MODERN MASTER – Manu Muñoz interview

by Javier Melian; Chrom-Art co-founder. Photographs by Nadine Jestin and Ana Mora.

There is something very exciting about Manu Muñoz’s work. His work is easily recognisable because of those large format pieces of classic composition that are well tempered and oddly perfectly balanced despite being a collusion, better still, an evolution of antagonist influences such as Caravaggio and graffiti. Muñoz maverick classy style and bold expression has captivated us. Rich, intense and daring colours and brush strokes, he doesn’t bolt to modern pressures of novelty and commercialisation. There a rebellious quality and naturality in his paintings. Classic subject matters reinterpreted with neon lights ‘chiaroscuro’ find a new lease of life and a connection to what has attracted mankind for generations. Is this finest extravagance and contrast that makes us think about Manu Muñoz as a modern master.

Muñoz works every day for his pieces to have quality and express what he wants. He is also highly critical of his own work.  "That work, fortunately, is rewarded with the views of the people who come to see the exhibitions, but I tend to be very critical with myself and not fall for the praise. I guess that when you do things with the heart and without limitations the essence of a person comes through, whether artist or not. In my case, as I said, the only thing that is "self-imposed" is to be natural when I paint" he says.

The inspiration for Manu Muñoz has a starting point; his studio in Cabo de Gata, Almeria, where he comes from. In his careers spanning over 25 years there has been times for transgression but long ago became more of a formalist: "I do not intend to get out of there, I'm saturated with such obligation to modernity, in the end art is derived from an emotion that is completely primitive, the same as three thousand years ago" the artist says.

Manu Muñoz began his creative work in the world of graffiti in 1991. Two years later, after participating in a group exhibition along with other local artists in Almeria, he decided to devote himself to art. Since then he has received numerous awards and participated in various exhibitions, collectives and solos, in and out of Spain. Japan, Belgium, United States, Germany and England are the countries that have seen his work. His workplace, except for his stay in London during 2009/2010 has always been Cabo de Gata. Graphic design and fashion collaborations complement his unparalleled work.

When did you realise you were an artist?

I guess from the moment I felt the thrill of having created something that was capable of looking beyond the purely visual. I do not know if that fact gave me the condition of being an artist but I lived it as a unique moment that has fortunately been repeated several times. Becoming an artist for a moment is relatively simple, it is difficult to remain an artist.

Wall or canvas?

It’s been a long time since I don’t paint on walls, almost 20 years. My beginnings were in graffiti and I keep much of that heritage. Right now I only work on canvas - which are sometimes as big as walls - and the type of work I'm doing now I think it’s better. Each media has its pros and cons, but in my case I treat them equally. Surely I will paint a wall soon, I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.

Does your art have a message?

Each work is a new horizon, full of new emotions and forms. I don’t intend to narrate or be a great storyteller, but merely let the plastic expression speak by itself, in that sense I like to refer to the figurative part of painting process and not the other. I like playing with reality to build new scenarios, such as a new nature, sometimes impossible new worlds.

How would you define your style

It’s very eclectic and reminiscent of classic styles, graffiti, expressionism ... I don’t give it too much thought at the time of painting. I also believe that not all concepts can be painted in the same way as not all are serving the same nature, so when I start working on a painting I leave it to the dialogue between it and me and the process that it arises. I think the term "style" is overrated. Each of us have our way forward to anything, but this way also changes. Evolution is a natural quality and thus nothing is the same as in the previous instant. Often the concept of "style" becomes a limiting factor, which caters more to market needs than to the creative nature.

How has your style evolved over time?

Seen in perspective it’s quite odd. My beginnings in graffiti placed me in a very contemporary setting chronologically speaking. But the truth is that after all these years, I have realised again a little to have many references from classical art to start with, that can be seen very clearly in my latest works. I guess the reason for it is primarily that I am always in a learning process and somehow I began to read the book backwards from the last page. It's strange but it that’s how things happened.

How does your creative process work from idea to completion?

I start from the choice of concept or theme that proves attractive from a plastic level, and would give me something to play with when painting. Once I have an image in mind I document myself and often find visual references to it. This part is very interesting because in the end you learn a lot about botany, zoology, history etc ... From there starts a process of making sketches and testing sometimes on paper, sometimes working with Photoshop to get a picture that serves as starting point. After that it’s the usual process of drawing on the canvas and painting. Often the results have little to do with the initial sketch, which is, moreover, the objective. This is not only about being faithful to the reference, but the magic of the process must be present more than anything else.

From the media that you haven’t used before, what others would you like to try?

Although I've never done anything with video I’d like to be able to consider a serious project in this field, but I never find the time because painting has got me kidnapped. I always have the feeling that I’ve got no time and many things will be left in the pipeline. A recent exhibition I did was titled "Ars longa, vita brevis" for this very reason.

You have exhibited all over the world. Have you got a favourite place on the planet?

Well, I haven’t been to that many places as I would have wanted to, but of those I know I would say London or anywhere on the west coast of England. I’ve got a very passionate relationship with the island. I also like Andalusia; Cabo de Gata, my birthplace, is ideal for living and creating but maybe, as it happens to such marriages, passion leaves and friendship settles in.

Is it advantageous to work outside major cities to access domestic and international markets?

I think the big cities, some more than others, are quickly becoming unsustainable for anyone as living places, although certainly they are business centers that move almost everything and therefore it is necessary to be part of them somehow. Twenty years ago it was almost essential to be in a large city to be able to make some impact with your work. Today this tendency has softened; faster communications and social media have enabled information to be poured from anywhere in the world reaching thousands of people in a matter of hours. While it’s true that the great art platforms are still concentrated in large cities and it’s inevitable to have a presence in them in some way. It’s quite plausible that in order to have a greater connection to the art market, the option of living in a city is the most appropriate, but I particularly prefer to produce my work in a non-urban environment and maintain a fluid contact with galleries and agents anywhere in the world either personally or through any means of communication.

What would be your dream collaboration?

What would be your dream collaboration?

I had never considered this before but maybe I'd do something related to stage design for theater or cinema. I do also have an interest in architecture, music ...

What are your dreams as an artist?

It may seem a bit basic but my dreams are almost limited to good health and being able to continue working and doing what feels right, not losing hope and continuing creating and living a quiet life in all aspects. Strictly speaking in a professional level I have aspirations but no ambitions. My challenges as an artist are not outside my own studio; I do not need much recognition nor seeing my works in major museums, although I would obviously be nice. I’ve always thought that what matters is the work itself and the rest is an accessory. Dreams are great for keeping us fresh and projecting the illusion, but if we don’t work to accomplish them it’s quite absurd, isn’t it?

To find out more about Manu Muñoz's work please visit www.manumuñ

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