A Unique Career

  • The Search and Time

    Pilar’s work has been marked by the constant search of an artistic language to satisfy her expressive needs, and also by her relationship with time: with her own life span, which was conditioned by the stages of her life as a woman, mother and her heart disease (see section Biography). Time as an existential concern, as a relentless flow where our existence is only an insignificant link. Pilar Lara has always rebelled against this overwhelming idea, and has felt the urge to act leaving her artistic testimony behind. This attitude has made her vitalist, determined, caring and sensitive to inequality (not only gender disparity), violence and hypocrisy, an evident concern in all her works.

    This constant search allowed Pilar’s work to address different themes and to use several languages and techniques. Therefore, she was difficult to label or classify as an artist, and even to track her career. Is this Pilar Lara who now constructs boxes with photographs the same as the one whose paintings were full of colour with violent brushstrokes? Could she be the same? These major changes in her career have somewhat puzzled critics and colleagues from the art world. They could have projected an image of inconsistency, continuous contradiction, and lack of faith in her own work, especially compared to the careers of many other artists, who assumed one way of expression and dedicated themselves to explore it for decades, producing infinite variations with the same language or about the same topic. How can the values of such a unique work be appreciated, when the works of the previous stage were so interesting and she was on a good path to follow? How to react when she herself abandoned that apparently safe and solid path to get involved in a new and uncertain one? Those who have fallen in love again with Pilar’s works after each one of those changes in focus, have probably looked beyond forms, and have seen the artist’s creative force, her constant fight against her own expressive limits, and her search of an artistic and vital space in which she could feel complete. An effort that leaves no one indifferent. An infectious restlessness. Despite all the major changes her work has experienced- something she consciously did- in each one of her printings, paintings and objects, Pilar Lara’s passionate look can always be easily recognized.
  • Versatility

    Therefore, in Pilar Lara’s work, seen as a whole, her expressive, conceptual and technical versatility can be distinguished: the ease and the decision to move from some techniques and forms to others, from some languages and themes to others… A solid academic base and her constant need to retrain, studying tirelessly and attending academies, workshops and courses, have certainly contributed to it. But her driving force has always been her unquenchable curiosity, and her desire to try alternative paths until the right one to satisfy her restlessness could be found at every moment.

    Now, in order to summarize, it is necessary to define different stages in her career, and classify her works into collections, series and themes. It is also possible to sort them in other ways. We will try it out later. In the process of designing this web page, we preferred to follow a more conventional and basic model, structured chronologically and organized according to the techniques used by the artist.
  • Artistic stages

    The first stage (1964- 1966) corresponds to the production of the first two years after finishing her studies at the Academia de San Fernando, before she stopped working in order to dedicate herself to raise a family. In this stage, the oil paintings with portraits and landscapes of Úbeda stand out, a reliable and coherent work from the technical and thematic point of view, seemingly impressionist, still imbued with the ideas learned at the academy- not exactly avant-garde- and with the comfort of her familiar surroundings, without taking risks, since she has not become independent yet.

    We have defined a second stage, rather an artistic hiatus from 1966- her first son’s birthdate- to 1979, when she considers resuming her career after giving birth to her fourth son. Few works remain from this period, due to, among other things, her commitment to take care of her family, which prevented her from developing her vocation as an artist: only a few portraits and drawings were done, in order not to lose contact with her vocation. Many sketches were possibly thrown away. Several drawings were given to friends and relatives. And little else.

    The third stage begins with her return to work in 1979. She resumes her career path where she had left off, and establishes a connection with the techniques and themes of her first stage, intending to reorientate herself, and start all over again. She goes back to oil painting after attending the Arjona Academy, but soon she began trying pastels colours, acrylic, watercolours, drawings, engraving…At this moment, her relationship with the Orfila Gallery, with which she visits ARCO for the first time in 1982, and especially her attendance at the Marcoida workshops, are crucial. These are years of experimentation, trials, practice, reinsertion. She insistently participates in all kinds of visual arts contests all over the country, looking for a first recognition and also, let it be said, to recover the costs associated with the production of works. She receives several mentions and her work is selected in most of them, sometimes is even acquired to be part of different local and regional collections.

    She briefly tests languages such as kinetic painting and abstraction, both in oil paintings and through engraving, but soon she would end up with sensitive, soft figurative compositions, dissolved in harmonies of colour. These compositions will be reflected in watercolours with love themes, and in misty oil paintings in which some of her concerns about the human condition appear: loneliness, life as a dream, death…They will become the main themes of the most productive phase at this third stage. Other materials mixed in a series of acrylic paintings, such as painted papers, printed fabric and methacrylate, show a step towards expression. Oil and acrylic paintings alternate in a production of violent brushstrokes, with sharp colour contrasts, but tending to somber, gloomy tones. Dreams become nightmares. The scary legends will inspire several works, especially Lovecraft’s stories, where she finds a monstrous side of the human condition. The loneliness of human beings facing the forces of nature, but mostly facing the ones he irrationally triggered, is the central element in other paintings. Her vulnerability to death is very much alive in all of them. The main exhibition during these years takes place at the Fundación Gregorio Sánchez in March 1987. The series about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse stand out, and Pilar herself regards it as the best possible representation of the themes and language from this phase. Somehow, it is its high point and ending.

