Who better than Pablo Dalas to help us get rid of our cabin fever with a hefty iconoclasm. With visible pleasure, the Brussels-based Frenchman pulverises our nostalgia for children's television and serves up second-hand bookshops, alternative photography and visions of the city by night as a surrogate.
“I never became a chef or a hiker, no,” laughs Pablo Dalas. The artist, who some years ago exchanged the warmth of southern France for glowing hotspot Brussels, has not suddenly converted over the past year to an explorer of serene silent areas. “Printed Noises”, his new exhibition at bookshop and heaven for graphic arts Grafik, leaves no doubt about that. For that, Pablo Dalas' work – which takes place on paper, the small screen, large walls and human skin – lives too much on the visual noise that fills the world. That noise is then put through a distortion pedal. Classic, seemingly stretched out and deformed stills from old Tex Avery, Warner Bros and MGM cartoons, a few ignorant and mutilated Care Bears and a decomposing La Vache Qui Rit all vibrate to the rhythm of a world in visual overdrive.
“Those old cartoons have interested me for a long time. This goes back to my childhood, when I used to watch Ça cartoon on Canal+ on Sunday evenings. Those images of Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, Bugs Bunny and others are somehow engraved on my retina. These days, I see them with new eyes, as raw material for a practice that reappropriates and recontextualises those popular figures of childhood, transforming them into something monstrous and grotesque. Something that looks more natural than those kitschy, corny, forever smiling, way too sweet Care Bears. They're not to be trusted, you know.” (Laughs)
Pablo Dalas became particularly fascinated by animation smears, drawings that evoke rapid movement in a sequence by stretching the movement itself into one distorted image. He incorporates this basis of traditional animation in drawings, but also in self-made animated films. “During the first lockdown, I stayed with my parents in France. With just my desk, some paper, my computer and a scanner. I used that to focus entirely on animation, to refine my technicality.”
MIRÓ'S DAILY ROUTINE
This deepening has spread in other areas. “My work is definitely a critique of the excess of images, yes. That's why I work almost exclusively on the basis of existing material. I guess that that's symptomatic of the times I grew up in. A time that has reached its paroxysm today. My images are by necessity a reaction to that. They are full, they spill over the edges, because I see so much. Too much.”
“Your first inclination in that isolation of the lockdown is then to go wild on social media, to surrender to the feed of Instagram. But I just stopped scrolling and consuming, and I got all my art books out again. Really taking the time to get to know an artist, to dig, to penetrate deeply into a body of work, and not to be satisfied with a quick glance at ten photos, was a rich experience. It brings you closer to the artist. I also watched the documentary Joan Miró – The Inner Fire on Arte, a look behind the emblematic images through which we think we know him. Instead, getting answers to questions like when he starts his day, how he takes breaks, how rigorously he applies himself to his work, says so much more.”
“Anyway, I watch a lot of movies. I am a film freak and I miss going to the cinema the most of all. Cinematek is top! But during lockdown, I could easily watch one film a day. Classics, but also more recent pearls. I recently watched The Wild Boys, a 2017 French film by notorious short-filmmaker Bertrand Mandico. A film like an alien vision. Delicious visual madness around a bizarre story, made without big budgets, but where you suddenly go from black and white to colour, traverse crazy decors and end up in a jungle. Very nice to see that such films still are being made.”
The city itself also provides inspiration and escape routes. “After only two days in nature, the city is already pulling me back, yes. Or at least the energy of it, the culture that is everywhere, the visual stimuli. I take lots and lots of pictures with my phone. Not, as might be expected, of beautiful architecture or historical monuments, but of pieces of advertising, typography on signs, awkwardly drawn characters in lost corners of the city, logos, posters, tagged doors... I have never been the one to organise photo nights for the family.” (Laughs)
“Or I get lost in second-hand book shops. I can spend hours poking around the Pêle-Mêle, looking for old comics, obscure, rare things. At Vossenplein/Place du Jeu de Balle recently I found an old Les Pieds Nickelés for 25 cents.”
“I collect comics, but I also read a lot of them. The past few months have not made me stop doing that. For example, I reread everything by Charles Burns, a master of very intense black and white. The way he looks at the body really appeals to me. How he uses physical distortions to create monstrous yet very gentle characters in Black Hole, or his idea of inversion in his Hergé-inspired Last Look trilogy: colour Tintin's quiff black and suddenly it's no longer Bobby following him, but a black cat.”
“The last comic I read was The City of Belgium by Brecht Evens. Truly a masterpiece that pushes the boundaries of the comic and a great example of how to talk about the city. It was an interesting experience to read it during the lockdown because it dives deep into the night, at parties and in packed clubs, all places we weren't allowed to go. Very stimulating, yes.”
PABLO DALAS: PRINTED NOISES
> 30/6, Grafik, www.grafik.brussels