BY AITOR SAAVEDRA.
1. “Sleepwalking means erasing the border between dreams and reality. I get carried away by the world of dreams and, at the same time, the world of dreams makes me see reality much more clearly.”
2. “Because when I was interviewed in 1986 in Radio Cadena, during a very beautiful and magical night, the interviewer played the song Sleep Walk by Santo & Johnny Farina. He played it because he saw me reflected on it and when I hear it I get very emotional, I hear my whole life in it: those Hawaiian guitars that are half cry of joy and half cry of pain.”
3. “Because of Lorca’s Romance sonámbulo. Lorca is present in my origins and in my estuary. It seems he was as happy as a child, very funny, but inside he carried this magical tragedy with him that gave him his strength. To me, Romance sonámbulo is a poem full of romance, mystery and loneliness. It has lots of readings, quite confusing, for the reader to live his/her own sleepwalking romance; has this thing of love, of helplessness, of waiting for something that never comes. But it’s really a song to life sung from painfulness.” [Green is the colour that gypsy culture associates with life: “verde que te quiero verde”]
4. Sonámbulo is the title of the tribute album that Discos Walden and Afeite al Perro have dedicated to him to help him with the delicate situation he finds himself in now and they invite us to collaborate as well.
THE MAGICAL GEOGRAPHY
“I live in the Chamartín neighbourhood, but I like to call it Chamartín de la Rosa, because this used to be a beautiful little village, but now it’s almost all gone. My street was Calle de la Menta; it was all flavours, smells and colours. It was a tiny street full of low houses with red roofs, with cats you could hear making love at nighttime. I would look out of the window and there was a dairy, I could see the cows. We drank freshly milked milk. Across the street there was a very Lorquian tavern, very rough, with characters that seemed taken out of the Romancero gitano. There was a coal yard, and fields… It was a place full of good and real people, who had suffered a great deal after the war; people who opposed Franco. And when we went to the centre of Madrid, we said we were going to Madrid, because we didn’t consider we were living in a city.”
“With the reformation, my street became Calle de Víctor Andrés Belaúnde, the name of a Peruvian president. Now there’s a world of money that is exactly the opposite from what I believe in, and the opposite of what it was before. My house is still here, it dates from 1955 -the year the novel El Jarama was published-, like and island in the middle of this excess of luxury, a total provocation with all the misery and hunger and poverty around. At the time of La Gordi, they kept on demolishing the low houses, and somehow there’s a testimony in there, you will see lots of red tiles. There was a nostalgia, a sorrow and an indignation on behalf of la Gorda de las Galaxias herself.”
You were born on January 14th 1958 –“on the same day as Yukio Mishima”, he adds- and grew up in this room, now dark. Your childhood bed is still there, the table on which you drew your first cartoons too and also the comic books with which you have covered the walls from top to bottom.
I find myself in front of the bed I slept on as a child and the bed of my initiation, very late, in 2014. My time is circular, I don’t believe in present, past or future. It goes round following a spiral form, and some days and moments you’re in your childhood, and others in a future yet to come, or that has come, maybe, but it’s hidden somewhere. When I was a child, I was a kind of an alchemist and this room was my lab. It was also my natural science museum, because I’ve always been a lover of science, of wild animals above all; for their innocence, for the tyranny of their nobleness.
This is how you described your memories of your first days:
“My settings are as ideal for the most vivid colour as for the black and white of eternal films (…) This is how I remember my childhood, like the first movies of Pasolini, Fellini, Antonioni; they taste of brightness and testimony, a life lived forever. Dino Risi’s ll sorpasso, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment. A flavour of comedy perfumed with tragedy. A mysterious and female perfume. The streets of my childhood, I remember in black and white, I breath Fellini’s La dolce vita, Antonioni’s La notte, Monica, a brunette on the chequered floor of a brief and impossible love affair.”
On these walls, completely decorated with collage, there’s the origin of everything. This childhood bedroom is, to me, an untouched homage to your purity. Tierno Galván said that anarchism is innocence, and in your case innocence is total subversion. In Diagonal you defined La Gorda de las Galaxias as a “work in which violence is always the precursor of peace, the innocence of the first step towards revolution; and tenderness and goodness, the trigger of fantasy”. What is that power of innocence?
