Alberto Udaeta trained and worked as an industrial designer. He made jewellery pieces on the side, merely as a hobby, until one day he realised that this ‘on-the-side’ activity is what gave him greater satisfaction. He moved to country-side near Barcelona, and then there was no looking back.
Here, STIR interviews Udaeta about his practice, and he shares how a seagull after all made a sculptor out of him.
Rahul Kumar (RK): It is interesting that you choose to live and work away from the urban environment, and yet your works are very contemporary. What are your primary sources of inspiration?
Alberto Udaeta (AU): At the beginning of my career, as an artist I worked in the world of applied art. At that time, I followed the maxim of the great design gurus: the form is a consequence of the function. When I decided to devote myself to pure art, I moved with my wife and three children to Sant Feliu de Guixols, a small town, on the coast, north of Barcelona. The reason we decided to get away from the big cities we had lived in before was to address a total life change, without pressure, find myself and go in search of the essential. My first source of inspiration was the nature that surrounded us everywhere, rocks and cliffs beaten by a furious and sometimes calm emerald sea. My jewels went from being smooth and shiny to being rugged, with textures and heavier, the material helped me, it could be shiny or matte. One winter day, while I was walking on a beach full of derelict after the storm, passed a great seagull above my head and it screamed very loudly. When I arrived at my studio, I carved a small seagull in wax and went on to make the first sculpture of my life: Ave Fenix. A sculptor was born!
RK: Technological development offers variety of ways to work with metal casting, yet your preferred choice of process can be traced back to a few hundred years. Is there a particular fascination for the traditional methods for your work?
AU: Given my experience in industrial design, access to manufacturing processes was easy for me. I was used to reading complex mold-drawings and designing tools and models. The difficult thing is to create a sculpture, that after years go by, you see it and still say, it is great. Time is a good indicator of beauty. On the other hand, I like the din of the workshops, the fire, the tools and the dust. There is magic in there: time goes fast and slow at the same time, surrounded by great artisans who teach you secrets from ancient times.
I remember once, many years ago, that I asked an old engraver how to repair some holes the size of a seamless coin in a bronze statue and he replied, “the same way Indians, Chinese and Greeks did thousands of years ago,” and he moved on with his work. Many years later, before retiring, he told me, “I will explain it to you”. He took his time and his hands traced gestures reflecting ancestral tools and procedures, and in the end, there was silence. Now at this stage of my life, I am a person who has a certain capacity to assimilate and value different artistic expressions, giving me some authority to reject what I have called ugly art.
RK: Your large-scale works that take public spaces often lack a direct cultural connotation and your audience is global. What in your mind is the ideal experience or takeaway that you try to generate form these works?
AU: Public sculptures are among the most interesting challenges for sculptors and, without a doubt, bring the greatest personal satisfaction. The piece is not displayed in the rooms of a museum; instead, it is permanently present for everyone to behold, day or night. If the sculpture encompasses one of the infinite expressions of beauty, only then will it be instantly cherished, and only then will locals make it their own. This is why, when I am on site building a public sculpture, I always take time to speak with the local inhabitants about the raw materials, theme, name and value of the piece. I love sharing details about the piece with them…after all, they do own a part of it!
I remember an anecdote regarding the assembly of ‘Eureka!’, a sculpture in the Prat de Llobregat near the airport of Barcelona. When the sculpture was almost finished, I was approached by a boy of about 14 years of age, and we were talking for a while about the sculpture and naturally I asked him where he lived and he pointed to an apartment building right in the square where the sculpture was installed. Years went by, and one day I had a problem with the car and called an emergency service to help me. A magnificent crane truck appeared, bright and clean and a sweet boy got off and when he saw the piece I was carrying in my car, he smiled and said, “I know you”. It had been more than 15 years and he still remembered me. When he finished his fixing job and said goodbye, he told me: “Ours is the best”. When his truck drove away, I thought, he made it his own. Only for that little moment it is already worth living.
RK: What governs your decision on the scale and size of a form?
AU: The measure of the pieces is like an intrinsic magic of the piece itself that must be seen. There are great pieces that can never grow and pieces that are very discreet and when they grow, they reach tremendous strength and presence.
I prefer to keep on hold the pieces that I intuit that can grow, and wait for an order that fits them. This way, when an order for a monumental piece comes, I don’t have to rush for an ‘upon request inspiration’. An old sculptor, a friend, who collaborated with the great Henry Moore, told me he used to do so. Sometimes, I build pieces of a certain size for my personal satisfaction, but it is always because they have a magic, a vibration that makes them special.
RK: An overlap with architecture is natural given the material and scale of your work. Are there particular sources of architectural cultures that have influenced your works more than others?
AU: It is clear that my sculpture sometimes has architectural connotations; both disciplines in certain aspects only differ in size and functionality. I am more interested in sculpture because it is art in its purest form, but it is true that I frequently borrow certain rhythms and forms from architecture, especially some primitive ones. These are elements that mixed with other sources of inspiration like history and anthropology, lead me to a vibrant and powerful result. And this is a gift, to intuit the hidden part of things and make them yours, allowing hidden essences to arise without even being conscious of what is happening, and they take you to a new form, limit of matter.
And then silence.