May his thick beard not lead us to deceit. Anthony Stark is not a straggler hipster, rather we imagine him a kind of undisciplined disciple of Courbet.
But the origin of the world of this nineteenth-century painter is the twilight of Stark’s own, because for him the desire is the prelude to death, his ecstatic announcement, the previous climb to the vertigo of the abyss. Because, as is underlined in his last pictorial series appropiating the title by another of his advocates, Fassbinder: love is colder than death. “Love breeds violence and vice versa”, said the filmmaker trying to explain the contradictory behaviors of the characters in his first film.
Courbet widened the themes of painting by depicting what at that time was considered dirty, vulgar and improper of the fine arts. When he treated the nude, he did it without any historical support or literary excuse.
Q- Anthony, with that will to excite and disgust (if we attend to the extremes of a wide range of reactions), you reveal against the tradition of contemplative painting. Does that tradition still weigh?
In fact, I think almost more than ever. If we take a look at the scenary of the current pictorial creation, we will realize that it is dominated by a return to a fashion purely “aesthetic”, harmless, repetitive and, in general, empty of content. It is not casual, of course. The art market is today a market subjected to the frivolity of the wildest capitalism (currently in a desperate drift) and the financial markets.
Content doesn’t matter. Quality, usually, neither. And this serves perfectly to deactivate the critical power of art and its ability to question dominant discourses. In Spain, all this is strikingly obvious: did you take a walk these last years in the ARCO fair, paying attention to painting? The danger has been effectively neutralized. Neutrality is absolute (and too similar with each other).
It is true that painting is coming back, that there is a vindication of painting. But it’s clear that it is the claim of an aseptic, boring, bourgeois and passive painting.
Q- If in Los groseros you satirized on the perversion of politicians, in Fucking paintings and in this new series that you exhibit in Fernando Pradilla’s gallery, sexual pleasure is a subject itself. But in the latter the hedonistic celebration is tinged with a certain melancholy. You focus on the ecstatic moment, the desperation of men and women to perpetuate the joy to drive away the idea of death. Something like that?
Yes, but in this last series I believe that I have managed to get even closer to my way of feeling, for better or worse, my own experience in the world. I suppose that’s why you perceive that melancholy. For me, this is pure love. Love-sex, when we live it in a raw and unvarnished way, is always an irresponsible, futile act of abandonment to finite pleasure.
The painting gives me the opportunity to-almost-perpetuate that pleasure and bring it closer to the excess and violence with which we feel it. The scenes that lead this exhibition are deeply personal to me. I cling to them with all my might, wishing that they will never end. And so I try to paint them with the violence with which you hang onto what you know has an end.
Q- This makes me think of what Susan Sontag described as eroticism of agony, refering to Bataille and his vision of sexuality as a transgressive necessity to affirm life and its fluids until it becames indistinguishable from the death drive. In your canvases carnal voluptuousness tends to dissolve into material abstractions, as if precipitating towards that continuity of being which the petite mort allows to glimpse, as the French author explains.
Bataille’s influence on my work is important. From his idea of the relationship between sexuality, desire, eroticism and the consciousness of death are born these contrapositions between some realistic fragments and others destabilized by painting itself, disappearing between fleshly matter.
That voluptuousness of the flesh, as you say, contains that erotic charge of intense pleasure that only lasts for a few seconds and vanishes. The way that flesh is painted also explains the process. In the plastic process, in my case, coincides the search for a conscious abandonment to reach a transgression of my own imposed limits as an artist.
And this visceral way of facing the process leads me to Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose first film, Love is colder than death, is born the title of the exhibition. I am fascinated by his intense work process, which seems to overflow with a sense of need, inevitability and, therefore, of tragic and harsh love for the production of his works.
Q- But your paintings also refer to the double pulse, exhibitionist and voyeuristic, which encourage social networks, the proliferation of amateur videos, homemade porn scenes. Would Bataille still see in these contemporary escape routes the liberating transgression of social norm, dialectics revealed between the obscene and the sacred?
In this last exhibition I have moved away from that aesthetic closer to amateur or homemade pornography, to focus on something more intimate. But, of course, the enormous presence of pornography today and the prevailing hypocrisy will make many viewers see the works as something closer to it than to their own intimacy and their own experiences or desires. Unfortunately. But for that they are, so that each one interprets them as they want or feel them with their moralistic filters or with honesty, as their openness in mind allow them.
As for Bataille, I think he would be delighted with the proliferation of amateur home pornography. But, of course, we must first separate that category of pornography -born of the desire to exhibit one’s own pleasure, to share it with others, the pleasure of being watched- of another type of pornography that seeks economic profit or other goals away from the pleasure and would be more related to the world of work than Bataille speaks, as opposed to the world of enjoyment, desire, eroticism. I think he would consider it more sacred and liberating than obscene. It’s a pitty that we can’t ask him.
The exhibition “El amor es más frío que la muerte”
can be seen in Fernando Pradilla gallery, Madrid
until 5th May 2017