Interview to Carmen Barrueco (b.1998), Lives and works between Granada and Madrid. 

I meet Granada-based artist Carmen Barrueco on March 17th, a date that, without my knowing it, is the world comic’s day. She tells me this as soon as I enter her house-studio-room-workshop, a space full of light in the center of the city, brimming to the top with comics and illustrations of all sizes and types. A perfect coincidence!

Hers is a tale of comedy, fluffiness, and even a bit of cringe. Coming from a background in Fine Arts at Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Carmen describes how there came a point where she decided to break up with contemporary art, the kind that only interests gallerists, artists and collectors, in order to embrace illustration as a universal and comprehensible way of telling stories. As she speaks, she takes out one comic after another, laughing as she presents them to me: “This one is a race of sperms, and believe me or not, I did quite a lot of medical research for it!” Her cartoons are filled with everyday references, spanning from jokes about Tinder and period cramps to adorable Instagram animals and hipster food shops, what Carmen calls a “new folklore” typical of the 21st century. She wraps it up saying that her work is filled with a perverse use of cuteness - because it’s ridiculous to evade our problems by looking at kittens! In addition, her pets and weird anthropomorphic beings also take the shape of rugs and textile bags, a medium she manipulates manually and intuitively in order to disconnect from the careful way of creating her meticulous illustrations.

What we have here is your all-and-ever cartoonist, recording reality with irony, sassiness and a great amount of wit. Her replies are very much like this:

Hey, Carmen! At the start of your Degree studies in Fine Arts at the UCM, you were particularly interested in painting. What originally attracted you to this medium? Reversely, what pushed you to embrace other techniques, such as analogue photography, illustration and textile art?

Since I was approximately 6 years old, I have taken painting classes at the cultural center of my neighborhood, so it is something that I have always incorporated. At first, I didn't think about whether I liked what I did or not, I just did it. Over time, I realized that it is a way to project emotions and stories. Illustration has a similar purpose, but it strikes me more because the final support is more accessible, from the press to the publishing world. Most people have the capacity to consume it, while painting is more limited in that sense, both because of the artistic sense and because of the price of buying a painting.

I see textile art as an extension of painting and illustration, but produced with a material that in itself seems political and interesting to me: thread.

You have done an Erasmus in Plymouth, another in Berlin, and you are now studying a master's degree in illustration at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Granada. So many changes! How have they affected your development as an artist? Have you found them stimulating on a creative level?

I believe that orbiting around different cities and countries is part of the development of an artist. In Plymouth it rained a lot, so I had a lot of time to experiment with photography. In Berlin, I had a studio where I could paint large paintings, so I painted. And finally, Granada inspires my most Mediterranean side. The sun and the social life are always present, and that feeds the part of me that is more focused on storytelling, my comic artist side.

Could you describe the performance piece "Today I am an artist, tomorrow an office worker", and what inspired you to conceive it? Did this piece mark a turning point in your approach to conceptual art, which you afterwards decided to abandon?

This work consisted of a carpet that I stepped on during the performance. I stepped on it dressed as an office worker, while the public listened to an audio that criticized the current contemporary art world. The rug was made up of a stitched journal I wrote when I lived in England, reflecting on exhibitions and artworks that I focused on during that stay. I think that in some ways it was my break with works more focused on the gallery, as we who are related to the world of contemporary art understand it.

Since then, you have turned to illustration and comics, producing three fanzines that tell ironic and comical stories, all of them very different from one another. What did you decide to settle for this medium?

Comics have the magic of transmitting information and stories with very few barriers. Different generations or people from different social classes and conditions can understand it without being trained in the artistic field. That's what interests me. Before dedicating myself to it, I suspected that contemporary art is only made for artists or people from those circles.

Is there any reason why you prefer to portray animals, mythological and anthropomorphic beings rather than humans?

I think they interest me because truths can be told through animals and mythology, but somehow I feel less exposed because I feel like they talk a little less about me.

Your comics, as well as some of the paintings you crafted in Berlin, are packed with present-day references: “cute” creatures from the internet, apps like Tinder, grocery stores… When we met, you mentioned the idea of “new folklore”. Can you explain this concept further? Are you interested in making a political or social critique in your stories?

As a new folklore I want to talk about dynamics that we have now as a society that have been introduced little by little. Isn't staying with your friends to eat pipes on a bench part of the landscape and folklore? The new landscape is decorated with food stores, expensive bread shops, hostels… I think that the changes we see in our environment somehow generate a new story and a new way of seeing cities.

Can you describe the steps you follow to create your comics? Do you have the whole story in mind before starting?

I usually start with a single idea and build from there. I do the script and the storyboard in a parallel and quite chaotic way, only I understand my schemes. In the following steps I am much more methodical: sketch, inking and color.

Is it very different to produce textile works compared to fanzines? Do you work more intuitively to produce these woolen objects? What techniques do you recur to in order to create them?

My textile facet is pure fun, it is to go back to doing something more manual and rest my head, although the previous sketches do require a lot of planning. However, in fanzines and comics I always have everything fairly measured before starting to elaborate.

In the past years, you have mainly self-published with editorial houses like uou impresiones, and have participated in various fairs. As an author, do you think these spaces allow you more freedom and creativity?

Definitely. These spaces allow you to show your work without having to go through any intermediary other than the organization of the festival. In addition, many times in the calls I send things that later I do not take with me. Or vice versa, I create work only for fairs.

Finally... You recently won the INJUVE scholarship, a help that has enabled you to create your first long comic, which you will publish soon. From what you told me, this is an existentialist story, less humorous than others you've written. Would you like to continue down this path in the future?

It's the first long story I've done, so I wouldn't know how to do it if it wasn't existentialist. I wouldn't know how to maintain an absurd or humorous tone for so many pages, because the humorous stories that I have previously created arose from very specific ideas, which before materializing were only funny in my head. I suppose that in the future I will be able to make a long humorous comic, but at the moment I am limited when it comes to generating a 150-page humorous script.

Words and Pics by Whataboutvic

RATO AO SOL is a Luso-Spanish platform for the emerging arts, founded by curators Francisca Portugal and Whataboutvic.

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