¡Buenos Días Dictador! Eight new postmemory paintings by Sonia Boué
Sonia Boué is an Anglo-Spanish multiform artist. Her practice is concerned with a legacy of exile, leading to a growing body of work which relates to the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939.
In 2015 she was recognised by researchers at Tate Britain as a singular voice responding to this history within a British context. Subsequently Sonia featured in a film made by Tate Britain entitled, Felicia Browne: Unofficial War Artist, and in 2016 she received an Arts Council grant for Through An Artist’s Eye, a collaborative project about the life and work of Felicia Browne (who was the only British female combatant and the first British volunteer to die in action in the Civil War).
“Since 2013, my work has centred on a buried family history relating to the Spanish Civil War.
My childhood and adolescence spanned the final decade and half of the Franco dictatorship, yet the Civil War was never mentioned. This history was silenced for almost 40 years, and subject to a “pact of forgetting” when democracy was negotiated in Spain, following Franco’s death in 1975.
Unbeknownst to me Spain had been navigating an open wound.
My father and my grandparents had been involuntarily separated in 1939, and my father remained exiled in England until his death in 1989.
My practice is now concerned with this inherited memory and the need to confront this history through my work.”
About Buenos Días Dictador:
Sonia Boué has created a series of new works about growing up with the invisible shadow of dictatorship. In them she explores the the duality of her childhood, drawing on an immersive painting practice. Through it (and the other branches of her multiform work) Sonia seeks to recover aspects of historic memory (memoria histórica), previously erased by political suppression.
With Buenos Días Dictador, Boué’s previous focus on the narrative histories of the Retirada (Republican retreat from Spain), and British involvement in the Civil War, has shifted to her own memory sites – the return journeys to Spain from England in the 1960s and 1970s.
Her painted responses are conjured scenes (dreamscapes) in which collaged figures plot an upbringing spent shuttling between Birmingham and Barcelona to visit her grandparents. Through these works she examines the fabric of daily life anew.
“The dictator was everywhere, silently and invisibly setting the preconditions of our lives.”
The spirit of these works is nostalgic yet confrontational, employing a juxtaposition of painted and collaged elements as a means of articulating the unspoken. Buenos Días Dictador, forms a visual essay which tweaks at the invisibility cloak of Franco’s rule to ask a serious question; how can we live the life domestic in the face of violent rupture, exile and dictatorship?
In these enigmatic new works the dictator is everywhere and yet nowhere to be seen. Cut-out figures from the period (borrowed from sewing pattern illustrations) are transplanted to imprecise geographical locations. Buenos Días Dictador, is a series of haunting dreamscapes conjuring a surreal and dissonant atmosphere.
Please share with colleagues and organisations where the visual arts, and subjects of Spanish Civil War, postmemory, displacement, and exile are of interest.
Contact Sonia for artist talks, conference papers and performances.
These works are also available for exhibition (8/ 50 x60 cms mixed media on linen).
So I’ve been working in my studio on a series of paintings – only honestly it feels as though the paintings have been working on me.
Emerging from one idea – to respond to a particular space – I find myself co-habiting with a peculiar bunch of images which go deep into my psyche.
This was supposed to be about landscape (okay some of them are & two of these have already flown the nest – sold and gone for good). But what I find is that it is often never that simple and I’m working though something singular and complex. Landscape here is a warm up or a backcloth to the cut out figures who take centre stage.
Through them – but also through their placing (or indeed staging as it were) I’m pin-pointing precise moments (places, events, emotions) of my Anglo-Spanish childhood under the hidden shadow of the Franco dictatorship.
I know exactly where I am in these works. They signal a curious return. They are wistful and joyful – nostalgic in the extreme. They are also frankly a little strange.
So I’m at both at home with them and uncomfortable. And I realise that this is perfect.
I have also set myself up in creating these works for my first experiment of showing in a wholly commercial space. They belong within the body of my postmemory works and they need to stay together as my overarching project unfolds. I have to own that they will not be at home on their first outing. Marvellous! Conceptually speaking this could not be more perfect.
Wilful imagination – powerful unconscious compass! You take me where you need me to go but not where I planned for. Like forgetting to take a coat on holiday and arriving in a storm – I am unprepared. My work makes me naked but actually I love that.
Haha! I find it as difficult to translate myself for a market as my exiled father (and playwright) did in sharing his vision of the Spanish dictatorship with British audiences. In a very real sense I’m working in a family tradition. Hey dad – I’m on it!
Flux and flow in the studio. Impending jury service means I’m in a hurry and so I’m putting the hours in whenever I can, and it’s so good to be making work again.
Through all the surprising landscape work that’s been emerging I’ve come to a point of clarity – and this gives my work a vital hook back into the ongoing postmemory project with which I began this blog.
