Bogotá-based artist and entrepreneur Francisco Landazábal is the director of World Brokers, a diversified business dedicated to leveraging IT capabilities (particularly data centre services), mitigating global warming (through green energy solutions) and “bringing beauty to everyone” (with fine art initiatives).
Mostly self-taught, Francisco studied in the atelier of Jean Pierre Accault, a French master who used to live in Cartagena, his hometown. Over three decades, the artist has participated in several national and international exhibitions, the latest of which is Art Lisbon (2018).
Francisco recently discussed with me the reputation and true nature of Latin America, communication in the digital age and why he thinks everybody, however they earn their living, must practise art…
Let us begin with your background and education. You were born in Bucaramanga in 1969, studied fine arts in Cartagena, philosophy in Bogotá. Now you pursue your painting practice alongside your entrepreneurial career in Information Technology and Energy, which I find very interesting. How do you balance your two roles? Does your “artistic” side influence the “technical/managerial” side and vice versa?
Those are just aspects of the same person but there is no direct link between my artwork and my technical career. Maybe I am someone who looks for an overall approach to reality like the Renaissance artists did. From that perspective, my roles are complementary since I have a deep concern for mankind and its future, because of the earth’s devastation. That brought me to green energy projects a while ago. In the foundation of everything I do is the philosopher, because for me, it is a must to say meaningful things and to take steps with a purpose. Nonsense is like a dark hole in our personal history that should be avoided.
Tell us more about your life in Colombia. What was the society, culture and political atmosphere like when you were growing up? When did you have your first proper encounter with art? Where was it? Also, whom did you admire more – the local Latin American artists or European and North American ones?
Colombia is beauty and violence, everything seems to be tough here. But probably there is no place in the world that is more paradoxical since we also have some of the most talented and caring people here, all living in a complex social environment. If you ever visit Colombia, that might change your life in a positive way (needless to say that you are not in danger when coming; even though Hollywood films might sell other messages about Colombia). This is not a romantic view of my country but the truth. The country has evolved without any doubt, but there is still some negative propaganda abroad.
Regarding the second part of your question…the earliest contact with art was my first group exhibition in Cartagena, that was curated by one of our best artists ever: Enrique Grau. I was 13, it was a milestone in my life to see that he liked my artwork which was a small portrait of a local black girl. That encouraged me to become an artist. About my favourite artists, the list could be endless, but something relevant is that most of them are dead.
Your art, you say, has passed through a process of 35 years of work and meditation about the representation of beauty. Beauty, you maintain, should have “a social and spiritual mission from the standpoint of both the artist and the viewer”. Through this time, you have transited from “figurative, almost hyperrealist” works through “expressionist figurative” to “abstract expressionist” works. Your earlier paintings portrayed things like fields, cars, boats, fruits. Now you experiment more with colour and form. What freedom and opportunity does “abstraction” allow you that you couldn’t find in your previous approaches?
Art is freedom, that’s why it’s the happiest work. Reaching abstraction might not be my permanent port, but for now it is important to explore colour and form, as a way of talking with myself and others. The risk for an abstract painter is to arrive at ease, without a serious focus on technique and aesthetics. As for my current work, it is a synthesis of the research on style and themes made during a whole career, with which I am satisfied. I think that abstract paintings are more fun, which is evident in this “canvas graffiti” series.
Painting like a child, as Joan Miró challenged himself, is tough. I want to give joy to the viewer, more than producing admiration for a technique. That could be one of the differences between an artist and simply a good painter.
“Canvas graffiti” fascinated me quite a bit. Messages scrawled across abstract backgrounds seem to articulate your philosophical thoughts or positions. You also make references to famous artists like Vincent van Gogh and Jean-Michel Basquiat who were pioneers. You have written: “I will not do street art, but I will make the viewers feel like being in a public space when they see one of my paintings, which is like magic for me. This is something that is definitely Pop, but full of sense and beauty.” So, the effect is at once light and deep.
Two things stand out to me: One, your style of graffiti is unlike that found on the walls of cities like New York or Los Angeles; it is somehow less rebellious or noisy and more introspective and mature. Two, in our world of social media where there is an excess of language all around, you decide to exhibit few words on each frame, thereby creating something focussed, particularly meaningful and impactful. This brings me to a question on communication. When you look around at the speech and text of our digital culture, what do you think about relationships and meaning? Are we coming close or moving farther away? If you think we are moving farther away in certain areas, what could artists do to bring people together and create more clarity and comprehension in the society?
Your question is an excellent opportunity to say that for sure we are getting apart because communication technologies have made it easier for us to get in touch with remote people, which easily makes us forget the closest ones: our relatives and friends. Friends are now virtual, they are not touchable, but we desperately need contact as human beings. Thus, we need to connect with ourselves first, that’s one of the duties of art! It is all explained in my ongoing philosophical essay: “Art can save the world” where is it clearly stated that we need to harvest from art the understanding of and respect for others, which should be the future of the human beings.
How do you execute your canvas graffiti? What is the process like? Do you work intuitively – conceiving and inscribing the message while the abstract background is wet – or do you plan everything carefully in advance? Also, are these paintings about two separate styles or a single integrated one?
“Canvas Graffiti” is mostly intuitive, based in an abstract expressionist painting that is used as the surface or background of a written message. The message can be philosophical, poetic, or even banal. The content of the message arises from the colour and form; it is what the abstraction says to me during the picture process. With all this integrated, I want to achieve several perception levels at once. I mean, the strokes in the wet background are valuable by themselves, but the written message goes beyond and talk about an idea or instant of my life that is carved in a sort of colourful stone.
