After relocating from London to New York City, Spanish-born Cristina BanBan found herself exploring and reexamining her identity. Overcome by feelings of nostalgia and homesickness, her sort of moodiness dictated her paintings: portraits of beloved ones like her late grandmother ‘La Pencha’, or artworks with titles as Overthought and Angustia. This all happened before the start of the pandemic, but her new online exhibition, Tigre y paloma, on view at 1969 Gallery’s website until July 12, which gathers all these recent paintings, seems to come at a perfect timing. Today, we speak with Cristina about isolation before and during the pandemic, how she copes with feeling homesick, and summer memories.
Cristina, you’ve recently inaugurated the online exhibition Tigre y Paloma at 1969 Gallery in New York. The starting point was El poeta pide a su amor que le escriba, a poem by one of the most renowned poets in Spain, Federico García Lorca. When did you first discover/read this poem and how did it inspire you to use it in your painting?
The title was extracted from one of Federico García Lorca’s Sonetos del amor oscuro (Sonnets of Dark Love) because I was attracted to the sonority and the visual concept of the antitheses ‘tigre y paloma’, a tiger and a dove. The poet describes his desperation while waiting for a sign from his lover while being apart. The opposition within the two terms, tenderness and ferocity, calmness and passion, resonated with the clashing emotions I was experiencing at the moment.
This all happened before the start of the pandemic, when I found myself exploring my own identity after moving to NYC. I picked the title to enclose the project as an inspirational note and initial position to build the narrative for the series.
This is your second solo show at 1969 Gallery, and it’s radically different from the first one. In Tigre y Paloma, the works reflect nostalgia, sadness, being homesick, even loneliness because of the quarantine. Would you say that expressing those negative feelings through painting has helped you somehow to cope with them? Are you feeling better now than when you started painting (this series)?
The intention was never to portray the sadness behind quarantine, it all came before the Covid-19 outbreak. I was immersed in emotions of missing home and wanted to make sense of my thoughts. The consequence of moving overseas triggered those existential questions. Mentally, I started to recompile images from childhood memories and family times.
The painting Por mi iaia ‘La Pencha’ is a tribute to my grandmother, who passed away years ago. The main character – a self-portrait – cries while the other, my grandma (or ‘iaia’ as we call them in Catalunya) holds the cryer’s head in consolation. She’s symbolized with a grey braid and the necklace she always wore.
La Costa Daurada depicts my favourite memories – spending every summer of my youth in the Mediterranean Sea. I miss the noisy crowds you find at the beach! I wanted to represent all those little stories unfolding around you at any given moment during a summer by the coast. This painting is happy and positive, bringing a very different feeling than the more melancholic paintings in the show.
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Some of the titles reflect your mood: Overthought, Angustia (translated as anguish) or Homesick are just some examples. Do you always create from your emotions and what you’re feeling when you’re painting?
I definitely focus on how I am feeling because that energy will dictate how the painting will look. I have to connect with myself. Painting is a very honest act for me.
This feeling of nostalgia is also present in other artworks depicting people who’re close and dear to you but that I guess are in Spain while you’re in NYC – your grandmother ‘La Pencha’, Juana, Lolilla, Lucia… Do these pictures somehow serve as the typical ID photos we carry on our wallets?
Oh, that is such a nice idea, I didn’t think of it that way! A friend that you carry in your wallet as a reminder of their love! When I finish a portrait and give it a name, I definitely feel that I ‘know’ that person. I like to imagine their story and personalize every character with a different mood, which always correlates with mine. A lot of anxiety in those portraits, you are right!
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All this moodiness derives from being self-isolating in NYC, far away from your family and relatives, and also, one of the most affected cities in the United States. How are you living through this quarantine? How’s your day-to-day?
My mood has varied throughout the days and weeks. I have been like everybody else – worried and anxious in the beginning when we didn’t know the extent of the impact on the population. Uncertainty and not feeling in control creates a lot of anxiety. For days, I couldn’t go to the studio, and when I would work I couldn’t concentrate. But somehow, a few weeks after the lockdown, I accommodated into this new regime and managed to gain some energy, working harder in order to stay sane. My routine hasn’t changed too much, though. Us artists tend to work many hours in isolation, anyway.
Also due to the pandemic, you’ve had to do this exhibition online instead of physically. Many are wondering how’s the future ahead of us and if digital exhibitions and tours are here to stay – for example, Frieze has had to celebrate an online edition, the Frieze Viewing Room, which is quite well-thought. What are your thoughts on this?
We were already using online platforms, but we are investing in and expanding our online presence. Artists, galleries and collectors are used to seeing art through the screen, and they can trust the work if they already know the artist. But we are missing the human exchange, which is so important for conversation.
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