I find my practice is never as disjointed as it feels at times. There is always a thread.
My last post was about the politics of painting as action and resistance. There’s more to be drawn out of this as a source of resilience in the face of a wannabe autocrat like Trump. Such figures live in our minds if we let them and I have been consumed by the MSM and SM storm surrounding his presidency.
But having worked (or maybe walked – it is landscape after all) through the storm last week, this week I hit on a clearing. Or if we take the walking metaphor further – this was a circular path after all (ha! the scenic route!) – which took me back to base. Though perhaps I can now see things from a different angle.
These works – two of which are shown above – hark back to my earlier love of collage but are related to my Anglo Spanish childhood unknowingly lived in the shadow of the Spanish dictator Franco.
I had begun collecting materials earlier this year (from secondary school Spanish language materials from the 1970s) and arrived at a title; Buenos Dias Dictador.
And here are the works – just catching up with their title. They are still in progress but taking shape.
Last post I wrote about Painting Without a Rudder. This post I’m happy to report that I’m finding my way.
It’s still all somewhat unexpected (in terms of my practice) but at least now the internal logic of what I’m doing is becoming clearer.
Mine is a politically engaged practice, albeit focused on a historical example of fascism (the Spanish Civil War). Yet increasingly I find contemporary events to be redolent of those past and my work must veer a little to encompass this.
And so the phenomenon of creating work I don’t quite recognise occurs – and that’s the point.
I’m creating landscapes that feel new and not like me – and this is precisely because I no longer recognise my world. We’re presently living through a time of political crisis and these strange paintings (strangers to me at least) have been conjured as a direct response.
I truly believe that painting can be a political act in itself. I need to be brave about these works (my impulse is to paint over them and create something more me!) and go with what’s emerging.
And in trying to arrive at a greater understanding I’ve turned to another form…
So I drib and dab
at scraps of linen
solid wooden frames
in my studio.
I go at it
and stand back.
I squint and squint
turn lights on and off.
This is my body politics
I need action.
To make is to shake off
Stupid I know
but I squint and squint
because this is my job.
I imagine spaces
And spaces impossible
do not exist.
in dribs and dabs
is not not real.
In the moment of action
I am painting.
© Sonia Boué 2017
Painting without a rudder.
I’m trying to get back into my painting practice after a long break – but it’s not proving so easy.
It’s partly that I’m rusty, but also trying out new surfaces and brushes too.
I’ve swapped board for gorgeous (and expensive) linen canvas, and though I’ve worked with linen in the past all my more recent work has developed on wood or MDF. Found surfaces especially are so freeing whereas costly materials seem to produce the opposite effect (almost inhibiting). I need to feel I can almost break it to make it – this is my style – I’m mean to my surfaces!
These are the physical factors. But I guess there’s a mental block which adds to the frustration I’m feeling.
I need to make some new work for a showing in May – there’s no theme this time and I only need to consider the space (which is a beautiful cloister gallery). Is my trouble that this is too open and I don’t know where the paintings are going? Could be.
Another factor is sales. I do increasingly sell my work (though I dislike the transactional side of being an artist – I accept it is vital to allow for sales in my practice in order to stay afloat alongside funding applications).
What I hate is being conscious of this while making. I need this dynamic to be out of the frame or it begins to intrude and a million critical eyes peek over my shoulder as I try this way and that to bring my compositions to resolution.
I’m honestly best when I have a tight brief (like my Felicia Browne work) or when I can immerse myself totally in the atmosphere of my studio and the sensory process of making without the pressure to make something that someone else will fall in love with and want in their home/ collection.
I guess this is a dilemma for all creatives.
I’m kind of going okay if I stand back and don’t sweat it (although two weeks of jury service in April have cut down my painting schedule to the wire). I think what I’m missing are my faithful and beloved gel mediums. Silly me – I ran them down at the end of my last project and decided I wouldn’t need them for my linen canvases – but guess what – I’m missing the wonderful textures they afford.
You know what – instead of working around the junk that’s accumulated in my studio and making do with badly placed nails in the wall from my previous board work – I reckon I should stop rushing and prep my space so that the work flows more easily.
The clouds have parted and suddenly I’m feeling better about my so-called ‘painting block’. HA! It’s nothing of the sort…
In fits and starts I’m getting there…some of what I want to achieve is more freedom and acceptance in my work. I’m working on emotional landscapes as ever – but essentially asking myself how authentic I can be. This is true in life too.
Oh and I do have a theme now that I remember – resilience.
So far the work is full of gesture and the tension between polish (some of which I need or the perfectionist in me get’s twitchy) and energy – which I love to try and capture.
I’m getting there.