    In fact, after ten years of work, around 1989, the last phase of this stage becomes a prelude to the fourth and final stage. In this phase, she has not abandoned the pictorial technique yet, as if she were reluctant to leave a safe route she has followed since the beginning of her career. For that reason, her paintings here are called ‘transitional oil paintings’. They already contain old photographs, copied or suggested in oil paintings at first, but after stuck to the canvas, cautiously, making their way, perhaps as an expression of the insignificance of the human being within a framework of unlimited time and space that the painting is barely able to recall. At this moment, a forward leap is taken, already hinted at in previous works, from personal concerns to a certain sense of universality and social criticism, suitable for – as an art critic pointed out- ‘a feeling both poetic and cosmological’. Now it is not about a personal fight against time anymore- in which she reclaims an almost physical romantic fullness weakened by a repressive society, an ability to express her worries and fears through art called into question by her own contradictions as a woman and mother, and her place as an artist, woman and human being- but about going beyond the individual to actively participate, through art, in the shaping of a new era, a new social awareness, without inevitably abandoning her own experience as a vehicle for that task.

    The fourth stage starts in 1989, simultaneously with practices and her most recent oil paintings. The change is radical: she gives up the two dimensions, the surface of the canvas, painting…and starts to create objects, or rather construct them from snatches of reality captured in the hidden corners of the memory. Actually, the old photographs now establish the main significance of compositions where they are combined with useless ‘things’, unused but full of meanings that take us back to a past time still alive as a heavy burden in our genetic inheritance. Most of the photos are anonymous. She buys them in lots at the Rastro, abandoned to their own fate by children and grandchildren, since they only consider them old papers forgotten in a drawer. There is no personal relationship with them, but she feels in some way identified- to the extent that they represent a common past- and a willingness to reclaim, to fight against oblivion, from which they were rescued. During the first years of this stage boxes prevail, especially cigar boxes, similar to the ones frequently used to store photographs. Boxes act as containers, a small universe, a finite space where objects interact forming a message. It is remotely reminiscent of Cornell and the technique known as ‘assemblage’. Thus, Pilar Lara creates a sort of personal museum, where each work is a showcase, a window to her issues of concern.

    The change in her work around 1990 surprises everyone. However, the Ciudad de Alcalá award that year and the following monographic exhibition at the Capilla del Oidor of Alcalá represent an encouragement to follow that path. To complete the exhibition, she works very hard for a year, during which this new language, related to the conceptual, takes shape in more than fifty works of great consistency, as some of the comments raised by this ‘debut’ point out. Prepared with the passion, intensity and the discretion of an alchemist, in the privacy of the studio, what comes to light in Alcalá shows an unusual strength, despite the innovation.

    Boxes coexist with other works we have called ‘montages’, in which a dialogue between the background surface and the overlapped objects is established. And also with the ‘games’, works in a format of board games (chess sets, dominoes, jigsaw puzzles) where, ironically, violence is embodied and expressively recycled by projectiles of different calibres. Are these games a kind of essay on war or a pacific competition, domestic and bloodless, against human cruelty? She also experiments with installations, including one in each exhibition, such as the ‘handbasin’ at the Capilla del Oidor, a sharp wake-up call to our social awareness; and the Christmas tree decorated with mortar shell cases at the Sala Minerva (Círculo de Bellas Artes), again a dialectical montage.

    From 1995 on, and for the second half of the decade, photographs become a basis and a starting point for all her works. One photograph per work. It is no longer about the original, but a digital copy sometimes slightly edited and always adapted to the size of the artwork. What matters is image and not so much format. This allows her to work on series, combining photos with the same themes (‘No me abandones’, ‘La Gran Guerra’) or transforming many times the same image (‘Círculos sobre tu imagen’ [Circles on your image] or ‘El Universo es cuadrado’). It is also common, a dialogue between the two-dimensional motif, frequently modified by paper cuttings or folds, that is, transformed itself, and the objects or materials overlap to create equations of a surprising meaning, paradoxical, radical, sometimes abstract and open but others clear and unambiguous. Perhaps the ultimate expression of this technique can be found in the two soldier’s photographs (‘El Héroe’ [The Hero] and ‘Sendero de Gloria’ [Path of Glory]) moved from their remembrance photo format to that of a huge canvas where the artist has sewn motifs of wool reminiscent of minced meat or rivers of blood: two innocent people ready to be brought for slaughter. To paraphrase one art critic in 2000, ‘when Pilar Lara comes into this narrative world, inspired and of recurring old photographs, to show us her emotional and rational place, she reveals a spirit adapted to the contemporary age, and a clear vision of the future (photography today, ten years after Pilar reclaimed it as a clear composition basis for the plastic language, enjoys a privileged and hierarchic place in the most modern formulas of the renowned and established avant-garde artists)’.

