The transition from a gray reality to a fantasy realm, from a windowless room to an infinite and lysergic nature, from cultural oppression to instinctive liberation, is a common denominator of children’s tales like The Wizard of Oz or Winnie the Pooh where the child transforms his o her relatives (or stuffed animals) into extreme beings subject to the whims of sleep.
It is not surprising that Henry Darger was fascinated by the tornadoes, thresholds to that other dimension in which he spent much of his life, nor is it trivial that in the nursery of Marcel Dzama his teddy bears would enter into the icy forests of the inmediate vicinity of his house mergingo into the hunters, participating in zoophilic orgies next to gangsters and damsels.
Dzama has sometimes expressed that lacking a heart, like the Tin Man, is liberating. His characters have no regrets, they are indolent at their own cruelty. For Darger, however, redemption came along the path of love. His Vivian girls didn’t turn the other cheek, they were belligerent to oppression, but for him they embodied the seraphic purity of childhood.
Now we are going to cross another threshold, which takes us to the universe of Jose Antonio Vallejo Serrano, populated by alter egos that take an almost freudian character, imbueing of perversion his play room: puppets whose elastic arms don’t know how to embrace, inflatable dolls that are humiliated and teddy bears resigned to waiting.
Q- Jose Antonio, do those three avatars of yourself refer to the difficulty of achieving the acceptance of others, to a point that sometimes is humiliating? Bears locked in glass urns, arms mutating in thorny branches, sadomasochistic relationships …
I guess a lot of them came out of that feeling you’re referring to. They were the answer to situations almost always provoked by the others. I have always needed the others to complete me because I have been someone who has demanded great amounts of affection and I don’t mind recognizing it.
But it is also true that this fact didn’t make me fragile but someone who was looking for creative solutions to his frustrations. After all, toys have a vital reason and is to be played: players are needed to give them life and in it is found the involvement of the people around them.
Q- In an initial overview your imaginary refers me to that of Dzama, with those trees transforming in threatening shapes, and also in the formal economy, the discreet color palette and the lyricism of the minimal stroke. But in your way of showing us your innermost self you move away from the frivolity of the Canadian. You raise the banner of love in the midst of the wreck as your admired Darger. How has he and other outsider artists influenced you?
The outsider art has the highest consideration for me. It seems to me something that is born of the purest vital impulse, it is a communication in the broadest spectrum that is what I am looking for with my pieces. No longer just tell what I feel but others tell me what they feel seeing them and why.
Dzama has a very clear intention in everything he does, his world is fascinating but as you point out my characters have a lot of heart, in fact I would say more heart than brain and I think they reflect Darger’s illustrations. There was a need to make the world change with them and that is what I would like to do with my work, to make us reflect on the idea of giving love, that there are people who need it.
Q- On the other hand, I feel that you point to the repressed in childhood as traumatic, through stuffed animals, which reminds me to Mike Kelley and his brave proposals in which the biography intertwined with institutional criticism, with the “paternal law “and its symbolic order.
I felt the loss of Kelley very much because it gave voice to many things that I feel like own. Since I was a kid I learned that I was homosexual and although I always had the support of my classmates some students from other courses made the fact of insulting me a kind of natural daily action.
I learned to organize myself, I used a lot of humor, but I also used those sensations to build a world in which that “paternal law” did not exist and with it little by little has been introduced more and more a critical discourse in my pieces, but sufficiently veiled to still feel comfortable with my work, so that they remain aesthetic and attract the viewer for dialogue.
Q- Toni Ungerer, who has been combating taboos in both erotic illustrations and children’s books, has always defended children’s mental openness: “Children are not idiots, they know where babies come from. What they don’t know is where adults come from”. You also manage to save this fissure or generation gap.
Certainly. I am very lucky because I continue being close to the children’s world thanks to my work as educator. The children enjoy my classes, in them we usually don’t impose goals but they themselves look for them according to their interests. Many parents ask me how I do to impact so much on their children and I think the secret is simply that I ask them or respond on an equal level, that I take my time to listen to them, I ask them why this or that or I admit something that amazes them. Because I don’t have all the answers, which I learn from them as well. In my classes we talk about love, integration, being generous and that we can change things with effort… They understand everything perfectly.
What I learn I simply transfer it to my pieces, the childhood is appreciated in the form but not in the background and in fairs children participate in a magical way, understanding what they understand without double intentions or malicious looks.
Q- You just participated in ARCO (invited by Javier Díaz-Guardiola to the stand of Abc Cultural) and at Hybrid Art Fair, tell us about your experience in both meetings.
With Abc is the first time I participate and I have felt very comfortable. The best thing about the experience has been to create as a collective (on the surrealist idea of cadavre exquis), which is often missed in the studio. Seeing others solve issues teaches you a lot and working with people like Manuel Antonio Domínguez or Estefanía Martín has been a pleasure, the pieces integrated so well with each other that I can not remove the image still from my head, it was something close to magic.
In Hybrid with Veo Arte en todas partes I’m getting to know the users in a very comfortable way, they are another kind of visitors with more to learn but less stingy to make themselves known. In Arco the public was very grateful but at a more professional level, in Hybrid you can speak, marvel and discover the same brilliance in the eyes of when working with a child.
I don’t know if you know that feeling, the child finishes something he has done, he discovers it in his hands, he makes it his own and a spark to which I am addicted comes; adults can still recover it by just listening a little to others. As I said, art for me is a dialogue.