The architect and artist Ivan Fernandez Galindo had his first exhibition at the age of ten. If that wasn't enough, he has ever since been on a journey of self-exploration and fulfilment while building the impressive portfolio he has today, over twenty years later. His project The Ever-Changing Chair is a diary of the Covid-19 pandemic, through different paintings of chairs, an interpretation of feelings, thoughts and present moments.
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So, Ivan, having a solo exhibition at the age of ten is quite impressive, could you tell us a bit more about this experience? What has shaped the artist and architect you are today?
I remember painting since I was little, but I'm not really sure how it all started. I guess someone in my family saw that I could draw and paint, and they signed me up for painting classes. Then it all went quite fast. My parents had a friend who owned a small art gallery and offered me the space. When this became serious, I didn't have a solid collection of works, just a few things here and there, but I wasn’t ready at all to show them. So I had to create thirty paintings to fill up the space in quite a short time – a bit more than a month. I even remember some of the paintings were framed wet.
When I look back at that, I see there is a weird collection of all types of styles put together, from charcoal portraits to abstract shapes and compositions of colours. I guess this is not a coherent collection, but I quite like the mix even though they are what they are. I still think that this first exhibition defines me quite well. I like to try and experiment with new things, and I’m not scared of the uncertainty that creating new works always brings you. I feel quite home in the unknown.
What is a day like in Ivan’s life? Could you tell us about your everyday routine?
I work as an architect and creative lead in Stockholm, so I have a so-called 'office job'. In that sense, there is a part of the day that is the same to the day before (even though days are never the same in such a fast-paced environment). Then, the other parts of the day really vary a lot depending on the time of year. Some periods are more creative than others.
Lately, I am in a quite productive mood, I'm feeling the need for sketching, painting, building models and prototypes at the same time. I am really bad at keeping a balance, I usually want to do it all and I want it at the same time. I create this sense of urgency that keeps me going and makes me obsessed about the theme I am working on, for a long while. Once I have discovered everything I apparently was searching for, then I close it and start with the next one. I am restless by nature, need to try new things and need to understand what lies underneath them. Therefore, I am not so into the process. I usually go from idea to final result quite fast, I am more inclined to learn from what the end result tells me, but lately, I have as a focus to better enjoy the process.
Born in Spain, where you also obtained your architecture degree, you pursued your Master’s degree in Visual Design and Space Management at the University of the Arts London. Then, you moved to Stockholm in 2014, where you got closer to Scandinavian architecture and design. So you got immersed in different cultures during your life. How has this influenced your work over the years?
I have never been comfortable in the space I was in during the different periods of my life, so that pushed me to get moving and learning at the same time. While I was studying, I was doing research, working at the university with some teachers and also working in an office, all at the same time. I combined the final project with internships and architectural competitions, I was never still. I have always had the worry of missing out on things, and this feeling of always improve and know more.
I have always wanted to live in different places. I have been making decisions based on my gut feeling, based on an idea I created on my mind: If I want to do this, then I have to go London if I want to experience that, I have to go to this other place… and son on. I did my Master's degree in London to try to jump into a more eclectic vision of architecture. What was taught in school was not what I wanted. It just fulfilled half of me. I didn’t want to stay just in the pure 'building apartments and museums¡ practice. I thought Visual Design was a good complement and could introduce me to projects with fewer lead times. A building usually takes years to get completed. By the time it is done I would lose the interest I had in the beginning.
The same thing with moving to Sweden, I just had a blurry idea about what their design was, but I was super decided to go for it. It is a particular culture, where the end result is not only what counts, it is also the environment and the deciding factor that defines it along the way. That also gave me a lot, how to work in a new way with teams, common decisions, and that they are many shades between black and white. I used to be quite radical in my thinking, even though I still have things really clear in my mind, I am shaped softer now.
I think the biggest input I bring with me from the places I have lived in, seven cities in ten years, in is all the different ways of seeing work, culture, life, aesthetics, etc. This has created a mix inside me which I quite like.
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In 2019, you regained interest in creating art and you resumed painting, why did you feel the need of having this break? Do you feel like painting/fine art lets you express more freely than architecture, as it involves a lot of technicalities and complexities (maths, physics, engineering, etc.)?
I think it is perhaps due to two reasons. The first one is that when I was a kid I didn’t really choose to paint or create an exhibition. I guess I just did it because I was good at it, but I really didn’t feel it was decided by me.
