Breathing life back into the abandoned has become trademark for Catalan visual artist Javier de Riba. Exploring the remnants of life in derelict buildings, he recreates the mosaic flooring synonymous with traditional Catalan homes. Taking each project as an opportunity to develop his artistry, Riba taps into history, past experiences and his surroundings to create and inspire.
As his latest project Harreman - created with the Reskate Arts & Craft collective - opens to the public in Valencia, Riba (known as Javi to friends) speaks to PETRIe about his artistic processes, the beauty of the floor and how art can be used to tackle youth unemployment in Spain.
Jamal George-Sharpe: You have gained a lot of press coverage due to your geometric spray-painted patterns on the floors of abandoned buildings. How did this idea come about?
Javier de Riba: It’s a tribute to the hydraulic mosaics. Many homes in Catalan countries feature this type of tile, and I have lived with them all my life. They add personality. Each tile is identical, but the repetition generates new forms, born out of how each of the tiles intersect. It moves me to think that once upon a time, these floors harboured experiences and helped form a part of someone’s daily life, yet now finally rest forgotten. This project tries to talk about how walls are constructed and knocked down, but the floors rest.
JG-S: How did you first get involved in art?
JdR: I studied graphic design and started a project in 2010 with Mará López (www.minuskula.net) and Edu Pi called Reskate Boards & Illustrators (www.reskateboarding.com). It’s about recycling skates. We take old skateboards and reshape them, sand them and give them to visual artists to re-customise them. This direct contact with illustrators, painters and visual artists taught me a lot and developed my art.
JG-S: As an artist, what inspires you the most?
JdR: Looking at how others work. I’m thankful that with the Internet, I can see really good people and meet them. Also, collaborating with people makes me very inspired.
JG-S: Why do you choose to paint floors? Is there any symbolism behind this?
JdR: It all started in one festival that we participated in with my Reskate collective (www.reskatestudio.com). We painted a wall in a demolished building in Barcelona. We realised that there were broken tiles and we decided to paint on them, like the typical tiles of the Catalan countries. In history, this kind of art was taken by the middle-class of the Catalan society as a democratisation of art - art to step on.
JG-S: What would you say is the core message of your work?
JdR: The name of this project, ‘FLOORS’, comes not only from the use of flooring as a canvas, but also from “flors” - the Catalan word for flower. On abandoned tiled floors, flowers usually appear between the tiles. The project explores the power of the union.
JG-S: How do you decide on the location and what to create in each space?
JdR: The abandoned places, for the moment, are in Catalonia and one in Huttledorf (Wien). They are abandoned bungalows, old factories and bulldozed houses. I always like to approach these kinds of spaces. The spaces are so important as it’s a photographic project too. The pattern is transmitted to me by the floor’s surroundings. I choose colours that are complementary to the surroundings.
JG-S: How long does the planning process usually last for?
JdR: I don’t spend that much time painting. I do more work prior - taking measurements, looking for the location and making the stencil. Sometimes I paint in various days/nights. Each day, one layer of colour. Other times, I do all of the work the same day/night. It depends. The biggest one that I did, I spent eight hours painting with knee pads. In the end, I spend more time taking photos and video-editing. The documentation of the process and showing the space transform is a big part of the project.
JG-S: What has been your favourite project to date?
JdR: Wow! It’s like talking about children - that I don’t have [laughing]. Each project lets me develop in a different way. I always try to break my own style and it makes each project enjoyable. One of my last works that I enjoyed a lot was the ‘Varnish’ project. I collected wooden boards from the street, sanded and varnished them with
JG: What has been the most challenging project you have done so far?
Javier de Riba: This one! I’m in Wien developing one exhibition project in an artistic residence with Reskate Arts & Crafts. It’s the first time that we have done a ‘solo’ exhibition. It’s been hard but finally we are seeing the light! We are working with photo-luminescent paint. You can see some of the exhibition at our Facebook fan page.
JG-S: If you could choose any building in the world to work on, what building would that be and why?
JdR: I love abandoned places - it’s part of my inspiration - but, of course, there are a lot of sad walls in cities. Here in Wien, Budapest and Romania, there are nice big walls that I want to work on. I hope things change in Barcelona so I can offer my work to the city more often.
JG-S: What do you have to say about the current state of Art?
JdR: I’m aware that I still have to learn a lot about Art. As with a lot of things, people feel that if it makes money, it is valuable. I think this has hurt a lot of creators and the way that they create.
JG-S: Spain has faced high youth unemployment rates recently, how do you think art could be a cure? How can art help communities?
JdR: I think that creating is the way to get ahead. To share experiences, get power and face adversities. I think that the biggest message we can give is that everyone can create, can change and decide their future. There is a quote, typically found on Facebook, which says: “Art can change the people and the people can change the world.”
JG-S: Tell us about Reskate Arts & Crafts Collective. What is the goal?
JdR: We are a collective that tries to mix our experiences with design and our artistic skills. We try to explore the limits of art and design. We work as a graphic studio and as an artistic collective. I think that each facet of the collective gives value to the other.
JG-S: What are some of the future projects fans of your work should look out for?
JdR: I’m working in new interventions and new patterns. At the end of this year, I will make more prints and I’d love to make a little book about this project. You can follow my social media (www.facebook.com/JRGraphics) to get updates.
JG-S: Where would you like to be in the next five years?
JdR: Moving around the world continuing to work with floors, walls, installations and other artistic projects… And, for sure, making a living out of it!
Words: Jamal George-Sharpe
Artwork: Javier de Riba