The return from the Crusades. An interview with Eduardo Arroyo
The painter met us in front of the work which has provided the exhibition's title. Opposite is The Victim of the Bullfight by the painter Ignacio Zuloaga, one of the works that has most obsessed Eduardo Arroyo. Now in his 80s, the artist continues to exude that inspiration and irony so characteristic of him and which contrast with the harshness of this large-scale painting by Zuloaga. We took advantage of his visit to the museum for the opening of his latest exhibition, Eduardo Arroyo. Le retour des croisades, in order to get to know him better.
Museum: Why did you choose Zuloaga's painting Victim of the Bullfight to create this new work?
Eduardo Arroyo: I have always been very interested in Zuloaga's work. I think that it still hasn't achieved the level of appreciation it should have. But it will. I was visiting the museum one day and I saw this painting, Zuloaga at his most magnificent, this imposing picador. From that moment I became obsessed with it and I had the museum send me a photograph of Victim of the Bullfight. And ever since then I've been obsessed by this painting which I've made a replica of. I would never have imagined that I would have the good luck to be opposite Zuloaga in an exhibition like this one. Naturally, he wins; there's no comparison – comparisons are odious – but I've done a good job on the picador by the painter from Eibar, then I've totally changed the background. The background has become that desolate Spain, that empty landscape which we all know, that lifeless Spain, terrible in a certain sense. I believe I've done 60 landscapes that have nothing of that harshness, but which are also harsh, with that element of tempestuousness and brutality that Zuloaga's painting has.
M: In the painting you also make references to Spanish provinces and to other artists.
E.A: Well, I would say it seems like that but I did this using a very particular device, which is that I took a landscape that I saw in a newspaper and from there it turned out I could paint something else, or that something else emerged. I wanted a desolate landscape. And I wanted to do something amusing, I think with the wounded horse which had so struck me. That skinny horse which also forms part of that desolate Spain. I wanted that picador to return home, The return from the Crusades it's called: he comes home, and in fact he's seen everything, he's suffered. It's a catastrophe, they've wounded him and, destroyed by battles, most of them lost, he arrives home because his fight is over.
M: On more than one occasion it has been suggested that you depict yourself in the work, although it's not clear if it's in the rider, the horse, or in one of the landscapes.
E.A: Self-portrait no, portrait yes. I think that everything is to be found in the face of Zuloaga's picador. For example I'm keen on bullfighting and that picador's hat, his jacket and that suit, all this is the result of an act of destruction. This is what I wanted to do. I have been fortunate that Fabienne Di Rocco, the exhibition's curator, and also Miguel Zugaza's ideas have resulted in something that is really moving for me: that for a while I'll be opposite what the Italians calls this capolavoro, this painting by Zuloaga.
What do you base yourself on for your exhibitions?
M: It's true that many of your works include an enormous range of references to important figures within the history of art, your own interests and the theatrical and opera sets on which you have worked. What do you base yourself on for your exhibitions?
E.A: Much of this exhibition comes from France, from the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, which had a different title (Dans le respect des traditions), but at the same time it has nothing to do with it. Here the sculptures are presented differently. The sculptures were very well displayed in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, I'm not making comparisons, but I'm very happy to be able to show these previously un-exhibited works in Spain which are quite amusing, I think, and which create doubles. For example, Falstaff and Orson Welles,or Bécassine (a funny character from children's stories in France) and Tolstoy. Let me say that I've really enjoyed doing these double sculptures which function for the two characters and you can see that here.
M: Experiences of language, of individuals…
E.A: Exactly. I think you can see that here. There's also a series of previously un-exhibited works that have different dimensions, which are paintings which have rarely or never been seen. In other words, this exhibition has taken on a specific dimension through Fabienne and Miguel's work, particularly and above all, and that of the whole team at the museum…then something crazy happens and here it is. Ángel Bados has installed it so well! He's not only a great sculptor, he's also designed the installations for exhibitions such as the one on Arcimboldo, and this one as well. I love seeing how as a whole it has become a different exhibition.
M: Eduardo, you are probably better known for your pictorial output than your sculptural work. Nonetheless, sculpture has an important presence in this exhibition.
E.A: I think people are going to discover an aspect of me, which is a slightly strange one, sculpture, and I'm really happy about that. I don't claim to be a sculptor, I don't claim to be a theatrical designer, I don't claim to be writer. I think I'm a painter if anything. But I'm very happy that an exhibition has come about, which had no reason to as it wasn't going to be done, and with these changes a great exhibition has been created. I say great in the sense of the identity of the exhibition, not because they're magnificent paintings or sculptures; no, I mean because of the identity of the exhibition.
I don't know what I like
M: We said earlier that you like your own sculptures more now.
E.A: When people say to me “you like that”, to be honest I don't know what I like. I'm not an artist who knows anything about his work, because when I've finished, these paintings and sculptures, after they've been returned (because they're also going to the Museo Botánico in Madrid), are going to be wrapped up and I'm not going to see them because I don't live with my work, I live with other people's work. I sign and put the title on the front and back and in the end, will I see it again? I don't know. I live with work by other people, not with my own. There are marvellous artists who live with their works, but I don't.
Anything in mind you haven't tackled yet
M: I have to ask you one more question and it's whether you have anything in mind that you haven't done so far that you would be interested to tackle.
E.A: You've raised a big issue here as right now I'm writing a book, nothing else. A book that I'm naturally doing with Fabienne Di Rocco. We argue, we look. It's a sort of mixture of texts and a story about Agatha Christie, which is a bit weird. So, I don't know what's going to emerge. At the moment I'm not thinking about painting, I'm not thinking about sculpture, although I'm going to do a sculpture this Christmas if I can. A sculpture which is a portrait of Zurbarán, I've got it worked out, but in my house in Laciana where Fabienne has written a lot about sculpture. That's why I want to do this.
As for painting…I hope that I'm going to paint again in Paris and I hope that right now Paris will help me to paint more than Madrid does, I don't know, I hope so….