Then, I also think that for you to focus on what you really want to do, you need to have a few basic needs covered, or at least you need the room head. I guess during school years I just focused on that. I was a really good student, so that became my priority. Then I started Architecture – I didn’t think of studying fine arts, it was still something missing there and I felt architecture concentrated more fields I was interested in, and I was too focused on discovering that. Then I started the different practices in different places (Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona, London) so I didn’t have the time to pick up the painting.
When I calmed down with the moving from place to place and I settled a bit, then I felt I needed that drive I have had from a natural way before, so I picked it up quite intensely. I just started painting in my apartment in Stockholm, on a small wall where I hung everything together. Then it all grew a lot so I had to build a studio in my summer house in Spain, where I have space to experiment with bigger sizes, models, pieces of furniture etc., and can put it all together. I now have more than 200 pieces. I just try to go back to that space whenever possible.
It feels so good to have a base where you can just experiment and leave things there, with no other pretence. When I am in Stockholm I still paint in my apartment, which is also filled with drawings. I also bring a notebook with me any time, so I can sketch and make notes that I can turn into bigger paintings later on. I have quite a few works now ready to jump out of that little notebook.
How do both practices differ and relate at the same time in your case?
I do think painting allows me to be faster, to test things right away. You can do a small sketch and quickly see if it's what you were thinking. In architecture, the end result takes much longer, and you are also to some extent in the hands of other stakeholders. There are many people involved, and the final product usually doesn't turn out exactly as you wanted. When I am drawing by hand and up till the time I finish a sketch, the result is fully mine. If I use the computer to draw a technical drawing, I think it already exists a gap between my brain and the software (the computer is not as connected to my brain as my hand is). Then, if on top of that I have to hand over the drawing to someone else to interpret it, that is already out of my control.
I think both practices are deeply rooted in me. I am hand sketching all the time when I do my architect's job. I create views and scenes by hand, and I do include physical elements in scale when I paint. It comes back again to the not feeling comfortable in the space I am, when I do architecture I need to escape from its reality and break its rules, and when I paint organic shapes I need to ground them and relate them to a figurative object. It is good to have different suits that you feel comfortable/uncomfortable with and can decide which one you want to wear that day, the architect's one, the artist's one…or the one in between.
But also, organic shapes are very present in your work, how did you get to these asymmetrical and irregular forms? What is your creative process like?
It really depends. The first organic drawings I made I was trying to escape from architecture to the limit where nothing had neither size nor scale, just wanted to be in a space where there was no gravity. Though I tried to make compositions that were balanced to my eyes but nothing was figurative. I had a really active period where I was only into those shapes but went over it quite fast.
To give you an example of what my creative process is like, I started with The Ever-Changing Chair project during the pandemic. The project started around the idea of a chair, the same chair I was sitting on during the working from home period, and the changes I saw in that chair, even though it was the same chair, every day it felt or it made me feel different. I was also quite interested in the screen printing process, so I decided to do a collection of fifty screenprints where I could print the same base chair, with the idea of drawing on top of it afterwards and make each one of them different but still being part of the same group. Each one of the fifty chairs reflects a moment, a feeling, or a state of mind. When I look back at them I can easily spot how I felt during those days. It is a kind of diary.
After that was finished, it came in quite a natural way the thought of building a real chair to put an end to the collection. So I am now doing this inverted journey. I first drew the series based on a chair that was changing, and now the chair with the changes jumps out of the drawing to the real world. I am currently building a one to one prototype, a purely functional chair I hope to use a lot. I am sure it will jump in again to the drawing and take a new shape in a new series of drawings.
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In your most recent works, and also in your interpretation A Bigger Splash: Presence and Absence of David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash, chairs, ladders and tables are often present. Is this related to your identity as an architect or does it hold different meanings?
It is definitely related to my background as an architect. I also think it is quite nice to play with symbols that I can use and repeat in the different paintings, almost as placeholders. I am playing in this in-between world, between architecture and painting, and I think it is really interesting to cross the boundaries inside each discipline and not only do what is expected.
In A bigger Splash: Presence and Absence I wanted to make a composition where I replaced the main figures of the artwork by the symbols I am exploring. So the person that just jumped in Hockney's work is replaced by a chair (who said that was actually a person creating the splash?), the director’s chair is replaced by a ladder, the reflections in the glass and the palm trees in the back also turn into organic shapes. The painting is absolutely different, but the composition and the tension are still there.
