The artist Mercedes Carbonell tends to write notes about her work; it is something that pleases and helps her to know herself better. There are certain texts written at different times and that I will be inserting to avoid falling into reexplanations that can deform its purity. Note that the artist loses her inhibitions quite easily. “There is an internal feature in my way of working, which it stands as a main feature. It is the personal adaptation to circumstances that are related to my life at this point. Making memory, I can select examples of this attitude, although I was not aware of that sense of spiritual survival. I was nineteen years old and I lived in a room in London where you just had to remove the foot of the bed to open the fridge. Both the lack of space and the fact that my transport back home only allows me to carry not more than 20 kg luggage, were triggered factors that reduced my work to austere measures, and for two years I was painting on slides with colour markers, scratching the surface with a pin and burning them with a cigarette lighter when I was interested in opening the lines which I had previously scratched. The workplace could be anywhere there is enough powerful light to view them against. The endless moments on the underground from the restaurant where I worked to “home” were very intense. On the underground, all the lighting was based on light boxes. When I returned to Spain, Barcelona more specifically, the first thing I did was that, not all, just the selection of the best, get lost from someone called Guillemot, who organized exhibitions and such... It was then when I saw the dark sides of this method... they were so easy to get lost! Since then I haven't worked more in slides. Probably is the best for my eyesight. Another example was that the practicality of my work is in a series of pictures in which I led to the limit the pictorial space as a practical object and use. They were pictures where I transcended to the canvas the world of table games, commonly represented in ink and cardboard. Of them, I would like to highlight a puzzle whose pieces were laminated and they covered an area of one meter by one ninety or so. It fascinated me to carry a piece of such dimensions in a bag. I remember with affection the day I realized that I was carrying in a bag of luggage everything needed for eternity. Snails have always enchanted me. The snail is my favourite animal, and also the turtle, but less. My grandmother was Belgian and she loved the escargots. One day I was sitting opposite a pool with my cousin turtles and, believing that they were food, she began to lick one, who died a week after. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s”. Her grandmother died a few years ago. The fact of moving to her Studio to live in full pictorial stage, with a son born in London three years earlier, force her to consider changing her working method: in the studio they cannot sleep with the toxicity of the painting oil. This, far from being an obstacle to her career, leds her to discover that the adaptation to the circumstances of life is a form of art. Thus, she decided to paint using a writing machine. As a result of an individual exhibition at the Mar Estrada Gallery in Madrid, she writes the following: “In these pictures my working method is based on hard work. There is no statement or 2
clear meaning; nothing to decode or encode. They are all the same because it was very simple when distributing the hours of dedication. It is about making a personal contribution into a space that I understand it has been forgotten by the generation of technical reproduction methods, as well as an attempt to relate different ways of making the secretary and the artist woman. The idea of painting them with a writing machine came in the simplest way. My previous works consisted of changing the pictorial space into a playing field, taking to limit the practicality of the work. One of these games was a typewriter made of plasticized canvas and where you could write all what you want. It was this work that makes me to sit behind a writing machine of sixty centimetres, to introduce the canvas in it and to paint tapes, which are normally made of ink, with oil, being a slow styling product. They are pictures in which you can time perfectly the hours spent on them; this is the reason why they have a different price despite being all the same. It would be very funny if artist are paid by the hours.
