In years gone by, an interview such as this might have started with a series of observations. I’d have recounted the atmosphere of whatever establishment Guillermo might have chosen to meet in. I’d have assessed his mannerisms as he walked through the door, and perhaps have given a brief description of his appearance or whatever mood he appeared to be in upon meeting me. This is what might have happened in ordinary times, but we are not living in ordinary times, and Guillermo Lorca (Santiago de Chile, 1984) is no ordinary artist. Whilst it may be somewhat of a stretch to class Zoom as part of the metaverse, given the nature of this issue, and the nature of Lorca’s oeuvre, it seemed a fitting realm for our interview to take place.
Interview taken from METAL Magazine issue 46. Adapted for the online version. Order your copy here.
Back in the real world, the position that Lorca’s works have been afforded in Barcelona’s Moco Museum is a testament to his status in contemporary art. In a collection comprised almost exclusively of modern art’s most influential figures, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Banksy, the dedicated Lorca room is perhaps the most affecting that the building offers. When surrounded on all sides by these vast canvases, one can’t help but feel immersed in their fantastical world. As majestic beasts wreak havoc and unphased children watch on blankly, the atmosphere lands somewhere between awe-inspiring and horrifying.
It would not be entirely surprising, or even that unreasonable, if the man responsible for these masterpieces carried himself with an air of superiority, as so many great artists over the years famously have done. Thankfully, Guillermo displayed no such snobbishness, and discussed his work with a refreshing nonchalance. From the Vivian Girls to Freud’s Wolfman, via a political insurgency or two, Guillermo gave us picture of the man behind the canvas, and the jigsaw of pieces that make up his intriguing world.
One of the key aims of this edition of METAL is to address and interrogate just what exactly the contemporary concept of normality is, and how it is dictated. What is considered to be ‘normal’ in Guillermo Lorca’s day-to-day life in 2022?
I think getting used to living with a bit more uncertainty is my new normal. We were all a little bit spoilt with the idea that we could control the world, and I think learning to accept the uncertain has been a good life lesson for me. At night I’ll write my plan for the next day – wake up, take my medication, shower, read something (anything quick), then work on a painting, or perhaps an idea of one. I’ll try and make room for some sport or socialising too, otherwise I’ll go crazy.
Postmodernism in art is characterised by a distinctly flagrant disregard for the borders between different periods and genres, seeing these divisions as artificial and authoritarian. Your work demonstrates a plethora of influences, ranging from the Flemish Baroque of Rembrandt and co. to the Rococo style of Giambattista Tiepolo, interspersed with hints of magic realism, as well as the occasional modern-day motif. Would you regard your works as fitting into the aforementioned mould of active negligence towards the rules? Or is there a meticulousness in the devising of your compositions that goes against this rebellious ethos?
I’ve never tried to install my work within a specific movement or anything. I can’t feel free to create something if I’m trying to think about whether it belongs to one place or another. The spirit of my paintings could exist in any period of time, I’d like to think. I do use inspiration from different genres, like Baroque, but I’m not trying to imitate them. There’s something that I share with certain movements, particularly some 19th century illustrators, I can’t really explain – some kind of magic fairy dust. I know it exists, but I don’t know exactly what it is.
You recently cited the controversial American artist Henry Darger as a great source of personal inspiration. Some see Darger as a tortured visionary, whereas others see him as a potentially paedophilic murderer. Ultimately much of his life remains shrouded in mystery, is it this spirit of ominous ambiguity that you see in your own work?
He’s one of my biggest inspirations, one of my paintings at the Moco is completely inspired by his work. It’s my understanding that he divided various parts of his personality into the characters in his paintings, the Vivian girls and all their enemies. I think he had a lot of mental issues, but his illustrations were a kind of freedom for him. It’s impossible to know what went on in his life really. I think his fantasy word is what shows us the most about his real life.
Edward Lucie-Smith, who wrote the foreword to your 2019 book The Eternal Life, encapsulated your oeuvre as rebelling against the conventional rebelliousness of Latin American art, in a paradoxically political act of apoliticism. Do you agree with her affirmation that this stance is ‘without a fully formed conscious intention’? Or do you perhaps even find it slightly condescending?
