Interview with artist Michael Bell in his weekly section MBELLART on Yareah magazine. Happy New Year 2014!
I.R.- Hi Michael. I saw your interest in Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez. You know, I love Las Meninas but I’m really interested in Velazquez personality too… Old times and Velazquez had two great ‘problems’ to obtain a peerage. Firstly, he had Muslim ancestors and of course, he worked with his hands. Spanish laws in the 17th century were so strict that even the king cannot forget them. However, finally, Velazquez was named Caballero de la Orden de Santiago (Knight of the Order of Santiago). Then, nobleman. To me, the important thing is why did the King had so much interest in Velazquez welfare. Philip IV of Spain only had one friend and this friend was the artist. In fact, all the testimonies speak of Velazquez pleasant character and friendly personality. In your opinion, must an artist be friendly to get sponsors? How much does the artist’s personality influence in the triumph of his artwork?
M.B.- Well, I took an interest in Velasquez long ago, due to the fact I’ve completed numerous Self-Portraits throughout my career, most recently in the form of my “31 Nights”. “Las Meninas” is a painting about seeing the work from the perspective of those being painted, and the audience’s point of view has always been an important consideration of mine with my own works. The interesting thing is I haven’t thought about Velasquez in years. It wasn’t until the night before Christmas when Nora Sturges, a mentor and dear friend of mine reacquainted me with him through a little game she tagged me in on Facebook. Nora paints these intimate narrative landscapes that convey a haunting sense of the precariousness of life on the edges of habitability. I love her work, and was happy to play along and extend the game.
Here’s the way the game’s played: “If you “FACEBOOK LIKE” my post (which embeds a picture I’ve uploaded of a work of art), I’ll give you an artist and you post your favorite piece by that artist. And on it goes, keeping art alive and circulating. Nora gave me Velasquez and I chose “Las Meninas” (1656).
Now, about your questioning why Philip IV of Spain only had one friend and this friend was the artist, Velasquez and whether an artist needs to be liked in order to gain sponsors…to this, I say, in my world, it’s more important to be trusted than liked but “both” can play a vital role. Relationships are the one thing that matter most in business and in life, as long as they’re genuine. There’s no mistaking why my career has thrived the way it has, with close friendships with the likes of Dominic Capone and others. They like me because they can trust me, and for the fact I can do what nobody else can – portray them as they actually are, because I know them intimately.
I.R.- Why do you like Las Meninas by Velazquez?
M.B.- “Las Meninas” was a bold and important practice in combining all elements of the arts (music, writing, fillm-making), which also speaks to me and my practice since I also love music, have written poems and a screenplay that translated out visually into paintings, and I appreciate the unique point of view Velasquez implemented in this particular work to involve the audience. I think it’s important to involve the audience in a piece. Some of my contemporary artist friends have done this quite successfully, like in Eric Fischl’s “The Collector”, for instance. I explored this unique point of view first, by accident, in Nora’s studio of all places while completing this self-portrait (at left, below) gazing into a mirror I placed on the floor. This led to the idea behind the point of view of “Unfinished Business” from my Ticket to Ride series, which places you, the viewer, in the trunk (the second painting, below).
I.R.- As you know, Spain has suffered lots of wars in recent centuries. The most important were the invasion of Napoleon and The Civil War of 1936. Books are full of explanations about how Las Meninas escaped of different attempts of destruction (or theft). If you could only save one of your paintings, what would you choose? Why?
M.B.- For me that would have to be a work I’ve revisited again and again, “Lascivia”. This was the first painting I ever sold in New York City back in ’92 and one that now lives in Los Angeles with a collector and old, dear friend. I liken its importance to my career as much as Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1895), The Madonna (1895), and a unique series of six variant impressions, Two Women on the Shore (1898). It’s also the only painting that I’ve ever re-created as a very limited edition Intaglio print series.
M.B.- I’d like to point out that Las Meninas was also a work later re-visted with re-workings by Picasso in 1957 and by contemporary Joel Peter Witkin in 1987. Who knows, perhaps I, myself will re-work this masterpiece for 2014! Happy New Year Isabel, to you and Martin and everyone at Yareah International Arts Magazine.
I.R.- Best wishes for this New Year, Michael.