Rebel with a Cause: A Conversation with El Bastardo

“I never had a mentor. I am self-taught and worked many years before I found my personal style, which is based mainly on street art and comic books.”

el bastardo in studio

El Bastardo’s paintings are rife with rebellious energy. His sharply political themes, unorthodox technique, and unusual artistic process challenge and subvert authority in more ways than one. In his work, El Bastardo frequently addresses problems of social and political oppression. Paintings like “Shamsia Hassani” and “Women against Terrorism” foreground and celebrate the individual who dares to challenge the status quo. Additionally, in both of these paintings, the artist depicts women engaged in battle against injustice. He represents them as active participants rather than passive objects to behold for aesthetic pleasure.

el bastardo in studio

El Bastardo is equally rebellious in his choice of materials. Influenced by graffiti, street and other types of outsider art, he resorts to acrylic, spray paint, as well as whatever “happens to be lying around,” including household cleaning materials. This deliberately casual choice of medium and treatment of the painting surface conveys a lack of interest in art as a fetishized commodity. Instead, the artist believes that painting born of mundane, immediate reality speaks to our most pressing issues.

Why are you known as El Bastardo?

I am known as ‘El Bastardo’ because there is no father to my style of painting. I chose the name to describe how I create my art, which is by filtering certain information and fusing it together with other sources of inspiration, techniques, and methods in order to create something different. This process I have aptly named “Bastardism.” The reason why it is in Spanish is because of ‘el barto’ – the tag that is used by Bart Simpson in ‘The Simpsons’.

What first attracted you to art?

el bastardo working in his studio
The artist in his studio

I have enjoyed drawing for as long as I can remember. As a child, I was always fascinated with how someone could illustrate objects, animals, surroundings, and people with the use of just a few lines on a piece of paper. The ability to be able to transport the viewer of a painting or a drawing to another place really caught my attention and I have been attracted to art ever since. My siblings and I read comic books from an early age and the sensation of being able to step into another world whenever a page was turned was really amazing and completely spellbinding.

I also had the fortune of having a mother who not only managed to raise four children on her own but who would also take all of us to opera, musicals, the movies and exhibitions, anything and everything in order to show us what the act of self-expression really means and how much it matters.

Graffiti seems to be an obvious source of inspiration for you. Did you do graffiti as a kid? Do you still do it, or do you prefer to stick with painting on canvas? What is the value of graffiti art, in your opinion?

el bastardo working on his art I have never been involved in any graffiti, although I have been responsible for a lot of tagging. These activities stopped around the time I was 15, when my friends and I got caught and had to clean the whole staircase of a nine-story building. Today I am most comfortable painting and spray painting on canvas, since the fabric manages to capture almost all of the energy that I put into it.

I have always admired graffiti artists, not only because of the obvious skill and modus operandi, but also because of the freedom to simply put your art and feelings wherever you choose. The value of graffiti art is that it is by the people, for the people. It is a social commentary, a fist in the air towards conservatism. It is free for all, without the constrictions of institutionalized art.

In the past, painting has been interpretative as having so many different missions. It was to be decorative, instructional, abstract, political, conceptual, etc. What, in your opinion, is the role and mission of painting?

Painting is one of the oldest forms of human expression, functioning as a tool for documenting and preserving knowledge for future generations, as well as serving as a method to observe and reflect the human condition. This makes the role of painting extremely important, as it is bound to the evolution of mankind. The mission of painting, in my opinion, is to present the viewer with an option to engage in the exchange of views based on available manifestations and ideas and, of course, to enlighten.

What inspires the titles of your work?

Besides the visual arts, I am also fascinated by language. The titles of my paintings are sometimes a play on words or anagrams, such as ‘Epic Diem – Epidemic’, but also self-explanatory, for example, ‘Women Against Terrorism’. I have also been inspired by the 17th century Dutch Masters, who used to conceal clues and hidden messages in their works of art — an approach that I have put into use when naming my paintings. I will include a list of all the paintings that will be in the exhibition, together with a short description of the thought behind the creative process:

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‘A Bias Indemnity’ (Namibia Destiny) – The boy in the painting is a member of the Himba tribe in Namibia. He is standing in the most valuable resource of all – water – as he reaches out to embrace his home country.

