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Elena Garrigolas, New High Heels, 2023, Oil on canvas, 160 x 175 cm

Elena Garrigolas, New High Heels, 2023, Oil on canvas, 160 x 175 cm.jpg

27 November 2023

‘Raw, Political and Personal’ - Meet Elena Garrigolas, the Spanish artist bridging a history of feminist art and 21st century internet culture

KICKI BOSTIC

Elena Garrigolas at Saatchi Yates is the solo debut of the exciting female talent that draws inspiration from dreamscapes, internet culture and personal experience to create provocative and visceral self portraiture that is truly outlandish and unique in style.  

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When you enter the Saatchi Yates Gallery you are immediately confronted by two three-foot high heels. Aptly titled ‘New High Heels’ the humorous display features two male figures and two enlarged feet. Both subjects are individually tasked with upholding what appears to be a female foot. Their raised knees elevate the base of the foot, their upper limbs grasp onto the forefoot, and their entire being forms the body of a shoe - these two men are merely footwear. Garrigolas has playfully arranged these figures to appear as shoes in her piece and the male body has been reduced to an inanimate accessory. The viewer is left wondering whether the piece is a visual reckoning of personal feelings or experiences, or even serves as a wider commentary on societal gender roles. Perhaps even an exciting blend of both. 

 

Religion has had a profound impact on both Garrigolas’ life and practice. Growing up in a religious household and attending a single sex Catholic school, the artist was taught ‘to not desire [her] body’ and instead ‘to hide it, like it doesn't exist’ - and whilst  Garrigolas refused to subscribe to such an ideology, her works allude to the pain caused by exposure to such ideals in her adolescence. For Garrigolas, everything she paints attempts to deal with the emotional aftermath of this aspect of her upbringing, yet her oeuvre is not solely inspired by religion. Instead the artist utilises satirical scenes, anthropomorphic imagery and marginalia to deal with a variety of themes from motherhood to beauty, to internet culture and feminism. 

 

As the 25-year-old artist breaks onto the UK contemporary art scene, she sits down with Kicki Bostic to discuss her influences, feminism and the impact of internet culture on her work.

What is your current relationship with religion, and if you have one, how does it influence your practice?

I don’t have any relationship with religion now. The only link I still have with it is that I’m baptised, I did the First Holy Communion and the Confirmation. 

 

I really like to question and research everything that I've been taught and told and turn it into art. To express my repressed feelings, to free myself from these thoughts and to be able to unlearn many things that still haunt me every day regarding relationships, family and my own body.  

How have your experiences with religion impacted your artistic approach?

I like to talk about what’s always been taboo which is intrinsically related to the rules, precepts and the way to behave.

 

The taboos surrounding female sexuality and gender roles are quite evident within Catholicism - there's a differentiation between men and women, and this discrimination affects women so much more. So I guess it has a huge impact on what I do, because I can’t really take out my feelings when I draw something so personal. Everything is connected, and religion is always there.

Elena Garrigolas, 2020, 2023, Oil on panel, 169 x 148 cm

Your work champions your feminism. Has this always been the case or something that has developed as your practice has evolved?

It has definitely developed as my practice has evolved. My university years were awful - I couldn't figure out what I wanted to say as an artist, let alone say it. I would just draw disfigured faces, self- portraits with charcoal and scenes that looked like they were straight out of scary movies. It wasn't until the final project that I started to talk about my own experience as a woman in the religious space. I really stood by the phrase “the personal is political”. Everything that affects a person as an individual, affects society as a whole.  

Who are your greatest influences?

Kate Millet, Miriam Cahn, Nancy Spero, Tetsuya Ishida, Jan Švankmajer, El Bosco, Goya and Roland Tooper. Also all the marginalia from Medieval Manuscripts.

Some may liken your work to Frida Khalo and Nancy Spero - are these artists a source of  inspiration for you? Furthermore, do you derive greater inspiration from historic or contemporary figures?

It's funny because I’ve never mentioned Frida Khalo. I like her work but she's never been an influence to me or someone I've looked up to.

Going back to your question, I really just find inspiration everywhere, so I would say both. But right now it’s a mix between the internet world and the marginalia from medieval manuscripts.

 

I would say I feel more in touch with contemporary figures though. 

Elena Garrigolas, Retrato De Mi Padre Tocando La Guitarra, 2023, Oil on canvas, 150 x 180

When looking at your pieces, your fascination with selfhood is alluded to - are there aspects of yourself that you find yourself drawn to exploring or depicting?

I like to talk about my insecurities, fears and dreams; about my relationship with others and my own body. That helps me to get a better vision of my own self, and it allows me to really feel.

 

I cried on the studio floor once I finished all my work for the show. It’s a whole process, but it helps me. I like to do research on other female artists, see what they do and read about their discourse - it's like my own therapy. I feel so held and understood, like my feelings are valid. That's what I want for other women when they see my work.

How has art enabled you to confront traumatic personal experiences?

It has really helped me to organise my ideas, open my mind and find peace and calamity both in myself and with my decisions. To me, drawing is like writing a diary - it helps me express myself since I’m not that good with words. I’ve always struggled with saying how I feel, I would be completely mute when someone asked me about anything that hurt me. Being able to just draw my feelings out is a way of communicating. It’s like I created my own language.

Elena Garrigolas, Wild Night, 2023, Oil on canvas, 150 x 180 cm 2.jpg

Whilst your work consistently engages with a myriad of themes and ideas, if you could summarise your practice in three words, which would you choose?

 Raw, political and personal.

How has internet culture influenced your work and do you think that you aspire to make your work ‘memeable’ whether consciously or subconsciously?

I don't really want my work to be categorised as memes. I just get inspiration from the craziness of the internet, and that enables me to talk about problems that affect me.

 

I discovered marginalia because I had a sticker on Whatsapp of a nun harvesting penises from a tree and putting them into her basket. There's been memes of those little drawings all over the internet.

 

I started out with religious imagery, then stock images, then memes - but I never wanted to make my work memeable. It is serious, I just add a touch of humour because it's my way of coping with all that I feel. Marginalia and memes just seem right to me. 

 

It’s also a way of talking about the present within my work - what surrounds me, how addicted we are to our phones, our humour, our obsession with ourselves.  

*Elena Garrigolas’s solo show is on at Saatchi Yates until the 17th December 2023. For further information visit the Saatchi Yates website.*

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