With Louis Ryan - Palma de Mallorca, October 2003
LR: Your ink drawings that I know and your most recent engravings are always in series. Is there any special reason for this?
FG: It's not something I have sought intentionally. When I set to work I try to exhaust certain things. On arriving in England in 1989 I continued with what I had been doing in Buenos Aires . That was a series of ink drawings whose main representational motifs were figures of birds, reptiles, fish and plants. When I showed my work in some London galleries, some people found the drawings a bit "too much"…
LR: In what way…?
FG: In my opinion the drawings were purely satirical…
LR: How much of the "expressionist" is there in your work?
FG: I would say in my case that the term does not really apply. I have always had an aversion for a certain kind of crude expressionism. I prefer to suggest in a manner which is more subtle. In reality, what interests me is a certain vision of the absurd. I definitely do not think of myself as a "humorist", in the pictorial sense. In that series I played with the images in different ways as they came up spontaneously in the drawing. It would be difficult to "explain" them, since they can be read on different levels, and the symbols are very often ambivalent.
Returning to the question about producing work in series, in the drawings of fish and then of beds, there were interesting elements for me…which suggested themselves for use in my drawings. I don't think it's a good idea to be forever cogitating about what you are doing. It's better to let things spring up, without necessarily knowing where they come from. There's always a moment when you can look back and take up the thread of what is happening, in terms of plastic art.
LR: How does the Greek influence make itself felt in your work?
FG: It's something that has always been there - especially the enormous representational possibilities offered by Greek mythology. I don't shrink from tackling the recreation of a myth or of an imaginary scene of that kind. It awakens in me a special appetite, as though it was a vital manifestation, and at the same time something tangible and real. There is also the challenge of resolving problems of composition. I don't aim at telling a story, but rather at making a picture. In principle, the basic pitfall to be avoided is letting the theme stifle the picture. It is easy to get this wrong, and if you do, the result is not very interesting. The best way is to keep it simple and direct. The great masters were not concerned primarily with themes - rather, these were only pretexts for making art.
LR: How much have you been influenced by pre-Columbian and Latin American art?
FG: I don't think you would be able to identify a direct influence. Of course there is no denying one's origins. The European component in Argentine culture is very pronounced, but at the same time I can identify myself with the strength of pre-Hispanic art. I don't really like the use of the term "Latin-American" or " America " to label a certain way of painting. These terms will have to be redefined sooner or later.
LR: How do you decide on your themes?
FG: I don't choose them - it's more like they choose me. But in fact I don't really like the word "theme". Rather, I feel an affinity with certain forms, and these prove familiar and attractive when it comes to manifesting my own creative impulses. The rest doesn't interest me. For example, incorporating a Greek god as an element of representation could be one way of enriching fantasy, and that appeals to me. This does not mean that a simple nude could not be even more categorical as a form than a mythological scene.
LR: What is it that does not interest you?
FG: There is a whole fashion in contemporary art to stay stuck in the posture of "épater le bourgeois", which to me seems completely banal. I can go along with Duchamp, just about. It's ironic that the latest "vanguards", on becoming the exclusively approved "established" art, have now taken on the mantle of an "official art", leaving no room for anyone else. To continue presenting "ready mades" today, almost a hundred years after Duchamp, is a dead-end which testifies to acute creative poverty.
LR: Who have been your artistic influences?
FG: I should perhaps begin with my father, who was a terrific artist. He initiated me into drawing and painting when I was still little. I remember he used to make me do pencil drawings of different engravings by Dürer, especially his studies of anatomy. It started as a game, which then developed into a passion. By the time I started to study for a BA degree in Art in Buenos Aires , it was already a personal choice for me.
LR: Does Argentina have a national identity so far as the plastic arts are concerned? After fifteen years spent living in London , do you feel more cosmopolitan than Argentine in your own artistic identity?
FG: That's a good question. I would say that the Argentine identity has a special richness due to the diversity of its origins and sources. Indeed, I would say it's rather difficult to specify and define its character. Argentina is basically a country of immigrants. Jorge Luis Borges felt like "a European in exile", but at the same time in many of his stories wrote about typically Argentine characters, out of the world of the tango or the rural world of the "gaucho". This constant ambiguity is a fundamental part of our identity.
By contrast with Mexico , for example, Argentina has been much less influenced by pre-Columbian art, and much more by European art. The most important Argentine artists, almost without exception, traveled to Europe in their formative years, before going on to play a decisive role in national art. A typical example of this would be Xul Solar, who after spending some time in Europe , developed a plastic arts language all of his own which is impossible to "classify", and which reflects this inextricable temperament.
Today I feel myself simply to be a resident of London who draws and paints. I think it is important to reach a point where one's own national identity ceases to be a matter of prime concern. Otherwise you can easily fall into a kind of conditioning, the result being that the work you produce serves exclusively a pre-established purpose.
LR: Some of your photographed pictures appear to have been destroyed or have disappeared. What happened to them?
FG: A lot of my work got lost after coming to London. I left nearly all of my drawings and academic studies, sketches and many oil paintings in a warehouse in Buenos Aires. When I tried to recover them, I found they were no longer there. More recently, some drawings also got burnt in a container. It's the sort of thing that happens when you travel and leave things scattered in different places.
LR: What does a painter have "to say"?
FG: It seems to me that a painter is someone who combines the improvisation of a student with the occasional lucky discoveries of a cave explorer - and that most of the time he is simply a worker. Whatever he may manage to contribute is really just a sketch within the greater scheme of things. You never stop learning and making new discoveries from what you produce yourself.
LR: Is the fantastic in art more important than the real?
FG: Drawing, for me, is a way of liberating fantasy, even more so than painting. I try to use elements of reality and of the human in my work as a way of articulating my own image of the world… I have just embarked on a series of engravings based on the Divine Comedy, along with some other things… I draw very much on literature as a source of inspiration.
LR: What do you understand by the word "art"?
FG: That, for me, is a question without a verbal answer. The only real answer is in the work itself. But I feel I can say with some conviction what is not Art. Art is something elusive, ungraspable. It appears when you are not looking for it. Probably the best way of approaching the question is to think of art as a peculiar form of language. It seems to me that an artist should work at using a "language" through which he can achieve a certain harmony. All great thinkers have tried to define art. I am very much interested in philosophy, and Heidegger is possibly the one who best expresses and clarifies the great dilemmas presented by a work of art. Perhaps in the end I would settle for Goethe's formulation that "art is the mediator of the inexpressible".