Old Europe


Old Europe


15 years without painting. 15 long years without creating art. With this digital painting, in 2006, I broke the emotional spell that blocked me creatively as a painter. This is the first time I tell this openly, in public.

It all started in early 1991. I was 23 years old and had just moved to live with my girlfriend at the time in Madrid. Until then, I had been constantly involved in numerous projects of painting, engraving, design, music, sculpture … During the period, the last few years I had survived working as an illustrator in a design studio and selling my work wherever I could.

Professionally, I saw no future. At that time, I began to seriously consider making my living as an illustrator of children’s and youth books. For a year, I worked hard to create a portfolio with works less personal than the ones I used to create in my artistic career. Some of these illustrations, from the period 90-91, can be seen in this exhibition Imaginarium.

I visited several publishers in Madrid with my portfolio under my arm and the recommendation of a prestigious Spanish author of imagination books. But, soon I hit a concrete wall. I believe that the Spanish publishing world at the time was not ready for my poetic style and proposal. 15 years later, a great number of very talented young artists from Spain would be able to see their work published in the same style. But in 1991, my work was called out by the editors as “esoteric,” “dark” and “too sophisticated.” An editor even asked me if I was in a cult!

I became obsessed with achieving a style of illustration that was acceptable to the market. I stopped feeling the passion to get my emotional inner world out, as I used to. Yes. I stopped enjoying drawing. And on a fateful day, I realized that when I would take a pencil, I no longer felt the same illusion I used to since I was a child. Instead, I only felt the vertigo of falling into the insurmountable emptiness of a blank paper. A sharp anguish in my stomach confirmed it: I was deeply depressed.

In those days, I was involved in other creative projects, especially producing music. Little by little, the days went by and I stopped drawing, until I came to forget that this was practically the only thing I had done since I was 4 years old. I locked my paintings and drawings in a closet and replaced my drawing table with a rack of synthesizers and an Irish harp. For many years, no one heard about my paintings anymore. Even though, my good friend Luz never stopped kindly asking me not to quit painting. And I paid her back with my indifference.

10 years after stopping painting, I began to work with my partner and wife Naomi in numerous designs and digital illustrations, especially for clubs from the electronic music scene in Madrid. She helped me heal the old wounds. To remember who I was in my essence. To be back in touch with my inner self. To feel illusion. To believe in myself. To be humble. To be generous. To accept the gift with which I was born without embarrassment.

In October 2006, for the first time in 15 years, I painted this work “Old Europe”. Again I felt that old tingling in my stomach, the passion to tell a story, to recreate a moment lost in time.

This painting, based on a Robert Wyatt song, is a journey back in time to the love affair scene between jazz trumpeter Miles Davis and French singer Juliette Greco. It’s an impossible love story. Miles and Juliette met in Paris in the spring of 1949. They were 22 years old and fell in love at first sight. In Paris, unlike the United States, the human rights of black musicians and African Americans were respected. Miles refused to return to the United States with Juliette. He did not want her to suffer the pain and humiliation of living with a black man in a racist world. He knew that she would be treated, in her own words, “like a whore.” So he came back alone with his trumpet, entering a long time of depression and heroin addiction. In the streets of Paris, the love spectrum of Miles and Juliette was forever floating, dancing to the sound of a languid trumpet ballad.

“Old Europe”, this story of eternal love, was a very special gift for Naomi. She cried when she saw it and she told me that she didn’t imagine that I could create such beauty. It still makes me blush. This is the only one of all of my works that has always been hanging on the walls of our homes in all these years.

Shortly after finishing this work, in 2006, I got an unexpected message from Alfreda Benge, wife of Robert Wyatt and author of the lyrics of the song “Old Europe”. Alfreda told me that I had captured her words perfectly. It was very moving! She also told me that she and Robert, before they would knew each other, both visited Paris in the late 40’s and they keep their own unforgettable memories of those days.

With “Old Europe”, thanks to Naomi, I learned that trying to please others to the point of forgetting to create with love, humility and honesty, kills your spirit. And I learned that the moments of passion and total surrender are eternal. Like the ghost of love Juliette and Miles … and the tension of a ghostly saxophone.

Old Europe is one of the works that can be seen in my retrospective exhibition IMAGINARIUM.

IMAGINARIUM / Visions of Sounds
Saturday 21st October, 5 -9 PM
Sunday 22nd October, 11 -1 PM
843 Hiawatha Artspace Lofts
Seattle, Central District
Free Admission


Le Chat qui Pêche,
Rue de la Huchette.
Paris at night,
And the strains of a ghost saxophone.

Juliette and Miles.
Black and white city.
Paris by night,
And the ghosts of two people in love.

I’ll be dreaming again,
Always dreams of yesterdays.
Those days live on,
Safe here in my heart.

Cherchez la femme,
Slips through a doorway,
Out of the night
To the warmth of a new lover’s arms.

Rue St Benoît.
La route enchantée.
Indigo nights,
And the ghost of the moon in the Seine.

I’ll be dreaming again,
Always dreams of yesterdays.
Those days live on,
Safe here in my heart.

Poem by Alfreda Benge, 2003

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