Well, I don’t try not to be political, but sometimes a painting inspires an emotion that becomes political. I’m not trying to address any political issues specifically. I’m trying to get deep within my own consciousness and find a collective subconscious, if such a thing exists. In South America, there’s been a few periods with very political art, but I think it’s more to do with exportation, and pleasing the market.
In a previous interview, you mentioned that some of the surrealist parts of your works, such as the oversized pink monkeys in Fiesta de Yaksha (2017), come to you after ‘certain mental exercises’. Could you elaborate on the nature of these exercises?
Well, I have all these folders with many images that I’ve classified. I’ll have a look through them and see which one I connect with on any given day. After that first step, I’ll close my eyes and see what’s going on and use a sort of photoshop in my mind. I’ll walk around and see who else is there, and I’ll take notes until I have something a bit clearer that I can use as a prompt for a painting.
Would you care to elaborate on the nature of these folders?
I think I have around 300 reference images, so I’ve had to categorise them because otherwise I’d get really lost. I think I have about fifty five folders. I’m not usually an organised person but with this, I have to be because I just don’t trust my memory. Sometimes I’ll have a really deep intense emotional response to something, and I won’t act on it at the time, but then I might paint something based on a feeling or reaction I had from four years ago, I don’t think I could have that without my folders.
In a Spanish language interview you did for our website back in 2018, you mentioned that your preference for children and animals as the protagonists of your paintings is prompted by the way in which their souls are more exposed and the fact that their openness allows stronger displays of emotion. Given that METAL 46 is scrutinising whether certain worlds are more real than others, could you argue that the fantasy world of your paintings offers a truer representation of human emotion than the real world?
I like the spontaneity that children and animals give me. I see the animals as symbols of parts of my consciousness; they’re like different myths within my imagination, representing my different drives. You can see this use of animals to represent the desires of humans in many ancient cultures. But I think the precious part of my soul is what I represent with the image of the little girl.
One certainly gets the impression that behind each of your works there could be a tale of epic proportions, as if they were illustrations for some fantastical novel. You’ve even referred to them as ‘episodes that could be part of a story’. Do you, in the vein of our old friend Darger, create a backstory for the various characters and beasts that inhabit your canvases?
I imagine my characters as spirits; they have a history behind them that represent some moments of my life, and when I start to create an image, after that I think – why did I paint that? Is it about something that happened recently in my life? I try to make an analysis. For me the little girl is not a child, it’s a really old spirit that has the appearance of a child, but then some of them are actually children, and they represent the relationship I had with my sister as kids.
Do you see your work as a reflection of the world we live in? Or as an escape from it? You often include modern clothing or colour palettes in your works; can we expect to see any Covid-era motifs in the future?
I think it’s a real world, but a hidden real world and I use symbols to show it, but it definitely exists. We can’t just take it and show it literally, we need a process to communicate.
You recently entered the world of NFTs, selling several works via the SuperRare platform. Whilst some advocates for the use of cryptocurrencies and blockchains have highlighted the greater freedom its deregulation allows artists, there is general consensus that the idea of green crypto is essentially a fallacy. Can we accept the freedoms allowed by this new technology in knowledge of its monumental impact on the planet?
I feel positive about it, I don’t think NFTs are going to disappear, I think it’s more likely to mix with physical art then go away. Digital art is nothing new, but now it’s becoming a lot more powerful, it’s really intense what’s going on right now. Energy is a dilemma of our time, be it flying a plane or having children, we need a global solution regardless of whether we’re consuming more or less.
Along with the environmental aspect of NFTs, many critics of the medium see it as one lacking in artistic integrity. I, even as someone who has researched fairly extensively on the subject, still have a somewhat limited understanding of the greater crypto-sphere; do you think it’s a lack of understanding that has made it all so controversial?
Even I’m trying to learn more about it because I’m not completely clear on the implications, but I think the technology is going to improve, and ultimately clean electricity is something we need in the world in general, regardless of whether we use more or less of it.
The influence of Alice in Wonderland on the aesthetic of your work is clear to see, particularly the illustrations of Arthur Rackham, which are referenced on your website.
Ah yes, he’s a powerful reference, also Gustave Doré, along with these there’s many others that have been powerful for me because I saw them as a kid, I don’t necessarily remember all their names, but the symbols that I use can be seen in this period of illustrators.
