Chilean artist Guillermo Lorca speaks to C&TH about his artistic ancestry and why trees are so central to his fantastical paintings…
As you ascend the trunk of the staircase above Asprey’s flagship store in New Bond Street, you’ll find eight private rooms branching out either side that currently house the paintings of Chilean artist, Guillermo Lorca. The architectural motif – though accidental – is a succinct parallel to the tree at the centre of most of his paintings.
‘The tree is an archetypal element,’ Guillermo explains, ‘it’s really strong in every culture. The idea of something hanging as well – you can find it in Tarot and different symbols, in this case it’s a deer.’ Once a childhood view from the artist’s window, trees now weave thematically through his work; sprawling across the canvases and draped in super-scaled feline creatures, with deer and birds peering from between the branches.
An artistic streak is part of the 35-year-old painter’s DNA. First picking up a brush at around six, in addition to many ‘old Spanish painters’ on his mother’s side, he shares ancestry with the celebrated Chilean Surrealist Poet Vincente Huidobro. Art school followed but proved too prescriptive for his surrealist leanings – he left in his third year. ‘I didn’t want to destroy my imagination and resources as an artist,’ he says, ‘I had that conviction. For me it was difficult to follow that structure.’ Accordingly, Lorca’s work couldn’t be described as anything other than 100 per cent idiosyncratic.
As you wander from room to decadent room above Asprey’s bejewelled shop floor, it’s impossible not to find yourself drawn into a subliminal, eerie world. Drawing on themes of dreams, hallucinations and magical elements, creatures peer up at you from the shadows and prowl in dark corners. Some of them are what you could imagine hiding under the bed or in the dark space at the back of the wardrobe.
No wonder that he caught the attention of celebrated auctioneer Simon de Pury. After coming up with the concept for Private Rooms and exhibition with Asprey’s chairman John Rigas, de Pury approaching Lorca through Instagram to exhibit. Over coffee in London they ‘planned an idea for the space’.
Lorca’s show is the inaugural of several sculptors, painters, and creatives who will show in Asprey’s space in the coming months, as part of a new series, de Pury @ Asprey. ’When I first saw images of Guillermo Lorca’s work I was instantly struck by their disturbing power’ de Pury explained ‘the combination of virtuoso skills as a painter with the creation of his own oneric universe made it a combination that sets Guillermo totally apart from any of his contemporaries.’
Grey October rain drizzles beyond the window of Asprey’s stately drawing room, sending Londoners running for cover. But cloudy weather pleases the artist – it mellows the colours of the paint, enhancing the shadows and composition where sunlight would bleach them out. The focal point of the collection is a mural of a tree is so enormous it took ‘a miracle’ (in the end – rolling up and re-framing) to get it in. But it was worth it. ‘The space is amazing,’ Guillermo says. Contrary to the stark whiteness of a gallery, ‘it feels as though you’re in a house, or a really old gallery at the beginning of the 21st century.’
‘Life, death, the idea of gods and spirits were really important symbols for me,’ Guillermo explains. Like any painter, the masters were his early influence – ‘Rubens, Velázquez, Caravaggio, Rembrandt of course’ – but more contemporary, unexpected inspirations make an appearance in his works too, like Japanese anime. For the latter, see his depictions of young girls with pastel-coloured hair in violet, mint and rose pink. This arrives at another key theme, childhood. ‘In childhood, when you’re a child your feelings are more volatile, you’re fighting for power all the time.’
But while darkly magical, there’s a striking polarisation in Lorca’s art. Juxtaposed against the narrative of a dark fairytale, you’ll find peaceful meadows manifesting through a window here, a light-infused background scene there. You could happily circulate the collection three times over and pick out a different story from each piece every time.
Returning to the enormous mural of the tree he explains this tension of light and dark in his work, which is often characterized by animals – sometimes sublimely content, sometimes evil-looking. ‘They’re sitting together like friends or lovers. It’s a moment of death, but also love, they’re dangerous rather than bad and have their own personality, we need it for equilibrium,’ he elaborates. Like the world, and life itself – everything in Lorca’s world is constantly in transition, occupying an ambivalent role in time and space. Cryptically, he concludes: ‘I like when you take an energy and use different symbols to turn it into something else.’
The exhibition runs until 17 November at Asprey, 167 New Bond Street, Mayfair, London W1S 4AY