Mortar editor Cecilia Nowell spoke with Pau via Skype ...(waiting on intro from CN)
Cecilia Nowell (CN): Thanks for chatting with me! I wanted to ask you some questions that are related to the concept of [Mortar] Magazine because it’s a lot about this idea of marginalized identities, or identities at the edges, and what I thought was so interesting is that your work is really a blend of Chilean and German influences. Can you tell me more about that?
Pau: I don’t consider myself a Latin America, a South American. I mean, I think I’m an American. I’m playing with this concept of nationalities. Also, I’m not just German, I’m a European. Me, myself, I think am not really in one nation because I think there are so many beautiful things out there so just limiting myself to one makes no sense to me. So, what I try to do is get inspired by what I see during my travels, and South America always is like a charging area for me. There’s so much color, so much stories, so much with my past and with my roots. I try to honor these roots with my art too. But, on the same side you have all my education and all my structure from Europe. So, the graphic part is really European, the concept and the structure. The feeling behind [Pau], this is Latin America. It’s not just one or another, it’s really both and there’s much more richness in it because I do not have to decide which one I want. And I think the fun thing of doing muralism or creating an alter-ego like Pau, because my real name is Paulina, and all the things behind that is to be able to choose in the right moment what you want to be in this moment. Pau itself has no nationality. Pau is like a sponge that just takes everything in it to get creative, this is like mortar, the mixture.
CN: I notice on the website that your eyes are always blocked out. Is this part of that?
Pau: When you see my women, especially the women—I mean the birds also have most of the time closed eyes, but it’s more the concept of, when you see my women they’re very static. They’re not really in motion. So the women itself are in a moment of meditation, a moment of consciousness, a moment of realizing something for them, like feeling, just feeling. So they don’t need the dialogue to observe in this moment. You just go see something, and you become part of it in the moment that you observe with a figure directly. You just feel the calm. So there’s always this saying that if you really want to see you don’t use your eyes, you just use your heart or your soul. In my intimate work, like in my studio work, it’s really about my personal inner life about my way of seeing the world. Of feelings, of emotions, what I really feel in this moment. When I paint outside, it’s really for the public. It’s something to bring food for the soul. But, usually inside the studio the artwork is really what I want to feel, what I want to see.
CN: It’s an interesting balance of personal and public. How do you make public art like that personal—internalized and thoughtful?
Pau: I mean for me it’s really important that my work, because the work is the one thing that stays there after I leave, so it has to have something that captures people. That at least gives them something to inhale: calm, or feeling, or something beautiful because I think a lot of things right now are not that pretty or beautiful. So it’s complicated for people too. Areas that I really like to paint are marginal areas or places that not a lot of people say are wow or cool. I don’t like that, I like the areas where it’s really needed. These areas are usually grey or are in a building process or are in a transition. So these people really that, really need color, really need lines, really need to experience at least a little bit of color. This is for me really helpful to be able to leave my ego at home and paint with color. Use color as a dialogue. Color is universal. With the brush and with the paint I use, I can paint anywhere in the world. And this is the beauty of it. I don’t need to speak; people will feel something. They will feel something when I use the big surface for colors. If I have this big surface or this big platform to use this wall, maybe I should use this wall to do something beautiful to make something for the people who walk everyday past that wall. So this is where I see the responsibility of my job, of my profession, to say this is part of my job too, if I get this big platform I have to use it for others too. But, in my studio I really need this calm and say, okay now, I need my time to reflect, I need my time to feel what is helping right now with me as a human being, as an artist, as a woman. And what troubles stick with me and this is the moment where I create my panels and my woodwork and really calm down and say this is not action, this is just me. This is like my meditation at the end.
CN: I like what you say about crossing global boundaries and borders. Your work is everywhere. Your work is in Chile, in Germany, and then I saw stuff in [North Africa].
