“We shouldn’t see the world through one single prism”

Cinta Vidal (37) welcomes us at the base of her latest work for the Marc de Vilalba Library in Cardedeu, the town where she has lived since she was ten. “We’ve been painting here for four days, and the people’s response has been really positive”, she explains enthusiastically. It is the first mural she has painted in her hometown, and she is unable to hide the pride she feels about “working from home”. To the astonishment of certain passers-by, a tangled web of seemingly suspended books, furniture and figures begin to emerge from the library’s façade. Flipped perspectives and a sense of weightlessness are two of the features that distinguish the work of this Catalan artist, who cut her teeth in the Set Design Workshop run by the Castells Planas brothers and, today, sells her painting at the Thinkspace Gallery in Los Angeles and has displayed large-format murals in countries such as China, Japan and Hawaii.

Impars and the UIC Barcelona School of Architecture have joined forces to bring Cinta Vidal’s talent to the walls of our university. As of May, the façade of the Aula Magna and the gate to the entrance of the Barcelona Campus will grace large murals symbolising the concept of university as a space for generating knowledge. We spoke to her about her career and her project for UIC Barcelona.

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When did you start painting and where does this calling to become an artist come from?

Ever since I was born, I think, because at home there was always a big interest in art. My sister drew a lot, and I soaked it up. When I was 16, I took over from her at the Castells Planas Stage Design Workshop in Sant Agnès de Malanyanes, and that’s when I knew it was my calling. I discovered a world I was passionate about.

What influence did it have on you?

I used to draw for myself, like a hobby. But there I learned a trade, a profession, about hard work. They taught me what it means to paint big. I learned techniques, how to paint large-format works, really explored the contrast of light and dark and became more efficient. When you’re painting for yourself, you can take as much time as you like. But when you’re doing work for theatres, there are deadlines, and you need to be professional and get things done.

Let’s talk about backdrops and set design for theatres and operas around the world, in formats as large as 18×10 metres: What is the creative process like and how to you produce such large backdrops?

These backdrops are commissioned by set designers, and it’s therefore up to them to decide what image they want. Our job in the workshop is to carry it out, and that’s where craftsmanship comes into play. What we do is to scale up the image we’re given. Since every commission is different, it gives you a chance to try your hand at different styles. And I learned a lot doing that, because I had to adapt to the needs of the project, not my personal preferences.

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Afterwards, you decided to do a higher level vocational training course in Illustration at La Massana Art School in Barcelona. How did this programme influence your career?

At La Massana, I focused more concept than technique. It also opened me up to the outside world. I went to secondary school here in Cardedeu, and studying in Barcelona really opened me up to the world and put me in contact with people from all over. I had fantastic teachers, real illustration professionals. I was really lucky in that respect.

You currently produce highly diverse works in different genres (illustration, painting, murals), with a host of different techniques. What value does experimentation have for your work and what are the things that inspire you?

That’s difficult to answer. I normally feel I have greater leeway to experiment when I’m sketching, whether it’s for a mural, painting or illustration. When I sketch, that’s when the ideas come out, and when I can erase, redraw, change… I can do it on the train, in a bar, anywhere. It’s much freer. Afterwards, when I’ve settled on a final image, that’s when the technical work starts, when I work out how to transfer the idea to a painting or mural.

When did you make the jump from illustration and painting to large-format murals?

I started doing paintings that sparked a certain amount of interest among galleries like Thinkspace in Los Angeles, which has really supported me. They begin promoting my work, and one day I decided to paint a small wall. The people at the gallery soon encouraged me to paint even larger murals. It was all fairly simple, because I’d spent years doing large-format paintings at Castells Planas. The difference is that, with murals, you work vertically, and I choose the design. That’s the big difference.

Which format do you feel most comfortable with?

It depends. I think all of us have different facets in which feel or don’t feel comfortable. It depends a bit on the project. In the studio, while I’m painting, though I’m calm and collected, I’m also alone. With murals, on the other hand, there’s a risk factor: you’re out in the open, and there are lots of things that can go wrong. But it’s also more social, and I really enjoy it.

Your work is highly complex and plays with aspects such as geometry, perspective and weightlessness… Would you consider the lack of a defined viewing angle one of your work’s defining features?

That’s partly in keeping with my approach to life, because I don’t think we can look at the world from one point of view, despite what we might think. It’s impossible. Everyone has their own view on the world, and my work is my way of expressing this idea: it’s impossible to view something from every perspective at the same time. There’s always a choice, a perception. In my work there also lies a desire to take things out of context, releasing them into the air and, by doing so, giving them new value.

What role does architecture play in your work?

Architectural representation comes from my time at the set design workshop, because all of the backdrops depicted spaces. In the theatre, the main characters are the actors. Therefore, the murals are either of scenes of nature or architectural spaces. I learned a lot by studying the surroundings, and my focus naturally switched from people to spaces.

You currently work as a freelancer, taking on commissions from customers all over the world. How do you reconcile your desire to experiment with these kinds of jobs?

I’m no longer accepting commissions due to the high demands of the galleries, which actually give me more freedom. When it comes to pictorial work, I therefore have complete freedom to paint whatever I like. With murals, on the other hand, I do work by commission. I’m given a wall and usually have quite a bit of freedom to do whatever I see fit. Sometimes I’m given guidelines and sometimes I impose them on myself, because, the way I see it, each mural has a context, and I can’t simply do whatever I want. But I don’t think that limits my creativity.

What value do you think murals are gaining as a source of artistic expression in urban settings?

The great thing is that is a very democratic form of artistic expression, which everyone can enjoy. I think it’s wonderful. This then leads into how festivals are organised, whether the artists should be paid or not. I feel they should. I also think that mural art should have some kind of relation with the site. There are artists who feel this isn’t important, and I respect that, but that’s not my idea of muralism.

Is working as a freelance artist difficult in today’s day and age?

In my case, life was rougher when I worked in the set design workshop. Much rougher. By working for myself, I can decide in my own time, without feeling rushed, which projects I want to commit to, and at the minute I’m very happy.

Which project are you most proud of?

Perhaps the mural I did in 2017 from the Honolulu Museum of Art in Hawaii, one of the largest I’ve done to date. It’s an art museum, which makes it quite a big deal. The first step was to contextualise the mural, to look at all the elements inside the museum and show them off. Today, the museum uses it on the tours they give to children. They ask the kids: What is this? What culture does it belong to? And then they go into the hall on the other side of the wall and see the real piece of art. I love knowing that my mural works as a teaching tool.

What have you based the mural you’re doing for UIC Barcelona on?

Personally, I don’t think painting a mural on a wall in a city street is the same as painting one in such a lauded institution as a university, which deserves a great deal of respect, and it’s therefore a big challenge for me and something I’m very much looking forward to.

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What does it mean to you to work for a university?

I was very much inspired by the idea that UIC Barcelona places people at the centre. People at the university have an immense cultural value. Therefore, the mural features people playing with elements that recall the various academic disciplines. To symbolise the Humanities, for instance, I used a Greek temple, the origin of the concept of society as we know it today. Here books have a place of prominence. I also included computers to make it a bit more modern, as well as elements that represent the concept of laboratory, the study of Law, Architecture… I tried to mix all these elements and make them pop out of the sketch. I’m really excited about it.

If you had to define yourself, what five words would you use?

I don’t like defining myself as an artist. That word seems a bit too grandiose. I’m easy-going and inquisitive, and also passionate and meticulous. I’m an artisan.

© Picture by David Ruano

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