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This is a transcript of an interview taken by Winstanley Schtinter with Colm Tóibín in support of the Miró focused Pere Portabella event at The Whitechapel Gallery on December 12th, 2019 [Program: Miró, L’Altre (1969, 15m); Miró la Forja (1973, 24m); Miró Tapiz (1973, 22m); Aidez L’Espagne (1969, 5m); Mudanza (2008, 20m)]. Schtinter’s ongoing survey of films by Portabella—‘A WORM’S TAIL VIEW IS OFTEN THE TRUE ONE’—is the broadest, wildest and widest retrospective of his film-works to date—and takes place between various venues in London and Cambridge between November 2019 and February 2020. This conversation is being published by Hotel in support of the recommencement of this survey at Close Up Cinema, with a second chance to see the Miró-focus on January 21st, followed by a weekend of events that look at Portabella’s work as a producer, which will include a screening of Marco Ferreri’s El Cochecito (1960), showing with its restored, original and uncensored ending for the first time ever. See here for tickets.

So, you’re not drinking at all?

No. And they had really good red wine, but you know, red wine when you could really drink a bottle of it. Just on your own, at night… But I didn’t touch it.

That’s my favorite way to drink.

I know. Oh, just on your own? A bottle? Really?

Yeah. Is that so strange?


No, I mean it’s one way to drink isn’t it... You’re familiar with Gordon’s? The wine bar? Do you know that the owner has a company at the forefront of facial recognition technology? It works using an algorithm from a US company… the intelligence matching faces on camera to a database, and alerting the owner of the space that the camera watches. They’re about to sign deals with police across London and the UK.


I just find it such a strange, idea…


Could you click your fingers, as a makeshift clapper board?

So, you said, in email, something about the context of Miró being in Barcelona in 1968 and what it meant, obviously this ties directly to one of the films screening, Miró l’altre… Perhaps you could say something about that?

I think Miró had a strained relationship with the city of Barcelona. People might see Barcelona, because of, say, the Gaudi buildings, or the fact that Picasso grew up partly in the city—and there were other artists there—as being a very good place to be an Avant Garde artist, especially, say, in the 1910s or 1920s. Miró didn’t see it like that; he saw it as, visually, a very conservative place where anything new was laughed at and where people really were locked into some sort of nineteenth century dream that Sorolla, for example, had been involved in… or other painters, including Ramon Casas, who had made beautiful portraits (a laSinger Sargent) of very fashionable women. And even the painters who were contemporaries of Picasso were all still interested in the figure, the background, the brushwork, the… the sense of painting an actual scene… 

You know, the blue period; see the poverty down at the port, or a portrait of a man at a bar… There was a man, there was a bar. Miró was thinking more radically, and he was also someone who… He always felt that he had no talent. That he had no natural skills as a draughtsman. That he wasn’t someone who made beautiful drawings and had that prodigious talent that Picasso had from a very early age. He didn’t have that. Things came to him with great difficulty and, of course, what mattered in the end for him was color.

It was color that interested him; a great mass of color, and what that would look like. Starkly there with some marks. And from very early on to he began to think about heritage. The Catalan Romanesque heritage. So, the Catalan Romanesque paintings had been from churches, these small churches in the Pyrenes, through a new system of, you know, where they could be safely taken down, even though they effectively frescos. They were wall paintings. They were going to be sold to America en masse, but that was stopped, and thus they remained in Barcelona and could be seen. I mean, Miró told a friend of mine, a curator, that this Romanesque work was in his veins. And that Romanesque work, of course, fascinated him because of its flatness. He didn’t really care that much about perspective, he was much more interested in giving a leaf, or a flower, or indeed a piece of flesh or an eye autonomy as the other. Miró loved that idea. There was no sense of false perspective being created. That it was figure, but the figure was not necessarily in relation to other figures using a system that would become the sort of [standard] system of perspective within the renaissance. It was that earlier work that interested him. A sense of flatness, and a sense that each object was given its due. He loved that idea that a blade of grass would be painted with the same amount of care as would an eyebrow or an eye.

