by Toni Segarra
July 25th, 1992. An archer with polio sets fire to an arrow and shoots it to light the Olympic flame in Barcelona’s olympic stadium before the shock and disbelief of an astonished world.
Almost 23 years later, it might be time to ask what wonderful succession of events brought about what, in my insignificant opinion, is one of the most glorious and unclassifiable ideas of the last decades.
The obvious answer to it is thinking about the author of such idea: Carles Riart. But that does little more than adding to the confusion: what was a prodigious carpenter doing working for an Olympic Games Opening Ceremony commission? Who thought that he might contribute something interesting to it? What kind of dangerous madman got him involved in all this?
To understand such a thing we must go back to the 1980s and to Barcelona. Walk up Mayor de Gracia any given noon to the restaurant Botafumeiro. Go in, say hello to the valet with his flat cap, cross the fish bowls filled with sea monsters, go around the huge bar directed with firm hand by marshal Arias, and right where the bar ends and the main dining room starts, in the corner, to the right, find, behind a cloud of smoke, his crazy smile, his childish and wicked way of looking, his skilfully messy curls, his unbuttoned weirdly-collared shirt and his dark Paul Smith blazer.
Pepo Sol ruled the world from his table at Botafumeiro. There he seated, day after day, talents from any field before dishes of seafood croquettes and cod with chickpeas. He started conversations, provoked, challenged, gave away brilliant ideas with the generosity of the genius, and was always on guard in case the spark that initiates something big should decide to appear. There he gathered not only the best of the best, but also the new ones, the ones who still hadn’t shown anything but had made him curious, had awakened his thirst for talent. Pepo was the Lorenzo de Medicis of pre-olympic Barcelona, a place and time we still don’t value as we should, maybe because it’s still too close to us.
It was natural that on that table, and with him conducting, the greatest show in the world should take place.
At that moment, the Spanish advertising industry felt deserted after the departure of Luis Casadevall and Salvador Pedreño from RCP, the agency they had founded and which for years had been the model of indisputable good practice in this country. We all knew they would come back, but we also knew that their contracts with the Saatchi brothers wouldn’t allow them to do so before two years.
So when the rumour that Luis and Salva were working for the tender of Barcelona’s Olympic Games opening and closing ceremonies started, we knew that something big and strange was going on. Two of our own, the best of us, were involved in the most enormous project one could aspire to in the world at the time.
Little by little we found out that Ovideo was behind it all. Ovideo! An audiovisual production company most of us regularly worked with, people like us, colleagues. It was a wonderful eye-opener realising that we could do it, that you only needed to be mad enough, that our talent could be used for something other than telling 20-second stories. And it was Pepo, with his internal and ambitious concept of what being a producer meant, who directed the process.
Only he could have come up with the idea of sitting at that table the best two ad guys of the day, Bigas Luna, designer and carpenter Carles Riart, Mariscal, Els Comediants, musician and artist Carles Santos, Tricicle, La Fura dels Baus, the young and cheeky Manel Huerga, and no less young and no less cheeky fashion designer Chu Uroz, and many others he felt could fit an idea only existing in his own head and wasn’t exactly an idea, but a feeling, a hunch, that could change direction if what happened between the spider crab and the custard cream pastries justified it. All of a sudden, one day Pepo thought that Ryuichi Sakamoto was the ideal man to compose a hymn. And so he called him. And he convinced him. Then he imagined Dennis Hopper involved in the project. And there he was. The following day it became clear that the whole thing couldn’t be done without Angelo Badalamenti. And he jumped on the wagon. I had the enormous privilege of participating, by chance, in that process and I confess that I never really understood what he really wanted to do. Something that now, after all these years, seems so obvious to me…
We have grown accustomed to thinking about roles with perfectly scripted scripts, to creating PowerPoint presentations that delimit ideas, to devising flawless sketches, and to certainties. Pepo, on the other hand, understood creation, from his role as a producer, simply as a natural result of the intersection between the appropriate talent and the appropriate project. The ideas would finally come up, they would end up falling into place, and they would transform and mutate along a process that was exactly that, a process: The creative process.
His table at Botafumeiro was the central idea of this ambition, the place to which he would attract all that people in order to meet them, tempt them, stimulate them, and with none of us really understanding exactly what was going on because we weren’t there thinking that something might come out of all that.
Seen from our current times of deep questioning of structures and habits, it is quite evident that Pepo discovered that, by stripping anything to the bare essentials, one could build the perfect environment for creation. Simply take a table in a nice place, and put the right people around it. We can go over it again and again, but in truth we don’t need much more than that.
Pepo finally organised a more or less plausible presentation, which described a hullaballoo of extraordinary ideas that itself constructed a whole new order of things just because of the amount of brilliance it contained. And he told the IOC about them as best as he could. Their final decision was to name two winners, Ovideo and the team lead by Luis Bassat. In spite of that, the irresistible energy of the work arisen from all those sessions at the table at Botafumeiro managed to impose itself over common grounds, bureaucracy and fear.
In my humble opinion, those Barcelona 92 ceremonies haven’t been surpassed yet. In fact, the subsequent ones aren’t even remotely comparable. They were a whirlwind of freshness and renewal that probably hasn’t been digested yet and maybe never will be.
Pepo was an advertisement man and a producer. And he gave back to both professions a dignity and a splendour that we should remember and pursue, especially at these times in which we find ourselves gripped by a premonition of limit, of end of an era, of apocalypse. He’s my antidote against melancholy. And not only him.
Seeing, some weeks ago, Alejandro González Iñárritu winning the Oscar for best picture made me, again, feel the pride of belonging to a profession that has for quite some time now brought together people of extraordinary talent.
Nobody took advantage of that certainty like Pepo Sol.