Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A Spaniard in London, Enrique Perezalba Red Interview in Klei Magazine. Issue 1, Jan/Feb 14

“I create seductive art that turns heads like a beautiful woman walking down the street.”

Enrique Perezalba ceramic mixed media works (clockwise from top left) The Absent Joker, Body Armours, The Three Grazes (Detail), The Three Grazes, Gentle, The Absent Joker (centre)

Bold suggestive sculptures, dripping with the sensuality of the body...you don’t need to read Freud to tell what the Spanish-born artist Enrique Perezalba Red's work is about.

I'm at an east London studio (belonging to British potter Kate Malone, but more on that later), to interview the fresh Ceramics &Glass MA graduate from the Royal College of ArtThe former art director (who’d previously studied scenography at Central Saint Martins and dance at London’s prestigious Rambert School) has just flown back from Barcelona. 

Wasting no time, he jauntily undresses the tightly-wrapped plastic to show me his works-in-progress, entitled ‘Body Armours’. It’s a continuation of his graduate show ceramics which explores historical armours in a rather intriguing way. 

Why ‘Body Armours’?

My work has always been about my fascination with sexuality and the human body. Armours enhance and echo that.  Researching 16-18th century examples in archives, I noticed differences, like the plain and functional aesthetic of German armours, whereas Spanish and Italian armours were decorative and impractical. 

These expensive commissions were status symbols − the genitals, thighs and feet were exaggerated in an extremely feminine way similar to costume. 

I take a section of the armour and make it bigger in clay. When you take an element out of its context it almost becomes something else, people never relate it to the original. That’s what I like. 

How has your varied arts education background influenced you?

I've sculpted since I was a child and grew up always wanting to study fine art. But when the time came, I didn't want to. I wanted to learn art restoration at a famous Madrid art school but I failed to pass the entry exam three times. I decided to study ballet and contemporary dance in London instead. 

I fell in love with the movement of the body at Rambert Dance School. But I didn't think I was a good enough dancer. I missed making things with my hands, after two years I applied to study scenography − where I learned to direct and create film props, commercial sets, lighting and TV costumes – anything visual. 

How did you come to study ceramics?

After graduating at Saint Martins I did a lot of site-specific performance art, which got me noticed by the fashion and advertising industry. For eight years I was a freelance art director working in London and Spain across fashion shoots, shows and commercials. But in the last three years I felt like I wanted to create sculpture again. I was seduced by the glossy, polished surface of ceramics, particularly sanitary ware. 

I was taking evening classes in Spain when my pottery tutor told me about a visiting British ceramicist called Kate Malone, that I should meet her. I couldn't believe her work was made by hand the first time I saw it. I started working as her ceramic assistant after three months. She taught me everything and encouraged me to apply for the RCA, which I got accepted into 2nd time in 2011.

What was the most valuable thing you learned at the RCA?

As students we learned from each other because we were such a mixed group – designers, craftspeople and fine artists of ceramics and glass all under the same department. I had a brilliant personal tutor (the internationally renowned British ceramicist Alison Britton) in my second year.  She was always challenging and questioning me to make sure my vision was translating into my work. 

Can you tell me about your making process?

I start by looking many images so they come into my head by the time I start making.  I never draw because I find it too restrictive.  I can coil 4-6 inches a day before it needs to be left to dry so it’s a long process.  

I struggle to make things the same as before because I follow the personality of the material. The negative space inside the form is as important as the outside. The surface and lines of the curves are very important. I always have around 20 different hack-saw blades with different-sized teeth − some rough, some smooth, for shaping and polishing. 

Why do you incorporate mixed media with your ceramics?

I link the modern with the old and I've never felt restricted by different materials. For ‘The Three Grazes’, I wanted to show how the perception of naked legs changes a lot just by applying a sheer, almost transparent mesh − so I put fishnet stockings over them, recreating that feeling of the soft against the hard. 

In ‘Body Armours’ I used a laquer instead of a glaze over the whole piece,a glossy, uniform finish, like the surface of Lamborghinis and Ferraris – they’re status symbols and extensions of the body.

Do you consider yourself a ceramicist? An artist? A craftsman?

I see myself as a sculptor, an artist. I don’t feel defined by the material I use. Would you call someone who works in bronze a ‘bronzist’? I’ve cast pieces in bronze before but I always start off with clay. I find it magical you can take a piece of earth and turn it into anything you want.

What do your clients and the British audience think of your work?

So far the response has been positive. During my summer graduation show a middle-aged man was looking at my work for a long time. He walked over and said, “Your work is very evocative; I can’t put my finger on why”. “That’s right”, I told him. My goal is to create art that makes people think, I don’t care what it is that comes to their mind. It’s about having references to many things – the body, nature, machine, but nothing in particular. For me art has to stimulate your senses and emotions before touching your intellect. 

What’s next?

I've been a ceramicist living and working in London for two years now. After I move into my new studio, I’d like to focus on consolidating gallery relationships. The pieces I showed you are a part of a ‘Body Armour’ commission I’m making for Gallery Fumi, a Sardinian contemporary design space in East London. I’ve been shortlisted for the South London Hotel Art Prize for new talent and in November I’m exhibiting at the Roca Gallery designed by Zaha Hadid, showing my new collection of sanitary ware. (Laughs) So in a way I’m going back to where I started.



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