In her studio in Cardedeu, a small town near Barcelona, Spain, Cinta Vidal Agulló is busy creating complex acrylic paintings on wood panels that reflect how our external realities often do not reflect our internal natures. Vidal Agulló sees her work as a metaphor for the ways in which we shape our world – the impossibility of completely understanding those around us, yet the personal ability to navigate the maze of life that we all inhabit.
To counter-balance her finely crafted, small-stroke paintings, Vidal Agulló has worked in one of the most prestigious scenography ateliers in Europe since the age of 16. At the atelier, she works on a massive scale, creating backdrops for operas – giant paintings that she works on while standing and painting on the floor with a large, broomstick-sized brush. As far as her personal work goes, she currently has an exhibit at Miscelanea BCN in Barcelona, Spain. We sat down with the artist to talk about her eclectic background as well as her current projects.
We’d love to learn a little about you. Where is your studio and where are you from?
I live in Cardedeu, a small town near Barcelona (60 km). It’s a quiet place but there are a lot of cultural activities, interesting street fairs, and it’s near the city. My studio is made up of two rooms in the house where I live (just above of my family’s toy store). The “dirty” room, where I apply varnishes, sand wood, etc. and the “clean” room, where I have the computer and all the related stuff but where I end up painting too. Yes, that happens to be my living room too.
Tell us a little about your artistic background, did you pursue the degree route of university courses? Did you have strong influences to be creative and pursue your work as a full time artist?
I’ve been drawing all my life. Since I was a little kid I’ve been drawing both real life models, objects, buildings when going on holidays and copying all the illustrations that I would like. My need to draw was one of my key traits. I studied Illustration at Escola d’Art Massana in Barcelona (Massana Art School). At the same time, I began sporadically working at Taller d’Escenografia Castells Planas (Castells Planas Scenography Atelier) since I was 16. That’s one of the most renowned scenography ateliers in Spain and Europe, and there I learnt the trade of painting theatre and opera backdrops.
I had great master painters who patiently taught me and helped both to improve my painting skills and be able to work in many different styles. I feel fortunate to be able to make a living out of what I like to do, drawing and painting, whether working at the scenography workshop, freelance projects for advertising, or commissioned works. Until this moment, my own work used to take a small amount of all my time, but that time should gradually increase.
Your images appear to have several angles that could each be the main view, multiple angles or top-sides to a scene. Please tell us a bit about what these paintings represent for you – how do you go about staging such intricate settings?
With these un-gravity constructions, I want to show that we live in one world, but we live in it in very different ways – playing with everyday objects and spaces, placed in impossible ways to express that many times, the inner dimension of each one of us does not match the mental structures of those around us. The architectural spaces and day-to-day objects are part of a metaphor of how difficult it is to fit everything that shapes our daily space: our relationships, work, ambitions, and dreams.
I paint realistically (as opposed to working in the abstract) to help the viewer to recognize the quotidian space that we all inhabit, assisting them to understand the ordered maze that is this proposal. I want the viewers to recognize what they are seeing, but to see it in a very different, unstructured, broken way.
Do you find that each piece is a full creative study, or do these works we’re viewing belong to some larger series of similar concepts or works?
I would say that this series is a starting point, a place from which I can rethink my line of work. It’s true that I have been pursuing this kind of impossible gravitational structures for ages, but I didn’t feel 100% sure of where it was going. This last evolution — from small to bigger format, from flat colors to realistic paintings, no longer just an architectural game but the deconstruction of real, familiar scenarios — puts me in a place that I like, a place from where I can start to explore new possibilities of this world that I have been building. Of course there are more paintings to come, but I am also working with similar concepts on other disciplines. Time will tell if I find something interesting in this exploration.
Do you have a set schedule for being in the studio? We’re curious what life is like where you create. Do you share a space with other artists or do you prefer your own space to work?
