Digesting her demons through a cathartic process.
Since moving to London from Barcelona, artist Cristina BanBan has found a strong aesthetic and artistic maturity, being able to create works without the fear of imperfection, but rather welcoming these flaws through her figurative distortions and narratives; created through observation of the different aspects that make us humans. Through this technique, Cristina builds an emotional bridge between her most recent works, and the viewer. Now, the artist is fighting back her most deep insecurities and doubts in her latest series of works on paper, titled “My Dear Demons”, on view at The Dot Project, generously exposing her own thoughts, as well as social and personal pressures. Cristina explains that this has been “a cathartic process”, where she has digested her own outlook on life and her connection with others. In this interview, we talk about how she sees herself reflected in her work, the way her practice is developing, where her catchy titles come from, and the intriguing process that she follows from her studio in Hackney Wick.
Cristina BanBan (b.1987, Barcelona, Spain) graduated from University of Barcelona with a BA in Fine Art. She has previously exhibited at Unit G Gallery, A.P.T Gallery, Royal Academy of Arts, The Dot Project, Griffin Gallery, Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, Cob Gallery, London; Art Brussels, Brussels; Sala d’Art Torre Muntadas, Miscelanea, Barcelona; The Hole, NYC, amongst others. Awards include The Arts Club Prize, from Royal Academy of Arts, 2017. Cristina BanBan currently lives and works in London.
Back in Barcelona, you were a drawing fanatic since childhood, although it is not until you arrived in London that your visibility expanded. What is it about this city that has helped you grow as an artist?
I spent my childhood drawing and painting. I didn’t really know how to engage with the outdoors or computer games, so drawing offered me that space where I could lose myself and crate my own stories; making up narratives has been a favourite pastime since a very young age. I believe that changing circumstances push you to see life in a different way. Moving to London definitely had an impact on my life, which was then transformed into a sort of energy and motivation to work in the studio. Then, I started showing the work and it had a very good response. For me, this was a very concentrated period of time where all I did was think about and look at art and culture. This ultimately had a direct influence on my practice. I worked relentlessly to find my aesthetic and what exactly interests me most when it comes to my art and the subjects I explore.
Social media is not only launching the careers of unknown-artists, but is providing an immediate way to access art. In this context, the art scene gets democratized and the artist becomes empowered. What’s is the role of social media for you at this point of your career?
I am not too sure if the artist gets empowered by the use of Instagram, but I certainly feel there are certain hierarchies in the art world that might be affected by the impact of social media. Potentially, nowadays every creative has the facility to share their work, the same way that buyers can find new talent and contact the artist directly. The terms and conditions of being a collector, dealer, gallery and artist are being constantly redefined. I have used Social Media (Instagram) to help build an identity, and to create a network. Now, I like to use it to engage with the audience and to see what their reaction is. Somehow, using the online platform to talk about media creates a very intriguing dialogue. I must admit, I am a speedy content consumer, but with the firm intention to shorten the daily doses.
Your previous work focused on painting a different range of characters undertaking activities in everyday life scenes. Although your latest work seems to have changed, concentrating on female figures, mostly posing, without being part of any activities. Is there a reason in particular for this narrative change?
I have always been very keen in observing different aspects of being a human and the characters and scenarios are based on my life observations. Recently the work has been more conditioned by my mood so in some ways they are more autobiographical. I took the last series My Dear Demons as a cathartic process where I have been digesting my own outlook on life and my connection with others. Another example is “Cristina” a multiple self-portrait; a vision of myself as an outsider looking at different stages of my life. I could say that I position myself less like an observer, and I am now more engaged in the narrative as an actual component/participant within it.
Let’s talk about “Cristina”, 2018, a work where you interpret your persona in the past, present, and future at the same time. Is it your first self-portrait? Could you expand on the autobiographical relationship with your work?
