Roberto Mollá: Symmetrical Mud and the Floating World

Músculo Insomne 2 (Sleepless Muscle), 2010. Graphite gouache and ink on graph paper, 16.5 × 40″

You don’t have to dig too deep into the history of Western visual art to find work that examines the urban environment. Some of our most canonical images take some aspect of the city as setting or subject: think El Greco, Degas, Mondrian, Boccioni, de Chirico, Léger, Kirchner, the Ashcan School, Lawrence, Hopper, Serra, Whiteread, the list is endless. The city might be the canvas (as in Eve Mosher’s highwaterline), the object of critique (as in the photography of Jacob Riis) or both (as in Krzysztof Wodiczko’s video projections). What sets the artists in this series of Omnibus features apart is the way each explores the relationship between form, location and experience in urban life and landscape.

Over the next several weeks, Urban Omnibus will share some work and thoughts of artists represented by Christina Ray, a gallery and creative catalyst formerly known as Glowlab that, since 2002, has presented and produced art and technology projects that reflect the evolving spirit of psychogeography. In 1955, Guy Debord defined psychogeography as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment… on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” In 2010, one of the most provocative examples of how psychogeography continues to influence both contemporary art practice and our understanding of the city is the annual Conflux Festival, which Christina Ray (as Glowlab) co-founded in 2003. Each year, this event brings artists, academics and technologists from around the world to New York to share work that illuminates the built environment. Throughout the rest of the year, you can find some examples of this type of artwork at Christina Ray’s Grand Street gallery. Roberto Mollá, recent winner of the PULSE People’s Choice Award New York 2010, is one of these artists. The city of Tokyo provides consistent inspiration for his works on paper and artist books, which refer to such diverse visual traditions as two-dimensional architectural representation, woodblock prints, anime and modernist graphic design. Each of these legacies has its own specific modes of describing the cityscape. Their collision, in the hands and eyes of Spanish artist Robertó Molla, is more than the sum of its parts.

Enjoy our conversation with him below. Each of the images shown below is by Mollá; contact Christina Ray to inquire about availability. And stay tuned for more conversations with artists in the coming weeks. Next up: Emily Henretta and Heather L. Johnson.

Kelly mira las estrellas (Kelly watch the stars), 2005. Artist book, 24 pages, 6 × 8.5”

Urban Omnibus: Much of your work illustrates scenes of urban life – often with an isolated feel. What kind of relationship do you hope to express between the built environment and the people that inhabit it?

Roberto Mollá: Last year at a show of mine at Christina Ray Gallery, I had a drawing which took its title from this verse of Picabia: “The city lies above the symmetrical mud.” I see the city as a device that organizes, weighs and sells by portion the chaos of rocks and mud on which it sits. If we use a legend as an example, the first city was born by a gesture of one man’s hand: Cain drew the limits of the first city into the mud with a stick. This relationship between city and drawing is very attractive to me.

Crowds create space in a city. The isolation you refer to is only reached by framing the relationship between the individual and his urban setting, where man is creator of and creature within his own environment. This relationship is a recurring theme we see in the metaphysical piazzas of de Chirico and the wine cellars of Morandi. Silent spaces and solitary people add mystery to timelessness.

Urban Omnibus: Gran parte de tu trabajo ilustra escenas de la vida urbana – a menudo con una sensación de aislamiento. ¿Qué tipo de relación te gustaría expresar entre el entorno construido y las personas que lo habitan?

Roberto Mollá: El año pasado expuse en la galería de Christina Ray un dibujo que lleva por título este verso de Picabia: La ville se trouve au dessus de la boue symétrique (1). Veo la ciudad como un artefacto que ordena, mide y vende en porciones el aparente caos de rocas y fango sobre el que se asienta. Si hacemos caso de la leyenda, la fundación de la primera ciudad nace con el gesto de un brazo, el de Caín, que dibuja con un palo de madera sobre la tierra o el barro, los límites de la primera población. Esta relación entre ciudad y dibujo me resulta muy atractiva.

El espacio en la ciudad está construido por la muchedumbre. El aislamiento al que te refieres sólo se consigue a través de un encuadre que busca subrayar la relación del individuo con su entorno urbano, un entorno del que es, al mismo tiempo, creador y criatura. Ese aislamiento es una atmósfera recurrente que reconocemos en las piazzas metafísicas de Chirico o en los bodegones de Morandi. Espacios silenciosos y personajes solitarios que aportan a la imagen misterio e intemporalidad.

La ville se trouve au dessus de la boue symétrique (The city lies above the symmetrical mud), 2009. Graphite, gouache and ink on graph paper, 15.75” x 71”

UO: In your work, structures appear out of context, partially depicted, and ultimately fade into the graph paper grid. This lack of context also adds a particular weight to every drawn line given the deliberateness of its inclusion. How do you think this use of space and environment affects the expression of the scene?

RM: Over ten years ago I started drawing on graph paper in a notepad of my father’s and since then I’ve found it a nuisance to work on blank surfaces. The grid offers an abstract and mathematical context over which one can dump diverse images that the grid then helps to connect.

The grid background also allows the empty spaces between distinct images to have a dense geometric load that accentuates, through contrast, the colored planes and gestural pencil marks.

