Erasmus Subversion

by Tuli Márquez
The artist Francesc Ruiz Abad was looking for an opportunity to further develop his artistic practice in Leipzig, a half-abandoned city in East Germany. He decided to extend his Erasmus studies for another semester because of the city’s extraordinary professors and university community.
23 years old with a renewed spirit, Francesc Ruiz Abad returned to Barcelona with an idea: an exhibition that was at once an installation, happening and an experience. A concept as old as it is contemporary, “Elefants, sabates i paper” exists in both Heliogabal on Ramón i Cajal street and the gallery L’Indiscret on Milà i Fontanals in the neighborhood of Gràcia, Barcelona.
His mission for the exhibition was influenced by his time in Leipzig, with a deep interest in self-organization and collective effort (like his friend and contributor, the musician Jordi Erra). The show is ephemeral, lasting only one week. Francesc expects to leave Barcelona again in March, this time with a Guasch Coranty grant in one hand and a new idea in the other. He doesn't really know where he'll go, but he wants to hitchhike: east, west, wherever destiny takes him, to create a new experience.
“It is what gives birth to a painting,” says Francesc when he describes his show “Elefants, sabates i paper.” The process guides the work. He explains that the oil paintings, notebooks and photos that hang on the walls and from the ceiling of l'Indiscret, exist because he chose a canvas, chose paint colors, mixed the colors, went through the mental and physical work of painting along with the doubts and frustrations. Francesc Ruiz wanted to expose his method, like the skeleton of his thought process, from the initial ideas to the finished product. “When you are painting, a lot of things happen. But everything always gets trapped in the image. When you look at this painting, you will not think about when I went to buy the brushes, but these actions are inside the artwork,” he says while he's pointing at a green doodle in one of his paintings, like the origin of a fertile and wild creativity.

When discussing his influences and origins, Francesc mixes with total freedom Son Goku, a popular cartoonist in Catalonia, with video games and the legendary subversion from the “Junge Wilde” movement in the ‘70s, which included artists like the provocative Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997) and the irreverent Sigmar Polke (1941-2010). “My mom said that it was the only way I would be quiet. When she gave me drawing supplies, I sat and was silent. It came from that, I guess,” the artist says.
He began his artistic studies in Girona, then to his Bachelors of Fine Arts in Barcelona, until it felt too small for him. “A teacher told me that if I wanted to paint, I should go to Germany,” he remarks. This is how he arrived at the prestigious Hochschule für Grafik and Buchkunst. “After the wall fell, Leipzig was a desolate, vast, empty space,” he says. One year of living in Leipzig immersed him in art; he participated as a viewer and also a creator of installations like the one he set up here in Gracia. “It's really common there,” he says with deception which causes poor reception initiative.
Francesc opted to stay in Leipzig for an extra semester to paint, sculpt and take photos. Perhaps he was developing or finding himself, or maybe it was because he was surrounded by the art that inspired him. It was clear to him that he didn't want to come back to Barcelona. Not just yet. The idea for his current show was incubating in his daily life: talking with artists, seeing shows, visiting friends and living life. “Elefants, sabates i paper” displays the creative process, walking and doing what created the work. The author, like part of the work, only thinks about the necessity to keep creating. He arrived in Barcelona, hung his work, packed his stuff, and will leave towards wherever chance and his legs want to take him.

“The main idea is to travel without a destination for six months. I'll produce analog archives that I'll mail home in boxes each week. The work will be complete once I return home after a half-year to find lots of boxes full of my traveling experiences,” says Francesc when he describes his upcoming hitchhiking trip. And then? A new show, a new project gives birth to another one, making the wheel keep turning. “I’ve been thinking of going to USA to be with my love. Maybe South America or go back to Germany. I think life is about meeting people,” he says. For the moment, he wants to abandon control, experiment, accumulate, and most importantly, not stop.
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.