When I started painting with the machine, the studio that I share with my four-year-old son took the appearance of an office. At the beginning everything were problems, I took so much time and I was desperate, but after some time I realized that I could spend more hours behind the machine that the trestle, which felt down every time my son threw an arrow or a missile; no staining just when colours got dry; I could speak alone, on the phone, watching TV, telling off Pablito, eat, and if I smoked, smoke; anything but not sleep and knit. I also never mind my state of mind, or if it was 3
sunny or not. I could do the work with interruptions and let lapses of time pass without transcending it to the canvas. I also had the relief of knowing that if the thing was going wrong, I could always work as an administrative, thanks to the acquired practice. One day, I woke up and I knew that for some time my only way of painting was through a machine. I like to think that it is possible to engage yourself with an artistic activity in any situation of life, without breaking the daily habits”. The artist is exultant; she believes to have found the magic formula. But this magic formula lacks of lightness. The writing machine weighs a lot and she can’t take it everywhere. Now is when she speaks about the waiting moments: One of the situations of the contemporary life is the “waiting” situation. I started to count the seconds, the minutes the quarters and the half hours that I was in that situation. There had to be something I could do in those moments and give output to my creative capacity. A friend tells her that he has seen a embroider’s pencil in the TV-shop of Antena 3. The artist runs through El Corte Ingles to find it. From that time we collect the following paragraphs: It was the same as typing but with the possibility to take it anywhere more easily: the school bus stop, waiting room of the dentist, the psychiatrist and the gynaecologist, going to the bank, a visit to a sick friend... I started considered the sewing as a great art and provide it with connotations similar to painting, through the realization of previous sketches. In a similar way as “draw and colour”, I figured that if you remove the thread from the embroidered fabric, it is left a drawing based on holes. So I started drawing with the embroidery tool without putting thread, and the work was forming based on holes in white paper. This type of work made me to think how economically was to draw with holes; there could be nothing cheapest! Having fun with the idea, I decided to exploit it a little more. What happens to the excess paper that is folded behind the surface on which you work? I placed the finished work on black paper and with a very fine grit I began to scratch on that excess paper allowing the dust to deposit through the holes onto the black paper, which made a negative image. To fix this I used adhesive spray. During this happy period the artist does not stop writing. It seems she is justifying herself all the time. The insecurity makes her write all her interior world in her diaries. This is useful for her. The artist is pleased. ... and the lack of time and power of concentration are factors that make me choose automatic methods of work, in which abstraction is achieved based on press again the same key. It is the activity of the preparation that really interests me. Both the work 4
based on writing with machine printing on canvas and the nudes drew with the thread machine, respond to the desire to develop myself artistically despite not having the right conditions of space and time. At the same time, the work makes me to qualify myself professionally in very different tasks such as typing or sewing. Everything is translated into the practical world; even when I am cleaning the dust I do drawings with the finger before moving the cloth, and if one looks good, I photograph it. However, in later texts we start to find disappointment, the artist is criticizing herself... ... Sometimes I think it is conformism because I never have the feeling of risk, and it is not pleasant. The work has a beautician finished that contravenes the interior of her soul. The minimal skeleton that reaches the viewer is “gladly fictitious”... Therefore, she asked for a Banesto scholarship in 1992. I select the text of the memory for the request; we can see her state of anxiety: I need to lose weight accumulated over many hours of typing or embroidering. I therefore want to create a work that unites painting and gymnastics. The first of this series consists of spreading half a kilometre of fabric on a flat surface and skipping over it with a rope full of paint. Rest and when the paint is dry, repeat the operation. But this work is no different in none of the above. The artist begins to worry about her role. In the following paragraph, some considerations on Duchamp worry her: I am very interested about the concern that Baruchello asked Duchamp on how to spend the free time. The artist used it to try his schemes to break the Bank of Monte Carlo. I really like to know the relationship between the daily life of the artists and their works. It's like having an idea “A” in the head that works in the outside world “A”. When the idea “B” appears, it tries to make his own space, but in the absence of the conditions for a world “B” this space is not possible... At the age of 29 years, the artist stops paintingand works to suit her time and her circumstances. She understands that, although it has triumphed personally, there are a number of things that have escaped from her. The 100% exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Seville, in which she will participate along with other female artists, marks the end of a path where the question of a feminine mode of creativity stops worrying her. I personally witnessed how she invented a joke: “when a man wants to devote himself to art, he begins to wonder: what is art?” So blah, blah, blah... and I can be an artist? So pssh, pssh, blah, blah, blah... On the other hand, a woman wonders the same: what is art? Can a woman be artist? And finally, I can be artist? And they are no longer just two questions but three." 5
The artist falls into a deep depression. A deep Depression which she analyses at the following selection of texts in which she comes to the conclusion that her work of three years has been merely therapeutic. I was a little tired of conditioning so exhaustively my life to art; it came a time when I felt that I was not leaving space to the surprise factor, I couldn’t relax; I found the magic formula to do the time elastic! And, due to the stress that this meant, it became absolutely necessary to forget the “lessons learned”. On the other hand, I realized that i had been two years doing the same thing, yes, developing myself as an artist and as a mother, but doing the same... It was unfair that my life influences so much in my art and my art doesn’t influence to improve my life. The conditions of the outside world “A”, had not changed anything, I was still renting the same study with my son, living in a tent, no washing machine, no sink and washing us in the swimming pool. The strategies to reconcile both my identity of woman and the artist were valid but gruelling. Perhaps she has overcome the “childhood trauma”, of having known the history of the art without talking about artists. Writing these lines I ask myself if the work I've done don’t have therapeutic connotations, since each artist may experience a tension between transmitted traditions and his own interiority, that tension is more like an absolute division in a woman artist.
