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Popular Art. Interview with Cecilia Azcarate. – O Production Company

Left: detail of The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence by Masters of the Acts of Mercy (Austrian, Salzburg, c. 1465) Right: ASAP Ferg

Popular Art. Interview with Cecilia Azcarate. – O Production Company

Left: Perugia Altarpiece left panel by Fra Angelico, 1437 / Right: Kanye West and Pastor Rich Wilkerson Jr at Kim & Kanye’s wedding.

Popular Art. Interview with Cecilia Azcarate.

by Gerard Casau.

Popular Art. Interview with Cecilia Azcarate. – O Production Company

Left: Jan van Eyck. Ghent Altarpiece detail. c. 1432 / Right: The ATL Twins.

Popular Art. Interview with Cecilia Azcarate. – O Production Company

Left: detail of Christ Blessing surrounded by a Donor Family.
Unknown German Painter 1560 – Right: 2 Chainz

I have not yet visited the Museo del Prado yet. I’d love to go and visit their Goya collection because, every time we see one of his paintings, a friend of mine and I have the habit of taking a selfie next to it. We even do it at a bar in New York we usually go to that has some reproductions.”.

It’s clear that Cecilia Azcarate‘s attitude towards art is far from reverential, but rather playful with no prejudices at all. The eyes of this native of San Sebastián (where she lived until she was four, when she moved with her parents to Perpignan) see art everywhere they look: a picture of Rick Ross with a fur coat and a massive chain over his tattooed torso reminds her of a Henry VIII portrait painted in the 16th century; if Kim Kardashian crops the head of her baby on an Instagram selfie, Cecilia reproduces the gesture with several paintings of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus; and when contemplating the sex tapes of famous people, this young advertising creative doesn’t look at celebs’ flesh, but at the functional and anonymous pictures decorating their lusty scenarios.

All very funny and inventive, yes, but let’s not forget an important detail: it is possible that the gags Kardashian Crop and, particularly, B4-XVI beforesixteen have circulated more paintings on social networks than any initiative undertaken by a museum in order to get rid of its elitist nature. It might be because for Cecilia there is no difference between high and low art, but everything is included on the same mythology of power, wealth and images of worship. We talk about all this in a New York – Barcelona Skype conversation, the flow of which is only interrupted at times due to technological inclemency.

Popular Art. Interview with Cecilia Azcarate. – O Production Company

Cecilia Azcarate selfie

Having lived first in Europe and then in the United States, do you think that the way in which people relate to art is different in both continents?
Now a days, with websites like the google art project or the Met Museum or even Instagram everyone has access to the same archives of art history and contemporary imagery, I feel like attitudes are becoming quite similar, and people, especially  the youth who is used to seeing all kinds of content at the same time have a pretty similar way to relate. I think it’s a good thing because important ideas are being shared and people are looking to the future creating their own expression and representations.

Your most popular series is B4-XVI beforesixteen, where, in your own words, you highlight “an invisible dialogue between hip hop and art before the 16th century”. How did you come up with this idea?
Through small details that I noticed and found interesting. In fact, one of the first ones to call my attention was on a 15th century Spanish painting by Aragón: there was a character on it that had a headdress quite similar to the caps sported by rappers today. Then there was the blessing sign that Christ makes by stretching out the thumb and the fingers, which is repeated in a vast number of images until we get to Kanye West. I started collecting all those ancient pieces including details that reminded me of something from current times. But there are still many I haven’t used yet, because I only wanted to use those equivalences in which the connection came to mind right away.

Why do you think your Tumblr has become so successful?
I guess it’s because when seeing the similarities between these images you are totally caught by surprise. We tend to sacralise ancient works of art because they are in a museum. But if you get them out of that context and relate them to pop culture, you soon realise that both get on quite well with each other. Furthermore, in a museum you are surrounded by hundreds of pieces; you don’t know what to look at. But if you get one painting out of its context and highlight one single detail, everything acquires a different meaning and you can enjoy it in a different way. On my Instagramaccount about ancient art, I’ve also noticed that what many people like is seeing that along the centuries people have been doing the same things we all do now. The fact that they lived a few centuries back doesn’t mean they were very different from us!

Have you had the chance to talk about B4-XVI beforesixteen with someone from the hip hop scene?
I have friends working in the rap industry and, from what they tell me, general reactions towards it are positive.

Is there any common idea uniting all your comparisons between ancient art and the pop imaginary?
When I started uniting all these things, I started asking myself whether there was a universal representation of swag. If what we deem cool is not a new concept, but an idea that has existed all along. And I think there’s something of it on all these portraits of the gods and representations of the powerful; it’s an eternal iconography. In any case, I am not an art historian. My approach to the subject is very naive.

Another way of calling it would “intuitive”. In my opinion, what’s interesting about your comparisons is that they highlight things that would rarely be pinpointed from an academic or orthodox perspective.
i think this is a great compliment, thank you, It is beautiful that more voices are being heard and people are creating their own meaning as in the end, pop culture becomes history, and we need so many new diverse voices.

Are you worried about the fact that your contrasting between the old and new depends on a given context? For example, what will happen with the Kardashian Crop series once we forget about the selfie that gave it origin?
Well, then I’ll simply do something completely different. I don’t mind. I don’t aspire to anything with this. I work as a creative in an agency, developing projects for different brands. All these Tumblr accounts are just observations and reactions to things happening now.

You don’t think that what you’re doing is going to pass the test of time?
Absolutely not! That would be too pretentious on my behalf, because I’m simply joining things that other people have created. All I do is getting them out of their context. To me, Kardashian Cropis only one of the millions of memes you can encounter while surfing the Internet.

It’s funny you don’t give importance to what you do based on the fact that you are not the author of the artwork. It reminds me of the prejudices that hip hop found on the beginning because of its use of samples. A lot of people didn’t think of it as real music.
Yes, that’s true. I’d never thought of it that way…

Then, what do you think about the fact that different magazines devote articles to your work and analyse your series?
To me it’s very flattering, of course. It’s nice because it means that there are people out there that think that what I do is interesting. And that makes me want to go on and maybe even do something bigger, like a book.

Despite your constant Internet activity, would you still like to do something physical, then?
Somehow, yes. What’s good about the Internet is that you can send something out to the world and receive instant feedback. But if you repeat an idea two, three times… people end up losing interest. That’s why I’d like to create something that people would like to preserve and look at again after a while. Maybe a volume compiling my observations on ancient art…

One of the main features of art is the relationship an author establishes with his/her working materials. How can that be translated to a virtual environment?
To me everything tends towards immateriality. Even in those projects with a physical component, like the posters in Oil & Water Do Not Mix. It’s not that the actual creation of the pieces doesn’t have a lot of weight, but what is truly important is having people commenting the idea behind them.

Debate is more relevant than the work itself?
i feel like you can not separate them, also, it depend on the time period and culture, as the ancient art i have been working with has served different purposes. I like to highlight the simple universal details;  sometimes we don’t understand the codes now a days and the pieces could seems foreign and disconnected, but let’s say for instance in the 15th century flemish painting the audience knew that gesture that Christ made meant, or that a dog on a painting was a symbol of faithfulness, in the same way that today everybody gets the meaning of a smiley. It’s something that is part of our language.

Popular Art. Interview with Cecilia Azcarate. – O Production Company

Top: Kim Kardashian and North West cropped selfie – Bottom: Cecilia Azcarate parody