nº35 / BOSCO SODI / BLAIN SOUTHERN GALLERY / LONDON
Following Bosco Sodi's successful exhibition “Yügen” in 2016, three years later he returns to Blain Southern Gallery with "Heavens and the Earth”.
BRICK BY BRICK
“Any kind of wall can be dismantled when society gets together”
Interview by Zoltan Alexander with artist Bosco Sodi
Bosco Sodi at Blain Southern Gallery / © video by Zoltan Alexander ZOLTAN+MEDIA
Moving back to London a few years ago brought me skin-close to contemporary art galleries and artists. One of my favourite galleries Blain Southern Gallery presented “Yügen”, the first exhibition of renowned Brooklyn based Mexican artist, Bosco Sodi. I remember spending hours in the gallery getting lost in deep, engaging emotions.
“Yügen” was based on the Japanese “wabi-sabi” aesthetic philosophy. He had painted the gallery’s walls Holy Cardinal Purple, hung his large-scale, cracked, earthy paintings and shouted … “Divino”! Sodi focused on highly textured, abstract, sculpture-like paintings with layers and layers of pigments, accentuated with silver and blue.
He brought volcanic rocks, magma from Celboruco, glazed them with gold, then carefully placed them throughout the gallery. The installation was exquisite. Materials transformed into art. It was a narrative journey of the object, a true voyage from a volcano to a London gallery.
Fast-forward to 2019. Bosco Sodi enters the gallery again. I turn my microphone on and we start walking around the gallery like we would do on the seashore in Mexico.
Z+ "Hola, ¿qué tal?" After a few words in broken Spanish I invite him for a game. "Let's play “what are you? What are you not?” … so “Pangea” or “Panthalassa”?
BS "Both. “Panthalassa” is like a superocean that surrounded the supercontinent “Pangaea” at the beginning of our time before the continents started splitting apart. In fact, these were my pieces from an earlier exhibition. “Pangea” is a huge 4m x 12m painting I created in 2010 for the Bronx Museum."
Z+ "Are you still a painter? A “sculptor of paint” as someone put it."
BS "I stretch limits between a sculptor, painter and an occasional performance artist. In my case, there is a very thin line between paintings and sculptures. When I was very young, I used to go to the ruins with my mother to look at the rocks and was always fascinated by their material and composition."
Z+ "Would you describe yourself as an abstract expressionist or a faithful monochromist?"
BS "Different people give me different titles, but frankly, I don’t give any titles to myself."
Z+ "What is your oscillation between black and white?"
BS "Last year my grandmother passed away, I was very close to her and I took some time off to reflect on life and death. Are my kids growing up too fast? Every day I am fighting between natural forces, light and dark, black and white."
Z+ "Are you an alchemist?"
BS "My father was a chemical engineer, we grew up doing lots of experiments in the house, there were always fires and smoke. When I opened the fridge I often found some weird experiments from my father. I grew up searching for materials. I work with materials."
Z+ "If you were a material, what would you be?"
BS "I trust dust … sawdust. I have been using it for a long time. I mix it with water, raw pigments, wood pulps, glue and fibres. The sawdust is very organic … in fact, the more organic the material gets the more unpredictable the pieces become. It is anarchy of textures and materials.
The base is always on canvas, rather than on wood, which would be predictable. You know what happens when you pour water on canvas, it keeps moving, changing and I love that process.
Normally, I put the canvas flat, horizontal, but sometimes I change the angle, the gravity when I pour the paint. It is very physical to apply layers after layers of paintings, pigments and organic materials. I use my own hand to create. During the process, I go around them, observe them and before I leave the studio I ad more water to slow down the drying process.
Normally one month is needed for a painting to dry. They crack slowly, but it all depends on the weather, the humidity and the actual place I am at. Sometimes they dry slower, sometimes faster, often the heat of the sun completes the work. I stop the minute God kisses my paintings, when they start cracking as I feel I would otherwise interfere with nature."
Z+ "Are you a gold-digger? … and I am not associating you for a material gain."
BS … He laughs. "Of course, I am. It is something out of this world what gold represents, I have always been interested in the sense of gold, the sense of holiness. I believe in the uniqueness of things. I found these rock pieces and my idea was to fire them at extremely high temperature to reflect the history of the material, then glaze them with gold, signifying geological time and uniqueness, to stop time, and leaving them to be desired. For the exhibition “Yügen” I installed these rocks in the gallery in a Japanese Karesansui garden style, embracing imperfection."
Z+ "It is very interesting to put Mexican sensibility with Japanese philosophy. How does a Mexican artist end up in Japanese culture?"
BS "Since an early age, I have been reading the Japanese philosophy “wabi-sabi”. Now I own a small house in Tokyo, in Sendagi district where the old Shitamachi spirit lingers on. I invite 6-8 Mexican artists for a month to co-share the space and work. I noticed that every time I go to Japan with an assistant - they are always artists - the aesthetics of Japan blow them away. In a strange way, there is a big connection between Mexican and Japanese sensibility and aesthetics."
Z+ "Are you a master of imperfection?"
BS "Yes, that’s a very nice way to put it. That reminds me of this critic in Mexico, I don’t know him, we have never met … and last time he called my work “simple and grotesque” which for me was a compliment. Indeed, I try to keep my paintings free and simple, and when they start to crack I stop immediately because I feel it would interfere with the natural process of the painting."
Z+ "Are you an isolated artist?"
BS "Isolation plays a great part in my work. The process itself is very important. I do everything by myself, which needs a lot of discipline. I stretch the canvas and prepare the paintings, it’s very physical, but also rewarding, it’s an intimate dialogue with my work."
