At what age did you decide to become an artist?
I guess the day I decided to study art was by exclusion. Every other career seemed boring to me, and since I was a child, I only wanted to draw. Somehow I felt that I would not have been any good at anything else, and it has yet to be proven that I’m good enough at this!
How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be an artist?
My father is an engineer and economist, and while he possesses great sensitivity, he probably wanted a more conventional and secure career for me, although he finally compromised. My mother, however, is a decorator and painter, and from a very young age, she has been my best ally. She taught me to draw, and this is probably all her fault.
Who are your favorite artists?
Hans Holbein the Younger, Ribera, Otto Dix, Vincent Desiderio.
Who is your favorite artist whose work is unlike your own?
Art book you cannot live without?
Journal of Delacroix.
What is the quality you most admire in an artist?
The courage to take on challenges that you don’t feel ready for and the perseverance to overcome those challenges.
Do you keep a sketchbook?
When I was a student, I always carried one in my pocket to jot down ideas schematically whenever necessary. I had half a dozen of them, some of which I would have been disappointed to lose on the subway. Now I use my mobile phone for that purpose and only make preparatory sketches in the studio.
What’s the best exhibition you have ever attended?
That’s a tricky one. I’d say Masters of Chaos: Artists and Shamans, an ethnographic-anthropological exhibition that took place in Madrid where different cultural expressions showed the connections between art and the desire for control over nature inherent to man from its origins.
If you were not an artist, what would you be?
That question is really difficult. I cannot answer it.
Did you have an artistic cohort that influenced your early creative development?
Except for the positive influence of my family, I would say no. Thanks to them, I have been able to travel and visit museums in Europe from a young age, and that has definitely influenced me. And my grandfather used to pay me to copy comic books to keep me quiet when I was kid. That must have left a mark, ha ha.
What is one thing you didn’t learn in art school that you wish you had?
That what they falsely call talent is actually the sum of love for your craft, hard work, and perseverance. This I regret not having learned during my fine arts studies in Spain. Luckily, I learned it shortly after at the ASL.
What work of art have you looked at most and why?
Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. The painting is in the Prado Museum, in Madrid, and if you are lucky enough to see it one day when the room is not crowded with noisy tourists, it has the ability to transport you to other worlds. There are few paintings that exert that force on me. This painting devours you.
What is your secret visual pleasure outside of art?
I am fascinated by classic horror movies, especially the German expressionists of the 1920s and their American debtors from the 1930s.
Do you listen to music in your studio?
No, I only listen to history and film podcasts. Although it seems strange, music distracts me more easily, and podcasts allow me to concentrate more on my painting
What is the last gallery you visited?
Marlborough Gallery in Madrid.
Who is an underrated artist people should be looking at?
Underrated means that you they don’t make a living from their art or that they aren’t in the books yet? I don’t know. Most of my colleagues do wonderful things, making enormous sacrifices and receive very little attention for it. I know many artists of extraordinary talent who unfortunately do not make ends meet.
What art materials can you not live without?
My synthetic soft round oil brushes
Do you paint/sculpt/create art every day?
Heaven knows I try. I teach art in my academy four days a week, which leaves me little time to develop my personal projects. But I try to be disciplined and make the most of that precious time.
What is the longest time you went without creating art?
When I was studying at the League and the summer holidays came, I could spend two months without picking up a pencil until the beginning of classes in September. Those holidays were obligatory: During the season, I could take classes from ten in the morning until ten at night for months, and that rhythm left me exhausted.
What do you do when you are feeling uninspired?
I know tiredness and subsequent laziness, those are my enemies. Inspiration, nevertheless, is permanent; it never leaves me. Whenever I’m too tired to paint, I read or take long walks.
What are the questions that drive your work?
I am fascinated by the awareness of one’s own finitude, the transitory nature of life. I try to make my paintings convey that vital anguish combined with the awareness of the lack of an ultimate purpose.
What is the most important quality in an artist?
The humility that pushes you to want to learn and grow in each painting.
What is something you haven’t yet achieved in art?
We would finish earlier if I tried to define what I have achieved. Although I am closer to achieving it than twenty-five years ago, it still frustrates me not being able to translate the idea imagined in my head onto the canvas in a way that is not adulterated by my lack of technical expertise.
What is the best thing about art in the era of social media?
I suppose it’s the enormous exposure that social networks provide, which multiplies its diffusion and generates massive interest in places where it was perhaps more difficult to reach before. On the other hand, this exposure comes at the price of turning works of art into objects of rapid consumption, sometimes supersonic, which I think makes us dangerously insensitive to the enormous amount of work, time, and sacrifice that lies behind each post, each evanescent image.
DIEGO CATALÁN AMILIVIA received the Art Students League’s Xavier Gonzalez and Ethel Edwards Travel Grant in 2008. He is an instructor at Estudio Nigredo, Academia de Dibujo y Pintura en Madrid.