blue pinocchio

at some point in 1985 i found myself in the back patio of my family home standing over a small tin bucket with my hands and arms covered in royal blue paint, a strong smell of white spirit lingering in the air as my favourite rubber toy, a small pinocchio, laid peacefully by my feet looking like a dead member of the blue man group or a bad yves klein experiment. i recall my mother being rather annoyed at her five-year-old who had just wasted some precious wall paint, and at the fact that she was now tasked with cleaning up the mess and with safely removing the sticky oily paint off my skin without neither of us passing out from the toxic fumes coming off the solvent. i, on the other hand, remember feeling proud and accomplished. i have since wondered why i felt that way, and i think i have arrived at a conclusion: by covering the toy in paint i had made it truly my own, i felt in control. making it monochromatic allowed me to understand it better, to really be able to take in the shapes and textures without being distracted by the prefabricated tones and hues.

as well as painting, another important dimension of my work is collage, generally of readymades collected from the street, and sometimes of text. it could be argued that both parts, the defacing and the collaging, arise from the same place, an urge to remodel what is already there. my approach to collage is to define a sense of order, the chaos of the everyday and the mundane, as well as to keep a journal of sorts, of my walks around the urban landscape, which i have also documented using my phone since 2009 (see “home sweet london”, 2009 – ongoing).

my fascination with the comic novel and cartoon formats has also led me to experiment with the idea of making the components in my collages “talk to one another”, to perhaps create a more explicit narrative. however, the implementation of handwritten text and speech bubbles has not worked so far, even though i keep trying, as i think that by including them i go a step too far, i try too hard. the scene appears contrived, a montage. what has worked instead, is playing with composition. placing the subjects in environments where they face, play with, and stand next to each other, muted, in a silent film set of sorts. 

as in spoken or written language, i believe that simplicity works best when trying to convey an idea. think of haikus, three lines that tell a complex story. for that reason i have gravitated towards, and felt moved and inspired by the work of artists like hannah höch, linder sterling, john hartfield and john stezaker. be it sterling’s feminist collages made out of images from pornographic and diy magazines, or stezaker’s vintage postcards, depicting caves juxtaposed with old film stills, creating an uncanny effect where both parts merge in the viewers minds, revealing facial expressions in the geological pictures that would not exist otherwise; heartfield’s anti-fascist collages taught me that satire is a powerful tool that can be delivered through images, and that it is my responsibility as an artist to be vocal and politically present. all powerful and ingenious images minimally executed, yet heavy with meaning.

as i write this statement i am temporarily residing in cornwall, a direct consequence of the covid-19 pandemic crisis. like for many artists this has been a moment of great change, not only in my personal life but also in the way i approach my practice. what will the new normal look like? how relevant will art institutions and the whole contemporary art system be? how can we, as artists, reflect the despair, anguish and hope that this event has brought about? and how can i keep using my voice as an artist and a queer person of colour after the dust settles? i would like to think that when we look back we will realise, as we have done with movements like dada, that the ground was fertile, and that even though it was challenging, we not only survived but also expanded our minds by deeply questioning our priorities and the preconceptions we had of what we can achieve as artists and as an art community.

st. ives (cornwall), december 2020