The urban scenes on Japanese screens have huge planes of color, which act as clouds or fog in order to interrupt the continuity of the scene, hiding fragments of the image. These sections in which the represented is hidden or vanishes at once disturb and make calm a scene saturated with information. You put it well in your question: those spaces give an added value to what I’ve decided notto hide. The shadows projected over the shoji or paper screens have the same function.

UO: Las estructuras parecen fuera de contexto, parcialmente representadas, y finalmente se desvanecen en la cuadrícula de papel gráfico. Esta falta de contexto también añade un valor especial a cada línea dibujada dada la intencionalidad de su inclusión. ¿Cómo crees que este uso del espacio y el entorno afecta a la expresión de la escena?

RM: Hace más de diez años comencé a dibujar sobre papel milimetrado en un bloc de mi padre y desde entonces me resulta incómodo trabajar sobre una superficie blanca. La cuadrícula ofrece un contexto abstracto y matemático sobre el que es sencillo volcar imágenes heterogéneas que luego la propia cuadrícula ayuda a relacionar.

El fondo milimetrado, además, permite que los espacios vacíos entre las distintas imágenes tengan una carga geométrica de mucha densidad, y acentúa, por contraste, las formas de colores planos y las manchas gestuales realizadas con grafito.

Las escenas urbanas representadas en biombos japoneses contienen grandes espacios de color plano, una especie de nubes o niebla, que interrumpen la continuidad de la imagen ocultando fragmentos de la escena. Estas zonas en las que lo representado se desvanece u oculta, inquietan y relajan al mismo tiempo una mirada saturada de información. Como bien dices en la pregunta, esos vacíos aportan un valor añadido a aquello que se ha decidido no esconder. Las sombras proyectadas sobre los shoji o tabiques de papel, desempeñan esa misma función.

36 Cortesanas de Minowa (14), 2008. Graphite, gouache and ink on graph paper, 15.75 × 22.5″

UO: What inspires your style of architectural representation? Do you feel that modernist architectural graphics inform your work?

RM: After several visits to Tokyo, it’s undeniable that Japanese architecture has influenced my work in the way it has many Western architects. Bruno Taut, Gropius and Le Corbusier were very influenced by the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto, a structure of straight lines, tatami mats and sliding screens – a traditional Japanese architectural archetype and a place of worship for modern architecture.

The artists of the ukiyo-e ["pictures of the floating world" -ed.] added a dialogue between curved and straight lines to that ideal cube of the Japanese home. This dialogue is omnipresent in both the erotic engravings and the portraits of courtesans of the floating world. I believe what the Spanish writer Oscar Esquivas says, that “fantasy must be struck by a hammer to become useful.” The structure and order of modern architecture must be [forged and] molded until everything fits together. The mud desires to be symmetrical and vice versa.

UO: ¿Qué inspira tu estilo de representación arquitectónica? ¿Crees que los gráficos de la arquitectura moderna aportan información a tu trabajo?

RM: Después de varios viajes a Tokio es indudable que la arquitectura japonesa influyó en mi trabajo como lo hizo con muchos arquitectos occidentales. Bruno Taut, Gropius o Le Corbusier, quedaron maravillados al visitar la Villa Imperial Katsura en Kioto, una estructura de líneas rectas, esteras de tatami y tabiques móviles, que es un arquetipo de la arquitectura tradicional japonesa y un lugar de culto para la arquitectura moderna.

Los artistas del ukiyo-e ["pinturas del mundo flotante" -ed.] añadieron a ese cubo ideal de la casa japonesa un diálogo entre líneas curvas y rectas que es omnipresente en los grabados eróticos y en los retratos de cortesanas del mundo flotante. Creo, como el escritor español Óscar Esquivias, que a la fantasía hay que darla martillazos para que se convierta en algo útil. La estructura y el orden compositivo de la arquitectura moderna es una fragua sobre la que golpeo a las imágenes hasta que todo encaja. El fango que quiere ser simétrico y viceversa.

“Ryūgū-jō” (Dragon Sea Palace), 2010. Graphite, gouache and ink on graph paper, 27.5 × 39″

 

Translated from Spanish by Alex De Lucena

Roberto Mollá, born 1966 in Valencia, Spain, first exhibited his work in 1994 in Tokyo, a city that inspires his paintings and works on paper. His work has since been presented in Japan in twelve group exhibitions and eight solo exhibitions. In the US, Mollá has participated in group exhibitions organized by Christina Ray (New York), POST Gallery, Roberts & Tilton Gallery (Los Angeles) and Geoffrey Young Gallery (Massachusetts). He has also participated in art fairs such as SCOPE (Hamptons and Miami), FOUNTAIN (NY and Miami) and BRIDGE (NY). In Spain, he has participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions including Galería Nuble (Santander), Galería Tercer Espacio (Madrid), the Universidad Politécnica (Valencia), Club Diario Levante (Valencia) and Galería Sala de eStar (Seville), and he has participated in art fairs such as ARCO, Foro Sur, Arte Santander and the Lisbon Art Fair. His work has been exhibited at Observatori 2005–Valencia Science Museum, Oviedo Biennale and in the travelling show Pieza a Pieza organised by the Instituto Cervantes.



Leave a Reply


seven + 9 =