And so, early on, the early work is almost naïve. Using sort of fauve colors, as was famously [the case in] ‘The Farm’—the painting he sold to Hemingway—that has a lot of that, I suppose, sort of rigor. The way that a blade of grass is done. The way that the tile of a roof is done. They certainly… they were not depictions of a scene; they were attempts to find a new way of doing that. So, it was terribly self-conscious. Using colors in a very self-conscious way, rather than a way which was there to reflect reality. For Miró, reality would have been a word he would have questioned in any case. And, um, he was locked into Barcelona for the duration of the First World War, and at a time when he really would’ve liked to have gone, and the place to go was Paris. There’s a note, there are notes just saying “PARIS! PARIS! PARIS!” And, when he was going to Paris, his mother told Picasso’s mother—that part of Barcelona being a small village—and he had Picasso’s address and a cake for Picasso. But he didn’t… whilst Picasso kept in touch with him and bought some work from him, he didn’t like the people around Picasso. He wasn’t social in that sort of way, or he wasn’t certainly interested in drinking and, you know, having different girlfriends… He was much more solitary and conservative, in one way, a very conservative figure personally—I mean, he wasn’t wild.

[But] thus, he had somewhere to go—which was Paris. Easily, at that time, you could find studios because there were so many other Catalan artists there, people were coming and going, but he had, he felt, escaped a provincial city in which what was modern, what was new, what was cutting edge, was really not being respected. And that Paris, for him, was the capital. But that became a problem for him once the Civil War was over. You see, he had a painting also in the same exhibition as ‘Guernica’—that’s lost, that painting, but nonetheless his name was there, and it was absolutely clear to the authorities that he too had been involved in anti-Franco activity. But he thought because, just because he was a painter and because his family was in Barcelona, that—once the Second World War broke out—and he was in Normandy (and the bombing began in Normandy) that he could get his wife and his child and take them to Barcelona where they would be safe, thus missing the point that they would not be safe, he was stopped at Gerona on the way down, decided to get off the train, and to make his way to the island. To the island of Mallorca where his wife was from. His wife was from a very bourgeois family, a conservative family in Mallorca; they could offer him protection but they could also, of course, always remain very uncertain as to whether there was any talent there at all because, for them, talent was in the draftsmanship of a landscape, or in a portrait, not necessarily, anything sort of new and wild…. But he was developing a sort of personal iconography. He said some of it arose from being hungry in Paris, and that when he was so hungry, he actually could have visions—those lines and marks—but nonetheless it’s a personal iconography in which very few things are there. There’s a great sense of lessness. You know. Sun. Moon. Ladder. Bird. Woman. Mark. And against a background which could have, sometimes, an exquisite color. I mean, really well done. Blues and yellows. And that became his iconography; he could work with it in various ways, in various moods. He could make it into war paintings, I mean, paintings about war, if he wanted to. He could also make them paintings about sex. He could also them paintings about power. He could also make them paintings of memory. About landscape. And, by the 1940s, he had a dealer in America, Pierre Matisse, so that he could work in his studio, in Mallorca, and eventually build a beautiful studio which is still there, designed by Josep Lluís Sert (who was a friend of his), and use the protection of the island. In other words, he lived quietly on the island. It wasn’t as though he was a man given to protest, to sticking his neck above the parapet, he wasn’t that sort of figure. But nonetheless, it was viewed… the view was that Miró was in some sort of exile, with his wife’s family on the island of Mallorca.

And, in the 1960s… It isn’t as though when Franco had died in ’75 that everything changed that night or that week. Things had changed some years before. Partly, the opening up to tourism, partly the culture of ’68, ’69… the, even the music. People already had long hair, people were already smoking dope, people already had a lot of attitude and were definitely not going to live as their parent’s had lived. So, something new had already begun in Barcelona sometime after ’67, ’68. The problem Miró had was that he had not shown in his own city, and so the idea that he could come back as a famous painter and, for the first time, people in Barcelona could go and see what he had been doing over the previous forty years. And there was, in his work, a sense of the imagination as freedom. The paintings themselves, or some of them at least, were not overtly political. But in allowing the subconscious, or the unconscious, to emerge and make marks, and have those marks not following any sort of rules or patterns but arising from a personal autonomy as he worked… That represented something that might have mattered more than if he had made actual posters, or protest. This idea that an imaginative spirit could operate with autonomy.

