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Based in Bilbao, painter Juan de la Rica (born 1979) began his career in 2007, immediately after graduating with a degree in Fine Arts from Universidad del País Vasco in the Lejona region of northern Spain. Juan’s art, although not outright jokey, quietly pokes fun at Spanish life by highlighting its many obsessions and blunders.
Over the years, he says, his work has changed a lot but certain elements have been maintained. He can see constant references and influences – Alex Katz, David Hockney, Dexter Dalwood, the New Leipzig School painters…
Spanish culture is very much present, and within that, specifically the ways and customs of the Basque Country. A few years ago, Juan discovered the fascinating world of Basque Regionalist paintings of the early twentieth century, and has introduced some of their elements in his work. He appreciates the work of figures like Aurelio Arteta, the Zubiaurre brothers and the Arrue brothers, who authentically presented the Basque society of their time, and turned it into something timeless and universal. Juan tries to do the same. He aims to be well-rooted, and through that rootedness, paradoxically, appeal to one and all. He says: “I can paint a ‘pelotari’ [player of a ball game], a bullfighter, a jockey or a baseball player. The goal is always to make it understandable for both my neighbor and someone from Hong Kong.”
He continues: “In my most recent paintings, the figures have a major role to play, especially in the last ones, where I depict small crowds of people, gathered randomly in small spaces. This idea is related to the ‘Tipos Populares’ [Popular Types] (check here) series by the Venetian artist Lorenzo Tiepolo from the eighteenth century. I even titled my last piece ‘Popular Types’.”
Juan considers his paintings open narratives that can allow the viewer to make up their own stories. Irony and the absurd are important components. Surrealistic codes, too, particularly those of the Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) and the Belgian artist RenéMagritte (1898-1967) are always in Juan’s mind – and inspire him to
develop a tone that is metaphysical and humorous at the same time.
How does he want the audience to react to his art? “I want the first impression to be that they are amusing paintings. I want the viewers to smile, or even laugh, at my works. And then, I want them to entertain themselves by appreciating the technique more closely, to look at how it has been painted, the brushstrokes, the inaccuracies. To appreciate the qualities of the act of painting itself. That is what I do when I see a painting I like.”
Regarding the job and function of the artist, Juan comments: “A creative person must pose questions, even if they are not real. The painter and the sculptor, for example, usually depict a problem and propose their own personal answers. Generally speaking, this could be somewhat impractical. Even an ‘ivory tower’ kind of role, but it is very interesting and beautiful. And I think artistry should be like that.”
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