the day, when you put your brush down, what is your favourite way to relax?

Take a walk, and try to bring myself to the moment I am at, should I call that “meditate”? I usually enjoy very much the feeling of accomplishment that ensues a few hours of painting. Sometimes it is quite the contrary, and I feel frustrated. Those difficult times because it becomes very hard for me to detach from the work, I feel like my mind keeps coming back to it and doesn’t let me rest, relax or get sleep.

Also I like sports. Being a dad now, I usually take my kids to the pool and we swim together. Sometimes we go out hiking or biking. I am an avid chess player and play every day.

Q: Do you have any other talents hobbies that might surprise people? An instrument, a sport etc?

I consider myself a decent chess player. I speak fluent French and English (Spanish is my mother tongue) and freelance as interpreter and translator. Also I practiced mountaineering and paraglide flying for many years, I even competed for some time at it, although not anymore. I like building things and I am in the perpetual project of building most of our own house. So I have some carpentering and construction skills.

My family and I try to leave a light footprint on our environment so we make efforts towards self-sufficiency. We work our garden and grow some of our own food, tend to some farm animals (we have a few sheep and chickens), chop our own firewood for our super-efficient fire stove that provides central heating to our house, etc.

Q: What book is on your bedside table right now?

William de Kooning’s catalog to his 1968 exhibition at the MOMA. William Blake’s anthology of poems. Stendhal’s “Le Rouge et le Noir” (in French)

Q: What's the strangest question/request/commission you have ever been asked?

I don’t get commissions very often. Once, I was asked to produce a piece to cover a huge elevator shaft in the middle of the hall of a five star hotel. They wanted it to be a trompe l’oeil.

Q: What are your thoughts in terms of price tags and how your art and indeed art per se is valued?

The value of a piece of art is not related to its price. The price tag is rather arbitrary and open to speculation. The price tag of a painting is the highest price somebody is willing to pay for it.

Q: If (money permitting) you could buy any piece of art, what would it be?

Matisse’s “Goldfish bowl”, de Kooning “Excavation” or pretty much any from F. Kline.

Q: What have you learnt about yourself through painting?

I can do it in spite of my uncertainties, turning them into my strengths.

Q: How do you manage people's expectations with commissions?

As I said before, I don’t usually work on commissions. When I do I expect to be let free to propose or work, ideally.

Q: Do you have any superstitions / magical thinking regarding your work or how you work?

Not really.

Q: If you weren't working as an artist you would ...?

I work “as an artist” but I feel that Art is not just something you work, but rather something you are, in the full sense, something that only happens when you do it. After you are done, what remains is an object, a trace or a marking of the passing of some actions over matter.

If I wasn’t working as an artist, I would still be an artist at something else, may be at engineering, maybe at gardening or farming. How could I know?

I believe Art can’t have a static definition; actually you can’t “define” Art in the sense of giving it a boundary, a limit or end ( “definition” comes from Latin “-finis”, end, limit).

Art is something that is not there, it is only happening when you do it, when you make it and it can have as many faces as people giving it a try. It can’t be harnessed.

With thanks to Euduardo

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