Interview with Jorge Rivera

Tell us a bit about your time in Basel, I have heard that you were part of an Artist residency at a very special place right? 

Well, there is a slight difference between being part of an Art residency or being invited as a guest Artist. Both options are normally quite good but In this occasion I was lucky enough to be invited as a guest Artist at the Walzwerk Art Residency to join and produce some Artworks at the Walzwerk Art complex. When an Artist is part of an Art residency it enters a program that facilitates their living and creativity in a different context but when an Artist is invited as a guest, the focus could be either more for cultural reasons or as in this case, to focus more in production of new Artworks.

Walzwerk is located in the South East of Basel in an old aluminium factory. The factory closed down around 20 years ago and since then, many Artists and factories moved in and used the large spaces to develop their own studios and Art businesses. Some of the companies are very specific and provide tailor made services for stabilised Artists who want to develop particular projects. 

The residency is located across the street from the Walzwerk, one minute walk across the tram rails. The house is very charming and large with a big back yard. If it wasn’t for the high costs of living in Basel for sure many more barbecues and parties would have taken place. What makes Walzwerk quite unique is the fact that the so called facilities are professional business fully dedicated to the production of Artworks for internationally acclaimed Artists. These businesses are deeply involved in their own projects, time schedules, management etc. In general terms the owners and staff of these businesses were very helpful and accommodating, so one gets to interact and see their production and methods first hand. Everything was extremely professional, exquisite execution and very high quality materials.

Please tell us more about how things unfolded for you? How was your life in Walzwerk?

Well in my case it was a bit different, when Pascal Bauer the head organiser of the residency program explained and sent me the information about their facilities I was already fascinated by their glass and bronze casting facilities. I have quite a lot of experience working with both media and was very excited with the possibility of producing works with these companies which have a world renown reputation in the Art field and work very tightly with Artist such as Ugo Rondinone, Pipilotti Rist or Franz West to name a few. 

In order to produce my works in glass and bronze I had the privilege to work in there with Matteo Gonet and Kuntsbetrieb respectively. Matteo Gonet is an incredible glass Master, I learned a lot from him as he made one of my works using a technique unfamiliar to me. 

Ah yes!, and my life in there was pretty muchgoing to the factories to produce work, time there was limited so I tried to make the most out of it.  Still had the chance to get to know the city, night life and eat nearly every night a truly delicious pizza, for many the best in Basel a really cool restaurant called Pitza which is also located within Walzwerk and where they treated me really nicely.

Could you please share with our audience something about your project? What is the idea behind the works you created?

At the moment I am starting a new body of work called “Following the Steps of the Masters” which is based on not simply reinterpreting the works of master painters from the Siglo de Oro such a as Goya, Greco or Velazquez from a contemporary perspective but also to look at what is the role of mastery and what are the facets of innovation and exploration of the world of these old Masters which could be still be relevant nowadays.  

As human beings we learn via conscious and unconscious imitation, we grow and advance in our lives by observing and adopting behaviours, especially from the people that we idealise since they have a set of qualities that we lack, admire, or strive for entering an state of (borrowing from Rene Gerard) “mimetic rivalry” or in simple terms conflict, which I believe it could be damaging if it is not sublimated in the creative act. Mastery is the reshaping of oneself and the ability to adapt and transform in order to embody these qualities.

I believe that in Art practice, we are doing something very similar since there are some Artworks and Artists whose concerns, life experiences, imagery, or techniques may have touched us deeply to a degree that challenges our sense of self and our perception. In this challenge, we are invited to integrate or discard certain qualities that are captured and expressed by the Artist use of colours, shapes, etc., something that we are encouraged to incorporate and express in our own way.

Perhaps mastery is a process of peeling off, of letting go of our own resistances in order to adapt to the forms that, once absorbed by our senses, strive to be expressed. This project revisits old artworks and artists to traverse and illustrate this issue, alongside identity and authorship, from a space of humbleness and reverence to the creative act and its transformative power.

And in a practical manner how where you able to translate these into Artworks in Walzwerk?