‘Mister Unadvised’ (Invaders Must Die) – All wars in human history have a thing or two in common; one of them is an invading force. ‘Mister Unadvised’ is the answer to that invasion.

‘New/Clear – The Taming of the North Wind’ – This painting can be hung from two sides. One side depicts a nuclear explosion – ‘New/Clear’ – and the other is a wolf in the act of creating wind. The wolf is a reference to Norse mythology, the Fenrir wolf, as well as to the monster in the old fables, where the lord of wolves controls the winds.

‘Biding Ophidian’ – In Norse mythology, the Midgard serpent lies in the ocean and waits as it surrounds the world with its tail in its mouth. When the serpent releases its tail, Ragnarok, or the end of the world, begins.

‘Omnious Omen’ – In Norse mythology, the crows Hugin, (meaning ‘thought’), and Munin, (meaning ‘memory’), fly around collecting information for their master Odin, the leader of the gods. They act as his eyes as they circle the world, informing him of everything that transpires.

‘Women Against Terrorism’ – This is a part of the ‘Bastard Sisterz’ project, depicting the fighting women of Peshmerga.

‘Epic Diem’ (Epidemic) – The Ebola outbreak in Western Africa in 2014 resulted in the loss of over 11 000 lives. Although there have been scientific breakthroughs regarding medicine, there is still no cure.

‘India’s Daughter’ – Part of the ‘Bastard Sisterz’ project. On December 16, 2012, in South Delhi, India, Jyoti Pandey Singh was assaulted, gang-raped and thrown out of a moving bus. She died of her injuries.

‘Lilith’ – Refers to the demon of the night found in Jewish mythology, as well as a creature from the anime series ‘Neon Genesis’.

‘Veracious Scion’ – As part of my studies, I wrote an essay regarding religious art and icons and their significance during the Middle Ages in Europe.

Who are some of the artists you admire?

There are so many exceptional artists in the world, both living and dead. I really admire Jean-Michel Basquiat and H.R. Giger and have found their work to be truly inspirational and unique.

Who were your teachers? Did you have a mentor, and if so, what were some of the most valuable lessons you learned as an artist?

I never had a mentor. I am self-taught and worked many years before I found my personal style, which is based mainly on street art and comic books.

How do you choose the subjects of your paintings?

The subjects that I choose to work with are based on how I react to events that are transpiring here and now. This, together with my interests in mythology and popular culture, creates a mix of subjects for me to choose from. I also believe that artists are the true reporters of the world and that they have a responsibility to depict the world in all its forms in order to generate a discussion and a compulsion to a response in any way possible.

Why do you think you are attracted to materials like spray paint, pen, window cleaning liquid, etc.? Why not, for example, pastels or oil paints, or watercolors? What do they allow you to communicate that otherwise, you would not be able to convey?

I have tried to work in many different mediums before, from oil to charcoal. Spray paint and acrylic allow me to work swiftly and effortlessly. Since both mediums dry rather quickly, I have a limited amount of time to capture a sensation before the paint dries. The fluidity generated by using, for example, the window-cleaning liquid takes the process further and out of my hands, as I then rely on gravity to finish the whole operation.

The artist and his dog, Britney

If you could live a day as another artist from any time in the history of art, whom would you choose? Who are some of your other favorites?

If I had a choice I would like to be someone who resembles myself – to be an artist with the freedom to be able to express himself and bring unwanted or unknown issues to the surface to the sometimes unsuspecting public.

Collecting art is a highly involving and emotional experience. The artist’s process and intention are some of the factors that make one fall in love with his or her piece. Learn more about our artists’ creative methods and fascinating techniques in the Center Stage and Artist Techniques categories.

El Bastardo’s works will be on view at Agora Gallery through October 11, 2018. You can read more about the artist on his Agora Profile and view more of his works on ARTmine.

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