Postwar Art in Spain – Interview with Luis Feito Conducted by Elena Sorokina

Interview with Luis Feito Conducted by Elena Sorokina and Galeria Mayoral.

Elena Sorokina: Good afternoon Luis, first of all I’d like to thank you for taking time for this conversation, it is a great pleasure to talk to you.

Luis Feito: Good afternoon, I’m delighted too.

E.S.: Between 1950 and 1970 you have participated in an impressive number of major international exhibitions – four times in Venice Biennial, twice in Sao Paolo Biennial, and also in the documenta II in 1959. What did documenta 1959 mean for you? Did you go to Kassel?

L.F.: No, I didn’t go personally to Kassel, but it was a very important exhibition for us, for my generation, and for me in particular. Because at that time Kassel was new and it was very important to be part of it.

E.S.: documenta II coincided in time with the first Paris Biennale of 1959, a legendary exhibition that was founded by André Malraux in his capacity of Minister of Cultural Affairs. In some instances, the Bienniale’s foundational Postwar rhetoric bears some similarity to documenta’s – Malraux spoke about freedom and artistic freedom to which Paris should remain open-minded. You are featured among the “young artists” with Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, David Hamilton and many others.

LF: Well, it’s funny you mention that Biennale because nobody has ever asked me about it again, nor have I ever heard anything more about the first Paris Biennale in my life, and it was very nice because we were all very young painters. To me they gave that prize, which was the second, I think. The big houses of the French bourgeoisie received us with a lot of enthusiasm and fantastic kindness. What Paris did at that time was brilliant.

Galeria Mayoral: It was the UMAM Prize, correct? Two years later, in 1961, an exhibition of the 1959 award-winners was organized in which you also participated.

L.F.: Yes, it was. And that show was very well received.

G.M: If we compare the first Paris Biennale and documenta II in Kassel, both happening in the same year, how would you describe the difference?

L.F.: Indeed, it was completely different, because Kassel was for everybody, for all artists, no matter what their age, while the Paris Biennale had an age limit, it was for young people. We’d be around 30 years old, I was surprised to be invited, I should have had nothing to do with Kassel, which was for artists who were already very important.

E.S.: Could you tell me about an exhibition experience you consider important for you personally?

L.F.: Yes, it was Venice in 1960. I occupied the most important place in the pavilion, I had prepared it very well, and it was extraordinary. We took fourteen big canvases and they were only able to hang ten, because there wasn’t space for more. The other four were kept in a warehouse, but even those four were sold, absolutely everything got sold. It was pretty extraordinary because I was very young. I remember that one of the people who gave me most pleasure in buying my work was Visconti, the film director, who was with an Italian princess who also bought a painting. Later on, Visconti put this painting in Boccaccio ’70 (1962), with Romy Schneider, and of course for me that was marvellous, because as far as I was concerned within the world of cinema Visconti was extraordinary.

E.S: In “Boccaccio ‘70 one of your paintings features prominently just behind Romy Schneider stylishly smoking a cigarette! Your international recognition started in Paris and you left Spain and went to Paris in 1955. How was your life and work in Paris? Who was important for you there? Who helped you? Did you meet any artists from the El Paso group in the French capital?

L.F.: Travelling to Paris was fundamental at that time, everybody went to Paris, but there were very few of us who held it out there. At the time it was still the artistic cultural centre of Europe, but a lot of energy was required to hold out. When I arrived in Paris there was nobody to lend me a hand, I had to do everything the hard way, it was very tough. Then I managed to have a solo show at the Galerie Arnaud in 1955 and everything took off from there. Being in Paris I coincided with Antonio Saura, who was also living there before founding the El Paso group.

E.S.: Why did you decide to leave Paris and go to Montreal and New York?

L.F.: I’d done an exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum of Montreal and met a gallery owner there who was very interested in what I was doing and began asking me for work. So I began going there once a year, and later twice a year, and went on like this for quite a while. Then a moment arrived when I got tired of Paris and wanting a change of scenery and with the encouragement of the gallery owner I decided to leave and headed to Montreal. Later on, due to the proximity of Montreal and New York, and to having lots of friends there, I was often going to visit them until I had the chance to settle there. I never liked New York, but to have that opportunity thanks to my friends made me decide to move there, although I’d already had a one-man show twenty years before, in the Borgenicht Gallery.

E.S.: Who was important for you in New York and what happened with your work there? Would you say it had changed?

L.F.: It was there that I decided to work on my painting, but apart from the galleries this was a sabbatical period for me. And of course it meant a change for me. New York meant being closer to the West, which fascinated me. It was easier for me to go to Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. Everything has an influence, everything you experience, wherever it is you live. Although in my work there are never concrete references, everything is interiorized and emerges when it needs to emerge.

E.S.: In this context, how would you describe your work, your creative process and its changes? How do you consider the role of the texture, of the volume in your work?

L.F.: The material labour is of the simplest, I always seek after a certain simplicity, less is more, working directly on the white canvas with the least possible number of corrections. It’s very difficult to say how I work because I also try and make each painting a bit different to the one before. First you have to know how to paint, and once painting is mastered, the craft, the colour, the space, the drawing, everything, what one wants to do at any one moment emerges naturally. In my work of the 1960s relief is also produced because the colour is mixed with sand to give volume to certain parts of the body, but later I stopped doing that because I’m interested in advancing my artistic process, I am interested in experiment. I consider my technique to be very simple, but the simpler it is the more difficult it is as well. But to me, thinking of technical questions is rather uninteresting, and I don’t give much importance to it because the final result is what’s most important. In a canvas the last thing one should see is material labour, when one sees the technique above all else that’s bad. Art is something that emerges, which is simply there.

E.S.: Art is also beyond and outside of any “trends” – reads the manifesto in “Cartas”, the publication of the El Paso group. Do you remember the process of drafting the El Paso manifesto? Was it something created collectively? Did you take part in this process?

L.F.: Yes, of course. It was Saura who explained the idea to me, the two of us being in Paris. We both came to Madrid in the summer, which was when we organized the different facets of the group. We created the manifesto jointly and with everybody’s agreement, which is why we all signed the manifesto. Each person had his own ideas but that didn’t come into it at all in collective terms.

E.S.: In Cartas, the inclusion of different disciplines is clearly stated—literature and music, and not just painting, form part of the group’s interests. In what way did you participate in creation of Cartas and how important was it for you? Did you participate in the decision-making and the discussions about the content of the magazine? Could you tell me what you remember?

L.F.: The participation was collective and we were all in agreement that the magazine wouldn’t only be about painting but would take account of all the arts, architecture, music, literature, that all the other arts could participate in the movement we were promoting. I participated as all of us did, by discussing things and reaching an agreement.

E.S.: What a pity it is, Luis, that we don’t have more time to talk, I would love to continue this conversation! Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and memories with me.