The exhibition was in the Hospital de la Santa Creu, which is a beautiful 14th Century building. It’s now the national library. And suddenly he was back, so his problem was how much had he actually given the authorities? Franco still has some years to live, it’s still a repressive state in many ways (even though some of that has lifted), and his problem was how much has he compromised himself by coming in and having this retrospective? Something has to be done. And he shows, years later, when he was working with young theatre groups, when he made posters for singers, that he loved the idea of young people. Working with them, and letting his own spirit—which was so fresh and innocent, he had not become cynical, he had not become self-important—that he then decided he would do the famous painting that he did on the window, on the glass of the architect’s building opposite the cathedral. So, the whole idea then of him, once more, operating with great autonomy, and deciding to do this… His work was becoming immensely valuable, so there was a question of money. There was an “If Miró were to make this it would then have to be protected and kept into the future”—it was obviously a great gift for the building.

And then the crowd gathered around him, and I mean you can just imagine this… the sort of heroic presence that this man had; he had never compromised himself in any way, he had simply made images. Images which belonged fundamentally to the world of the Mediterranean. And it was the colors, the shapes, that belonged fundamentally to the world all around him. And then he was wiping it all off. As a gesture. As some way for an artist to say to a dictator, “I can do this, I can imagine anything. Be it sun, moon, stars, sex, ladder. And I can also remove it all if I want to.” And so that was a great moment, if we look at the images of change from the late ‘60s leading into the ‘70s…

I mean there were other moments when, for example, artists such as [Antoni] Tápies walked to Monserrat as a protest, but this single gesture done by a single figure, which related not only to… just a gesture of defiance, but also to something about money, and the cost of art, the value of things. Some protest against that idea. That somehow or other art was a form of investment, and people would collect art, and sell art in auction rooms, and that whole business of putting monetary value on something that, for him, came so fundamentally from the spirit. And the freedom of this spirit was suddenly being restricted by the amount of money it cost. And so, the gesture was ambiguous. It was powerful. It meant a great deal.

It meant a great deal more when… you know, the authorities didn’t really know how important he was. People asked others, and there was an interesting moment when he had identified where he wanted his foundation, and it was really one of the great sites of the city, and to give it to him you really had to be sure that he was as important as that. Once more he got Sert to design it for him, and he put in a little concert hall, he put in spaces where there could be exhibitions, and there was a funny moment in the ‘70s, you know, when he was there and he’s seeing all the kids coming up, you know, the young people coming up for various reasons to see the art, to go to a jazz concert, just to hang out in the café… he was very moved by that. By what he thought could happen now. Now that the dictator was dead, and a new sort of Catalonia could emerge. And that his images, the work that he had made, might actually mean something—might actually open up space within individual imaginations—and the fact that that would happen, not in France, not on the island, but in the streets where he had himself been brought up, I think that mattered enormously to him.

I was just going to ask about the destruction of the painting, was it a class issue as well? You know, in terms of the epic amounts of money his work was demanding, and effectively having to sell to people he would likely disagree with… Maybe that was something that politicized him further?

Yeah. I think that his politics were always left wing. It wasn’t as though, as he got older, he got grumpier or moved to the right in any way. He had a funny innocence in him about social progress. I think that he made his paintings with such a degree of innocence and intensity, that the idea that—each time one was made someone came and collected it, took it, and sold it for money to someone who would use it as a status symbol or indeed as an investment because, of course, the value of his work went up, so, this idea of value, of something that you’re making of your spirit‚ being used in this way as a part of the market. A market that he was never sure that he believed in. And, therefore, the idea of not burning a work, but actually making a work on glass. Almost like breathing on glass, but still the paint would dry on the glass, and that was a work that could be preserved publicly, but a much more powerful act to do—not burning money, not burning a painting—was just to wipe it [clean]… It had been there. It was filmed. People saw it. It once had existed. I think that was a very original act, and to make sure that it was being filmed… And, also, there was an element in Miró of the artisan. He had come from various… you know, grandfathers on two sides, had been involved in making things, in making wood, or even his father—as a watchmaker or watch repairer—doing things with their hands. And so, this idea of doing this big work, this big signature work with his hands, and then up there too, almost like a workman, almost like cleaning a window… The parody. The parody of the relationship between the artist and the dealer, or the collector. Well, collect what you want, but this has gone, and it won’t come back. You know, it just survived for a few minutes. And that was an act almost of generosity, or of openness, saying—you know—I’m not going to get any money for this. Money for this won’t come. Something else more important may have happened. Which is, that it lived briefly. It lived very briefly. And so, the glimpses we got of it are more powerful, maybe, than if it had been collected by some American millionaire and put on a wall.

