BLEACHED & SATURATED – Tony Lara pursues ‘credit crunch’ art

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They say that necessity is the mother of ingenuity and Sevillan artist Tony Lara is proving how ‘arte povera’ – artwork with high creativity but low material costs, produced with alternative and recycled media – can indeed flourish into a spectacular message of invention and visual impact.

Environmentally and pocket-friendly oversized pictures with a definite Basquiat influence were recently exhibited in a colourful solo whose in-your-face imagery well complemented the buzz of the culinary venue, and Tony is hoping to make the collection an itinerant one around the Andalusian coasts this summer, and hopefully introduce his vision of contemporary art to Gibraltar.

The most original expression of Tony’s ‘credit crunch creativity’ banks on the use of sodium hypochlorite to produce negative images on stretched fabric. “Aiming at an immediate result to awe the spectator, I use bleach on dark or printed poplin cotton. The abrasive chemical reaction on the fabric creates a slackened apparition of the image, donning it a ‘magic plasticity’. The viewer has to gaze at the negative picture and slowly bring it into focus to ultimately recognise the face portrayed and watch it draw itself in positive.”

Despite his penchant for abstract, the human shape remains protagonist of a large chunk of Tony’s artwork, using dolls as stunt doubles when paint-drenched Barbies and Bratz express the malaise of society’s obsession with distorted body shapes. Sometimes he goes as far as slathering paint over real people, models impersonating canvases nodding at the artist’s research on Miró-styled colour-blocking effects. Featuring living artwork at one’s exhibition is a novel idea indeed to marry fine arts with body paint artistry, but it might present practical hiccups, so the models are often asked to roll over and around broad white sheets and leave the imprint of their colours, turning from canvas to paintbrush and so transferring their message on permanent medium.

Primary colours are Tony’s favourite, complemented by blank spaces and assertive black lines. “Painting is my most prolific style of expression, but my artistic unrest pushes me towards investigating other fields, like sculpture, photography, video-art, performance and installation,” says the sculptor who won the ‘Obra Abierta’ prize last year with ‘Viviendo Con El Peso del Metal’, a shiny silvery cube of over one metre, to raise awareness about HIV testing, located in the Alameda de Hércules. “When I start a new project, I always research and collect the materials I expect to need. I usually work with acrylics, but I love fusion with different materials in order to achieve texture and gloss. I believe it is important to listen to your inner voice that whispers tips to resolve and renew. In terms of media, I employ silicon, resin, bleach, sand, sawdust, cement, clay or plaster, to craft volumes; in terms of techniques, I tend to apply thick brush strokes for layering, or dilute the paint for spattering and dripping effects. To my creativity, the encounter of happenstance and intention is key.”

If his latest exhibition was centred on the generous waltzing of black streaks on blue and red surfaces with splashes of yellow highlights and geometric insets, mostly in the shape of heads and skulls, but also chasing pure shape extrapolated from – but not depleted of – matter, his previous collection ‘Ekilibrio’ was the destination of his long journey down the yellow brick road of abstraction, through what he describes as the ‘neoplastic and un-formalistic language resulting from conscious and unconscious’. It began when the urban space was reconnoitred and architecture transformed into geometry, stripped from any flourish down to the very bricks and while pure colour was made the protagonist: “The chaotic appearance of a city does conceal the perfect organisation of its core. Hence, real and represented space become extremes and opposites but can indeed fuse in the flat surface and tweak it towards our viewpoint, sparking what is undoubtedly a complex equilibrium exercise.” He likes to believe his work is buttressed by an ‘occult code’ that allows him to access the ‘deepest innocence’ of his composition and to keep on zooming in and out the layered levels thus elevating picture to sculpture.

He says that his contemporary message stakes on the ‘new horizons of daring proposals and unpredictable results’, and he describes his technique as ‘primitive technology’, blending poetic interpretation and plastic manipulation to ‘suggestively succumb to the spell of a magic yet mathematical world searching for beauty through introspection’. Re-elaborating pop art with his metaphorical language, at once universal and personal in the symbolism inspired by his own childhood, Tony ‘distributes light around’, in its infinite tonalities, to whisk a luminous variation in the layers and layers of colours that constitute his universe.

Tony has been drawing since as long as he can remember: “Mother used to give us crayons and paper to keep us entertained, since we were toddlers, to my siblings and me, but I was possibly born with a stronger penchant for fine arts than them and carried it into adulthood. I cannot imagine myself living without artistic self-expression; it comes as natural as breathing to me.”

In fact, he graduated in the mid-90s from Seville’s Applied Fine Arts School, where he was lucky to learn from teachers who encouraged students’ freedom of creativity and originality, and now he is an interior designer by profession. He lists Piet Mondrian, Vasili Kandinsky, Jackson Pollock, Jean Dubuffet, Antoni Tapies, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Luís Gordillo as main influences for his prolific production, which has been exhibited in about one hundred collective and solo exhibitions in small galleries, restaurants, museums in Seville province as well as in Nice, France. He also participated in a high-profile collective for the Centenary of Dadaism. tonylara.tumblr