Pau: Years ago I started this project called Wallflowers. It’s a social activism project that I did because honestly I think I have one of the most beautiful jobs in the world because I can really realize myself and do what I love. So there came a time where I said, okay I can do that, but I also want to travel and I wanted to combine what I really love and I really think that an artist should create responsibility and awareness for different issues. We have the way to say it in a beautiful way, in a creative way, in a fun way. This is our privilege as artists. So there came a time where I said okay we need something else than just gallery stuff, besides just very hipster events. It’s okay, it’s good for the job, but it’s not, my heart just wasn’t there. So I needed this project, and I created Project Wallflowers because I wanted to keep painting, and I wanted to connect the people I had already met through my travels, who are doing amazing jobs in their areas—humanitarian work, filmmakers, creators, people who really build something up for a better world. So, Project Wallflowers at the end is like a mountain built of the people I met and the people who inspired me to do my work. And with that I obviously met more people, and I now know more people and organizations that are amazing and that I really want to work with. Project Wallflowers gives me a platform to do it in a higher professional way. Not just as one artist, but as a package. I can use this package to maybe get better funding, or maybe go to a bigger organization and say look this is what we are doing. It’s one mission. And everyone who really fits into this mission is more than welcome to be part of it.
CN: Did Project Wallflowers become a couple of other projects?
Pau: Project Wallflowers is like the mothership, like the platform. And then over the years I noticed that the different issues need different programs. If I go somewhere and it’s more about the youth and about the kids, I can’t come there with another issue. I have to build up a different package for them. So, for example …. This is Blooming Seeds, because seeds in a way when you give them the empowerment they need, and the nutrition, grow to Wallflowers. And Wallflowers in Germany, I don’t know if you have that term in English, but it’s a flower that grows on the bricks, it’s not really beautiful, it’s something that okay it’s there but it’s not really. But this flower is really strong because it can break rocks. To me, these are the most beautiful flowers because they live in areas where it’s maybe really beautiful, they don’t have the most beautiful colors, and yet they say here I am and it’s really like let’s do something over time that will break the walls and create something new and bring color there, where no color is. So this is the Wallflower concept.
CN: That’s interesting, it reminds me of the image of Mortar which is brick and mortar and having the flower coming in and disrupt the brick.
Pau: It’s like, breaking the walls in our heads especially. It’s more of a metaphor for us as humans. There can be a wallflower okay but something beautiful, you have to empower that, maybe a weeder or maybe someone not in the system, maybe in a marginal area, but you can really use your power and do something good, and do something beautiful. You don’t need your ego for that, you don’t need your hipster thing behind that. This is what I’m trying to do by doing what I really believe in.
CN: So, I know you’re working on stuff in Germany right now, but do you have any other things happening? Is Wallflowers still the main project?
Pau: Yes. I mean besides Wallflowers, I have to do my gallery business and all that other stuff, because I need to eat sometimes too. But, I think over the years I am learning because what I realize is that Wallflowers is beautiful, I really love Wallflowers, but organizing with other people and doing bigger projects with them–it’s a lot of organization, a lot of logistics, and a lot of production. It doesn’t have to do so much with just painting what I really love. So the first years it was more about balancing how I wanted to do it. Because I’m really young at this. But I really love it. I love to do a concept and to build up a package and to say “okay let’s do a project together.” You know. But it’s not the artist, the artist just wants to paint. Over the years I realized maybe I’m not an artist, maybe I’m more an “artevista.” Not an activist but an “artevista.” And I love this term because it really breaks down the concept that I want to create in the future. But it was a step-by-step way. It was learning by doing and saying it’s more about this and it’s more about that.
Back in Germany now I have to reconnect with the older me because I left Germany two years ago to do a bigger tour and I arrived in end of April. And over the last two years I really switched from one place to another. Doing projects with Wallflowers, doing a little lobby work, also pushing Pau with Wallflowers and all the things together. But always the focus on Wallflowers. But now I need to focus a little bit more on Pau because Pau is bringing the money.
CN: I saw on your website that you were calling yourself a nomad for a while. Can you tell me more about that?
Pau: I mean, I think all my life I have been a nomad because I really like to move and to travel and to see different areas and cultures. But recently I know that I need one base. It’s really beautiful that I have the chance to travel as much as I want to and I have all the opportunities to meet other people. But I think this was one of the most extreme travels I did, in terms of time and in terms of switching. I know that in the next years it will be that way because if Wallflowers keeps working like that and if I keep working with Wallflowers.
CN: I was in Chile last summer, and I wanted to ask where were you? You were in Patagonia and Santiago, or other places?
