Sunday April 14, 2024

Spanish painter who finds beauty in everything

By Jamila Achakzai
April 01, 2024
A leading Spanish landscape and portrait artist, Gonzalo Ruiz Navarro. — Facebook/Gonzalo Ruiz Navarro/File
A leading Spanish landscape and portrait artist, Gonzalo Ruiz Navarro. — Facebook/Gonzalo Ruiz Navarro/File 

Islamabad: At a time when artificial intelligence is making inroads in almost every field, especially creative industries, how much digital technology will impact original artwork is an "enigma" to Gonzalo Ruiz Navarro, a leading Spanish landscape and portrait artist.

"I understand that it [artificial intelligence] is here, and we've got to do something about it in the long term, but as of yet, it's had no adverse impact on my work. Maybe AI-generated art pieces will outmatch mine in the future, but I paint just because I like the experience, which nothing can substitute. It's quite unfair to compare something done by humans with feelings, emotions, creativity, and artistic talent with a machine's work, but what is going to happen to it due to the rise of AI is something of an enigma to me," Navarro told 'The News' in Islamabad. Having grown up in Valencia, the third largest Spanish municipality with a rich artistic heritage, and moved to the United States in 2009, he came to Pakistan two years ago along with his diplomat wife following her posting.

Currently, he's painting landscapes and portraits in Islamabad and its outskirts, as well as the country's northern parts, and has plans to exhibit his works at the country's premier arts council, PNCA, in the capital city next May. For him, painting is a way of expressing himself about the world that is around him. "I am very appreciative of all the good things that make our lives more meaningful and beautiful. I don’t try to convey a message consciously, but probably most people can see my gratitude and love for the things I paint, and I can connect with them through that feeling," he said.

From nature scenery to humans to animals, Mr Navarro finds beauty in everything that triggers his instinctive urge to express it on the canvas with bright colours and bold brush strokes. Art doesn't run in his family as such, but its support has always been there for him to pursue his passion for art. "I was the first in my family to draw and paint. With humble origins, they worked really hard to make it in life, so maybe they'd have little time and opportunities to think about such things. When I realised in early adolescence that art was close to my heart and I should formally study it to take it up as a profession, they gave me permission to go ahead with the idea. Time proved that it was a good decision," he said.

The Spanish artist still vividly remembers the day one of his neighbours gave him a box with an easel, oil colours, and brushes to paint—the first recognition of his artistic talents by society. He was around 10. "I went to an old village, put all that stuff in place, and began applying oil colours to the canvas in careful strokes as a novice artist with absolutely no knowledge of painting techniques. It's a nice beginning," he said. Once in high school, Mr Navarro got into something really unexpected due to his artistic capabilities.

During a drawing class, a teacher with a serious personality came in and asked him to accompany him. Frightened out of his wits, he followed him, wondering what he might have done wrong. To his surprise, the teacher took him to a room with lots of sculptures and said, "I think you should be here." From then on, he drew plaster casts away from the rest of his class in that room amid Roman and Greek sculptures. Inspired by the works of his country's leading painters, Diego Velazquez and Joaquin Sorolla, Mr Navarro attended the local art academies, colleges, and universities for formal education in fine arts, especially drawing and painting, and even worked under the personal instruction of noted portraitist Carlos Moreu Spa and world-famous Chilean artist Guillermo Munoz Vera. He also sculptured in college.

His main painting mediums are oils and soft pastels. "I love both [oils and pastels], as they have a unique feeling and lots of possibilities. Pastels have a very soft quality and a rich visual texture that makes them very suitable for some subjects, if you want to emphasise those aspects. On the other hand, oils are very versatile, and for practical reasons, they are my preferred choice when it comes to plein-air painting and large-format works," he insisted. The Spanish artist finds many subjects interesting for various reasons.

"Some lights, colours, or shapes evoke an emotion in me, while some landscapes or people turn out to be beautiful or interesting to me. I also love the interaction of how the visual world that surrounds us can be expressed with paint and, at the same time, how the painting materials have an interest in themselves regardless of what they represent. Those sensations are difficult to express with words. I just hope the viewer can enjoy my work as much as I do making it, but I guess everybody would have a different reaction towards my work depending on their interests, and that is good," he said. Mr Navarro, who has exhibited his art pieces in his country and the United States and won numerous awards, hopes to "just grow as an artist, being open to other things that inspire me in the future and being able to share that with my students and the people in general." He thinks artists have an important role in shaping conversations around those issues. "There are many ways an artist can do it, and some are more explicit or implicit. I enjoy seeing the variety of approaches to art and its interaction with society we can see nowadays."

In his opinion, Spain and Pakistan share striking similarities: Both countries have a family-oriented culture. Their people are very warm and friendly. And both countries have perennial natural vegetation. He, however, finds some things in Pakistan very unique and refreshing, which, according to him, offer new subjects and ideas for painting.

Having taught art for more than 25 years in Spain and the United States, Mr Navarro has taken a "break" from teaching as he wants to focus on painting landscapes and portraits in Pakistan. "I've received multiple offers for teaching, but since it's a time-consuming activity, my 'Pakistan project' will suffer, which I can't afford. Our [family's] presence here is temporary, so I'll prefer resuming teaching only after going back [to the States]," he said.