You were born in Zaragoza, but you currently live in Barcelona. What made you emigrate from your homeland?
I wanted to study Fine Arts in Zaragoza and there still isn’t one. I considered going to Barcelona and Madrid, I decided to come to Barcelona and I stayed here. The relationship with Zaragoza is very close because I have my family there, my parents, my uncles and aunts… I go to Zaragoza quite often for work, whenever I exhibit, which is every two or three years, and to see my family and friends. I keep in touch.
You also trained at the Fuendetodos engraving workshop. What was that experience like?
If I remember correctly, it was when the Fuendetodos workshop opened and I was invited to take the first courses, they gave me a scholarship and I think it coincided with my first Fine Arts course.
I was young and the truth is that it was fantastic, I was lucky to have some spectacular teachers and classmates, and I began to love engraving thanks to them. Later, during all the time I have been painting, I have been doing engraving as well.
Despite your links with Aragon, your career has always been more international than national.
Don’t believe it… I’ve exhibited a lot in Spain. It’s true that for the last 12 years I’ve been working a lot in Asia and the projects in Asia are perhaps bigger because of the size of the countries, but in Spain I’ve been working and in Zaragoza I’ve always been treated very well.
Did you have a thorn in your side about exhibiting in a place like La Lonja?
More than a thorn in my side, it was more like a dream because I’ve been to La Lonja to see artists I admire a lot. There is no other better place to exhibit in Zaragoza. At first I didn’t even think about it, I didn’t even dream about it, I couldn’t even think of it; but recently I started to think about it… and when they told me it was like a gift. Not only in Zaragoza, I think there are very few spaces like the fish market to exhibit.
What do you think about dedicating La Lonja to an exhibition space about Goya?
For artists, La Lonja is a space we want to preserve, because there are not many opportunities to exhibit your work in a space of this size. In the end, it’s all very well to exhibit in galleries and all spaces have their place, but really such large and significant spaces with such an enormous emotional charge as La Lonja… for us it would be a shame to lose this space.
For the general public you are the painter who exhibits in Asia… How did that relationship begin 12 years ago?
It starts like everything in life, things you don’t expect. I work with a gallery in Los Angeles, the gallery owner is of Korean origin and she took me to a fair there 12 years ago. She told me that she didn’t think it was going to work very well, but we were going to try it. The truth is that the connection of the people in Seoul was immediate… and since then I have not stopped coming back, doing bigger and bigger exhibitions, projects in many areas such as public with art installations. I have a very strong bond with the country.
From thinking it wasn’t going to work to establishing a close relationship.
Yes, these things happen…and you never know where you are going to find that answer. There are a lot of factors that I think determined that, it was very magical and I’m very grateful.
What are those factors, and why is your work so well liked in Asia?
By factors I mean sometimes you don’t arrive at the right time, we all have a chance to connect with people, it depends on the moment, the place, what you think you have to present… and of course you have to be working. I guess Koreans like that I paint because of an emotion that moves me and that I want to capture and retain the time to be able to come back, and they find in my painting also that emotion, and that way to connect with things that escape them in the frenetic rhythm of the day to day.
Is China or Asia in general an opportunity for Spanish art?
Sure, of course. The dimension and scale of things is much bigger, the opportunities to try in spaces and at the public level are multiplied. Every place has its charm and opportunities, but I have been able to work a lot there and that’s what I know. In Korea especially, education at the artistic level is from a very young age and people connect a lot, I have had the opportunity to work with very young people, schools have followed a lot of what I do, they go to fairs and exhibitions, there is a kind of restlessness that makes art go out of the galleries to all areas.
That is what is missing here.
In education we never have enough, we do what we can. They do have one thing that differentiates them and that is that they have no prejudices when it comes to art being mixed with companies, with private initiative, and that makes there is more investment, and you find art in areas that here is still frowned upon or we don’t relate it because we don’t consider it. For them I have the feeling that these things are not an obstacle.
Do you mean private company investing or places where it is exposed?
All of them. I have worked for powerful companies like Samsung, which has a huge and wonderful museum that acquires and promotes not only Korean art, but also international art; but also all the companies have works inside their companies, they offer their employees the possibility of approaching the works, they advertise with art… It’s like art is transversally in the company and they consider that it has a lot of power of communication.
Something that distinguishes you from other artists is that your art has also become an everyday thing.
I’ve always thought that being popular or reaching a lot of people is not a bad thing. I’ve never liked too much that art is elitist, the problem is that many times it doesn’t reach people, not that they don’t know how to appreciate it. What I have loved about the experience in other countries, like making art installations in the street, is that people who would not enter a museum because it intimidates them or does not interest them, when they find it in the street and in a natural way, they do connect and have that possibility. I have always been interested in taking art outside and I have trusted that all people have that sensitivity, more or less developed or educated, but that it exists in everyone. Activating it is always magical and stimulating.
Besides Asia, you have been to many other places in the world, such as the U.S. What have you done there?
I have been working for many years with different galleries and the US is where it is clearer that there is no such separation of art from general life. I did a campaign with the tourist buses that I enjoyed very much, I thought it was beautiful to paint the buses and that they were moving around Las Vegas, New York, Chicago… I like to be able to do it, that people can enter into a painting, in this case the bus that explains a story. I vindicate the playful and participatory part of art. I have been able to do things like that and I have also worked in many countries, where my work was first recognized was here in Portugal, and if it hadn’t been for their support I probably wouldn’t have dedicated myself to painting.