Z+ "How did the gallery Blain Southern find you?"
BS "I was with Pace Gallery at the time … then in 2016, Blain Southern approached me and we opened with "Yügen". This year it continues with “Heavens and the Earth”, taken its title from the Book of Genesis.
I am very lucky to have excellent relationships with my galleries all over the world … with Blain Southern in London, Paul Kasmin’s Gallery in New York, Galeria Hilario Galguera in Mexico City, Scai The Bathhouse in Tokyo, Galeria Carles Tache in Barcelona and the Galeria Alvaro Alcazar in Madrid, Galeria Luciana Brito in Sao Pablo, Axel Vervoordt Gallery in Belgium and Galerie Eigen+Arts in Leipzig and Berlin ... hope I did not forget anyone."
Z+ "It is very impressive. By the way, is it significant where you work?"
BS "For instance in Berlin my series “There Would be Light” is completely different, because the soil is different, the humidity is different which obviously changes the whole process. I am often not able to say which year the painting was created, but where it was made. I just know, because I always feel their essence."
Z+ "How about another game? Can I rely on your memory? What did you do on September 7th?"
BS "Ah … the “Muro!"
Z+ "Indeed. How about that wall?"
BS "I have a few. The first “Muro” … "The Wall" was built in 2017 in New York, on Washington Square, a one-day installation. It was constructed with 1,600 bricks made in Mexico with the help of local craftsmen, each brick was signed by me and after the installation visitors were invited to dismantle it brick-by-brick and take part of it home.
Three things I wanted to achieve that day; to be a public artist, a performer and wanted to create an installation. We assembled the wall during the morning, starting at 6am with a small group of friends, about 20 of them. Between 9am and 3pm it was public art, people passed by, asked questions, took pictures, then at 3pm, we started dissembling it like a performance. I contacted my Mexican friends living in New York, I wanted them to contribute to the current political state of the US. There were a lot of artists, architects, opera singers, writers, even the Mayor sent someone to place a brick.
“Muro” was a gift to President Trump, but also a social exercise, how to get people together for a cause. You know, when you bring people together, it’s powerful. You could disassemble any wall, not just physical, political, or economical, any kind of barrier - human, gender, political - can be dismantled when society gets together."
Z+ "Here is another date: July 7th."
BS "Yes, that was London. I built another wall last year in front of the National Gallery as part of “Art Night”, curated by the Hayward Gallery. We used the same bricks from New York, made in Mexico. What we did not know at the time, that a few days later President Trump visited the capital. It was an interesting coincidence, a subtle, strong message."
Z+ "I guess, you didn't make a "flying wall" out of him, did you? I always considered your work as a political performance."
BS "No flying walls … but I totally agree with you, my work is always a political statement. It is important to raise our voices especially when we are artists. We live in a very complex, difficult time, political time, and as an artist, we are obligated to bring awareness to these issues. I find Brexit quite alarming … isolating the world when we should be very connected, is crazy!"
Z+ "… and there is this wall between Mexico and the US."
BS "Look at the territory and our history; that land belonged to Mexico. We should even get it back. It is also silly to think that a wall can stop the spirit of people. It will never work! People always find the way …"
Z+ "If I am not mistaken, you have several studios all over the world."
BS "It is a lot of responsibility. I opened Casa NaNo in Tokyo three years ago, and on the West Coast of Mexico, in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, the philanthropic Casa Wabi art foundation, designed by the genius Japanese Pritzker prize-winning architect, Tadao Ando. It even has an 8000ft gallery. Most of the time I invite middle-career Mexican artists rather than emerging ones. My base, however, is in Brooklyn where my kids go to school and where my studio is. I moved to New York 10 years ago from Europe, before I was in Berlin and Barcelona where I also have a studio.
New York is another world and Brooklyn is, I think, more open than Manhattan, it is very European. Brooklyn is like an ivory tower for me, where I could observe the world. You have everything you want from life and what Europe can offer."
Z+ "Do you still have time for other than painting and travelling? Do you like reading for instance?"
BS "Oh yes, I love it. For me, it is therapy. There is this novel “Memoirs of Adriano / Memoirs of Hadrian” by the Belgian-born French writer Marguerite Yourcenar or another book, a very touching, beautiful one by Jean Renoir, ”Renoir, My Father."
Z+ "You leave most of the time your work untitled."
BS "Always. People became so lazy and if I would use a title, they would be looking at the painting through what the title says. People also try to compare my work to Malevich, Rothko or Klein, but in fact, I am happy not to be compared to anyone … the less comparable you are, the more proof you have that you have created something strong in your language."
Z+ "Looking at your paintings I get this emotional vertigo, like floating, flying, they mesmerize me, yet, at the same time, the earth in your paintings is crying out for water."
BS "Well … Should I be interviewing you?" He laughs.
"In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep" Genesis
On that note, the gallery’s Press & Communication director hacks the interview: “Here is Bosco's catalogue, just arrived from the printers, 500 copies with 12 silkscreen covers, all hand signed by the Artist. I have a copy for you. By the way, where is your photographer?”
The photographer arrives, I am delighted. We all walk down to level -1 to “Approaching Abstraction", another show curated by Bosco Sodi and Alberto Ríos, concurrently running to Sodi’s exhibition, presenting nine Mexican artists, working across different mediums, many of whom have undertaken residencies at Casa Wabi (Mexico) and several others at Casa NaNo (Tokyo) including Benjamín Torres with his highly political, colourful collages reflecting on the economic policies in Mexico, Tania Candiani with 240 alarm clocks, also Galia Eibenschutz and Isauro Huizar.