22 June 2020
Born in 1965, Spanish (from Madrid, to be precise) by birth, Milanese by adoption and deeply attached to Lake Como, José Molina is an intense, contemplative painter and sculptor, a child of his time, who also looks to the future for which, as an artist, he feels responsible.
He grew up with the consequences and remnants of Franco’s totalitarian regime, which played a part in shaping his artistic career and his social and cultural commitment, and started attending a number of different art schools from a young age. He then went into communications and advertising, changing course radically when he was 35 to return to art.
Perceptive, sensitive, never provocative just for the sake of it, Molina is fascinated by Man and the depths of his constantly changing interior world, which he plumbs with fierce – but empathetic – zeal. He follows psychological and anthropological research, probes the unconscious and nuances of the human soul and, harnesses his own, very personal symbolic code to translate impulses and feelings, vices and virtues into images. His approach is – usually – hugely powerfully visionary and surreal. His work is populated with people, animals, mythical figures and heroes whose exaggerated, distorted or altered forms expose the things we most want to keep hidden. In this way, Molina’s art manages to strike right at the heart and mind of the viewer. Another theme dear to the artist is Nature, the feeder and prop to which we return and cling every time we need to find ourselves again and retrieve the equilibrium and harmony that life today manages to suck out of us.
Almost a painter and sculptor of times gone by, José Molina picks up the Italian tradition of savoir-faire, i.e. of the artist and craftsman, who studies and concentrates on the material he’s working with. Nothing is left to chance: precise graphic technique, exceptional proportions and details, black and white and colours of almost digital perfection, hand-made frames often made with recycled materials, and sculptures that reflect a slow, focused use of time.
José Molina has exhibited his work at prestigious institutions such as the Triennale Museum, Milan; the Stelline Foundation and Mudima Foundation, Milan; the Real Academia de España, Rome; the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, Milan; the Reggia di Caserta; the National Museum of Science and Technology and the Civic Aquarium, Milan. His work has also been shown at the Able Fine Art Gallery in New York and at the Context Art Fair and Art Basel/Miami in Miami and is much sought-after on the Asian art market.
Tell us about your career path: you studied art and design and worked in communications and advertising before going back to your first love, painting.
My passion for painting and drawing began really very early, in fact the only way my parents could make me behave and calm me down was to put a pencil in my hand. At the age of 11, I started going to several art schools and I was always the youngest student. I started working in the communications world when I was 18, and that allowed me to accumulate a lot of experience and to put up with the crazy rhythms of advertising enthusiastically and energetically, especially in those days. After working as an art director for a few years with some of the leading international advertising agencies, I decided to go into business myself so I set up my own agency, an experience that lasted for a number of years. During that time, I also started travelling a lot and it was on one of these trips (The Amazon Forest in Ecuador, Ed.) that I met Chiara, my wife, and so decided to move to Italy, where I found work as a creative director at Robilant & Associati. After two years of this intense and wonderful experience, I decided to go back to my roots, having worked my way up the career ladder, to devote myself entirely to art.
From Spain to Italy. From Madrid to Milan. Then Lake Como. How have these different cultures and ways of life influenced your art?
In Madrid, when I was young I spent whole days at the Prado, and the Spanish Weltanschauung and aesthetic of the great masters was, and still is, an inexhaustible source of creative energy. Then my move to Italy gave shape to thousands of streams of inspiration. In Italy it’s easy to abandon yourself to creativity, it’s as though there’s a DNA of beauty here. In any case, if I had to go into more detail, I’ve got a powerful connection with Milan, and its dynamism, which is somewhat adrenalin-fuelled, was a great stimulus, whereas since I moved to Lake Como, where I currently live, I’ve embarked on artistic projects marked by a strong connection with nature and with colour.
Your subject is always Man, which you filter through different lenses: anthropological, psychological, social. What is it that fascinates you and what have you learned about him over the years?
Man in relation to himself, to others and to nature is at the centre of my human and artistic research. I find narrating the progress of man through time, his perennial battle with fear and courage, his fear of the unknown and the courage to embrace the unknown in order to convert a crisis into a rebirth, fascinating. This is a time of quantum change, perhaps we’re not fully aware of that out of understandable apprehension but it is a powerful change. As an artist, I’d really love to follow man along this new path that I, too, will have to embark upon. A new era is beginning in art too, and there will still be a lot to discover about humanity. I was (and still am) optimistic when I wrote this text to accompany an old cycle of works entitled The Forgotten. Man is immobile when faced with danger, hoping things will spontaneously revert to how they were before. But that never happens, the story always takes its course. Only when the danger starts coming closer does a pure survival instinct kick in. Strengths, minds, energies, fears come together. Sometimes everything explodes and breaks into pieces, but when the dust clouds clear, the “tectonic plates” of Humanity settle back down into a more stable, more mature, more evolved structure and we begin to move towards a new future.
You’ve said you’re an intuitive artist. What does that mean?
The brain mostly works intuitively or unconsciously, the problem starts when we try to over-rationalise reality and control it. Even though the sort of painting and drawing I do seems to point to total control of the medium, I put my trust in my hands, they already know what to do, they work on automatic.
Resilience and Anthropocene are two terms very much in vogue at the moment; they also crop up in your art.
Yes, they’re both subjects I work on because they’re very dear to my heart. As I said, man is at the centre of my artistic production in every aspect and the relationship between man and nature features in many of my works. As an artist, I only go as far as denouncing how dangerous this relationship has become, both for man and for the earth, which actually comes to the same thing, our survival is the survival of the planet. I do it using my visual language, which both is surreal and direct, sometimes very powerful but not in the sense of wanting to provoke just for the sake of it, more to arouse and invite reflection, or at least I hope so.
Are digital, technology and artificial intelligence in danger of overwhelming art and creativity?
That’s not something I fear as an artist. I’ll go further. Looking to the past, artists have always had to contend with technology in the etymological sense of the word. For example, if I think of Brunelleschi and his cupola, he had to come up with technical solutions to extremely complex problems. Nowadays, obviously, technological advances have accelerated as never before, which can be frightening, but that’s true of many things that we are frightened of because we don’t know them and so we just put up with them instead of living them creatively. I’ll tell you about my experience with 3D technology. As an artist, I’ve made several sculptures that harness this technology, which offers solutions with results that are simply unobtainable with traditional sculptural materials and techniques. This means testing the limits and possibilities offered by something completely new. I see 3D printing as an extremely useful tool for my work, in the same way as a painter sees his paintbrush as a tool (and one that I use a great deal, as it happens). If we simply submit to technology, we obtain a very different aesthetic result to what we might achieve if we used technology creatively and in the spirit of experimentation.
What’s your take on art-design and what’s your relationship with design?
I say long live cross-contamination! I’m thinking, for example of Dalì, who was a designer as well as a painter and sculptor. We all remember outlandish-looking objects of his that went on to become extremely sought-after furniture and furnishing accessories. I think being able to enjoy beautiful objects that are emotionally satisfying as part of our daily life, in the rituality of spaces, is a wonderful experience, which is why my relationship [with design] is excellent, I have to say that when I’ve had time, I’ve had a go myself at designing and making objects and furniture for my home/studio.
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