When I’m preparing a show, I impose myself a serious discipline of work where each painting has an allocated time. I have to tell myself to stop working on some paintings but, as this is not a “regular job”, I end up working eternally over time in order to leave them as I want them to be. I work at my home-studio that I share with my boyfriend. He also works on creative projects, so we can share our view on each other’s projects and discuss (a lot) the best way to accomplish things.
So, what do you do when you’re not creating? Is there an alter ego that works as a daytime professional then dons her artist persona and gets into the studio?
When I’m not working I really enjoy spending time with my friends and family! That’s something easy to do in a small town like Cardedeu, where everybody is physically near you. However, there is the “working phase” where there’s a clear deadline and project (i.e. this last show). It takes a bit for me to put the machinery to work, but once I get into the routine, I get obsessed and spend the whole day on the project. Those types of projects usually take something like two months. Afterwards, I’ll need to spend some free time to recharge batteries back with family and friends.
You’d mentioned earlier that one of your main pursuits is scenography – the large-scale paintings used for major productions and stage shows. What sort of perspective is needed to produce something on that scale?
I started working on scenography by chance (as one of the most important scenography ateliers in Europe is near my hometown). I started there as an apprentice at 16 and I have been working in sporadic projects since then. There I learnt to be rigorous with my job and to love this work. At the atelier there’s a high variety of projects and styles, you have to understand what the scenographer is trying to get and you have to learn to leave aside your personal tastes.
Backdrop painting is my speciality. There are sculptors, carpenters, etc. in any opera. Teamwork here is really important (bear in mind that any project for an opera can consist in something like 5 backdrops, 10×18 meters each one / 30 x 54 feet). It’s a pity that each time there are less and less projects of this kind: nowadays you can print any of these backdrops in huge plotters. The process is conceptually simple: first, either the scenographer or you paint the final backdrop to a smaller scale (which is a work of art by itself), then you pin the fabric to the wooden floor, draw guides both in the fabric and a copy of the original painting and then you start walking over it, painting it with very-long-brushes. You have to learn to understand the painting by seeing it in this strange perspective (standing on it) to be able to work, but we have ladders and balconies to climb to see how it looks before sending it to install.
Since you create paintings on very different scales – backdrops for big opera productions as well as your paintings that show in galleries. Do you think in terms of scale, the size of the work, when you start a new painting for a show? How do you feel that the dimensions of a finished work affect the idea itself?
I have so much fun by changing the scale in each project! It’s interesting to feel the difference between painting in a small format, where each stroke is made with a tiny movement of your fingers, and painting backdrops, where each stroke is made with a very large movement of your whole arm. I have a tendency to paint in a small and tiny format, with a tiny level of detail, but painting with brushes as big as brooms makes you to paint with your whole body, and that is a powerful experience. You can also feel that when seeing these huge projects: they are much more impacting, not only for their size, but you can feel the presence, power, of whole bodies walking and painting over the fabric. That’s something that a plotted picture cannot transmit.
You have a show up currently in Barcelona, is that correct? Tell us a little about that and what you have coming up. Where can people see your work?
I took the chance between commissions to continue with this project that I started some time ago. I have been working on these concepts of unstructured spaces for years, but I wanted them to evolve and I needed them to take a step forward. I went from a very naive style to a much more realistic way of painting. This change has proven very successful, as the reception of this work has been overwhelming. Miscelanea BCN is my first serious show and I’m very happy of how it’s going. All kinds of people (those coming to the show, press, social networks and all kinds of institutions) are having not only nice words, but they are taking my work home.
Seeing this happen in Miscelanea BCN, one of the points of reference of the art and illustration world in Barcelona, makes me really happy. Not only my work is being known through them, but also I’ve had the chance to know very interesting people with whom I want to make new things in the near future. You can see the show until April 26th at Carrer Guardia, 10, Barcelona. You can also buy prints in there and on their website.
During the next two months I’ll be working on twelve backdrops in the scenography atelier, two of them for the National Theatre in Barcelona and the other ten for a ballet somewhere in Asia (more news to come soon)!