I am drawn to the different interpretations of things, things can be read in very different ways and it is pretty much up to the viewer's eye to process what they see.
I was just curious, what draws you to Hockney’s work, specifically his pool series?
I think everything he did was amazing but I am quite intrigued by the pool series. Apart from the beautiful colours, and the composition I am really into how he deals with time, reflections, movement, absence…
The lack of figures in A bigger splash, are quite interesting, it leaves you figuring out what just happened. You can pretty much assume it was a person jumping off the diving board, but what is important is that it was just captured on that exact moment, just the second after, and there is no one/nothing there anymore. He addresses time here in such a beautiful way.
He was also really interested in how to paint the water. That is a big challenge since the water could be anything. I am more interested in what the water suggested to him. I like that he didn’t want to paint it in a realistic way but rather to capture the light and movement of it by drawing different shapes that could resemble it. I did not feel ready to start investigating this yet. I wanted to leave an empty space to further think about it.
What else do you like about Hockney's work?
Taking about pools and water, I really like when he actually painted blue curves in the walls and the bottom surface of a real swimming pool. These blue curves are an interpretation of the water reflections and waves themselves. It is brilliant to draw on a surface and freeze the actual shadow that the water will anyhow create. This relation between the object, the reflection, and its interpretation is really inspiring. I am really interested in his way of jumping in and out from drawing to reality, and back to the drawing.
The same with the series of polaroids he took as a boy swimming in a pool. The sequence of pictures of the different stages just put together create this feeling of movement. The viewer's eye changes on each picture that is part of the big grid. It creates an enormous amount of viewpoints within the same artwork. Again many interpretations of the same piece.
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Who are the artists you look up to? Where do you usually get your inspiration from?
I get inspiration from pretty much everywhere. I really like to work with crossed references and take things from here and there. I am quite an eclectic fundamentalist if you can say so. Though there are many artists I look up to, quite an old soul tough. Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Pedro Almodóvar, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Miró and Rem Koolhaan to name a few.
Today you are an architect and an artist, but you also combine those both practices. How do you turn your abstract art into 3D? Do you consider it a challenge?
I feel they can be combined in quite a natural way. Of course, there are technical difficulties when you want to turn a painting or a part of it into a real piece, and the other way around. But I think the challenge really exists if you want to make full sense out of it. If you just want to explore how this drawing would look like if it would become real and you embrace that it will show in a new way, then I think it’s fine. When you are ready to live in a world of interpretations is really great. It also leads you somewhere new every time. To suggest is really fun, isn’t it?
While explaining your series and processes, the words ‘exploration’ and ‘understanding’ are frequently mentioned. It feels like your artworks are often associated with philosophical approaches, viewed like experiments, is this what you’re looking for? In what ways does philosophy influence your artistic and professional practice?
I do want to explore, so that is why I always mention that it is my main goal. I do want to understand what I am doing, and I need to do it to find out what it is. I don’t mean explore just to try new things in a broader way, but rather explore directly into the centre of it, in a deeper sense. I feel I have to finish a painting to actually understand what I was thinking when I started. I also take quite seriously that it has to be new for me, and I can not do something I have done already, or at least not in the same way. I am not sure if it's related to any philosophical influence, it is more of a moving forward mindset. Maybe it is true to say that the only constant in life is change.
When I am about to finish a project, I always think of letting it rest. Kind of as if it would need to be there, ready waiting for something. I have this need to finish off things, so they are ready. Ready perhaps to be looked over again and be the starting point for the next thing.
As Covid-19 is putting the world on hold, what are your next plans? Do you have any exhibitions or exciting projects coming up?
I have a few paintings in the pipeline now. So many sketches I have been doing lately that I would like to grow big and dig into them. I am also producing the chair of the paintings with a carpenter, in different materials and finishes to actually see what they suggest and how they differ from each other. This real scale chairs will close The Ever-Changing Chair project, so an exhibition would be the finishing touch of the project.
I am also looking into a new series where the same chair goes back to the drawing board (textile this time), and gets dismantled. I am painting separately the different parts of it, but depending on how the textile is used and depending on the shape underneath it, the chair gets built in one way or another. Perhaps is no longer a chair now.
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