Born in Caracas, Venezuela, I meet Blanca Haddad on her own turf. In what she tells me is one of the few Brutalist buildings of Barcelona, she walks me through the space. Her studio and the venue for her solo exhibition is in what used to be a factory of some kind. It is “very Berlin” she tells me – and she is right. Bravely manned by one individual, Xavier Basin, the space was transformed with the help of the community itself. “I learned a lot about bricolage. I learned from the neighbours” Haddad says. Having arrived at the beginning of the restoration project, she saw the building become what it is today with her own eyes. The artists themselves and the community worked to clean and clear the rooms, all of which were filled with rubbish and debris from years of being abandoned. She tells me of the sense of community she found in the process, and the Catalan values she learned of: “You will see Catalans are constantly fighting for their rights, for the lifestyle that they want. Barcelona has a fighting spirit, it is not a conformist society”. There is a sense of deep appreciation of the culture that has absorbed her, and her love of the Catalan approach to life is apparent; here, it is not about the money. It is about the experience.
The exhibition space itself is something to behold. An incredibly large room with ample wall space, this is as well suited to Haddad’s work as one can imagine. The paintings are large, and feature bold brush strokes, colours, with snippets of text scrawled with energy and incorporated in the compositions. Haddad explains that each painting is linked to an anecdote or a story someone told her which inspired poems. These poems can be read alongside the works, adding dimension to the works and giving a welcomed insight into the production of the paintings. The paintings are mostly featuring women, giving an instant sense that there is indeed a lot of fight in Blanca Haddad. She has something to say, and you better be listening.
Before the private view I sat down with Haddad to talk about her work:
How long have you been in Barcelona?
7 years now. I moved here, then moved to Edinburgh to study and came back.
You worked as an art therapist for a while. Do you think your work in that field influenced your work?
Well, to be honest, not really my art. It influenced me as a person. It made me think about authority a lot and about health, and things like that. It gave my life a deeper sense of what is important and what is not. It inspired me to fight for what I really want to do. Because at the end of the day health is about fighting to survive, that’s life.
I read other interviews of yours where you said that you like to be positive in the message of your work. Your pieces are strong, but ultimately optimistic.
Art is always optimistic. To create is an optimistic movement; the opposite of destruction. Even if you create something very dark, you are creating a space or a reflection. My work can sometimes be heavy, but I have a lot of sense of humour, I think. I mean, it is very vindictive but capable of laughing at itself. There is no worry about being judged.
Is your painting a form of catharsis?
Actually, I love that word, catharsis. Going back to therapy – I think catharsis is the most important therapeutic factor. Unfortunately, we do not know how to handle it. I would love my work to be cathartic. I try to be free. Sometimes I achieve that point, other times not. Sometimes I like my paintings, sometimes I don’t. But sometimes I don’t like parts of my life or of myself, so it is not always what you want. When I recite poetry for example, I don’t like it when people record me because I come out ugly. When people record, you become very conscious. Painting is different because it is irrational, and at the same time it is not be cause you paint it, but then it is in front of you – you see it. It’s happened to me a lot that I would go back to a painting and try and fix it and I f**k them up.
Poetry is obviously very important to you. I read that you got into it online?
B: I always liked to write them but never considered myself a writer or anything like that. I made a blog because I didn’t have a studio and felt creatively limited. I painted a lot of small paintings, drew a lot – I love to draw – and I started to blog. It was such a surprise for me to see how much it was read. It was very pleasant. Now it has been years of writing and participating to readings.
As soon as we met you mentioned being a woman painter and how that can be quite a challenge from a number of perspectives. Was this something you gave a lot of thought to from when you first started painting or did that come later in your career?
B: I never thought that being a woman would be a limitation. I have always been a very proud woman but it is. Still. I went to an exhibition of Impressionism and they were all male painters. I started to feel sad. Angry and sad to see that curators do not make an effort to review history and find the women who were silenced; and that makes me think of why I would be the exception. We won’t be the exception (as women) if we don’t fight. I often think women are scared to complain because it is still a very male dominated world (art) and we don’t want to be perceived as a nasty or aggressive person. But I think we have to complain- or not complain, but we have to organise ourselves and raise our voices. What I think – actually – is not that I do not have the space, but that I will be evaluated in such a rigorous way, and in a way that a man wouldn’t. I have to justify every single thing.
On show until 29th of October at Nau Bostik, this is an exhibition that showcases immensely powerful work from a painter with a lot to say about people and the value small individual stories have in the grand scheme of things. Highly recommended as part of your cultural experience in Barcelona!
Address: Carrer Ferran Turné, 11