In Conversation with Lita Cabellut

Lita Cabellut moved from Spain to the Netherlands to become a painter, the perfect place to learn and absorb the history of painting and particularly painting portrait, but for Cabellut being a painter is something more. In her studio in The Hague she spoke about her work to The Painting Imperative’s Roisín McGuigan.


Roisín McGuigan: Can we start with a little background; you come from Spain, how did you come to be a painter living in the Netherlands?

Lita Cabellut: Being a painter was a  fundamental need for me. When I was 13 years old I knew that this would be my future, my life. I came to the Netherlands because I had heard that the Dutch light was the most magical experience for a painter. So I did not choose the Netherlands; it was the hunger to learn everything about painting that brought me here.

RMcG: And was it true about the Dutch light?

LC: Yes it a very special light, my theory is that it is because are no mountains here and the sky doesn’t have any shadows.

RMcG: What’s it like working in The Hague?

LC: This is a very human city, and country, its not like Spain. In The Netherlands there’s less focus on the daily social life and that means I can have more time to focus and work.

RMcG: One of the most striking things about your work is the scale; what determines that?

LC: Well I think there are 2 parts; a philosophic part and a physical part.

The philosophic part  is my passion and admiration for the human being. I want those I paint to be seen in their magnificent state, and in their grandeur. And I only choose to paint those who I admire and respect in all aspects.

The physical point is my stroke. You can see that I need to be inside the canvas, and that I must consider and connect all the space that in the end will form one image. I am not tall so it is a perfect scale to move with freedom and passion.

Lita Cabellut in studio

RMcG: The large scale really increases the power of the personality of the subject. Do you agree that they feel like Monumental Icons? But the large scale removes the personal contact with the viewer one gets if the painting is small and intimate, so maybe they move from Icon to Idol?

LC: Its not my idea to make Icons. My absolute intention is to amplify these subjects as if you would see them through a magnifying glass. And by doing that to see the magnitude of their souls.

RMcG: What are your artistic influences? Are there other contemporary painters you admire?

LC: Yes, but I am not influenced just by painters. I believe that artists of today, yesterday and the future are all a consequence of the past, and will be the reaction for the future. So I take inspiration and example from musicians, poets, painters, sculptors, and those who are samurai, who protect art.

RMcG: How do you think Dutch portraiture has influenced your work? The faces are the focus on the canvas, often coming out of dark backgrounds which all seem reminiscent of Rembrandt. But then, there is a sense of Francis Bacon about them too. Would you agree?

Of course, I admire profoundly the stark contrasts in Rembrandt’s portraits, the virtual stroke of Frans Hals, the discipline of Vermeer, the bravery of Goya and the sincerity of Francis Bacon. They are defintely my role models along with so many others.

Don Quijote 8, Mixed Media on Canvas, 250 x 200, 2010
Don Quijote 8, Mixed Media on Canvas, 250 x 200 cm, 2010

RMcG: Can you talk about your process? Where do you start? What are your reference points? Do you re-work the paintings much or is it immediate? How long would you spend on each painting?

LC: I work with different media, it’s a collage of techniques; a cocktail. The paintings are a mixture of oil paints, fresco, and more, all combined on the same painting. 17 years ago I wanted to give a ‘skin’ to the portrait and I wasn’t satisfied with the way things were working with the technique I was using. So I researched and asked chemists in paint laboratories what was possible, what materials worked together, what didn’t. Eventually they came up with solutions. It took 5 years to develop this process.

I work in series, so the process of paintings starts with finding the concept. I sit in a chair and don’t move until I have the script of my project. I am more that a painter, I am a storyteller.

For me the process of paintings isn’t the most important, what concerns me more is the strength of the visual experience, and in this case of portraits. Each collection that I do needs to be a dialogue for me, a consequence of and a reaction to each work, which then forms the complete story.

I imagine the spectator having a one to one encounter with them and that he is perhaps impressed and moved by the image or the technique. In my case I have never had this experience. I see the series like a big painting and my technique is only the tool to get to the final image that tells the story.

So when you ask me how long it takes me to make a painting? More than 30 years, each painting is a long, long and never ending process.

Secret Behind the Veil 14, Mixed Media, 2012
Secret Behind the Veil, Mixed Media on Canvas, 250 x 200 cm, 2012

RMcG: You say that each collection needs to be a dialogue; is this true of the individual works too? Do you feel sometimes, like other painters, that this ‘dialogue’ becomes an argument? A healthy argument with the paint and the image to get the answers you need?

Of course, we always try to find the truth, or at least get as close to the truth in the dialogue as possible, and what we don’t know, we borrow, but always with the intention to find the honesty of the dialogue.

In this case visual art has always had help of the spectator. And the spectator brings his own answers and suggestions, so the dialogue will never end.

RMcG: You have a new exhibition coming up in several simultaneous locations: Munich, London and Amsterdam. Can you talk a bit about the works you made for these exhibitions?

What is it about the portrait that you are drawn to? And the female in particular?

LC: I never choose men or women, I choose heroes; I choose people with courage and bravery.

The exhibition for London at Opera Gallery is exactly what the title tells you: “Portrait of Human Knowledge”. They are people that gave something and left a testimony of being involved with you, with us. They left behind beautiful gifts that we can still unwrap every day. So in this moment in history that we are in, it’s my intention (with this exhibition) to remind us all how great we are; our species; human beings.

The exhibition in Munich at Gallery Terminus is called “ After the Show”. Its also a portrait of the situation now. In Amsterdam, Gallery 238, there will be a combination of both collections.

RMcG: You use a range of media in your practice. Do you find that working as a painter is getting more difficult in a contemporary art world where there is great focus on multi media and non-traditional artmaking processes?

No, a good artist moves with the time, a good artist does not have an obsession with the medium, he is very aware of the time that he is living in. So if  an artist needs to paint with shoes instead of a brush, he will use the shoes to get the image and the message he needs. In art nothing loses, it is always a process and a chance to get out side the box and look further than the eye can see. And if we do we make big beautiful changes in the process.

Installation View, 2012
Installation detail, Mixed Media, 2010

RMcG: And when you move from paint into digital media, how do you translate that technique into these processes?

LC: I think of myself more as a visual poet than a painter and I can comfortably move between media, it’s the same process only using different tools. When I make a movie I make the same movements behind the camera as I do behind the canvas, its all the same and its all about letting me achieve a sense of beauty, drama and emotion in my process.

You need to have a creative soul to be an artist; its not about what you do or what you make, it’s the way that you live, breathe, even how you look at people, then you can be an artist. Artists are a particular species, if you are one of that species then there’s something profound that compels you to create and the material is irrelevant.

RMcG: What lies ahead for you now in your work?

LC: I am so sorry this a question I can’t even answer to myself, and it frightens me so much, only with the idea that I would know what the future will bring me. But I believe that a good artist needs to be close to themselves; the future represents expectations, but its emotions that are here and now, I want to stay with them, focused on the present.


For further detail on Lita Cabullet’s work contact:

Gallery238 Amsterdam
Brouwersgracht 238
1013 HE Amsterdam-NL