Paula Calavera is a painter born in Ceuta, Spain. She graduated in Fine Arts from the University of La Laguna in 2013 and has made several solo and collective art exhibitions. For few years now Paula Calavera has also painted murals and street art pieces. I met Paula one Sunday and we talked about her career while she painted a piece with a graffitero ‘Puto Amo‘ in the ruins of an old slaughter house in Las Palmas (see photo below).
What is the main difference for you to paint in the streets versus to paint in a studio?
The difference is in the framing of the work. You can do the same exact action with same paint and you will not have the same result. Canvas is soft and easy to work with. Outside the walls put up a lot of resistance. The light and the point of view also change all the time. You have to paint everything bigger and to work harder in order to leave a trace.
But the main difference, beyond the material, is the way I think during the painting process. When I paint in the studio, I don’t think about the people who will be see my work. While I paint on canvas, I think about myself. I process about the things I see and think and how to paint them. While painting, I’m trying to remember what I have dreamt about and think about the images that come inside of me. Normally my painting process is slow and I enjoy it. I paint quickly but a lot of times there are long gaps between my working sessions. I allow myself everything: experimentations, changes. It’s endless because it doesn’t have an end that I know of. And that’s what I look for, finishing with the image, finding answers for what I see inside and outside of me.
When I paint in the streets, I think about the people that probably will see my piece and also the artists I know. I think about what all of them will think about my work. And this makes me suffer. A lot. These things make my works very different with different objectives in these two art fields. In studio is more about what emerges in a moment of introspection and in the other, it is about the action of being exposed.
You have a lot of women figures in your recent works. Why?
First, painting women has been an era in the art history, just like landscape or still life painting. Woman is an object for painting. In the 20th century woman as a subject has risen: the representation of women by women. During the first feminist wave, one person said a very wise phrase: “Let them be what they are”, wanting to say that without any oppression people could be what they truly are.
Second, I have decided to paint feminine figures but not to represent any particular woman, and not for visualise any real-life woman in her fight for equality. I paint the women that we already are but that we yet can’t be: trying to figure this other humanity, denied and waiting to be built. I paint giant women figures in harmony with the landscape, searching and caring for themselves. They are abandoning their bodies in order to be women. My intention is to speak about the individual feminine subject.
When looking the world map, somebody might say that the Canary Islands are an isolated place. In your opinion, what are the things that have affected the most on the street art in the islands?
I don’t think the interpretation about this territory is completely correct. Yes, we are isolated geographically, but this isolation endorses people to travel more. It’s a condition for an islander – to travel. And this enriches our culture because the ones who return, they come back with a full suitcase and willing to contribute to others. It is a territory with a lot of migratory movement. It is also a transit point. This keeps us very connected with the world and not only to Europe.
What is your view on this: Why there are less women than men in street art scene?
It is the same in street art as in every other field: women have to spend too much time on housework. I have a personal opinion too and it is a less politically correct. Graffiti is actually a quite masculine action. I will try to explain myself with a risk of being misunderstood. If we look deeper into the root of the phenomenon, it implies violence or intention of aggression or complaint more than rehabilitation or beautification of the environment. It is also about boosting an identity, individual or collective. It is an active way to communicate, to be noticed, to belong. We might say that these attitudes and ways of communication are mostly reserved for masculine gender. But luckily my mother taught me that to be taken seriously, you must act like a man. The female graffiti painters that I have met probably were taught by their mothers like me: women don’t need to ask for permission either.
What kind of impact would you like have with your art?
Delirium. It isn’t surreal, it isn’t fantasy. It’s completely irrational. It is important for me that people think something else and not only what I paint. Paint is metaphor or allegory. In my case it’s more about allegory. There isn’t one clear message. So, I try, as every poet that my works remind people of something. If my painting brings into your mind an old story, a song, your last love, a day in your childhood – then I have achieved what I wanted.
At formal level, regarding to my style, I have hardly any control on colour. My harmony is like the tone of my voice, like my corporal aspect: I don’t try to control it too much. For the shape, I search for the unreal. I have always been obsessed with dreams and the unconscious. The unconscious images that I have when I read, when they tell me a story. They are like fragments of memories because when they accumulate, they build a reality. I do the same with paint: I accumulate different analysis of the same image and improvise with the image that emerges, because I do not have a premeditated image in mind. I think it is ‘delirium’.
What is the most valuable thing you have so far achieved with your work?
In 2013, when I finished my art studies I won a competition and painted a 500-meter long and 5-meter high mural. I worked in a team of eleven people and learnt a lot about colour, application and coordination. I didn’t have this kind of experience before. Now, I look back at this painting and think it could be better but it was a great experience for me professionally and personally. This project was called “Tres Orillas” as the Canary Islands are located between three lands: America, Africa and Europe.
What would you paint in the streets of Helsinki city?
I have never gone so far up north and to a such cold place to paint, but I would love to. For instance, hot colors would be a good idea. Probably I would paint an unreal landscape – a scene that only could be dreamt of in Helsinki.