It was quite late, and I’d already had three or four beers when I entered the second floor of the art space Theatre Impermanent in the building Demmeringstrasse 74. Downstairs, dance music was blaring and cheap beer was for sale. The building was decrepit from never being renovated, Gründerzeit style, like the thousands you can find in Leipzig where artists and curators quickly set up shop. Ignoring the TV on the stairs (one could see a film that explained in a few words what the piece was about: “This is a pencil, you hold it like this…”) and an installation with a projector in the first room, I went into a room where a massive piece of paper – A1, or maybe A0- hung on the wall, completely covered in black-silver graphite pigment. My first association was a black hole, and while I sat with my unfriendly attitude concerning postmodern discourses, I overheard an ironic comment. I wanted to talk with any of my mates (Viktor, Lix or Maik), but because they were deep in conversation with someone else, my voice found its way to the ears of an intriguing stranger. Speaking to me in English, he was curious to know everything I was thinking about the show. And I didn't censor myself:
“I think it’s a black hole and the viewer is meant to project his own thoughts onto it. But wait- there’s still a notion of texture. Yes, I guess it’s the most anyone could possibly exhaust a pencil.”
And, weirdly, in that moment, I started enjoying the artwork: there was thought behind the drawing; it wasn't a completely empty space with the aim of being defined, it wasn’t only limited to evoking sublime sensations from the spectator. That young man who I was explaining everything to was named Fran, and he followed me throughout the entire show. While I was drinking a beer, I continued to speak candidly about the artworks while he listened with amusement.
After the piece number 3 (titled How Long Does it Usually Take You to Finish a Serious Drawing/Painting?) we arrived at number 4 (titled Index, Pointer, Finger, Thumb) and 5 (titled How to Use a Sketchbook to Boost Creativity).
Work number 5 consisted of busted sketchbooks, radically drawn on, with an oval hole piercing through all the pages. The projection piece, number 2, which I initially ignored (titled Let’s Draw: Sketchbook), showed how those objects were made. Using the pencil with wild ferociousness, the artist repeated bold marks until he created a hole in the book. While he was doing it, he had difficulties maintaining the original oval shape; each layer drawn on the paper was replaced by the next mark made. Madly frustrated, with a violent gesture, he finally destroyed it. My first association was again a black hole, but after seeing the sketchbooks hanging next to each other on the walls, I saw the artist's psychological projection: using the pencil as a phallic symbol, the papers were opened bi-dimensionally, taking shape of a vagina and creating some type of deep space. This interpretation negates my previous thoughts about the massive drawing: There the pencil got exhausted, but then the sketchbook also got it.
Fran was often smiling at me, and sometimes commented on my remarks with calm and careful attention. I thought he was up for cracking jokes as much as I was. But the more we got into the theory of Postmodern art and culture, the more I realized how this position vanished when I was dealing with actual works. When someone asked for my opinion, I had to get brave or, rather, my relationship with the exhibition improved. We continued to the next space.
Number 6: Creating a Style of Your Own; Why It’s So Hard (And Easy). The wall was packed to capacity with about one hundred of variations of the same drawing. A man with a swan, a man who employs the swan to cover his genitals, a man who has a relationship with a swan? Not really. A man with a swan and, obviously this man is a clear reference to an art piece, even though I cannot remember which one. Hanging, in a calendar or postcard size, between all those men with swans was an image of a man in movement, without a doubt the painting of an old master.
I look at it twice before understanding that this was all based on an attack. Most certainly: There weren’t many ‘good’ drawings on this wall, but it was clear that this piece wasn’t about illustration. It displayed a series of attempts, and I couldn't stop laughing as I discovered details and different positions in the naive portraits of the man and swan .
Turning 180 degrees, I moved through an open door. Fran and I entered the next piece: a combination of video and installation. There were two friends that I came to the show with and I hadn’t seen for a long time, old graffiti artists, that were participating in the DIY installation. My first comment was:
“Ah! It’s about the interactive performance that the spectators make with the work!”
Once more, Fran smiled at me. He didn’t understand me, so I tried to formulate it in English, but with the translation it lost all intention:
“This is about performance, isn’t it?”
He shrugged and pointed at the TV where it was explained, again with dry comments, How to Draw a Face (num. 7): How to Draw a Face in Proportions. On the screen was drawn face of the most basic level; it reminded me of my first attempts at portraits in primary school. I said to Fran:
“Before someone teaches how to draw in proportions, he should learn to draw in proportions himself.”
He ignored the comment and steered my attention to the installation. A big wooden stick, attached to the ceiling with a rope, was freely hanging in the room. At the end was a piece of charcoal with which the spectators could draw directly on the wall adjacent to the TV instructions, a task only partially successful. The disproportionate pencil handle was almost impossible; it was incredibly complicated to draw a a simple line with the stick. But I found it to be really fun: On one side it showed the difficulty of drawing, and at the same time the wall became a permanent documentation, a visitor’s book, and work that was constantly developing.
“Great idea... so everyone can... you know, do whatever they want…”
Num. 8: 97 Self Portraits From People I Don’t Know. In this moment, my mind lit up like a light bulb. This book is totally awesome and a great conclusion to the whole show. The artist, for what it seems, gave paper and pencil to a lot of people and asked them to draw their own self portrait. Or maybe he taught a drawing course, or maybe he stole portraits from the outside, but it doesn’t really matter. The fact is that the exhibition cycle closes at this point. Here I saw people drawn in all the styles: sketchy, copied from photos, doodles from fantasy, both good and bad, and all had the same right to be published in a book (yes, again in a postmodern way). I quickly flipped through the book and Fran stopped me at one drawing that he especially liked. While I was judging the portraits and arguing with him why I liked them or not, and Fran asked me if I draw. He said that down in the bathroom there was a book where anyone can freely draw as a last contribution to the show.
