“I want the public to see that I get dirty while working”

In less than ten years, Carabanchel It has gone from being an industrial neighborhood to one of the current epicenters of artistic creation. This district of Madrid has become the refuge of more than 130 artists spread over about 40 studios, a trend that has been increasing until today.

Many are in the Polígono ISO, an old center where there used to be printing presses, workshops and textile manufactures, spaces now converted into artistic workshops. The most popular are Nave Oporto and Mala Fama Estudios, although there are more creators in lower floors and other old venues on the streets near the Oporto metro.

We visited the Orange Blue studio and, after getting on a freight elevator, we entered a workshop where seven women from different disciplines workfrom textile creation to performance. Five of them receive us and around a table, between the aroma of incense and coffee, a conversation arises: Why did they settle in Carabanchel? What is the essence and necessity of art? How does the public see the creators?

From left to right, Alba, Lucía and Romina, in the Naranja azul studio in Carabanchel. Ruth Drake

Rentals and reforms: Carabanchel is no longer so cheap

Iria, the owner of the studio, tells us that the arrival of creators in Carabanchel began about seven years ago and she calculates that there are currently around 50 artist spaces. They are concentrated in Carabanchel Bajo, the area closest to the Manzanares River, and were attracted by its large and open industrial buildings, cheaper prices than in the center of Madrid and a good connection with the center of the capital. In addition, they coexist with woodworkers, blacksmiths and upholsterers, professionals who are dying out in the center of Madrid and help them develop their works.

Ben Vine and Melissa Romero, two Mala Fama artists, live in the center of Madrid, but they cannot work there because the premises have been converted into tourist flats. Therefore, they look for workshops in other districts with more availability and lower prices. However, other artists claim that keeping a studio is not as cheap as it seems.

This is the case of the creators of Naranja Azul, who assure that the reality in Carabanchel is different from that of years ago and paying the bills has become a struggle because many locals need Comprehensive reforms that artists must pay. They tell us that “the Madrid City Council does nothing” and ask for public financial aid to adapt these spaces, not only the large galleries, but the rest of the studios that are also part of the creative process.

However, they also consider that they are “saving” these spaces. “The fact that we are here protects these spaces from falling into real estate speculation,” explains Irma Álvarez-Laviada in metropolis. However, the gentrification that seemed to be seen only in the center of Madrid is “infecting” this neighborhood, as Iria indicates, where there are more and more tourist flats that inflate the average rental price. This is causing a new diaspora of artists to other more affordable places, such as Getafe, Tetouan Y Valdeacederas.

Five visions of art: from destruction to dependence between the elements

Despite this, the artists of Naranja Azul remain, for the time being, in Carabanchel. Alba, who teaches drawing classes and is carrying out a doctoral thesis, is dedicated to destructive art, a technique in which he impregnates black Chinese ink on paper, cardboard and sheet metal and then tears it and creates the pictorial composition. His pieces have parallels with people and he uses “malleable materials similar to the human condition: something fragile that can be scratched“.

Alba shows us one of her works, ‘Estratos VII’. Ruth Drake

Alejandra welcomes us with her work overalls on, somewhat stained, and acknowledges that “she is in a process of definition.” What art curatoris in charge of shaping the exhibitions and selecting the artists, although now he seeks to move towards a creative role in this studio in Carabanchel, where he explores with ceramics, clay and ash.

Romina, like Alba, has that role of artist-researcher. In the study manufactures objects that he then uses in his performances and now his focus is on “establishing a relationship and an encounter between people and materials”. Currently, he creates small clay containers filled with water to reflect the “dependence” of both elements with each other: “The clay can contain water which, in turn, is necessary for the container to remain humid and to be able to hold that amount of water”, he explains.

Romina works with clay to create the work for her next exhibition. Ruth Drake

For Lucía, art necessarily has a social and critical component. Her work is multidisciplinary and is now focused on “the unsaid” and silence, with a human approach: “I have the conception that art is intrinsically linked to life,” she clarifies.

Iria is the owner of the studio and works with sculpture and recycled materials. Collect scraps of marble, metal and wood to “create an art object from what others discard”. Focused on working with methacrylatetells us that his works, once finished, are also recyclable, so that he transforms them and perpetuates their life, thus reducing the generation of waste.

‘Desire/longing/aspiration’, Iria’s work made with various colored methacrylate. Ruth Drake

Art “is not a hobbybut rather a necessity”

The creators of Naranja Azul agree: there are very few professionals who can make a living from art and many have other jobs, like Alba, who teaches drawing and painting classes. Her work in the studio “is not a hobby, but rather a necessity” to which you would like to dedicate all your time. His profession thus becomes an almost natural impulse in which, as he relates, “Suddenly, you see a light on the street and you have the urge to point and start a project”.

Therefore, they are committed to helping understand what it means to be an artist. It does not consist of painting without further ado, but rather has a whole intrinsic creative and reflexive process: “Our works are the reflection of a generation and a vital moment that in a few years can be studiedand it is necessary that they help us”, says Alba.

Open the galleries, “bring art closer to the people” and let them see how the artist stains himself

Communication is, therefore, a key element… and fruitful. They ensure that the public is interested in learning about the creative processes, and not just the final work. For this reason, these artists opt for open the galleries and reveal the artist’s work process.

When you tell everything behind a work, people generally like it even more”, Iria points out. It is about culminating the total meaning of the work: showing that process of creation and that the public sees the artist with stained hands. Alejandra, as a curator, considers that something very important is “zoom in and out art” to the people, “democratize” it and not see it as something elitist. “I want the public to see that I get dirty while working, that this is tangible”, he tells us. In this line, Iria is committed to opening the galleries so that it does not remain among the same collectors as always.

Therefore, despite the fact that it is important to monetize their profession in order to make a living from it, they agree that art has a broader meaning: “A work does not only work when it is sold, but also when it asks a question”, indicates Roman.

This formula has worked for them at open days where they have exhibited their pieces and sold them to the public. “Maybe they won’t buy from you, it doesn’t have to be selling constantly, they can simply tell more people,” they say.

It is important to show the studies and how the artist stains himself while creating, according to the artists of Naranja Azul. Ruth Drake

Respect between creators, but… is there a feeling of community?

The Mala Fama artists do have that feeling because there are enriching debates: “Being working and sharing a meal… interesting things are cooked in those meals,” says Melissa Rodríguez. However, outside these large spaces, that feeling seems to dissipate.

It is important to surround yourself with other artists and get feedback, either to create the pieces or coincide in the exhibitions. This is something that occurs in Nave Oporto and Mala Fama, but outside of these large spaces there is no “ghetto” of artists. There is respect between them, but not a sense of community as such in the neighborhood for the simple fact that each one is doing their job and they don’t have much time, the artists from Naranja Azul tell us.

The emergence of that feeling of community does occur when they visit friends’ galleries or go to festivals like ArtBanchel -held three times, the last in 2019-, which involves more than 30 artist studios and more than 120 cultural agents. They also organize fairs that coincide with ARCO, but it is at neighborhood events that communion is generated between artists, the public and collectors who “join this open window to learn about our work, which helps a lot,” say Alejandro Botubol and Gustavo Blanco-Uribe to metropolis.

In any case, the creation process is up in the air and “one feels the murmur of the engines that are creating things”, indicates Roman. Precisely this noise, like the engine of a running train, is what drives artistic creation day by day in this neighborhood with a working-class tradition.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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