Pau: I was in Santiago and Valparaiso, these were like my two spots because Valpariaso is emotionally very important for me because I started there to paint. This was like my first spot as a muralist. And I lived there for a long time but then I moved back to Germany[…]. Two years ago for Christmas I met the head of a school from Patagonia because she was the mother of the ex-boyfriend of my cousin, like causalities of life, and we stopped to talk on the dinner table and she said let me know if you’d like to paint a wall in Patagonia. And I said of course let me know when I can go. And she said you can go tomorrow if you want. And so, I think three months later, I was at my first project there and we started to paint the school in Balmaceda. After that, there were people in the little town where I painted and they asked if I would like to paint their church. And I said yes of course, but for that you need funding because this church was really trampled down and you need to rebuild it and you need paint. Painting a church inside out completely it’s a job and it’s a lot of money. And so I got in contact with the culture center in the area and they helped and supported me during that time to help me to find funding. Wallflowers created a project just for the people of Patagonia. I didn’t just want to paint walls, but I also wanted to invite musicians and people from theatre, and people who are creative and want to bring creative ideas back to Patagonia because Patagonia is so isolated.
“Carretera Austral, Llenando Espacios” – “carretera austral” is this long street and “llenando espacios” is “filling spaces” with culture. [Carretera Austral] is the highway, from Alaska it’s one line, and it ends in Carretera Austral. It’s the most southern highway you can get, after that there is no street. This is the very extreme region of Chile. The projects that I want to do are along this Carretera Austral. The towns and little isolated places, I want to go there and create art or bring art and culture to this spot.
CN: Do different places, geographically and culturally, teach you new things or does your art change?
Pau: Yeah, I think I learn to listen more to the places. I think this is what happens. To cool down, if it’s possible, to listen. Maybe not all of the stories are from human beings. To feel the place, to be there, to be more present, and to accept that in this moment I’m there and not in another spot. If I’m in Tunisia, I’m in Tunisia. If I’m in Cologne, I’m in Cologne. I’m at home in the world, but for me I think it is very important in this moment to be in this place and to be present. I think this is something that helps you to get really inspired by a place. To get the vibe, get the colors, get the people, get everything from this place. This essence of it: you can take it with you everywhere you are, but you have to be there to see it and to listen to it. I think every place, the smallest the biggest, everywhere you can see something that can inspire you. And I think the most beautiful thing is when you meet people who inspire you.
CN: I wanted to ask about the topic of migration because it’s such an issue right now in the U.S. As someone who is from two cultures, have you tried to respond to politics in your art or does your art already respond to politics?
Pau: I am an exile child. I needed to leave my country because of right-wing situations in my country in the ’70s and ’80s. I’m impregnated with political situations, I’m very sensitive when it’s about issues like that, and of course my heart breaks every time I see news. We are in 2017 and people have such bad amnesia. You get sensitive when you have this topic in your childhood, when you really experience what it means to be from a different country in a country. I left Chile then we went to Argentina, from there we went to the former DDR, the Eastern part of Germany before the wall fell down. Then, when the wall fell, we went to Bavaria which is completely different and they had a different mentality. And there I wasn’t just a foreigner, I was from the other side of Germany. So, you have these labels if you have a different background, and now in 2017 we keep working with them and it makes no sense to me.
When I left to Chile two years ago, the Syria issue in Germany went really, really big and it was the start of this big wave of immigrants who came to Europe. And instead of showing empathy and solidarity, I experienced a lot of people who became completely different people, thinking “this is our country.” I would say, but remember that Germany had a big migration wave during the second world war. Then you started to realize that a lot of political backgrounds and new parties started to grow and rise and a lot of right wing mentality came in with it. And I said okay but this sounds so ’36, so nasty times, and we had this already in Germany. How is it possible that after so many years, or not that many years, this is happening again?
It’s a global issue: people have to get used to it. Not just because of political situations, which are getting worse, but besides that we will have an ecological migration crisis and people have to get used to sharing the table, to open up borders instead of building more walls.
CN: So much of your background sounds like it’s inspired by fleeing these places with difficult histories. Does your art show that? Do you try to show that in your art?
Pau: I think art for me, there’s a very beautiful word in Spanish “artesana.” If you separate it, “arte sana” means “the art can heal.” I think for me the art is a very tender solution of finding calm and peace. I think, at least my parents always told me that when I was a kid the only thing that cooled me down was painting, was creating. It is doing love, creating love. The reactions of people who see my walls is calm, it’s love. I’m dedicating this for you, I’m using my time for you, I want to listen, I want to be there for you. This is how I want to use politics. I want to be the politic of love. You can be guided by fear or by love. Fear will always be able to destroy, but love will always try to listen, to have empathy, to have solidarity even in the darkest hours.