Gonzalo Conradi: 'Squatting is a very healthy activity'

Article published on Dec. 14, 2007
Article published on Dec. 14, 2007
We tag along with the Spanish artist, 31. A product of the Erasmus experience, he prepares his pictures for an exhibition gracing the Andalucian Centre of Flamenco in Jerez, Cadiz

In Seville there is no noisier or less distinguished road junction than where Luís Montoto avenue meets Ruiz Cavestani avenue. But it's there that the 31 year-old artist Gonzalo Conradi has chosen to have his studio. His balcony clings to the building five storeys up and sucks in the light and spews it inside, his living room a chaotic beacon of enormous pictures. 'At night I put it all away, roll out a mattress and sleep here with my partner,' he mentions in passing. At the end of a narrow corridor is the room where he paints and plays darts, 'to sharpen the senses and get my thoughts flowing.'

Balance to the tempo of flamenco

The studio is bursting at the seams with pictures of the world of flamenco done in china ink, gouache and spray-paint, on display at the Andalucian Centre of Flamenco (Centro Andaluz del Flamenco) from 14 December 2007. 'It was in Germany that I caught the flamenco bug, the beat,' he explains. Between 2002 and 2004 he lived in Dresden and Greiswald, pursuing his fellow artist and beloved German girlfriend, with whom he communicated in French after meeting her in Lyon, the city where Conradi finished his art studies.

'I made 50 euros a day in Germany playing the guitar and selling my pictures on the street. Having to play in the street made me realise that, in music, first you have to master the technique, and only then can you put your heart into it. Since then, I haven’t stopped trying to perfect my flamenco rhythm.' Today, he tries to get this balance into his paintings, believing that 'painting is the body of music.' Thus his recent work is full of singers, dancers, musicians and all kinds of rhythmical indications.

Miserable porcupine

'I owe a lot to my years bumming around Europe, when I felt the cold – both outside and in,' he remarks, speaking about his first artistic period, entitled It Hurts ('Me Duele'). 'It was my long trail across the desert after disillusioned romance in Spain. I had no friends, and spoke only to my new love in French and in German to my boss at the Vornpommern Theatre in Greiswald, where I was working as a poster painter for shows.' His work from that period speaks of heartbreak, pain and rage. 'No-one wanted to come near me, hug me – I was like a miserable porcupine, because I was at war with the world.' There, he disappointedly realised that 'the state cares nothing about our feelings, just that we contribute to the state.'

So he went to London to join a group of young artists with the intention of squatting in houses and creating together. 'It was in Hackney, one of the worst neighbourhoods in London, and we looked as bad as it got: very hungry Andalusians with very little money.' Conradi 'opened' seven houses: he arrived as a novice and left with a masters in squatting. 'I recommend this form of redistribution of unoccupied property to everyone: it’s a very healthy activity,' he confirms unhesitatingly.

Worried about selling his art out to the market, he soon got tired of London: 'It’s one damn big shop where everything’s for sale. If you don’t have the money, no-one’s interested in you. People were happy to pick up little jobs which gave them enough money for their drugs. I’m not against drugs, don’t get me wrong, but I am against all that’s hiding behind them. When I score a hit, it’s to bring out my fears and my internal phantoms.'

Green vitality

'Fed up with moaning, I decided to change when I realised that in life, a kiss works better than a smack round the ear.' Back in Spain, back in love and a new phase under way: Lively Informalism ('Informalismo Vitalista'), total immersion in absolute abstraction. As for his enviable capacity for falling in love, he says, 'Look, anyone who’s jealous is in urgent need of a chat with his or her own heart. There are people who feel so much pain when their pet dog, who they’ve loved and cared for all their lives, dies, that they decide never to have another dog. It’s the same for them with love,' he argues, in favour of opening yourself up to love, sustenance of the artist.

Vibrant colours and large formats are now the basis of this expansive, expressive painter and sculptor. 'Before, my work was full of whites, reds and blacks, a very dramatic combination,' he explains. Then, he discovered green – and faith in life – through trees. 'I still find it incredible how a huge oak tree can appear from a little acorn.' Trees are now a symbol of perfection for him, since 'they strive upwards towards the light and air but also downwards looking for water and darkness.'

Gifts or gains?

His paintings are now found all over the planet: Australia, Japan, Mali, Germany, Italy, France, England, etc. Many of them he has given away, which earns him the censure of those closest to him. 'They say that I don’t value my work, but I love giving presents; art should be given freely because it is love,' he says in self-defence. Notwithstanding, now the market itself no longer turns his stomach. In Bucharest, he works with artist Raquel Maireles under the name of 'Nosotros' ('Us'). There, the headquarters of the multinational real estate company 'Tercialia' owns an interior design by Gonzalo Conradi.

What’s more, he’s begun work on the design for the new album by flamenco singer Macanita from Jerez (the conservative 'capital' of flamenco, in Cadiz in southern Spain), and also, commissioned by Ricardo Pachón – the great guru of the flamenco industry in España – he will probably be working on the set design for the next Flamenco Biennial in Sevilla in 2008, which he says he already has pretty much completely designed in his head.