And in terms of the monopoly on visual culture that some organizations or companies have today, how do you conjure that innocence—that innocent act of defiance—in the way that we consume and produce images and, perhaps, how does that relate to the struggle of the Catalan people currently?

Well, I think that the foundation solved a lot of problems for him, in that he was able to donate a lot of work, and work would be owned by the city. That the city would make this gesture. To build the foundation. And that was one way of handling the problem. It was just, you know, every painting was a sort of lost battle, in the sense that there became a huge demand for them, partly because they were quite beautiful and people… they were not, say, you know how German Expressionist paintings can be quite offensive, in your living room, and there was something about Miró which did not seem to be offensive. But that, of course, was irritating in the sense that the work came from all sorts of things, including a great darkness in some of the works—a great sense of foreboding, if you look at the figures, the black lines, the black squiggles. Even the series ‘Constellations’…

It was not as though Miró was any sort of hippy-happy sort of a painter, who is making little squiggles and bright colors so you could have it on your wall, and that would cheer you up in the morning, I mean, the work isn’t like that. But there’s also the question of Paris, and the relationship between… I mean, very few Catalan painters ever set foot in Madrid. And you would think they would, what with the Prado being there and the Goya’s and all of that, but I mean Picasso’s trajectory is Paris. When Picasso went to Paris, the people he stayed with were all young Catalan artists that he had known in Barcelona. I mean, obviously later he moved—he found a group of his own—but I’m talking about those early years, the early twentieth century. And so that trip to Paris was essentially a Catalan act—to say that this is our hinterland, this is our capital, to go north. And in his notebooks, he writes in French, and he also writes in Catalan.

But there was one other thing he did which is… On the island there’s a house that the royal family owns. And the prince, Juan Carlos, whom everybody saw in those years as being a little fascist himself and that he was just going to take over from Franco and run the place in the same way, he asked to see Miró. And Miró saw him. And said, “He’s a young man. Nobody knows what he might do.” And again, it was that sort of… Miró thinking… not following some sort of line and meeting him. And he was right; the prince did become one of the architects of modern Spanish democracy.

Miró has a lovely old age, because Franco is dead, and everybody wanted him for something. You know, he went to work with a theatre group, and they wanted a meeting, and he said “No, no, let’s start working NOW, let’s make something now.” And he made a cover for a Catalan singer, Maria del Mar Bonet, and he made a poster for the Barca football team, he made a beautiful set of tiles for the ramblas… And there’s a sense of him, in those last days, about the place. Involved in things. Enjoying freedom. But I think that moment in ’68 where… he has to do something. You know, he cannot just come in and have his retrospective in a country which is so repressed. He cannot, as a serious political man, who has also devoted his life to art, he cannot come in and just thank them for giving him the space and go back to Mallorca as though nothing important had happened. And so, that wipe….

One moment, I need to change the tape.


Thank you. Wonderful.

Is it okay, is it?

What you’re coming out with—

But you must have all that, already, from somebody else?

What do you mean? I haven’t recorded anybody else…

Oh, have you not?

No, not yet.

Oh, okay.

But I will record the many other people live...


Yes. As you were? I mean, when you speak about Miró in his final years… taking advantage, or not taking advantage, but really engaging with that new freedom, are those freedoms being undermined today? Because, of course, Portabella—as well as being a filmmaker—he became a congressman and helped craft the new Spanish constitution…

He did.

So, I haven’t had explicit word from him, but of course there is a general feeling currently in Catalonia that all of those qualities, all of those possibilities, are being very deliberately undermined—and how does that relate to what was happening then, if it does?

