THE EXTREMELY BEAUTIFUL MONSTERS CREATOR: Josep Puigmartí
Josep Puigmartí was born in Monistrol de Calders in 1932. With little academic training, he has managed to do everything throughout his professional life by making use of the countless experiences he has had during his trips, as well as his profuse social activity. He is a person endowed with great magnetism and is a charismatic and unpredictable figure that has always said things straight out, however annoying many might find that. Opposed to many of the intellectual artistic world’s deeply-rooted beliefs, his vagabond, hedonistic and adverturous nature has always fled from academicism and any kind of classification. At his 84 years of age, he resides and works in the Estela Barcelona hotel in the lovely seaside town of Sitges, where he put an end to his previously peripatetic existence in 1989 thanks to the support of his supporters Antoni Almazor and Francesc Castellví.
You flirt with surrealism –is it perhaps because it allows you to escape the world by distorting reality?
Firstly, I don’t know if I’m a surrealist, a cubist, or what I am. The critics decide that. I don’t read books about surrealism. When I see or create a painting, I look at it as it is. I do what I feel like, artistically speaking. I have complete artistic freedom and (he smiles) I don’t flirt with anyone –when I do, it’s with a woman.
Tell us about your relationship with Salvador Dalí. What was the legacy of that friendship?
I used to live in Cadaqués and was a friend of Albert Oliveras who was a very well-known and popular character in journalism and presenter of the famous radio programme Ustedes son formidables (You are all fantastic). Oliveras was a frequent guest at the parties that Dalí used to organise in Portlligat. Many famous characters from the period got together there (Gauche Divine); intellectuals, actors, artists, journalists, and so on. I turned up there keeping Oliveras company and although Dalí interested me as a character because he was funny and made me laugh, in terms of his painting, that didn’t interest me at all. We never spoke about art, just about trivialities. What I did like was his ability to promote himself and to be himself at the same him. For me, he was the discoverer of self-promotion. I liked the character and how he displayed himself to others with all his eccentricities. I remember that he hosted once and he took me on a personal tour of his house.
Do you think that your creations defend the concept of beauty?
There was a point, during my period of erotic surrealism when I did look for beauty...a different kind of beauty. Different because women are like they are, with a nose, two breasts, and so on. A surgeon can’t make a woman with more than two breasts, but I, as an artist, can. As a painter, why should I have to make a woman conventionally? I painted them beautiful because I like beauty, so I was creating monsters, but extremely beautiful monsters. I have always liked that freedom that painting has given and still gives me.
You disfigure, deform and distort your figures. What inspires you?
When I paint, I don’t think about what I’m going to paint... whatever comes out, comes out. If I thought about them, I wouldn’t be able to do them. It’s exactly this fact of painting so impulsively that allows these strange characters to come up. I’m inspired by this creative freedom, and once finished, when I look at them, even I am surprised by the result. That's what really suggests to me.
Women and eyes are iconic elements of your work. Do you consider yourself an obsessive person?
It is not an obsession. When you observe the world you see what there is, what makes it up. However, if you see a mountain with an eye on top, it gives you the impression that the mountain is looking at you. Maybe that is my obsession, the fact that an eye –with no words– just by being there, transmits and causes mystery. It makes us feel as if we are being observed. I can paint an abstract painting, but if you add an eye it seems that you have created a character that is looking at you. The eye, by itself, is always observing.
Can there be art without beauty?
Beauty is a man-made invention. It is subjective. What one person likes, another might find horrible. The beauty stereotypes are different depending on cultures and sometimes we are fascinated by things that are not pretty like when we see one of Tàpies’s blots.
What do you think today’s art is lacking?
For me, it’s lacking (creative) freedom. Artists think too much about what they want to create and, therefore, they are less free. When you think about what you’re painting, you’re limiting your own creativity. You are trying to copy what you are thinking and that limits you. By contrast, if you paint reflexively, without thinking, you have no expectations about what is going to come out, and that’s when the result surprises you. Something that you have already thought of never surprises you because you have already imagined it and for me, life is based around always discovering, so as to be able to see what surprising things the new day will bring. Today my life is very monotonous and I am starting to notice how gravity is putting pressure on me –the only new thing in my day-to-day are my creations and seeing how they turn out is what surprises and satisfies me. What man creates never resembles nature (except for the blots I mentioned before). The living beings of the animal world are geometric, and we all find symmetry when you divide them in two. However, man overcomes this concept. Man is a god, a creator.
What relationship do you have with the Barcelona Royal Artistic Circle?
When Xavier Castellví1 was alive, the relationship was much closer than it is now. Of course, it is an honour that I was distinguished as an artist of merit in an institution that champions academicism, bearing in mind that I am a self-taught artist.
You have had a life full of experiences. Do you feel satisfied with the path you’ve taken? What is left for you to do?
Of course I do. And now more so than ever before. Years ago I recreated myself in painting to create those perfect monsters. Nowadays I create spontaneously and I accept the result and am surprised by it. The only thing I have left to do now is to discover this world seeing as I know nothing about the other one.█
1 Xavier Castellví (27th April 1966-23th January 2013) was the businessman who managed all Puigmartí’s events until the latter’s death.