Innocence is the key to everything: life, love, revolution, subversion, art, to live. It brings misfortunes and you are easily tricked, but I’m happy to have this treasure, something you have from the beginning, from childhood. While you grow it is cornered, or suppressed, or even betrayed by your own self. In my case, it’s not that I didn’t want to betray it; it’s just that I couldn’t. This has always kept me aside, in love, in art, in sex. But at the same time, it has given me something that the rest do not have. The rest have lived the most ordinary part of what was denied to me. I haven’t lived it, but I have the most magical and full of colour part. Innocence brings us a different world.
What Fellini portrays in La strada is precious. The character played by Giulietta Masina is a girl, a boy, out of time, all genders and all ages at once, is a clown, is an angel: it’s innocence. In the film, the concept is narrated at the same time divinely and horribly: how Gelsomina tries to give her love to the vulgar and male chauvinistic character of Zampanó, and ends up dying and giving her life for him to discover sensitivity. It reminds me of those magical female characters I identify with, those that really make life: from Lilith, the first woman, to real ones such as Patti Smith, Janis Joplin, Laura Nyro…
It is very good, innocence, but you need to be very brave to live with it. Sometimes in love, the person giving doesn’t receive, it’s a mysterious curse. Everything I write, what I draw and feel, is in the word ‘innocence’.
The curse of innocence.
It’s the strength of femininity, not as something weak, but as an energy that is even superior to masculine. As a kid I was very masculine -I was a boxer already at seven-, but also very feminine. The balance was magical. Almost all the feminine and masculine characters I like have this connection: in one single person, they’re he and she. In this room there are collages of Brian Eno, David Bowie, etc. I love that! They open doors to living worlds that others miss.
Now we’re talking about your connection with your feminine side, let’s go to your source of inspiration: the room of your mother, Felisa, that you preserve as an untouched sanctuary, with the bed unmade and a mirror in which several instants have been captured.
Our beds are apart by one wall only and, sometimes, we talked at night, like in a film. There’s a white canvas that my father left. He was a frustrated painter who had to live working as a tailor, but he was an artist! Here I painted a girl with curly hair that I have filled with red lipstick (it’s something I often use to paint on mirrors and to colour some drawings). It’s followed by a list of girl names. First, my mother’s, who not only gave me life, but also a way of understanding it and of loving it. Then there’s Jennifer Jones, with whom I compared her when she was young. Her film Jennie was a favourite of Buñuel and the Surrealists. I always thought there was something magical between Jennifer Jones and my mother, Felisa. Later on I discovered that both had Flora as their middle name. When I’m down, these synchronicities give me the energy to go on, because they are something beautiful that I need to share.
Your mother’s teachings must have given you the idea of creating Gorda de las Galaxias, a feminist, practical, anti-capitalist, ecologist and free of complexes super heroine. Besides, you say that your mother is the person who brought culture into your house***:
“My mother always brought the best records. In two weeks of 1992, she brought me Patti Smith’s Horses, Lou Reed’s Transformer and Rock’n’roll Animal, The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, The Doors’ Strange Days, Dylan’s Highway 61… All from my mother.”
Was she the main source of influence for you? Tell me about her, what did she teach you about women, and about the world in general?
She was fundamental and this room is the heart of my soul. She had that broad feminine spirit that embraces everything, including the masculine. She was self-taught, because neither her nor her mother ever liked the world of schools. They taught each other, and then she taught me. Thanks to her I met many women, sometimes through art and others through life. First in the movies, making me pay attention to particular characters, and later on with music. Before the records I mentioned, she had brought me the Sex Pistols’ album. She always brought the most rebellious, the least conventional. Her favourite Beatles’ song was Helter Skelter; it was a tremendous and desperate rock piece, totally electric. Whoever says the Beatles were soft should listen to this track.
I don’t need to enter this room to remember my mother, because I keep her inside me.
LIVING IN THE
SITTING ROOM LIGHT
Now you live in the sitting room, where natural light comes in from the street, and you have decorated it with cut-outs and collages that contain memories of yours, intervened paintings and letters from friends and admirers.