In the years after Franco’s death, which are the years when Miró would fly in from Mallorca, obviously he was looking after the Miró foundation, but also doing other things in the city… I mean, I was there, I saw those tiles being put down—under his supervision—on the ramblas. I mean, you could stand there and see them. The demonstrations were really marvelous, there was something astonishing going on, which was that the trade union movement—many of whom, many of its members had come to Catalonia as immigrants. From the south or other parts of Spain looking for work. They were marching for Catalan autonomy. So, obviously, were the Catalan bourgeoisie. So, the middle classes and the working classes joined forces in big demonstrations saying we want autonomy for Catalonia. We want our own parliament. That was the big demand of those years. But the problem that people had was that the government was actually going to see this; that this was going to happen. But the constitution itself—which was put through very, very quickly—and was voted for because people thought that this would copper-fasten democratic systems.

But it’s very, very difficult once you put a constitution in to get a second one in to replace it. So, the constitution says that no two regions in Spain can join forces, and that—really—the nation is Spain. That there cannot be other nations. And the Catalans consolidated a great deal; they did a great deal for the language, and they did a great deal for culture. In other words, there were great new galleries built. Theatres built. And there was suddenly a newspaper in Catalan. TV stations in Catalan. Radio stations. And education run through the language. They pushed and pushed and pushed, you know. So, if you came into Barcelona from Spain, your children would go to school in Catalan. You would be asked to assimilate as quickly as you possibly could into this Catalan. Some people, of course, really resented this, and so differences began over what right do you have as a student of medicine to have all your classes in Spanish, since all the classes are being done in Catalan… And so, people began to raise this [issue], especially with the Partido Popular, who then went to the supreme court, who began to look at such ideas. Can Catalonia call itself a nation? Which, oddly enough, is a really burning matter. If it’s only a region, then the pride it has in itself, and how it deals with itself, is different. And also, had they gone too far in using the Catalan language in all public occasions, thus leaving the Spanish language out of the equation…

And it was that distilled decision by the Supreme Court which in turn set the [Catalan] government and supporters of the [Catalan] government on a route, which would eventually lead towards the declaration of independence. The problem with that, is that there’s great support for that outside Barcelona, and some support in Barcelona. But Barcelona is a melting pot; it’s a place where outsiders always come, and there was a huge wave of immigrants [into the city] in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and then another huge wave in the ‘90s, and those immigrants tended to be from outside Europe. So, Barcelona filled out with people looking for roots, but who didn’t necessarily have them within Catalonia. So, it’s very difficult to get that vote for independence above 50%, which is totally frustrating because, of course, there are so many parts of Catalonia where its 100%. Catalans themselves, people born in Catalonia itself, tend to vote yes for independence. And that’s where the trouble is, and in the meantime, there’s developed a sort of casual dislike of Catalans. For their business acumen. The sort of arrogance they have. Their sort of pride in their nationality, for the differences that they feel from Spain. Take bull fighting, take the Flamenco guitar, take the drink, the alcohol… Catalans don’t do that. They live in a very different way. It’s a much quieter place than if you went down south. It’s almost boring sometimes… It’s a good place to work. So, all of those things, which I think Miró would’ve always been acutely conscious of, that he belonged in some way—courtesy of one grandfather in Tarragona, south of Barcelona, and the other in Mallorca—that he came from a set of Catalans who worked with their hands. Who had deep roots in making things…

But he would’ve believed in the Catalan spirit, and belief in the Catalan spirit is mysterious. In other words, it’s like any forward nationalism; it doesn’t necessarily need a rational argument, a sort of pragmatic view of the future. It’s a set of emotions, about identity. And Miró would not only feel those emotions, but he represented them. For Catalans, that work that he did—in spite of our view that it might be abstract or that it might not be that easy to read—that very thing, it’s mystery, and the way that he allowed its images to have an autonomy… the colors that he used… the way he trusted the viewer’s visual imagination to be able to read his work… All of that seemed part of this freedom, and at a time when freedom was very badly needed, and figures like Miró were very scarce. Whilst a group of very young politicians came in and managed to take power, a figure of his age, with his sort of… not just international reputation, but an ability to make it new each time and work with this iconography that had a great innocence, which had a great density and texture to it… And that idea of the plastic arts within Catalonia really matters. It’s the same way as, in Ireland, a novel might matter. And somewhere else a song might matter.

