We recently came across these unexpected artistic interventions created by Juan Rivas and were instantly in love with the unusual concept and effect that these delicate pictures have. As a part of a bigger idea, these outdoor miniatures capture the essence of Street Art’s ephemeral nature, even their purpose and origin is significantly different from those of the world-renowned artistic movement.
The Spanish painter recently developed these Paintings in Place (Pintura en el Lugar,) as a way for him to spend more time outside the studio, but also to incorporate photography as an integral element in his work. Working in a completely new environment, pressured by other elements than the ones in his studio practice, he creates a new series of work that celebrates the world’s fragility, while using his everyday objects as an essential artistic tool. The light-poles become canvases, landscapes become models, the weather conditions become the setting, and light becomes the deadline. Each of those susceptible to changes beyond his control, together they form a poetic narrative encapsulated in Rivas’ final work: the photographic evidence of his action.
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Sasha Bogojev: When, and why, did you start making these street interventions?
Juan Rivas: I started making these works in 2014 as a way to diversify my work beyond oil painting. Photography has always been present in my work but as an initial reference to paint a painting and I wanted to integrate it more into my work. Plan it as a final result.
Do you have a name for this type of work?
Painting in place (Pintura en el Lugar) refers to painting within the landscape. The surface of the post, or the wood after being outdoors, it picks up the colors and landscape textures. The support has a base tone that is repeated in other forms that make up the view.
How did the idea for these come to be?
I was asked during a course on land art how to mark different points of interest in a circular route. When you arrive at a viewpoint, you can see a small image explaining what you see and I remembered a photograph of the artist Gabriel Orozco entitled “Islan,” in which he represented a view of Manhattan with found materials. The idea was like marking a point of interest in the landscape, within the materials that form it. For example, imagine you’re sitting at a bus stop and a picture of what you’re seeing appears on a bar in the marquee. That is to say, that without turning your head you see two images; the real one, and the one represented.
My pieces represent points of view in everyday spaces.
Why are such interventions significant for you?
The proposal begins by drawing the landscape in some part of the landscape, drawing on a post, or in a lamppost, what I’m seeing. Once the drawing is finished, you can see the landscape and its drawing from that point. I’m interested in the process of painting from nature: the search for a view, and the changes of light. I don’t have a picture or a notebook to paint, the picture is where it was painted, but I pick up the view of the landscape and the painting in a picture. The surface of the pole, of the lamppost, or whatever the chosen object in the landscape, contains the light of the landscape because it belongs to it. Starting with you already have a base color to draw that is on the same tonal scale as the landscape to be drawn. The shades of the landscape are contained on the surface of the pole. Once the intervention is over, I draw the view in the same photograph. I try to capture the texture of the support (metal, wood, cement …) in the photograph, combining the plasticity of the painting, and the light of the scene.
What techniques are you using when drawing/painting them?
I use quick drawing techniques (pastel, chalk, pencils, markers …) to be able to represent light at that moment. I look for techniques that adapt to the support. On metal, it is well drawn with graphite and colored pencils, even with pastels. The wood goes very well with chalk and pastels and if it is wet with oil bars. On cement dry techniques. Always improvise. A camera is also a drawing tool. Through the viewer, I can see more easily the perspective and compare while I work the colors of the landscape with those of the drawing. The camera flattens the image by simplifying the shapes. The function of the camera is not limited to collecting the final image but it is part of the whole process of construction of the drawing as a camera obscura. The photograph collects an ephemeral work. The plastic materials are not stable and the chalks disappear with the rain. In addition to capturing the light at that moment, the point of view from which you can observe the landscape and the painted image is important, so the photographed image is basic in the project.
Why do you employ such delicate and ephemeral technique?
I know that the techniques I use are not durable but for me, the interesting thing is not that the drawing remains because although it worked in ceramics, in the long run, it would also disappear. Sometimes the drawings stay a while but it is no longer the light of that day. It is only a reference to something that happened. It is the moment represented in the drawing when the light and the drawing match what interests me. The moment of light collected in the photo.
How do you pick places where you work and how long does it usually take to finish the piece?
I look for sites that have resounding or easily differentiated forms in the landscape. It is very important that the light is the same in support and in the view so I try to always draw with the sun behind me. I have also worked with cloudy days but even so, I try to make the light equal because otherwise the images would be decompensated. The view of the support and the sun should be more or less aligned. It is important to calculate the path of the light so that the support is not in shadow before taking the photo. The process should last no longer than one hour. The fastest was in 30 minutes. The limit is the change of light. or the twist of the sun. The central hours of the day are more stable than the first and last but normally the first and last hours of the day are the most interesting, those that have more nuances. If the photo does not turn out you can go back to the next day at the same time, and try again. Once a site is located, it can always be repainted and the process will always be different
How do these type of works relate or connect to your studio works?
My reference has always been the landscape, not only as a theme but as a way of forcing myself to get the colors of the photos. Before I painted imaginary landscapes, unreal scenes and repeated structures and colors so I opted to paint what the camera captures to force me to get new structures and colors. Paint from photos of real landscapes to force me to find those colors.
Leave the studio not only to take pictures. Try to get enough technique to work outdoors. The work in the studio from photos allows you to go slowly in order to apply layers of glazes and let them dry while in the open, the chance is much more present and the obligation to work with very limited time.
Before this project, I photographed the landscape and then from the photo, I painted a painting, now the process is reversed since I paint the landscape and photograph the painting.