Winner of the 1985 Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts and the 2006 Velázquez Prize for Fine Arts, Antonio López is the foremost exponent of the Madrid realist style.
Antonio López has developed a technically complex and markedly timeless style, making him one of the most prestigious and widely admired artists in Spain today.
The artist Antonio López and the professor Miquel Quílez, director of the UB’s Department of Painting
During the month of August, we retrieve some of the interviews that were published on the web page of the UB throughout the academic year.
Winner of the 1985 Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts and the 2006 Velázquez Prize for Fine Arts, Antonio López (Tomelloso, Ciudad Real, 1936) is the foremost exponent of the Madrid realist style. His work is characterized by the realistic portrayal of people and objects, using a faithful depiction of reality that focuses by turns on the intimate and the mysterious, displaying a strong psychological intensity.
Over an artistic career of more than 60 years, Antonio López has developed a technically complex and markedly timeless style, making him one of the most prestigious and widely admired artists in Spain today. The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum currently exhibits a retrospective of his work, curated in association with the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, which features a selection of paintings, sketches and sculptures, the three disciplines for which he is renowned.
On 12 December, Antonio López visited the Faculty of Fine Arts
to give the talk “The artist and the teaching of art”, which was organized as part of the 6th
Predoctoral Conference of the doctoral program Reality Under Siege, offered by the UB’s Department of Painting under the direction of Miquel Quílez.
You began to paint when you were 13, influenced by you uncle, the painter Antonio López Torres. Now that you are 75, what motivates you to continue painting?
I have been painting for more than 60 years. I started in 1949, when I was 13, and I haven’t thought about retiring, I see no reason for it. I continue to work because I still need to be involved in art, not just because it is my way of life, but to actually feel alive.
To feel alive?
Yes. Art gives me so much. The feeling that it is something good for me has not diminished over the years.
In an interview you gave last June to El País, you said: “Making myself has been a painful process”. Has your relationship with painting been a complicated one?
Yes, I think most people would say the same. It is like a long relationship with another person: there are good times, bad times, really bad times… There will always be problems, but if you persevere with the relationship there must be something important for you, something positive that you cannot do without.
What does your work transmit? What feelings do you aim to awaken?
The vision of certain things in relation to others moves me and can sometimes have a profound effect. In my paintings I try to transmit the impressions that certain things have on me because this, ultimately, is what art is about. You create on the basis of your feelings, which reflect your experience, and you pass this on to others. The miracle that follows is that there is a group of people who understand and value what you are trying to transmit.
You describe yourself as a perfectionist and as an extremely methodical painter. On a number of occasions you have asked for paintings to be returned in order to make adjustments. Why is this?
I believe that striving to do things well is an attitude shared by many, many people, from bankers to street cleaners… The love of doing your work to the best of your ability is an inherent concern, although not for everybody. There are people who feel differently, but for me it is very important.
I would not talk about being methodical, though. You have to try to do things well out of respect for others. For me, it is more interesting – more exciting, perhaps – to do things well than to follow a strict routine.
Your most famous work includes the series of paintings of the Gran Vía in Madrid – seven scenes of the famous boulevard depicting different times of day on the same date, the 1st of August. Few painters have produced work with which they are so closely identified. Is this something that pleases you?
I think it is totally natural. If an artist becomes well known, the renown is always built on certain paintings. This applies to Velázquez, to Picasso, to any artist I can think of. There is always a subset of works that springs to mind when discussing a particular artist. It is normal. But this does not mean that they are the best examples of the artist’s work; it simply shows that they are the paintings people most clearly remember.
You argue that freedom is the greatest source of creativity. Do you feel freer now than when you were young?
We all want to be free, to be able to make our dreams reality. It is a natural aspiration for all living beings. However, the energy you have to carry this out, your common sense and stomach for the fight, are another matter. There are times when you have to make compromises and do things you perhaps believe in a little less, to ensure that you continue to progress.
What is your view of current policies on culture and the arts in Spain? Do they encourage artistic creativity?
It seems to me that there are many more forms of support than 40 years ago, for example. There are numerous faculties of fine arts, a lot more galleries where work can be shown… There are also many people interested in buying and in a position to do so. For example, there are now 11 or 12 faculties of fine arts in Spain, when in my time, more than 50 years ago, there were only four, and perhaps only a quarter of the number of students… So you can imagine just how much more support there is now for people looking to establish themselves in the arts. The thing is, so many people are now interested that there will probably never be enough support for everyone. Sometimes these resources are not used in the right way, they can be poorly distributed, but they are there nonetheless.
You are also a university lecturer. What would you say to students who want to forge careers as artists, or in the art world in general?
I would encourage them to get started and to come to university, where they will feel supported and find people to help them, which makes the path much easier to follow. Luck is also important, though. You need to be lucky enough to have the right skills, because not everyone who sets out to do something has the same potential… To the student with potential, I would recommend patience and perseverance. But there are also people who do not have the right skills and who have to be told: “It would be better to drop out, because things will be so difficult for you that the effort will not be worth it.” But this depends, of course…
But are these not exactly the people who need support and training?
I would actually say that the reverse is true. I think that we should try to mine where the gold is. By this I mean that we should support those with real artistic potential, because they are the losses that are felt the most, and we lose many of them. Someone who simply doesn’t have what it takes to become a painter probably has the skills to do something else. Why must they be an artist? Society needs many different professionals to make it work, after all. We need good chefs, good designers, good street cleaners, good doctors… We have many different needs and there has to be someone for each of them. The problem is that you can never be completely sure. There are people you are certain will not make it but who turn out to be immensely valuable. However, if potential could be measured and you could be sure of your judgement, you would be doing some people an enormous favour by telling them: “By all means continue to paint if that’s what you like, but find another way to make your living”.
Finally, what advice would you give to young artists?
I would tell them to fight. You have to fight, and everyone has some capacity to do so. However, the greater your interest in something the greater your capacity to fight for it. If something really holds an interest, there are people prepared to give their lives for it.