Private Art, Public Space

In this new series for Clitbait, Sofi guides us through the world of secret sketches, creative correspondences and a whole lot of unexpected art. Think of a universe in which the audience doesn’t exist: the intimacy of a journal, the obliviousness of a home recording- a world in which the artist and her own unique rationality is at the centre.

Last Monday I stepped into the oil pastel dreamscape of Elena Garrigolas, the 25 year old Catalan artist exhibiting her *free* London debut at Saatchi Yates. The space is very much open to the public, yet the art displayed is so extremely private. Two minutes in and I’ve transmogrified into a fly on the wall: Elena’s Cow Mural is sold to a suit in front of us, and we’re discovering there’s a clear market for the intimate ‘sketches’ of a 20 something.

‘My Milkshake Brings All the Boys to the Farmyard’, 2023, Oil on Canvas by Elena Garrigolas 

Having cited meme etiquette and mediaeval marginalia (the peculiar and mostly lewd anonymous graffiti found on the borders of early modern manuscripts) as cultural references; Elena’s work is definitely something I can get behind. Firm favourites include works featuring inanimate parts becoming anthropomorphic baby heads/ snail bodies ; and musical instruments carved out of sullen relatives. 

From top to bottom ‘Self  Portrait’, 2023, Oil on Canvas;  ‘Fun in the Sun’ 2023, Oil  on Panel, ‘Retrato de mi Padre Tocando La Guitarra’,  2023, Oil on Canvas. All works by Elena Garrigolas. 

There is humour here for sure, but looking closer it appears almost all the 2m squared canvases have been filled to precision within the past year or so . To me, such determined prolificity hints to a personal ambition and artistic motive that runs deeper than making her audience laugh. The more I look at her work, the more I am met with the ‘baby gaze’ of the oil pastel infant carved out of an ass selfie; I am left second- guessing whether this work has a prescribed audience at all. In other words, I love it and I want to find out more. 

‘Slumber Party’, 2023, Oil on Panel by Elena Garrigolas

Interview with the Artist

You have previously explained your work as ‘drawings from a secret journal’. How important is keeping a personal diary for artists? How do you know when an idea or draft is worth actualising? 

I don’t know about other artists but, to me, creating is like keeping a diary because I’m pouring my deepest thoughts and fears onto the paper. I’m creating my own language, and my own rules. Everything I do is a mix of everything I like/ experience and feel; my ideologies, my thoughts. It’s my most sincere way of communicating.

I don’t really think much when drawing, I get an idea and I do it. That’s why I love drawing so much, I rarely think ahead or do sketches prior to starting a piece.Maybe because I’m impatient. I only use sketchbooks when I’m out, and I like to treat them as the final piece. I think everything is worth actualising.if you had an impulse to do it in the first place. 

You speak about your formative experiences of being sent to an all girls Catholic school; do you find female friendships stimulate you to produce your art? What is your advice for young female artists of our generation? 

What stimulates me and feeds this craving to create are personal bad experiences in general: I talk about about the idea of family, my experience with religion, taboos, my relationship with my own body and my relationship with others, how my upbringing influenced my way of thinking, how I communicate and why I can’t communicate how I’d like to.

In terms of what stimulates me to produce, I wouldn’t say female friendship necessarily. I just crave female energy. What I loved about the opening is seeing and talking  to so many women that felt understood/seen. So what I’d say to young female artists is to be unapologetically vulnerable, to speak their truth. Personal is political and we need more women talking about what topics worry/frustrate them and how it feels to navigate the world as a woman.

Besides skill, this kind of art requires a lot of discipline. What does your idea of a productive day look like? Are there any mantras you keep for moments when inspiration runs low? 

I need to draw, the same way I need to express myself, as everyone else. It just happens that my way of doing so is through art, it feels safer, and the most natural for me. 

I’m rarely uninspired. But when I do not know what to do I just check my notes, old sketchbooks that usually have lists of written ideas and vaguely drawn sketches as well as more detailed ones and I always end up finding what to do. I also have a folder on my laptop where I save everything I see that I like. I’m usually browsing on that to get inspired. The one thing that has helped me is getting to know me. Finding what I really like, taking a little bit of  everything and making it my own. So what  I would recommend if anyone is struggling with inspiration I would just say to take a break from creating and instead do research: find what you want to talk about, look up artists that have done similar stuff and see how they did it and what they have to say about it. Read more, find your references, go to openings. I bet you’ll get inspired that way.

A productive day can be in so many forms. Maybe one day it is productive for me to just be at an opening and getting to talk to other artists, others may be painting all day not concerned about anything in the world, just concentrated in drawing, in my own little world. Another one can be just me finding and falling in love with a new artist and getting inspired. Reading, writing down ideas for the future, doing collages of those ideas to get a clear picture of what I want to do. Anything that helps me grow as an artist or simply that leads me to create I would say is a productive day.

The collection manages to seamlessly capture our obsessions with both Body Horror and Beauty. Which would you say influences your work more: the grotesque or the beautiful? 

The beautiful has never inspired me. I always lean to the grotesque, it’s even hard for me to create from beauty.

You studied art in Barcelona, a city that gets a lot of international attention for its home-grown talent. What impact has this environment had on your experience as an artist so far? 

I wouldn’t call myself an artist when I was studying. I really had no idea of what I wanted to say, or how to. All of this imagery that you now see started once I finished university,  I was no longer living in Barcelona. I’d say Barcelona opened my eyes to a whole new perspective but that’s because I was living in a “bubble” back in my hometown. So I don’t really think that it is the fact that it’s Barcelona but more that I just got to leave home (with every connotation of that word).

I’ve always seen art as a very individualistic thing here, I’m still trying to find a community, a sense of home in the art space where I live.

Thank you so much to Elena for answering my questions; and for creating such interesting and thought provoking art. Catch Elena’s debut collection at Saatchi Yates Gallery in St James, London. The Show runs until December 22 and is free entry!!