AN exhibition of new work by Dublin artist Guggi opens in the Be Palermitano, Buenos Aires, this week. Guggi has been painting since the early 1980s, but is also known for having fronted the avant garde rock outfit The Virgin Prunes.
This is Guggi’s first exhibition in South America. On a motor-biking trip in Argentina, he was invited in to see the gallery Be Palermitano and was offered a one-man show by its director
“When I first went to South America,” says Guggi, “I was struck by the smell, the humidity, the people — I really loved it. Buenos Aires is really like Europe, but it’s tropical. In some way, you feel like you’re not that far from home. There’s something about the place I just really fell in love with.”
Guggi’s paintings often feature jugs and bowls. “People ask me am I particularly into bowls or jugs. I don’t think I am, any more than anybody else. I suppose in the way a poet, for instance, has a particular vocabulary, amd so have I. It’s something that’s developed over a period of time. I’ve always been fascinated by people’s faces and heads, and unusual looking heads in particular. I used to paint these in a semi-abstract kind of a way.
“I was also very interested in surface. I was working on this surface that blew my mind, and, I said, this surface is more important than the idea — if I can use it correctly. I said, that’s not a head, it’s a bowl. It was like porcelain, the finish that I got. That’s years ago and I’ve changed a huge amount since then, but I have remained faithful to these shapes because they seem to mean something to me,” he says.
Guggi traces the subject matter of his art to things that affected him in childhood. The daily ‘specials’ written on the chalkboards of his local shops in ‘fancy’ handwriting are the source of his interest in text. Text underpins many of his paintings, but does not detract from the jugs and bowls with which he is synonymous.
“I think all of the influences regarding the shapes I make go back to childhood,” says Guggi. “There’s a number of things that used to freak me out as a kid. My grandmother lived in Fairview and this ugly big water jug was always in the basement of her old house. It was very dark and damp. I remember this huge old tin water jug, which used to upset me so much because there were no beautiful sweeping lines, no real design. It was made purely to be functional, and it was a shape I particularly hated.
“In a childish kind of a way it disturbed me, and then I started doing these shapes as an artist. There was a beauty that came out of them, just the awkwardness of the shape, it was like a person with a huge nose or something. In a weird way, I can see them as portraits. It is the vocabulary I have developed over many years. In terms of the surface of the paint and the application of the paint and what it is I am trying to say, that has changed enormously, but I have kept these shapes.”
Tony Shafrazi, a New York gallerist, visited Guggi’s studio in Ireland in the late ’90s and invited him to exhibit in the USA. “He said to me, ‘if you make something in a three-dimensional form it would help people understand what it is that you are doing in your painting.’ I kind of took that on board,” he says.
Soon after the New York show, the designer John Rocha asked Guggi to provide art for his styling of The Beacon Court Lifestyle Centre, stipulating that it be large 3D pieces. “I have learned in life,” says Guggi, “that if two people whose opinion you value say the same thing totally independently, then listen.”
Guggi’s work in sculpture has developed alongside his painting. The most powerful example is in an outdoor sculpture park in Provence, where enormous — 3 x 4.5m — Guggi vessels stand head high with the mature trees. Three more modest sculptures will feature in the Buenos Aires show, alongside paintings and digital media.
Guggi says the gallery is an ideal venue. “It is exactly what I love; just a white cuboid. I think those spaces give the art a chance to breathe. When you’re viewing modern painting, it’s important to do it without clutter, so you can see it for what it is.”
* See: www.guggi.com and www.bepalermitano.com.ar