We went out to the hallway, and someone stopped Fran to ask him a question. He pulled out a yellow photocopy from his pocket. It was an exhibition map with numbers and titles (the one I used to structure this review). H eturned and said to me:
“I completely forgot I had this! I think this is a map.”
He told me that he had fun guiding me through the show, and I could only agree with him. We laughed so much and talked about everything: everything happened in a really spontaneous and intuitive way. It was then that I also saw for the first time the title of the show: Everyone Can Draw.
I went to the bathroom, where I had some time to draw in the book a fat naked woman with a big pencil, and the lack of pressure made my brain able to work again. It activated my association capacity. I caught a glance of the artist’s name on the book. Francesco or something like that…
“You are the artist!” I exclaimed to Fran.
“Yes, I am.”
“Oh, man! Hope I didn’t offend you too much.”
“Oh no! It was interesting to hear a true opinion. It’s hard to get a truthful opinion when you tell people you are the artist.”
The show Jeder Kann Zeichnen (Everyone Can Draw) by Francesc Ruiz Abad isn’t an exhibition of individual artworks, is a complete artwork in itself, where, naturally, there are parts more interesting than others. Like in a painting where there are parts you especially like. Ruiz Abad didn’t defend a typical approach to fine arts, but rather presented a pedagogical approach. Certainly, everyone can draw (and everyone can be an artist), but what you need is to do it, take a pencil, look at what effect it causes on paper, what can be created or destroyed, and what variations arise. With much humor and self irony, Ruiz Abad shows that in the artistic practice, experience is irreplaceable and skills and knowledge shouldn't impede what leads to an artwork.
Mixing naïve drawing, pedagogical explanations, interaction with materials and activation the viewer’s initiative, Ruiz Abad creates a tension where the spectator is forced to question each piece.
Without answering the questions, the relaxed mood of the artist and his work creates an unique experience where one gets irritated, entertained, stimulated and definitely has a desire to draw again.
An afternoon in Demmeringstrasse 74
An Exhibition Review by Peter Wagner.
Published in Eigen Art Magazine #85 Berlin
Francesc Ruiz Abad, ganador del premio Artes Visuales Arranz-Bravo 2015, es uno de los mejores exponentes de la pintura catalana emergente. En efecto, la pintura está volviendo a recuperar centralidad dentro de la exigente –y tan a menudo iconoclasta– escena artística contemporánea; y en gran parte esta realidad ha sido posible gracias a la renovación al mismo tiempo fresca, contundente y propositiva, con la que encaran este género una nueva generación de pintores, nacidos durante la década de los años noventa, los cuales, como Francesc Ruiz, apuestan por una pintura sin complejos ni prejuicios, abierta a la acción, a la transversalidad, al viaje, a la empatía social, vital y comunitaria, y al optimismo propositivo.
Los referentes de Francesc Ruiz son comunes a la nueva generación de pintores: Peter Doig, Alex Katz, David Hockney o la pintura alemana, principalmente de la escuela de Leipzig, ciudad en la que Francesc Ruiz residió. Neo Rauch, Jonathan Meese y otros reniegan de los referentes pictóricos de la generación anterior, muy arraigados en el existencialismo introspectivo y neoexpresionista de Kieffer, Baselitz, Barceló o Plensa, y prefieren reflejarse en la obra más irónica, psicodélica y vital de pintores resistentes de nuestro propio contexto, como Pere Llobera o Rasmus Nilausen.
La pintura alemana e inglesa de los noventa sobrevivió a la intensa ola neoconceptualista europea a través de una pintura que sabe conciliar conceptos antiéticos combatidos por la posmodernidad: ironía y sinceridad, relativismo y verdad, optimismo y duda, ingenuidad y rigor pictórico. Es el espíritu propio de lo que los teóricos Vermeulen y Van der Akker llaman la metamodernidad: un ánimo común a muchos movimientos culturales que en esta segunda década de siglo están surgiendo en todo el mundo proponiendo un nuevo estado de espíritu que supere el relativismo y escepticismo vaporoso propio de la posmodernidad, y que propició la casi invisibilidad de la pintura.
Francesc Ruiz no tiene prejuicios a la hora de encarar la pintura y su tradición, como tampoco los tiene para ligarla a estrategias propias de los movimientos conceptuales vigentes desde los años setenta: el viaje, el arte procesual, la documentación, el espíritu transitivo de colaboración... Su obra sabe encontrar el equilibrio de la frescura propia del alma nómada y viajera del artista -siempre en desplazamiento: de Calonge al mundo-, con la sabiduría pictórica de la pintura contemporánea. En efecto, como nos comenta Anna Dot en su excelente ensayo que acompaña el catálogo, la pintura del Francesc anhela captar el misterio y lo extraño de las cosas del mundo, en una actitud que se corresponde con la mirada artística que ha construido gran parte de la pintura moderna occidental (del dadaísmo al surrealismo, del Nouveau Réalisme al neoexpresionismo alemán).
Y al mismo tiempo la de Francesc Ruiz es una pintura afirmativa, optimista, irónica, pero también irreverente e incluso iconoclasta en algunos casos. Tiene una base infantil y naif, pero su mirada inocente no es escéptica: tiene voluntad constructiva y de conocimiento. Es una pintura liberada, concebida en la libertad de la itinerancia, pero al mismo tiempo sólida, porque se levanta de una manera natural sobre una tradición que conoce y reivindica. Una pintura, en definitiva, en tránsito y en transición, capaz de sacudir conciencias, de nuevo, en el corazón de la pintura contemporánea occidental.