Interview conducted for José Gabriel Fernández’ 2013 CIFO commission


Terence: I saw your 1998 show A Brief Illustrated Guide to Bullfighting at Lombard-Freid a few years after I moved to New York. We met soon after and started the conversation that we are continuing here. Your Lombard-Freid show was a meticulous study of the rituals of the corrida (bullfight). Though it wasn’t part of your upbringing in Caracas, the corrida was a natural subject for you. It is an important part of Latin American culture, and it is a unique system for the construction of male sexuality, a theme running through your earlier work. 


Jose: Homosexual eroticism was a theme on which I did extensive research in my earlier work. That is what led to my interest in the archetypal figure of the matador.


Terence: And the matador and corrida have provided a lot of the conceptual and formal material for your work since then. But are there other links between this new work you are producing for CIFO and your work before the corrida research?


Jose: In the 80s I did a series of works titled Interiors. These were ephemeral architectural interventions in my house in north London. Truly Arte Povera in that both the materials and production cost nothing. Similarly, my current work has begun to branch out from a so-called “studio practice” to interventions in real architectural spaces. For CIFO I am presenting a work that reflects my current interests in a hybrid form between art, design, and architecture. It touches on aspects of my earlier installation work yet is developed from sources that have informed my work since the mid-80s. You can see my process has become both linear and cyclical.


Terence: In your process of abstraction you start with a representative form—the shape of the bullfighter’s cape, for instance—then gradually refine it and reduce it to end up with the shapes in your sculptures and reliefs. I have noticed your pacing, concentration, and discipline as you extrude abstract forms from your research and it’s this process of research to abstraction that has fascinated me for years. It’s become one of the models for my own practice.


Jose: It’s almost like yoga practice. My yoga teacher has talked about pacing and how we need to do and make less not more. It made me think about the time-work ratio as it relates to output and I had this comforting feeling that I had found the right balance: I don’t need to make more than I truly need to. I know you relate to this, it’s in your work too. In romance languages there is a verb that doesn’t translate that well into English: Réfléchir in French, reflexionar in Spanish. It’s a process of concentrating with discipline, and carefully reflecting on your actions.


Terence: The indeterminate white curves and hollows of your current work have a sublime quality, yet the source code for these forms is found in that most erotic and visceral of gesamtkunstwerke: the bullfight. This relationship brings to mind Jean Genet’s marrying of the visceral and the sublime. Do you think the corrida—that bloody, elemental ritual—can somehow be found in these sculptures and reliefs?


Jose: Genet was absolutely right, and so was Michel Leiris (in Miroir de la tauromachie). The visceral and the sublime: They may be French but that conjunction is utterly Spanish! But in answer to your question, I do not think the corrida per se is still present in my recent sculpture and relief work. In fact the first large volumes I did back in 2007 (Chicuelina, Verónica, etc.) were made after spending a summer in Maine and taking pictures of boats and sails. These are works that gently sit on the ground and contain an implicit aura of motion and gravitas.


Terence: So there is some rather rich layering going on. And a freedom to make intuitive connections between, for instance, the shape of a sail and the curving gestures of the matador that lend the floor works their titles. I like how you allow the work to accumulate form and meaning throughout the process of conception and production. That freedom definitely comes across, and stands in a kind of productive discord with the pacing and discipline described above.

Interview with José Gabriel Fernández
Posted by Terence Gower on 27 September 2013