Barcelona is a cultural hub of Western Europe. A city renowned for creativity in every form; architecture, cuisine, art, design and music. So with a city of such artistic distinction, it’s hardly surprising that it is also home to one of the most respected names in hardware – Montana Colours – and its associated gallery space by the Arc de Triomf near Parc de la Ciutadella.
Within graffiti, street, urban and mural art communities the paint offered by Montana colours is synonymous with the scene. With such associations comes great respect and admiration from members of that community, and a certain level of gravitas from exhibiting within the four walls of its gallery. That is to say that an artist selected to hang work within the gallery is one of undoubted talent, with output high in quality and individuality.
During my visit, Mexican artist Paola Delfin’s work occupied the gallery with roughly 10 -15 pieces hung in the diminutive but well utilised space, flooded with natural light from floor to ceiling glass doors at the street end.
Delfin’s art is defined by her exploration of organic forms, the beauty of these and feminine sensibility brought together in dreamlike compositions. These are evident in her paintings and illustrations, especially in this exhibition through her ink and acrylic paint on paper and canvas. Raices or Roots also included an in-situ piece from Delfin adorning the crisp white wall by the gallery entrance. A pity that the beer fridge blocked the view slightly, but you can appreciate the scale and connection that this larger piece makes with the theme from the photograph below. However, despite it’s impressive dimensions and workmanship, the other smaller pieces in the exhibition had more impact for me personally.
Speaking about her art, Delfin says, “my passion is to create, be available to tell a story with my hands and make it visible to everyone though images that involve you [the viewer] in that story. That feeling is what makes me love being an artist.”
On the title of the exhibition Roots she goes onto elaborate a little more explaining that “there are taproots that travel through lakes, valleys, meadows, mountains, forests, clouds, and tides, and there are other branched and tuberous roots that accumulate and store substances, regardless of their type or size. All of them always go beyond the confines of freedom and adhere to the depths of their spirit.”
We begin to understand fully her fascination with this concept and how detailed her exploration of roots is as she pulls us into her world telling us her story through her art.
The beauty of organic forms, the trees and branches of trees wrap around the female subjects. In many cases her female subjects and the natural elements of the painting are seen as one, or become impossibly intertwined.
Highly impressive was the diptych ink drawing on display, titled Sembrando 1 & 2, or Ssowing. The title Sowing perhaps referring to the growth of the people from the ground that supports and develops them, with a child appearing in the background as the fruit of seeds having previously been sown.
This intricate composition, one of a series of delicate ink drawings, was very powerful. Her subjects sit submerged in a surrealist forest-like setting, a recurring scene, and form part of the flowers, shrubs and trees that surround them. The contours of the body are comprised of lines of ink that suggest the skin to be closer to the texture of bark than skin – making the strong link between human life and the roots that guide, support and feed us.
On the right hand side, a heart is suspended in mid air, both feeding and being fed by branches, reinforcing her idea that our roots and connection to the earth are of vital importance. A source of food, water, work, memories, but ultimately life itself. An interconnected system of strong foundations that keep us grounded and healthy as we develop and grow.
The painted works, acrylic on canvas, titled Seeds 1, Seeds 2 and Roots keep strong on this connection between human life and the earth. This idea of our link to the earth being crucial brings up another possible connotation. At a time when political unrest in the region of Catalonia is so well publicised and almost tangible in Barcelona life, how much do our roots both geographical and familial, influence our political beliefs. Perhaps not an intentional commentary by the artist on this occasion, but given the location of this exhibition, an interesting question to ponder. As I considered this question, Podemos (left wing Spanish political party, akin to Syriza in Greece) gathered and whipped a large crowd into a frenzy of chants not 100m away, quite aptly timed.
The final piece worthy of note within the exhibition was titled debajo de la tierra, or underground. Noticeably different from the rest of the exhibition in that it introduced a brighter colour palette and thicker, chunky brushstroke. This gave the subjects defined blocky contours, and protruding bone structures, to an extent that they are almost uncomfortable to look at, perhaps looking malnourished or unwell in appearance. They reminded me of a less bulbous version of some of Peter Howson’s portraiture work.
The ground is a deep red, and the sky and foggy backdrop a misty blue. The choice of these colours I believe to be no mistake. Perhaps the deep red has been carefully selected to represent oxygenated blood within the body, the blue of the sky and mist representing the de-oxygenated blood allowing for a slightly different perspective on roots, acting as veins transporting vital blood. Oxygenated blood of course being pumped by the heart, or ground in this instance, to the trees, or humans, to ensure survival.
The exhibition as a whole is tightly themed, each piece with a clear link back to the main thrust, but exploring a different aspect of the metaphor at each turn in a number of different ways. Her intricate illustrations hark back to her early career in illustration, while her acrylic paintings allow her to explore the different ways of exploring her subject often with a surrealist twist, offering a slightly uncomfortable alternative view of the world in her mind’s eye. Despite being more inclined to seek out exhibitions with intricate illustrations like Paola’s, I think I actually enjoyed her paintings more, testament to their power and impact.
The idea of roots is an interesting one, with many different strands coming to mind. From our spiritual home, to sustenance offered by the ground, and our belief systems and to our ability to move freely, as a UK citizen this is particularly poignant.
Although the artist may not necessarily have intended for some of these, the timing and geographical location of this exhibition makes it all the more interesting and thought provoking.