This is the sitting room where I got my Three Wise Men presents and I totally believed in them, I felt their presence and illusion. My father, with his artistic temperament, placed the little dolls and other toys as though they were performing a magical ballet. He thought of it very carefully so that there was a relationship between each of them. He died at the same time as Editorial Bruguera, in 1986. Then, my mum and me were left alone, and this is when we decided to call each other “Popeye”. We associated the strength of La Gorda de las Galaxias with Popeye’s, one of the classics of the golden age of comic books. It was the same spirit, although not under the same shape. We had suffered a great deal because of my father’s death and we decided to face it this way. We were no longer Felisa and Nicolás: we decided to call each other the same name. Popeye’s magical and brave strength encapsulated both of us.
Tell me how is your day-to-day now, how do you spend your days? People say you live as a hermit, what do you need?
Now, my heart is this room. It wasn’t surrounded by all this art before. I didn’t want to bother my mum with so many images. The first months after her death, I couldn’t enter all the rooms because of the many memories that came up, so I settled in here. Somehow, she told me to extend the world of collage in my room to the rest of the house, and so I did. But this is a different kind of collage, because it has a relief. There’s a first layer that is stuck, but then it’s filled with over-imposed images, letters, drawings that I keep on fitting in the cracks, and if I see they can hold them I leave them there. They make up the leaves of a tree, of a forest. They give me a lot of strength in bad times. Seeing me surrounded by these memories makes me feel that I’m not alone, that all this remains.
You call this your soft museum, not only this sitting room filled with altars of cassettes, books with covers reinterpreted by you or that corner with the manger and the little surprise dolls that came with the Three Wise Men cake, but all of your house. Because art comes out of the walls and each piece that falls is a sign to put it in any other place. Day after day, you intervene this space, turning your life into a great piece to last. Thanks for this trip.
This enchanted house we have been walking around is open to anyone: it’s an exhibition, a diary, my private life and a collective life in which many people can find themselves. It’s a means of communication to share my loneliness and to have moments with more light. Due to my difficult economic situation it has also become a shop selling all the art it contains. There are books, images, music… A soundtrack in the air and an open door for people.
I would like to finish with Strange Days by The Doors. Surrealists hated it when people thought everything happened just because; there’s a meaning behind everything and we need to have faith that the final result will be beautiful. Strange days have come and will destroy some illusions, but they will also help create a world full of hope. So I would like this interview to be an open door.
WHAT THE MUSICIANS
THE ALBUM SONÁMBULOS
SAY ABOUT HIM…
Aries: “I love his innocence, the fact that there’s no cynicism, imagination is power, the explosion of ideas and colour, his purity… Another world is possible in his work.”
Atomizador: “Nicolás has created his own world, his house is the best example of it; all his books have been intervened, the mirrors are full of sentences written with his amazing typography, the walls are jam-packed with images as a kind of giant live collage… He does it all out of sheer necessity, it’s not an ‘installation’ made for some gallery; it’s art as a pure form of expression.”
Djalminha: “His ascetic way of life, without any luxuries; his immense culture; his acceptance of art to the last consequences… He’s the purest artist I’ve ever met, with the lights and the shadows this entails.”
Pablo Prisma: “I had been reading a book on crypto-zoology: scientists that investigate the evidence of fantastic animals (bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, dragons, etc.), and wanted to tell a story in which one of these investigators, after a whole life chasing one of these elusive beings, he finds it and a –kind of– idyll or falling in love begins. Jose (Atomizador) asked me to include the song on the tribute album and I recorded it thinking about it already and about Nicolás’ stories. The truth is that the hypothetical story in the song somehow reflects some of the most beautiful things in la Gorda, above all the fascination and love for those (as Fojo says) “malefic-but-cute characters” and tender monsters that populate its pages. Nicolás could be a type of crypto-zoologist.”
Paisana:(about La Gordi) “The saturated colours, the strokes, la GORDI, the fact that she was a heroine, a woman, and on top of that, fat, politically incorrect… Who wouldn’t fall in love with her?”
Paisana:(about Nicolás) “We have a lot to learn from someone like him, from all his sides: the artistic and the personal one. Let’s get more emotional with small details, let’s allow our inner child to pop up more often and the world will be a less fucked up place.”