A text on the biography of the Swiss artist Ben Vautier seems to open her eyes: Then, in the Gallery of Juana there was a very complete catalogue that I read. However, after two or three days I noticed that there was a part of his life which I remembered more than anything and that made me to think so much and hurt me to include in his biography. It was the fact that at the age of 40 years his wife had to work as a secretary to give money to the artist. I imagined then my son with 15 years collecting glasses at the bar of his godfather to help me. That night I decided to give a twist to my work of painter.
The artist remembers that in a past she was good at painting and that artists who handled the portrait with ease had no serious economic problems. She remembers how she entertained one time his friends with cartoons. She decides to do oil portraits. She selects a fine arts student who paints portraits and offers her free studies in exchange that she teaches her. Her name is Azucena and we find an image of her in this memory. Months pass, Carla de Orleans
day by day, Sun to Sun, working by the love that emanates from her and, however, she doesn’t transcend to the canvas. Suddenly, one day, painting the husband of his cousin, Ismael, she realizes that she already has it: “Ismael is you, the father of my second nieces!” – She screams.
She starts to inform her friends that she has a profession called “portrait painter” and she begins to have orders, which she carried out with enthusiasm. Something about her personality - she needs more love and affection that the rest of the world – makes that in the Studio of the artist appear self-portraits, in which she doesn’t know very well what she is doing or why.
Artist doubting to stay or to go out.
Self-portraits in which she is asking that you look at her, that you appreciate her. Her deep loneliness and a crisis of affection will make her to get up one morning to go to a screen printing Studio and order 200 t-shirts, 100 lighters and 1,000 7
stickers like this.
And starts the campaign “I love Mercedes Carbonell”.
Roberto Cabot, an artist that she appreciates so much, wrote her a beautiful letter to be published in the catalogue of the “Undefined territories” exhibition. “I don't see another way to start these lines but I will with “Dear Mercedes”.” So, dear Mercedes: Your visit to Colonia a few months ago was a demonstration of your art. We are still invaded by the stickers declaring our “lof” to Mercedes Carbonell and the people who have met you don’t forget you. I remember your still lifes made with typewriter and the embroideries I saw at Mar Estrada some years ago, both series showed dedication and affection, an attitude among 8
the nineteenth-century Lady and the modern single mother. Now the stickers and the portraits. Stickers asking to love you; self-portraits “before and after” that teach us how you have improved and how beautiful you are. There is also the self-portrait in front of the mirror in which you control with concerned air whether you are “lovable” or if you can retouch something. In the portraits, all your models look at you with sympathy and complicity. I can imagine you in your house surrounded by sympathetic looks. I think that the artists make art to catch attention, that people love them or hate them, what continues to be a form of privileged emotional relationship. With you there is a fusion between the art and the artist, who reveals the relationship between art and identity, art and affection, that does not become sentimental thanks to sincerity. It is difficult to be honest without falling into naivety, as optimism without becoming silly. North Europeans face the impossibility of sincerity or optimism and they opt for cynicism. The Spaniards have the “disappointment”. If love is to be one with the other, be in the world and with others, that is, to me, what you are looking for. And the search for that union with the world is what reminds you that you exist: “they love me, therefore I am”. Thank you, Roberto Cabot.
The portraits ordered from a customer don’t fill her at 9
all. She knows that there is something else that she doesn’t say. The stickers, the lighters and the t-shirts are over. One day, driving, she sees a guy on a motorcycle that is wearing the t-shirt of “I love Mercedes Carbonell”. She nearly had an accident. "I am, I am! - she shouts through the window of her Seat Ibiza." She is anxious. She looks in herself and she sees nothing; she looks at the portrait and she is not there. Definitely, she is in crisis again. She decides to formalize the procedures to get a carnet of copyist in the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville, where we will find her painting the saddest picture: “La Dolorosa” of Murillo.
. When she finished it, she returns to her Studio, and completely cured, she begins a series of self-portraits that will make her very happy and she believes this will develop her spirit. Mercedes Carbonell, 1996