About Michel Perez’s pictorial work
As part of the activities in this 12th edition of the Havana Biennial, the launch of a book that collects and systematizes the pictorial work of the artist Michel Pérez (Pollo) over the period 2008-2014 took place on May 24. With regard to this book, published by Turner Publishing Company, the artist talked with us.
It is noteworthy that such a young artist like you already has a book of this kind, published by the prestigious Turner Publishing Company. How did the idea of the book arise and how is carried out the editorial process?
For better or worse, this was a long process that began with a much smaller idea and that, as time went on, grew up. New works continued appearing that we considered should be included, and this made the initial format to be widen, to the point of considering it a book of a relatively extensive stage of my work. At first we thought of something like a catalog. I think that the delay in the time of its creation process made me to think in a book.
The book was the result of an agreement between several people who like my work friends who have long shared with my work, and Turner Publishing. This was a joint effort in which I had full participation, at least throughout the stage that was developed here in Cuba. At the end, Mai 36 gallery joined us, in the midst of all this I start working with them, and of course it was a complementary part, a vital part in the process.
The book summarizes not only the latest stage of your work, but the one that defines you as creator and for which you are identified. What do you think are the key elements of your work, those that might define your art collected for this book?
Oddly enough I think I make, basically, a metaphysical painting. For me, however, it is always very difficult to use definitions, because they are only part of the job. I think my work gathers several processes, perhaps the most comprehensive is the one that corresponds to the metaphysical part, but there is also an important segment of realistic painting. I could say that if there is anything distinctive or peculiar about my process, is that the way in which I build the work resembles that of realistic painting (i.e. paint from a model), but the result is usually metaphysical. That’s the oddity that is generated in the pictures.
I’m interested in processes of artists who are not painters such as Jeff Wall, who carries a kind of detailed construction of the scenes he then photographs. They seem fortuitous but are completely controlled scenes, and the result is a picture that seems to be casual. That kind of outcome and process interests me a lot and it is very common in photographers and filmmakers, perhaps as much as in painting.
From pieces contained in this catalog we see that your work has been changing its modes of assuming representation. How has this shift emerged in your work?
I think there has been an evolution in my work. I am very interested in dealing with this issue because it is usually a type of work that can be too repetitive -for me, of course, it is not; for me every painting is a change, I don’t even work in series-. However, the fact of having to think each work separately already involves a challenge, I have to generate each image different from the previous one, and in that sense I think that although it is a short step -eight, ten years- there is an evolution (at least I think so when I read the book). I see that the images have matured, have become more subtle, less obvious, anecdotal, and descriptive. From that perspective there has been a change. But I think that everything lies in how you look it, there are tasks where it is much easier to identify a change because it is a formal or language amendment. But when you use a single means, a way of seeing and building, when you yourself limit your resources, it is much harder to externalize or to make any movement noticed. It is much more difficult also to make a difference.
In the book you make reference to figures of world contemporary art that have functioned as references for your work (Morandi, Hockney, Magritte), however, they are artists entirely omitted by the Cuban historiography speech in their approaches to your work. How much proximity, how much distance does your work have with the most widespread rhetoric by national criticism about your work?
Artistic processes have a rhythm, take a certain path, and theoretical and analytical processes take another. It is very difficult for critics or for those who analyze and consume art to coincide with the rhythm of creation. The rhetoric to which you refer once had a sense. Several painters of my generation agree that perhaps, at first, we could nourish of some type of foreign culture or subculture (such as manga, for example) but for me this vision expired long ago. That has changed a lot, I do not even think it had too much importance at the beginning, I think it was more linked to the way people understood or tried to understand those images, you get close to things as you know them-. I think the Cuban public tried to relate our work with something, and they did so with that kind of references. However, for me there was always a distance.
In reality there are two different things, one side is the way my work has been read in this context, on the other, the way I see it. The way my work and that of some of my contemporaries is understood and consumed has much to do with the discourse of criticism. That look is connected, on time, with some figures that built their readings by way of judgments, patterns through which the work of an entire generation would be built. I do not know if this was a conscious intent, or if it was the easiest way to talk about a group of artists that was making a very different kind of work. Now, what strikes me is that over time, and talking with my friends, we all agree that we do not care to say nothing. Every time I have a chance I repeat it, I try to correct the perspective and generate other understandings on the matter, even on the real influences, however, that rhetoric permeated so deep that no one listens to me. But that is something that is out of my hands, people find ways to approach the work and that’s also valid.
It is curious, in this book, the absence of national critical voice. Why did you decide to present your work exclusively from foreign gaze?
Very early in the working process we got together to talk about the approaches of the book, the ways in which the work would be shown, the kind of understanding that would be enhanced -that was an essential subject- and then, two years ago, I honestly was not at all happy with the way it was handled, not only my work, but the work of many artists of my generation. It seemed to me that there was something deeply flawed as a kind of reading that was not the closest to reality had been generated. Then I thought that the best way to correct this would be a new approach, that is, from an outsider who was not permeated by the Cuban context, by the prism through which the art of the island is normally seen and understood (conceived as a single phenomenon such as a school). I felt that a different approach could be more genuine, more intimate with the work, even for people involved with my work beforehand. At that specific moment my work was not thought how I conceive it. I think much of the decision of foreign critics to write had to do with it. I wanted the work to be analyzed by its process, construction, and wanted a new approach to that experience. Maybe it was a prejudice, but I thought that if it was a Cuban critic-at least someone I knew and with whom I have very good relations- preconceptions, the rhetoric to which you refer, and in which I was not interested, would emerge.
I feel this book is to reintroduce, in some way, your presence in the Cuban art scene that, over time, has become less recurrent. This is something that attracts attention as it sharply contrasts with your positioning within the international circuit. Is it your decision or does it respond to other factors?
I think much of this issue is not a conscious decision; those are things that are happening. The work is taking the roads it best understands for itself, and that has to do with circumstances where this work makes sense. Perhaps it was not the best moment (the last two years) for a job like mine to be understood here in Cuba , where there has been a resurgence of political art and some media that, although they were on Cuban art, have strengthened their presence. The institutional policy is also different, it especially advocates by those proposals of avant-garde appearance. Coincidentally this coincides with acceptance of my work outside Cuba, the work has found its way and I have had the opportunity to exhibit elsewhere. And this seems to me a completely normal thing; the opposite would be swimming upstream.
On the other hand, I have the intention and the real desire to display my work in Cuba. I do everything possible to have some visibility, even once a year, within the country (if not a personal exhibition, a collective one). I think that mainly the galleries have dealt with this, especially the Servando Gallery, which is with which I have spent many years working. In any case, I do not want to force things, I just think the work must be at a proper place. That is a cyclical process and in Cuba, somehow, will find its place. In fact, it already has it, maybe not as you dream it should be consumed or read, but in the way the context has considered it appropriate.