    These years are intense. Pilar works confidently and with delight, apart from participating, as always, in some collective exhibitions- thanks to the support from the gallery owner Lluc Fluxá and her mentor, José Manuel Álvarez Enjuto: ’40 + ó –‘ at the Cuartel Conde Duque in November 1994, ‘Patio de figuras’ in June 1998 and ‘Mujeres: manifiestos de una naturaleza muy sútil’ [Women: manifestos of a very subtle nature] in November 2000, both at the Comunidad de Madrid’s showroom in Plaza de España-, she is very interested in making her work known on a regular basis through individual or shared exhibitions with a limited number of artists. The already mentioned exhibition at the Círculo de Bellas Artes marks the first step, in December 1995. Later on, it is followed by the ones organized at the Montalbán gallery (February 1998), 57 (February 2000) and the Factoria del Perro Verde (October 2003) at the Citadel of Pamplona (June 2000) and at the Centro Cultural Galileo (March 2003). Also, she participates in ARCO- 99 with the Lluc Fluxá gallery. In 1999, she is awarded the first prize jointly with Natividad Navalón at the IV Certamen Cultural de la Fundación del Fútbol Profesional [4TH Professional Football Foundation Cultural Contest] in the sculpture category (they cannot think of a better category to classify the unclassifiable Pilar’s contribution).

    The contact with the digital techniques of the photographic treatment paved the way for the last career change, the last phase of this productive stage. At the age of 60, Pilar Lara stops her artistic production to face a new learning and a new challenge: the mastery of digital image manipulation programmes, not to take advantage of them at user-level, but as her new tools of work and creation. At that moment, Pilar leaves her studio and starts her own virtual workshop. She considers this as a natural evolution of her way of working in recent years, and it also allows her to recover, from previous stages, the two-dimensional aspects and especially, the reproduction of works that could only be done with printing techniques. Photographs, old and new, and objects, directly scanned, are merged into one single image. These are not digital ‘collages’, in which the trick is part of the linguistic structure, but coherent and real images, made out of details from many others. The visual distortions are intended to provide a dreamlike dimension. This last phase implies a certain return to introspection, a reflection on life, but always with a universal intention. Even though the arguments are not hidden, there is a certain concession to surrealism, which leaves the door open to multiple interpretations. It contains photos of her family (previously done only with two of her sons in ‘El peso de las ideas 2’ and her mother in ‘El universo es cuadrado’, a true prelude to this phase), and for the first time she herself appears, only through photos from her childhood though. The passing of time is so obvious that gives name to the largest series. And death is everywhere. Perhaps the suspicion of her own death: her last two works are entitled ‘Dejadme volver’ [Let me come back].

    As an epilogue to these introductory lines about Pilar Lara’s work, nothing better than letting the artist speak for herself. Although, like most visual artists, Pilar has essentially communicated through her work, she has also shared her thoughts orally, sometimes to explain her works, others to express complementary ideas.
  • Some texts by the artist

    ‘My name is Pilar Lara. I am I was born the year World War II started. I am an earthling from Madrid. I belong to the sentimental human race and just like those unexplained instincts that lead us to choose our lovers, I chose the profession of visual artist. In 1964, I finish my studies at the Escuela Superior de B. Artes de San Fernando [San Fernando School of Fine Arts] (…) I work on landscapes and portraits for a bit more than a year, then I get married and after a break I resume my activities in 1979, at the age of 39. Therefore, I am an estranged artist from my generation, like so many others who decided to face the hard task of giving birth and raise children’ (March 2003).

    ‘After the time dedicated to expressionist painting, I felt the urge to reconsider my work (…) As a creator of objects, I feel at ease. With the help of photographs I incorporate the human beings with all their strength, and the rest of the things chosen (sometimes they choose me) add their natural energies, utilitarian, historical…creating impossible series by other means. This way, I filter the world (my ‘microworld’) through my life experiences, but as a reflection of the centuries-old problems we deal with’ (December 1997).

    ‘Travelling by metro is like getting a feel for the city (…) This means of transport is the closest thing to a human anthill, like the ones I used to explore as a child to study their structure and the ‘microworld’ of their inhabitants (…) During the journey, several things can be done, like watching, thinking, reading a novel or finding out the latest news, usually bad news, since otherwise it might not be news (…) The Earth that we are attached to, divided, deteriorated, outraged, is sending us all this chaos back. Perhaps, someday we might bring back order, learn how to alleviate pain, dispute without any weapons, eradicate hatred, control madness, populate other planets wisely, be aware of our limits at every moment. Then, rambling on, with growing angst, I come out of the metro station and head for my studio, and there, having found no answers, I carry these questions to my works, creating an utopia, in an attempt to approach art, in the search of the ethereal, just to be able to take off and fly around the universe we belong to, because, above our neighbourhood, our city, our country, we are earthlings’ (March 2000).

    ‘The motivations of my work? I suppose the same of many other artists, the existential angst, the relief from burden, which lead us to create an utopia, a poetry of hope, waiting for a better world order’ (March 2003).

    ‘I have got this far, tomorrow, no-one knows…’ (March 2003).