In Catalonia, those painters—especially Miró, and the shadow of Picasso, and then Tápies and Miquel Barceló—those painters actually mattered in some way, way beyond the idea that they made art for collectors or that they made something that would excite you visually. No, there was one more thing that they did; [the paintings were] public statements. Despite their subtlety, they were public statements, and they were seen as such. And that was very exciting.

Would the act of destruction or removal of the painting on the glass be as significant were it not filmed?

The act was a public act. It was done so the authorities would know that it was done, and everyone else who it concerned—such as young artists, for example, or people who had been to the retrospective—it would stop them in their tracks for a second to think, actually, that’s a brutal thing. The destruction of a work of art by the painter himself. It’s a very radical act. It’s a brutal act. I think, you know, to just do it; to go down at night on your own; to do it, and let it be known you did it, is a different idea than to having the cameras there so the world will know “THIS IS WHAT I DID,” so it really looks like defiance. And defiance of something, again, a defence of the idea of democracy, of value, but also of the idea of making something in Barcelona and saying, “I have the right also to destroy it.” That I’m the one. Me. The artist who’s been alone. The artist who has not been welcomed into this city. I’m going to do something so, let’s say, autonomous… so willful—in the city—to my own work.

That’s going to be some sort of wake-up call for people, to say, in coming back—having my retrospective at the Hospital de la Santa Creu—you know, I’m not grateful. I’m not just going to smile and have my photo taken, I’m going to do something really, really interesting. Something to wake you all up. So yes, the television cameras were essential.

And what enabled him to be back there at that point specifically, after all of these years? Why was the invitation put forward? What changed?

Well, first of all, as always happens, the city had moved ahead of the country, so Barcelona itself was opening up to tourism. But it was also opening up in different ways. It wasn’t as though if you… I mean, there were interesting new nightclubs. There was a nightclub called Celeste, and the police couldn’t understand what was going on in there, because there were just young people talking. There was no music. And there seemed to be no sexual thing going on in there, it was just kids talking. And they arrested them all one night, or most, and the names… If you look at who was arrested that night, they were the names of a new generation. Architects, politicians, artists, journalists who were ready to take over once Franco died. So, what I’m saying is that those years, from—I would think about ’67 to ‘75—are years that are actually building up to the new freedom. Where the new freedoms are being won in strange ways. And so, part of the problem is that it’s very hard to gain tourists if they think this is a police state. So, a new image had to be created of a Spain that was more open. And to keep Miró out of the city was not part of what the new Spain wanted to do; and I’m saying that the new Spain—or the more open Spain—began in something like ’67 rather than ’75, so that Miró’s time in the city is a crucial moment of glasnost perestroika in Franco’s Spain.

Do you want to continue, or do you need to go?

Do you have anything else to say?

I think what we’ve got is good…

Maybe just one more thing? That it’s almost with every piece of light you have a piece of dark, so that if you want to know just how brave Miró was being, or how courageous even, in the images he made and in the way he worked in the studio… um, you look at Dalí. And you look at Dalí almost forging his own work. Almost… The way he’s approaching his own surrealism, having an ugly edge to it. The way he’s approaching politics; the way he’s flitting in and out of various places, developing a reputation for things other than art. If you’d had a retrospective of Dalí in the Hospital de la Santa Creu in that year, it would not have had the same force, because there was something about the work that was really… just dark. Deeply unconsidered. Silly. Just using surrealist images for their own sake. And that makes us see the Miró moment almost more clearly, in that the work itself… in the ways that the iconography was placed. The way that color was used. It isn’t merely that it has a stunning or luminous glow, or a delight… A delight in the way that its components act against each other. But there is some sense of the spirit in the work. It’s having a rhythm above itself but remaining mysterious. Holding on to an autonomy, an “I WILL MAKE THIS MARK.” This “mark” could just be a circle with lines. And, somehow or other, I’m asking you to take this into your unconscious and deal with it. But it’s an innocent image; it’s not as though I’m searching down deep into psychoanalysis and finding a nightmare down there and shocking you with the nightmare’s intensity. He could do nightmare, but it was always done subtly and with care. There was something generous about his spirit that wouldn’t… That had no interest in the bloated image, the sentimental image, the over-rich image. There was a sparseness about what he did, but also an intensity. And indeed, as the work went on, when you see the very last works, he was using less and less and less, and there’s a great beauty about those works. But, for me, he’s a sort of hero in that he came back into Barcelona the minute he could, and did what he could, to use his art to uplift the spirit of people coming out of a dark time.

