Francesc Ruiz Abad is a conceptual artist living and working in Barcelona. Ruiz Abad creates through a wide range of media allowing project to determine method. His works are ambitious, multi-faceted expressions inspired by the phenomenological minutia and narrative of daily life. I met Ruiz Abad during a residency in Leipzig, Germany, and our conversations began through his deeply poetic interpretations of meaning in painting. He was completing his studies at the local university, and I was amazed by the purity of his desire to put meaning into his art. We spoke of an ambitious project he was planning that involved him hitch-hiking through Europe and Asia, with minimal resources, over a period of five months. As we catch up in the present I learn that he has successfully completed the journey.
During the travel Ruiz Abad extensively documented through writing, video, painting and drawing. He also collected personal incidentals and mailed curated packages of artworks, found objects and writings as presents to selected individuals. On completion, he exhibited the reunited gifts, thus making a singular experience of confronting the unknown shared, first with the receiver of the gift and then with the exhibition audience. Ruiz Abad has a flexible and romantic mind; art is his ideal and he seeks it out in any form, from writing to book-making, painting to conceptual play. What follows is an e-mail discussion with him concerning his projects and thought.
JH: Tell me about your education as an artist… school, travel, independent learning. What has taught you the most?
FRA: I started my studies in Fine Art at the University of Barcelona. During my fourth year, I did an exchange program at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig, Germany. After the exchange, I stayed in Leipzig for almost a year and a half to do post-baccalaureate studies and work in my studio. I’ve always combined my studies and time in the studio with long and short trips. These trips are essential to my practice.
My daily life is the most important influence on artistic practice. I try to find stimulus and experience in my surroundings: daily accidents, coincidences, casual conversation with friends, and adventures are raw material and points of departure for me to start thinking about further ideas.
I fell in love with art through drawing. As a child, I was constantly doodling monsters, family portraits and crazy cyborg-superheroes. As a teenager, I painted portraits of music icons such as Jimmy Hendrix, and developed paintings of silly abstract creatures flying in blue landscapes or lost in a deep romance without a direction home. But I’ve been always creating direct relationships between my work and my daily life. Context and personal experiences are important elements to consider in my pieces. Traveling has been a huge part of my education; to me it’s a really interesting way of discovering and learning new cultures, food, different climates, architecture, religions, colors, animals… a complete and vital experience.
JH: Do you have a medium that you speak/express best with?
FRA: This has been one of my worries for about two years. I’ve been experimenting with such different mediums: painting, drawing, photography, video, found objects, narrative structures and books. My artistic practice is getting more and more dilated. It’s getting expanded by different techniques depending on the nature of each project. But it wasn’t like this before. I had a special interest in painting and drawing, which made my research more related to these topics.
As you know, painting has a resistance to time where the layers, decisions and content appear on top of one another in a single, static image within the boundaries of the picture plane. I’d like to think that a painting can start with a conversation you had with a friend in a bar. Imagine: a sharp geometric shape. It all began when you were drinking a beer with your friend and you realized that the beer you’ve been drinking has a small piece of broken glass floating on top of it. Then you complain, like, “Oh man, what the hell, what would happen if I drank that?!” Then, when you remove the shard you realize that you are staring at the most beautiful, sparkling, quasi-virtual-prism shape you have ever seen in your life. As a consequence, you desire to create an image. The best sharp-geometric shape painting ever. But still, I prefer the story than the painting!
At the moment, the thread uniting all of my projects is their accumulation, like a diary. Paintings, drawings, writing, films, worries, images and events of my life run through all my work. Notebooks are really important to me. Their pocket size provides portability, like a studio with wheels and without walls. Just paper and a nice cover. I like to think about the amount of content that a notebook can contain: Spontaneous-drunk ideas, silly jokes, deep writing, email addresses, flyers, tickets, portraits, maps, stories, kisses…
JH: Explain to me your last travel project, where did you go, how did you get there, and tell me all about the documentation of the experience through gifts. Also talk about the exhibition where you reclaimed and opened the packages, and the experience of reliving your journey through memory.
FRA: I did a hitchhiking dérive trip, a trip without a clear destination, where I abandoned control and asked the drivers if I could join them wherever they were headed. That took me through southern Europe and Greece, where I then took a ship to Chios (a little Greek island close to the Turkish coast), and from there to Turkey. I crossed Turkey and entered Georgia, then Azerbaijan, where I crossed the Caspian Sea and arrived in Kazakhstan. From there, I went east until I reached Kyrgystan and continued straight on towards massive China. At the end I had been hitchhiking for 5 months; from Calonge to Hong Kong. I had really good equipment with me, everything I needed to survive: a tent, cooking materials and sleeping bag. All of my basic needs were covered (except taking Kaitlyn with me). Every 2 weeks I’d send home a package including watercolors, photography, postcards, found objects, and notebooks produced and collected during the trip. It was an intense ritual where the documentation was a way of projecting myself onto the situations and understanding my experiences. Honestly, this trip changed the way I understand life. I realized that life can be lived in different ways, mixing cultures, traditions, landscapes and territories. Also after one month of traveling this way, it stopped being extraordinary and unusual, and it started to be a way of living, which made me question many fears and conventions we blindly accept.
JH: What are you currently working on, what is to come?
FRA: Recently, I published a book called Curator or the One Who Takes Care of, which is a compilation of 80 drawings of the same subject made daily over a 3-month period. The image is a young man tapping the head of a duck, and as the title suggests, it considers the relationship between artists and curators through repeating the same drawing over and over. The book also includes an essay by Oscar Holloway. You can see it here: http://www.multiplosbooks.org/distribucion/curator-or-the-one-who-takes-care-of/
And I’m also working on a mid-length fiction film that will be screened in October in Barcelona. It is a movie called Calonge 2013 that recreates a conversation about a lost and recovered sketchbook by mixing reality, speculations of authorship, and fiction. The movie cinematically explores the sketchbook narrative. I’m excited to see what comes from that!
JH: Who are your greatest influences?
I like anonymous doodles.
I like the Croatian coast.
I like passionate people, enthusiastic about what are they doing.
I like funny art, those subversive German artists like Oliver Kossack and Sigmar Polke.
I like to squeeze images. Turning them right and left.
I like stupid rituals, when sometimes making something leads to nothing.
I like Oscar Holloway.
I like people without fear, who are honest with themselves.
I like Naïve Croatian oil paintings on steel.
I like proto-cinema machines.
I like traveling, walking and getting lost.
I like meeting random people.
I like to look at animals.
I like chameleonic people.