When I encounter a period of emotional intensity, I think it shows in my work. I have been thinking a lot about how we live life and social concepts around family, growing up, and having kids. I have been drawn into the conversation by talking to myself and then looking to see what is happening. This is what I have done with the painting “Cristina” in which all the women (me) are looking at the woman I am at this moment in time. They are comforting and supporting me, which is a visual metaphor for all the things that have happened in my life and have helped shape who I am today. I guess, without experiencing the darkness you can’t appreciate the light. The self-portrait is a metaphor for our obsession with selfhood/individualism, a critique on how we are constantly trying to evaluate how others and we see us. I am interested in recording and remembering what I am.
“Luna, tú no estás cansada”, “Inbox Checker”, “Home Alone” or “Sunset con las Chicas” are some of the titles I enjoy from your works. Is there any particular way in which you come up with these titles?
That first title I got out of listening to a song from Spanish flamenco singer Camaron de la Isla. I have a great fascination in listening to his voice. It is so dramatic and passionate; it takes my mind off of other thoughts, and really drives me to focus on my painting. In general, I choose the titles in a very impulsive way. I understand them as one more component of the painting so let’s say I select them by instinct. They have to sound right to me! I often play with mixing Spanish and English words – in a quirky way. Sometimes the title gives information about the scene and others it simply serve as a starting point for the viewer to create his/her own story, which is very important for me, as it often transforms into a portal of new observation and experiences for the outsider.
Heavy legs, thick hands, massive feet and small heads are recurring motifs in your figures. What is the symbolism behind these exaggerated references? And what has made you change the body forms of your characters within the past year?
Although I can see that both the forms and the colours of the painting change with each piece in an organic way, I would say that the heaviness has always been a characteristic of my distorted bodies. I like to think that providing these women with exaggerated forms emphasises their character, power, and confidence – they occupy the canvas unapologetically and stand proudly, representing how we want women to represent themselves in the 21st century.
What is your process like? Do you have any rituals when painting from memory?
Well, I try to connect with how I feel and the things that I have in my head, and from there, I put it together in a picture. This image normally comes out as a narrative about something that disturbs me. I like to collect drawings in a sketchbook, which are studies of people, but I don’t necessarily need a reference in front of me, so I work a lot from memory. I prefer this, and often try to avoid realism. I also use data as a resource to find images. Everything starts with the drawings, and then I pick and translate them into my paintings. I have not been very good recently on following up with a routine, but when I am painting I like to have the whole day in front of me, otherwise I get very conscious about the time, and I feel that affects how I approach the work.
Sometimes you add tattoos or brands to your characters. Is this through a critical
point of view or just a reflection of society?
I am interested in depicting everyday scenes that are familiar to the 21 st century spectator. I do this by creating characters that the viewer will recognise in some way or another. I look at fashion as a way of creating identities that I feel reflect who I am – I also find inspiration from the people I spend my time with. So, this is what you can see in “Shopping” with the tattooed arms, or through the specific brands I use in many of the paintings, such as “Cash Only” or “Cristina”.
The use of colour and texture is factor that changes constantly in your practice. Is there any reason in particular, such as seasonal changes, or are you just exploring different palettes?
We have had a very hot summer in London, and I had a different, warm light in the studio that I didn’t have before. Ochre and a beautiful orange tinted the walls. I believe this has had an influence on my most recent work. And because of the nature of the paintings, I wanted to recreate a certain light, which helped me to transfer a tender, close and intimate atmosphere.
Awards, capsule collections, solo shows, appearances in many different publications, gallery representation, and art fairs…What’s next for you, Cristina?
I want to combine work and travel as much as possible.
Your third solo show in London at The Dot Project is around the corner. What work will your present, and what can you tell us about deciding to show drawings as final works rather than as the process of your larger canvases?
I am presenting a series of works on paper called “My Dear Demons”. For this, I have taken a step further, and am looking at how I feel about life – understanding “demons” as I fight with my own thoughts, doubts, insecurities, as well as social and personal pressures that we are all faced with on a day-to-day basis. I am particularly interested in creating an emotional connection with the viewer by being more specific with this recent work. I like that drawing offers me a less conscious process to depict memories. Drawing is very intuitive and automatic for me, and I like the spontaneity that it entices within me. A collection of drawings that I create in the space of a week will tell you how my brain has been over the course of that particular period!
Words by Martin Mayorga