Could he have had the same impact today?

Ah no, because there was nothing like what he was doing on display in Barcelona. In other words, the fascists controlled everything—including images—so there were still painters painting portraits and landscapes as though nothing had ever changed. As though the twentieth century… as though modernism had never been there. And so, if you look at all the galleries [in Barcelona], you would find a lot of very old fashioned, conservative painting; but you would also find new work, in these years I’m talking about. Someone like Tápies. Toni Tápies, who would have been a great admirer of Miró’s. His work, which is equally strange, where the iconography is really hard to read… As though there is a set of inner statements, or inner meanings, being captured with the paint. He’d often write words on the canvas, and he would insist on a sort of… a sort of refusal to make easy images that would come to people. Instead, there is something disturbed and challenging about his work. There were a few others, but not many. So, the idea of a new art coming into a city that has been effectively locked had enormous impact. To us all. It made a difference to the world and was, in that sense, deeply political. Because his politics were known and used in favor of freedom. And his images had a freedom. So, this art—without being prescriptive—represented a sort of freedom; how he used his visual dictionary, and how he used color, and how he used line, how he used image. He was a heroic figure of that time. Obviously, now, it would be very difficult to do again because of just the number of images available and the way that so much in the different museums in Barcelona—so many different works coming in—there’s no need now for somebody to come in with that mixture of innocence and knowingness. To actually take a hold of people’s imagination and suggest a sort of freedom that is not just the sort of easy freedom that could be won politically, but a sort of other freedom of the spirit that could emerge, courtesy of his art.

Any message for Pere Portabella?

Onward. Where else can we go? Onward. Upwards—where else?

He used to, is this still on? I think Pere Portabella, he used to give a famous suquet? Did you know about that? Every summer, when news was scarce, Portabella would invite his political colleagues to a suquet—which is a traditional fish dish—which he would make in his house, and have loads of chairs in his garden, and the entire ruling class of Catalonia would sit around his table. It was always reported in the papers; it was called “Pere Portabella’s suquet.”

I never went.

And neither did I.

Stanley SCHTINTER (the artist formerly known as Stan Li and Satan Li Schtinter) is an artist, filmmaker and writer whose recent and forthcoming works include HOTEL BARDO, which Iain Sinclair has called “the last avant-garde anti-project at the end of time” (see here); NIDDER, a piece Schtinter was commissioned to make by heritage landscape organisations in North Yorkshire (he in turn passed on the commission to a brotherhood of Sufi Islamic musicians: to write and record a concept album about the area in the aftermath of its nuclear obliteration); FUNERAL OF DIANA PRINCESS OF WALES 2.0: the artist’s word-for-word recreation of Princess Diana’s funeral in Salford in 2018, “bound to supplant the 1997 event in the mind of everyone who was there” (Anna Aslanyan); and THE FESTIVAL OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND (Salford, 2019). Schtinter is also the founder of the anti-record-label (anti-everything) PURGE.XXX. He programmes film internationally and acts as ‘keeper of the sacred flame’ at Close-Up Film Centre in London (curating, convening and presenting the monthly ordeal, THE LIBERATED FILM CLUB). He is CE, MD and RD at MUSEO DE LA BOMBA, D.O.D.I.H. (The Directory Of Did It Happen) and P.O.T.P.R.O.H.D.L. (Peasants of The People’s Republic of Hackney Defence League). 

Colm TÓIBÍN is an award-winning Irish writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. He is also a professor of the humanities at Columbia University, New York. He was born in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, the setting for several of his books, and educated at University College Dublin. His novels include The Master, Nora Webster and The House of Names. A film adaptation of his novel Brooklyn, about a young Irish emigrant to New York, earned three Oscar nominations in 2015.


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Partner to a press called Tenement, Hotel is a publications series for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. 

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