INTERVIEWED BY JESSIE AOIFE
I was interested in the idea that raw materials speak for themselves.
In the period between UK lockdown one and two, I spoke to 22 year old painter, architect, and sculpturist Jaime Llavona Abarrategui. We spoke about being a young artist in London, the impact of lockdown on emerging artists, and how a youth filled with change has led him to create art based on momentary experiences and emotion.
We spoke one evening in the mass monotony of 2020, his face popped up on zoom in a picture perfect room and I could see the stack of paintings leaning against the wall. He was sat beneath a bed on stilts, something he put together himself in an attempt to free up some space in the small room.
Like most conversations that have occurred since doomsday in March 2020, we found ourselves centring our chat on the lockdown.
Have you managed to exhibit recently?
‘No not at all.’
Are you planning on it?
‘Every time I put on an exhibition it collapses. There was meant to be one before Lockdown but the date it was set to open was the first day of lockdown so I had to cancel it.’
Have you found it disheartening?
‘That one was a bummer… I organised another exhibition with but for personal reasons that didn’t go ahead. There was a whole show curated as well. It’s been tough. It’s pretty bleak with corona’
Will you be putting on socially distant shows or will you wait until it’s all over?
‘I’ve got in mind a few shows I want to put on. I have a lot of work – too much for just one exhibition – so I sort of – I don’t know. I’d just like to do a show as soon as I can, I’d just have to be careful about numbers and stuff. I was thinking I could do one and split it by ages… but I don’t really have the money for a space.’
The lack of space and difficulties sourcing facilities are one of Jamie’s biggest issues at the moment. Being a young creative is becoming increasingly difficult; rent is higher than ever, studio spaces are hard to come by, and getting your hands on unique materials is pretty difficult when universities are shut. Jaime talked about his love affair with sculpture that has been put on hold and how he would love to try welding, but never managed it with lockdown closing off any chance of sourcing the space or materials.
After a bleak start, we decided to ban any more talk of Covid and moved onto lighter topics.
When did you start painting?
‘I was always been fascinated by painting at school. I never fit in with any subject so I started painting; I only really realised this when I first came to the UK in year 6 (2009). I tried to get a painting scholarship but I wasn’t the type of painter that they want in schools. I did an art foundation, I didn’t want to do a degree after school… but I didn’t do much work. It was only when I started my degree that I started actually putting out loads of work. I didn’t even think about it I just ended up doing it.’
What was your degree?
Did your degree inspire any of your paintings?
‘Well, I was always interested in the conceptual side of it. I wrote my dissertation on the Brutalist movement. I was interested in the idea that raw materials speak for themselves.’
Who or what inspires you?
‘Jean Dubuffet is a big inspiration of mine, he did huge sculptures of huge places and it was a form of art. He was interested in the right side of your brain - which is where our subconscious lies – and he made it architecture. It’s interesting, I think that’s all architecture is… It’s just making the right hemisphere into aesthetic design. You can only ever do that with architecture, by making a structure that speaks to people without them knowing why. Every wall’s got four sides, every canvas has four sides. Architecture is just a painting in 3D. Every painting has to speak to a certain viewer and so does an interior.’
After a thoughtful pause, Jaime decided to come back to this question later. When he had thought about it he said,
‘One of the things that has really influenced me was this idea of a fine line of sculpture and architecture. What’s the difference between art and architecture? The thing is, there is no difference. That’s sort of why I’ve pursued architecture. I always just designed exhibitions in the form of sculptures. The frame of a sculpture could be turned into a building. If it stands, it will stand in the same way as a building. I feel like a sculpture is architecture. It’s correlated. And that’s where the art lies within.’
If paintings must speak to a viewer, what do yours say?
‘My paintings speak about certain emotions in a certain place; a pleasing or comforting place. There’s so much depression nowadays… My paintings are a way of describing this in a more abstract way. I use colours to speak to people on a subconscious level instead of a visual one. I like to think about why people are attracted to them, and how different moods will attract different colours on a day to day basis. I paint pretty quickly, I’m just trying to depict the moment – the emotions or feelings that I’m going through.
Some artists like viewers to know exactly what their paintings mean and provide long explanations for them. Others just have a short and simple title. Which would you do?
‘I’d rather the viewers made up their own ideas about my pieces. I don’t really remember how I’m feeling on most days… I don’t know if I’m allowed to put a title explanation on my pieces. It’s going to be different for everyone; aesthetically at least, because it doesn’t teach you anything… You just have an attraction and you don’t know why. Everyone thinks at different depths – you can’t judge a painting by its title.’
Do you plan your paintings?
‘I don’t really have a space or any facilities for anything like that. If I feel under the weather, I just suddenly go and paint. I get very frustrated and then I paint. And then I feel good. It’s an escape, I don’t have to concentrate on anything else. I tried to do a live stream and paint on it, and it actually just disrupted my joy of painting. I hated it. I wasn’t doing it for the right purpose, that’s why I called it ‘Betrayal of the Art’. I turned off the camera and carried on painting for a couple of hours.’
You don’t just paint figures, you paint shades. You draw the colour not the shape, when you stand back.. the image is formed. The process is about deconstructing the figure.
Do you have a process?
‘I started doing linear drawings on canvas. I’d scratch it into the paint. I’d start with one colour, scratch into it, and then I’d paint another colour on top of it and scratch into it and the other colour would pop out from under it. When I do faces I try and make them as similar to drawings as I can, drawing has the essence of the times. You can do it so quickly… or so slowly. Depending on the depth you want to express. After breaking it down, it becomes more complicated. You don’t just paint figures, you paint shades. You draw the colour not the shape, when you stand back.. the image is formed. The process is about deconstructing the figure.’
I want to know more about ‘Lemon Nightmare’ – there’s a real darkness to it. I find it quite unsettling. Why did you call it that?
‘Throughout university, I guess I wasn’t too happy. I feel like I change a lot. It’s quite hard for me to have a routine. At uni I felt quite isolated, I was going out a lot. It was painted on one of those days where you wake up and hate your degree and I felt trapped at home.’
How do you feel about being compared to Basquiat?
‘Obviously it’s a compliment. He is a great, great person. My favourite movie is Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was obviously very troubled as well. Then again, there’s a lot more to my paintings than people expect and just relating it to someone else can be quite shallow.’
When we concluded the interview, I wanted to know about the androgyny and expressionlessness of Jaime’s portraits. There’s both an on-the-surface-see-what-you-want-to-see quality to them, but also a depth that can be quite overwhelming if you let your mind run away with it. When asked about them, Jaime responded:
‘I’ve moved through a lot of schools and a lot of friends so it’s probably to do with a lack of identity. A lot of people come and go out of my life. But maybe that’s just life. The core family is the only thing that has stayed.’