Many of the characters in Lewis Carroll’s seminal novel were inspired by his real-life acquaintances. Is this also the case with those in your works?
I don’t think so, no. Of course, I use references, like going to the zoo or something, but the characters come from forces within, not acquaintances from the outside.
In 2010, you produced several large portraits to adorn the walls of Baquedano metro station, in your native Santiago. The more muted tones and realist style of these works seems a world away from what you are producing today. What triggered such a dramatic stylistic shift?
For me, it was more of a technical experiment, not that it wasn’t an interesting one, but in that moment, I didn’t feel loose, I’d just left university and their way of thinking and looking inside wasn’t the proper way, or for me at least, I just needed to find my own methods that worked for me. It took a couple of years for me to find myself and create something that felt like a true representation of me. It was actually really hard to get inside, but super satisfying when I got it.
You once lauded Lucian Freud as “one of the greatest exponents of the late 20th century.”
I like Freud, but I think I prefer Bacon to be honest.
As it happens, I’m actually seeing a Francis Bacon exhibition this week in London.
Well, that’s the good thing about London!
It is indeed. However, the reason I brought up Freud was to talk to you about his grandfather, Sigmund. Whilst your works aren’t overtly sexual, the ever-present motif of animals devouring or being devoured has a morbid eroticism about it, reminding me of the oral stage of Freud’s psychosexual theory. To what extent do you subscribe to the theories of the ‘father of psychoanalysis’?
I think neuroscience is a more accurate representation of how the brain actually works, but for me Freud is like reading literature. Although, I’ll admit there are some cases where I think he has a point. This libidinal energy that drives life does inform sex, but it’s also behind a lot of different things that we do in life. In my paintings you can see some references which can be erotic in a way. I think the fighting of the animals I see in an erotic way, just because it’s a similar drive. The surrealists used his work directly as a theoretical frame, but I don’t do that so much. In his book The Interpretation of Dreams, there was one case that really inspired me. The Wolf Man has a recurring dream that many wolves were staring at him from a tree, I always used to have the same image in my mind (before I read about it) but with cats instead of wolves and weirdly there are many parallels between my childhood and my life and that of the man from the story. Our personalities had similar agents, so that actually really impressed me.
Are Guillermo the man and Guillermo the artist two different people? Are you able to escape from your profession in your free time or do your surroundings constantly serve as ingredients for future artworks?
I find it quite difficult to separate, I think my behaviour is pretty much the same all the time to be honest. I’ve been an artist since as long as I can remember, so it doesn’t really feel like a different part of me, as long as I’ve had memories Guillermo the artist and Guillermo the man have been the same person.
Your mother is an acclaimed author who has published several children’s books as well as having a degree in pedagogy. Given this, one would expect her to hold quite strong views about how to raise a child. Do you think the way that she brought you up affected the way you depict children in your paintings?
My mother always let me be free. When I was a kid, she really used to stimulate my creativity. She painted as a hobby which made me want to paint as well to imitate her, but I had my own world of dinosaurs going on. She was probably the most important person to my development as an artist, even nowadays I’m always showing her my compositions and we have a very close relationship; her opinion is still very very important to me.
You said that the essence of your technique is something that has not changed much in 500 years. In this age of digital art and the emergence of the metaverse, why do you place such importance on the preservation of traditional methods?
You can never do the same painting twice, it’s an ancient practice but every brush stroke is still different, your hand is an expression of your personality in that moment, even if the final product is digital. Screens are more stimulating and make you more on excitable whereas I find paintings to be more calming, both the meditative process and the experience of viewing it.
Primitivism and violence are both themes seen in your work that have become far more pronounced than they were in the earlier stages of your career. Did you have to repress them within your psyche before allowing them onto the canvas? And if so, what allowed you to take such action?
I don’t think I’ve ever tried to hide anything when I’m painting, violence is something I see all the time in the real world. Constantly there’s a battle between violence and cooperation – not violence in a literal sense, but I do use it as a symbol in some paintings just as a tool to study the human condition.
Your native Chile’s political landscape has been incredibly turbulent in recent years. With an incredibly polarised election at the end of last year, the nation bucked the trend of global trend as it saw the leftist Gabriel Boric elected. Has the volatility of the nation’s recent past inspired the atmosphere of turmoil seen in you paintings?