You talk about the playful and participatory part of art, would you launch immersive exhibitions?
I have done it all my life, but in a different way. If you’re referring to the latest ones that are appearing… I’m not passionate about it because I don’t know if those artists would have ever done it. I love to make the public participate in my art, but I myself propose how to do it. In La Lonja I do it with the painting of the fabric, or by painting a wall that overhangs everywhere and joins the ceiling of La Lonja… but I would not like it to be filled with my paintings where people get involved unless I had planned it as my own project. I think we think that people sometimes need a lot of help to participate in the artwork and maybe you don’t need to animate a Van Gogh painting for people to appreciate it, I have my doubts. There is something much more organic in what I do, I participate and control the action.
Koreans define you as ‘The painter of happiness’ and it is true that it always has an optimistic color or vision. Does your art begins in a happy moment?
I didn’t like this title at first when they gave it to me, it’s not that I start painting with a smile on my face and everything seems beautiful to me. I would find it a rather banal reading, because my paintings deal with very different subjects. It is true that for me painting is joy, a support and a strength that I always have at hand, but it does not mean that everything is a spree. Painting is a space that opens windows and different ways of looking and that’s what I claim, to look at things that happen to you in a different way. I am an optimist, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t analyze the things that happen and capture them in my painting.
In fact, it is full of reflection.
I use it to reflect, yes. It’s true that everything starts from a first emotion and when someone connects with that emotion and makes it his own and takes his paintings to his own territory, it’s fantastic. I can base myself on something autobiographical and the person who interprets it is talking about his own biography.
How did you arrive at such a personal style?
I don’t know, it’s a matter of years, you start copying, having references… then you get rid of what is not yours and in my case I think there is a very intense attempt of honesty, sincerity and simplicity. I have managed to create a language that I am very happy with because it is absolutely recognizable, it is not easy.
What have been your references?
At the beginning I copied Modigliani because I found his figures poetic and they took me to a world of dreams, I went through Basquiat, the German expressionists, Miró, Barceló… I have had different stages. I think I am hypersensitive to beauty in all its meanings and I look for it, I can find it in a person, a color, a building?
You work in all genres (painting, drawing, sculpture, illustration…), as we can see in the recently opened exhibition at the Lonja.
I think that to capture and explain an idea or that emotion that you are imagining can be done in a thousand ways and it is essential to choose the right language, scale, technique, size. The whole message is conditioned by the medium and arrives in a different intensity. I consider very carefully how I am going to explain what I am feeling. The exhibition at La Lonja has more than 200 works and I have tried to make it a range of all techniques. There is one of the rooms that talks about fragility and ceramics seems to me the best way to explain it, for example.
In your works you use words to guide the viewer in the drawing. A word together with an image triggers a whole reflection.
Yes, that has always been the case. I like to write and read a lot. Sometimes I take a small drawing sketch and sometimes a word. Many times I use words in the form of a brushstroke, not only in the form, but also in the message. I wouldn’t know how to paint without writing on the paintings.
You have collaborated in campaigns with the Women’s Institute against gender violence, with the Korean Haenyeo to get them declared Intangible Heritage of Humanity… Your works, in general, have a feminine and feminist vision, don’t they?
I don’t even think about it because it’s so obvious… as a woman I can’t not be a feminist. I defend it by having my own discourse, trying to reach the same places a man reaches, the places I deserve. I like to collaborate in projects that empower women because the fundamental thing is to believe ourselves that we are capable of doing the same as anyone else. It’s a struggle that never ends, you find emotional barriers and all kinds of barriers. Why women? Because my work is very autobiographical, what I experience I feel as a woman. I find myself with what we all find, it doesn’t only happen in the art world, opening paths is a way to position ourselves because it is what we have to do.
How do you see the role of women in art today?
I’ll give you an example that sums it all up. In my studio I have a huge library and one day I sat down and saw that I only had four monographic books about women. That’s how I see it. However, I go to give talks to Fine Arts faculties in Spain and many other countries and in some places almost all the students are women. I ask myself: Why aren’t they visible, where are they? You go to an art fair and there are many more men and the most valued works in the history of art are almost all by men. The new generations are more aware that they deserve their space.
One of your works in the exhibition that can be seen now in La Lonja is you with a kind of dress of trees and roads. And it says: “Roads walked and new roads”. What are these new paths of Eva Armisén?
I’m very happy with the exhibition at La Lonja, it makes me feel very good that in your own city people respond to you like this. Right now I’m preparing an exhibition for a museum in Seoul that opens in May and I’m working on many projects at the same time. Exhibitions that are so big require many works and a whole discourse, the organization is complicated so that everything ends up working and people end up connecting with the story.
And to be able to go back to Korea…
I hope I can go, because I haven’t been there since the pandemic. One of the good things that the pandemic has brought me is that I have learned to telework the exhibitions, I have managed to do it and I have an architect who is helping me. Thanks to this I had La Lonja in my computer, I was walking through the exhibition, I have been able to live virtually every meter of the exhibition. I have learned all this through the pandemic and it helps me to design things.