I read you are critical of Marcel Duchamp. You believe he did great damage to art with his ready-mades. He seemed to mean that art could be done by anyone, even those without an artistic formation or taste. One didn’t have to be extraordinarily or even mildly talented to declare: “I am an artist.” For you, Duchamp’s acts have opened the door to some disrespectful art. What are some of the things about modern/contemporary art that annoy you? If you had the chance what would you like to change?
Perhaps my concept of art is too idealistic to remain valid in this century (I say this with a bit of irony), but even with the tremendous and powerful freedom that art delivers, it must have coherence and logic to it. Creativity or innovation shouldn’t allow the person called “artist” to be lazy or disrespectful with the viewer. There are quite a few “jokers” in contemporary art, some of them very famous that are threatening the sublime activity that art really is. Remember that in ancient Greece and the Renaissance, the role and status of the artist was highly appreciated. There is no reason to change that conception and the whole society should accordingly demand from the artists only the best.
Fortunately, people’s tastes, and the open way in which art can be enjoyed today—enhanced by the Internet—are gradually removing power from those trying to support laziness and nonsense-work. Art must stand alone; curators and critics should be interpreters with the sole purpose of guiding the audience and not pretend to be priests with an esoteric discourse about the artists, who are sometimes raised to the status of gods.
Duchamp could have had a good intention with the ready-mades, but he was very irresponsible to open a “dimensional portal” for the astral garbage and disgusting demons that are now frequently seen in museums.
What all subjects and styles would you like to explore in the future?
Art for me is an inner exploration, it is not external and planned like a project’s roadmap. The artwork is supposed to have the same journey as the artist’s mind and soul. Anything could happen with my style and my work and will be welcome as far as it is honest and natural.
Your company is launching a third project. In addition to Information Technology and Energy, you will soon be entering the business of Art, with an online gallery. What is your plan and vision for this initiative?
My plan is to showcase art from talented people, no matter their style or origin. It is also important to create an interaction with the audience through a community where art lovers could express their feelings about what is displayed; of course, in a respectful manner. We will have curated exhibitions including mind-challenging interviews with the artists, who will be allowed to explain their aesthetic purpose within the show. Art is usually a lonely profession, I want to rescue artists from a sort of isolation that could be unhealthy for them and their job. Some really nice things are involved in the project! It will be up and running in a couple of months: www.thestrokegallery.com.
Another question related to Colombia/Latin America. As you have already noted, when it comes to your region, the news stories overseas are generally very repetitive and negative; it is always about the same old stuff—the war on drugs, femicide, human trafficking, organised crime. Certainly, these are big issues that need to be taken into consideration, but the problem is that the focus in international media is frequently on the dark narrative to the exclusion of everything else. Constantly fed with reports and articles that magnify what’s wrong with the area, people on other continents don’t get to learn much about the cultural, artistic and intellectual life in Latin America. Now and then, a few exceptional writers, visual artists and pop singer do come into the limelight (take from your country: Gabriel García Márquez, Álvaro Mutis, Shakira, Maluma, Juanes, Carlos Vives, Fernando Botero, etc.) but, overall, ignorance about the region persists (one big reason behind this, of course, is the language barrier). Keeping this in mind, how would you introduce both your country Colombia, and Latin American in general, to those who want to know more about the region? What kind of overview would you provide them with?
Again, as stated before, it is a pity to see that people have only half of the big picture of Colombia and Latin America. Most people think that political conflicts have their roots in economy and religion alone; but there is another factor behind the disturbance: racial issues. Latin America has gone through just a 525-year history compared to more than 2,000 years of Europe and thousands of years in Asia. World history is not flat, every continent has its own timing. Latin America has tried to understand its roots, forgiving the White ancestors from Spain and Portugal who exhibited criminal behaviours for centuries. Self-confidence is a hard process and an acceptance of our violent nature is needed to overcome our reality.
Just see the violence in Europe over the last 1,000 years, or I would say from the Roman Empire. It hasn’t stopped yet; we just recently saw that terrible war in the Balkans in the 90s for racial reasons! Respect is something hard to conquer between human beings, and we are working on that in Latin America. Someone could say that the U.S represents a different story of development and wellness, but it is not exactly like that. They are a young and powerful nation but not peaceful at all. The social conflict with roots in the suppression and isolation of the native Americans and in the slavery of the Black population is more alive than ever. In summary, violent conquering creates anger and more violence.
Lastly, the language barrier should not be an excuse to be ignorant about Latin America. Educated people all over the world are learning our language to get in touch with us, instead of criticising us from a distance.
Do you think those with an engineering/scientific background could benefit by trying out the arts? If yes, how so?
Please allow me a little additional advertising of my upcoming book: Art Can Save the World. It says that practicing an art, no matter how you make a living is an outstanding experience that everyone should have. The reason is it harmonises you and thus, heals you while giving a sense of connection with a universal mind, called God by the believers. Art practice is so powerful that it even defeats time and space. The consequence of that is nothing more and nothing less than the achievement of happiness! But, if it is hard to produce art because you are not talented enough, please watch art, listen to good music or read a great book! That would raise your consciousness and you will be a much better human being for sure. The world is beautiful, but beauty is never finished, it is forever in the process of “becoming” and evolving through the human spirit. That is why art is necessary for happiness and peace.
Find Francisco on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/francisco-javier-landazábal-suárez-3b3763154) and Saatchi Art (www.saatchiart.com/account/profile/1066346).