During my nearly two months in there my focus was mainly in the production of glass and bronze sculptures, then I had the chance for the last three weeks to use the Walzwerk studio space provided for the residents where I also produced three large paintings and some watercolours.

I love working with wax, perhaps due to the natural and sacred connotations that it has, candles, offerings… for me wax has that dimension of gratefulness, joy and even sacrifice. One can work with wax in liquid or solid form but better watch out as you may seriously get burned. The Kunstbetrieb has a very large wax station and since the day one they offered me a table and materials I could directly work with. 

Wax is normally used as an intermediate material within the stages of the casting process, not as a material to work directly with. In most cases one works with clay then casts the clay into wax, to finally poor the bronze into the hollow ceramic shell which contained the wax before it was melted out with hot steam or other methods. You see, this is nearly an alchemical process, extremely complex and beautiful, where the piece appears and disappears generating voids and negative spaces, transforming mud and dirt into a precious metal or delicate glass. This is another reason for my attraction to wax since it fits an important requirement very important to my Artistic ‘ethos’. I believe that as an Artist one needs to have the ability to constantly transform and adapt to the changes that the piece needs to go through, Art is life and we need to deeply embrace it’s stages and challenges while we learn from them. 

My intention was to make the pieces out of solid wax, when I previously worked with glass, the wax piece needed to be made solid to avoid plaster or residue to show through the finished solid glass piece. However Mateo suggested to me that we could blow the glass inside of the mould instead of casting it which will result in a hollow piece, this would safe us costs, time and materials. This process is actually riskier as you only have one shot and a lot of things could always go wrong but hey that is the beauty of the fragility of glass and being all supervised by him, I decided to go along with it and I must say I was truly impressed with the results.

How could you summarize your experience and how Walzwerk affected you in your works?

The scale of the workshops for the Kuntsbetrieb and Matteo Gonet is truly impressive, this gave me some sort of perspective with what I was making, I became somehow a witness to the processes I am normally too involved to see them as an outsider. Also the fact that when it comes to the actual skill of glassblowing I can do nothing but to witness it and take pictures… perhaps these two factors pushed me to make some watercolours of the process of glass blowing since I always wanted to do something and share it with an audience. I am not a photographer so watercolours was perhaps the best way to capture this beautiful and intriguing process where one literally makes a sculpture with their breath and lungs.

The sculptural works titled the Artist as a Scapegoat 1, 2 and 3 are inspired in Goya’s depictions of the penitents blamed by the Spanish Inquisition as witches for the Black Death with their Capirotes and San Benitos coned hats and clothes. I think nowadays in our polarised societies where we all have access to get our opinions out there, we are more than ever finding scapegoats imitating the belief in the crowds pointing at others to release our own frustrations, finding in this some sort of social validation. The title suggests the position of the Artist as someone who is willingly taking risks and positioning himself or herself as a person with a different perspective than the rest and therefore perhaps either be loved and admired or in the worse cases be bullied or even killed by the mob.

As I mentioned before I also had the chance to use the residency’s studio to make some large paintings, these works are based in some old Goya and Durer’s etchings and there is also a third painting which is a ‘Tantric’ version of the Infanta Teresa which I call Princess of Grapes. The intention with this work was to ‘take a risk’ and bring an Eastern Tantric reading to Goya’s depiction. In this latest version the Princess is naked and holds a flower in one hand and a flaming skull in the other while two dogs are playing in a flirtatious manner around her. The grapes surrounding the princess are symbols of something which is fruitful and ripe. The snake around her neck the dichotomy of sexual and creative energy which could be utilised in a productive or destructive manner.  

Overall my time in Walzwerk was very productive and I am very grateful for having the chance to be part of it since at the moment the residency program is put on hold. After some consideration and contrasting of opinions the organisers of the residency decided to restructure the selecting method and make an open call so more Artists could in the future benefit from the program. They want to develop a more structured process where the different businesses and facilities could get involved in the selection of the artists granted with future residencies.

The Artist as a Scapegoat 1, Glass, 49x30x26cm, 2022

Princess of Grapes, Oil, Resin On Canvas, 200x165cm, 2022

Wrestling with Creativity, Oil, resin on canvas, 200x165cm, 2022