Not directly, but it had a real impact on my mood, which in turn had an impact on my paintings. But I’m not literally about to paint a riot. Everyone was pretty afraid, it looked like there might be a civil war, which made us ref lect a little on our history, what with our military coup. We actually had a 10 o’clock curfew, even before the pandemic, and there was a strong military presence in the street. The country is trying to draw up a new constitution at the moment, but I’m not too hopeful. At least the current situation is quite a bit calmer. Even though the pandemic was obviously horrible, I think the way Chile handled it helped to calm the nation down a bit. It’s a strange old country, sometimes we’re really stable for a long time, but then sometimes we want to go crazy and burn things (laughs).
You’ve spoken several times about your childhood obsession with dinosaurs and your dream to become a palaeontologist. Is there a particular reason they’ve been omitted from your paintings?
I’m actually trying to paint a dragon, but I’m not sure how to do it. I’m doing a lot of studies because I don’t want to do a traditional, like from tarot cards or something but eventually I guess I’ll end up with something similar to a dinosaur. I’ve never thought to paint one but if an idea were to present itself then I’d take it.
Artists often have difficult relationships with their own work. Is there anything that you dislike about your paintings?
Of course, I always have a critic within myself, and I always try to make the next painting better than the previous one. Without that feeling you’d lose the incentive to create, I always have to be critical and believe that I can be better, but I’m not too harsh on myself (laughs), generally speaking I do like my work.
It is clear that scale is very important to you, with most of the figures and animals in your paintings approaching life-size scale, if not exceeding it. Is this about showing your dedication? Or trying to create a sense of awe? Or perhaps some other reason?
I just really like natural size, more or less one to one. If I think of a tree, I’ll have to do a huge painting because, well, it’s a tree. I don’t want to do tiny paintings but equally I don’t want to make things too big, with natural size you interact with the painting as if it is right there in front of you.
Your influences in terms of painting are fairly well documented, but are there any cultural figures from different artforms or professions that you feel have impacted the work you produce?
Cinema is a huge influence on my work. I saw Akira when I was just 9 and it really impressed me so I’ve rewatched it many times since, as well as plenty of Miyazaki films. Stanley Kubrick is also a big influence on my paintings, more in spirit than in literal aesthetics. Visually speaking, Peter Greenaway’s films have inspired my compositions quite a bit.
Many artists have demonstrated unconventional habits throughout history; Picasso only painted at night- time, Georgia O’Keefe used her car as a studio, I could go on. Is there any part of your artistic process that you consider to be particularly out of the ordinary?
I used to be a night person, actually I am a night person. Now I go to bed around 4am but it used to be more like 8 or 9, especially when I’m in the process of painting I prefer to do it at night. I like to think I’ve reached an equilibrium now, but ever since school I’ve never been able to go to sleep, but I find that my natural state is in the night- time and I’m comfortable with that, I’m happy to use the mornings for sleeping.
One of the most distinguishable traits you possess as an artist, which has undoubtedly been a cause for your success, is the fact that you have such remarkable technical ability at such a young age. It seems that you must have been leagues ahead of your contemporaries going through your formative years. Has your road as an artist been a lonely one?
Yeah, it has been quite lonely because for most of my life I’ve lived in Chile, and even though I’m a social person in general, I’ve never really been friends with fellow artists. But recently as I’ve built up more of an international network, I’m making an effort to socialise with other artists more.
You’ve mentioned that Japanese anime has had an influence on your work, and this can be seen quite clearly in the aesthetics and colours of various works of yours. As this edition wants to talk about escapism and the metaverse, what are your thoughts on the phenomenon of anime girlfriend simulators? Should we be entitled to comfort and artificial affection? Or does the potential negative impact on social and cognitive skills outweigh any benefits?
Well, yeah, with hentai and everything I think these sexual fantasies are really common. I’m not sure if we know enough about the brain to get a matrix-level immersion. Things like these have the potential to completely change the way that we live. In the virtual world we can ask ourselves why we need to be human, if you want to be an eagle, fly as an eagle, feel as an eagle, see as an eagle, then why not. The real question is if we’ll be more or less happy – if someone who doesn’t exist can make you feel less alone then why shouldn’t they? Why should they have to be a human?