Ignasi Monreal

Ignasi Monreal

Apartamento Magazine - Ignasi Monreal

It’s a great time to be Spanish right now (if you’re not into politics). I feel like our generation and the one coming after us are proud of taking siestas next to the Mediterranean, but we’ve also worked out how to expand our networking, cross frontiers, and achieve our goals. Sometimes you have to leave your motherland in order to realise how important it is to you; you have to taste the ‘other’ in order to realise that what you ate all your life is actually delicious. For the Spanish artist Ignasi Monreal, who’s based between Rome and Madrid, I definitely think it’s the case.
Ignasi confuses me—in a good way, that is. Not only because of his trompe l’oeil plats bruts, or because he dominates the iPad’s Procreate program in such a way that it’s hard to tell what’s been done on canvas and what’s from a digital touchscreen. He confuses me because he is hardcore classical, but also ironic. I feel the heritage, but I don’t feel that heavy weight that usually comes along with it.
It’s funny how you can construct your own character or opinion about someone based on what you see of that person before meeting them in real life. Especially if that person is currently working with huge luxury brands and you can tell his kitchen is cooking a lot and people are always talking and posting about his ‘food’. With Ignasi I didn’t really have any preconceived persona in mind, and when we met, I finally managed to put that persona together. We were seated close by at a Cartier dinner and had to spend the next couple of hours together. Sometimes those dinners can be heavy. Yet, thank god, I found myself with a super relaxed, easy-breezy, funny, and humble dude that could perfectly have chosen to take on the role of snobby artist. But he just isn’t that way, I guess. He’s actually the opposite; conversations flow with Ignasi. It’s relaxed, like a siesta next to the Mediterranean.

Apartamento Magazine - Ignasi Monreal

You know how David Lynch is super into meditation and says it’s so important in his creative process?


Do you think it’s possible to actually achieve a state of mind where you can control your creative state and say, ‘OK, I’m going in the zone now’? I’ve tried to meditate. It didn’t work. You need years of experience. But a magic creative button—boop.

I wish. I mean, I’ve never meditated in my life, that’s for one. So I don’t know how it works. I just know that the closest I’ve ever got to meditation, or what I think it would be like to meditate, is through painting. I met this guy once who was able to access that state of mind completely.

Just through painting?

Just by will. He was like, ‘OK, now I’m going to paint’. It was like, ‘No, I’m not thinking about it. It’s just letting it go’. I thought, ‘How the fuck do you do that?’ I guess maybe he was more open and more prepared. You know, everybody has their own brain structure. I’m a Virgo at the end of the day; I’m fucking square, and I like this. But it’s a very good question, because I wish there was a way to just switch on. I’ve found it through smoking and things like this, but it doesn’t always work. Really it just comes from inside of you.

Smoking can go both ways.


Yeah. It’s sort of a risky one.

I find it good for brainstorming, but when you have to enter that state it’s actually the opposite, because it makes me question everything I’m doing. It makes me feel more insecure.

But maybe that’s the drive for your paintings, that sort of chaos or insecurity, and then it gives you the force or the good ideas. Maybe if you’re always in the same mindset you’ll get bored.

Yeah, I think that’s why I also find it a good kick, because it’s not something I can always get. But my feeling is that if I were to paint every day for eight hours straight, then I would be—there are people out there, I don’t know how the fuck they do it. It’s just painting all the time. And I wish I could do that.

So what is your day-to-day structure?

Depends. I wake up, I have breakfast, I answer my emails and attend to my things, and then I start work. Sometimes you find inspiration and you’ll find the will to sit down and stay there for hours, and sometimes it’s impossible and you just have to do it because you have a deadline. I find it better normally at night, just because the world is sleeping, so nobody’s bothering you. I’ve found myself at a moment in my career recently where people are asking me—or not people, I guess it was myself in the end, but just finding myself in conversations where it’s like, ‘Are you an artist? Or are you a commercial artist? Are you an illustrator?’ It’s like I had to choose between doing projects for people under commission or expressing my own vision of the world. And then I came to the conclusion that I don’t want to choose. I enjoy both. And, in fact, if I were doing my own artistic expression every day for all projects, I would find it boring.

Apartamento Magazine - Ignasi Monreal

Exactly. Back in the ‘70s, ‘80s, the pre-internet period, do you think artists also needed to collaborate with brands in order to survive at the beginning? Of course, right?

Of course. But not all of them. That’s how art history worked up until the 20th century. The artist as a fucked-up tornado of self-expression that destroys its path through creativity and who’s a genius, that’s a 20th-century notion. Before, the Vatican paid for everything.

It’s true.

If not the Vatican, rich families and the aristocracy were the patrons. Velázquez was painting for the king, but he was also painting people of the street in his costumbrismo. And that was his escape, his way of painting whatever the fuck he wanted. Although Velázquez is a funny one because he didn’t like painting.

Is Velázquez one of your—

Velázquez is my hero of all times.


Not only because of his incredible technique. I get goosebumps thinking about him. It’s just—he got away with murder.


Well, not murder-murder. The things he did were so outrageous, but he was so good at it that they let him do whatever he wanted. Las Meninas is the ultimate. If the king and queen had asked another artist to do a portrait and he’d painted himself painting them, that’s heresy. For one, you’re putting the audience in the place of the king and queen, which is completely unethical because they’re chosen by God, in theory. Two, you’re painting yourself at the same level as the royal family. Not only that, but there’s the dog or the infants and all the crew behind you, and he painted himself with this cross that basically meant he was part of the aristocracy. It was the ultimate ‘I’m here now’. It’s the ultimate ego trip, and it’s the masterpiece of the Prado.

Did they know he was doing it as he was doing it?


They were OK with it?

And they were OK with it.

Because he’s the boss.

Any other king would have cut that guy’s head off. Also Caravaggio did that: you see Caravaggio paintings in churches, there’s one in Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, which is a triptych and it’s all about arses. The main part of the composition is a massive horse arse. I’m sure that when people saw it back in the day, they were like, ‘Wow, that’s a big arse’. But they were also like, ‘OK, well, it’s good’. Nobody said anything. And suddenly we have these masterpieces and it’s the ultimate prank. So that’s why I love these people. They were so good that they could do anything and get away with it. That’s what I strive for in my life. For instance, painting these murals now for Club Malasaña in Madrid. It’s the first time I’ve done murals in ceramics, and I’m excited.

Last time I saw you, at a wedding, you were with your partner and we were talking about how you’re going to start this ceramic project.


Now it’s happening.

It’s happening. We’re focusing on tiles, but the idea isn’t just to do them for a bathroom. The tile is square, meaning that you can lift it and turn it into something modular in 3D. We want to design objects and do so many things with the tiles, and also look at this Spanish tradition of ceramics and take it from there and make it fun.
We want to mix it with technology, as we did with the Wi-Fi routers. Normally they’re hidden. So we decided to take that and put it in the centre of the house; we’re giving it the importance and the meaning it deserves.

It’s a mini altar.

It’s an altar to the internet. And there’s a neon light inspired by a mosque in London that I used to live in front of. It was this incredibly kitsch building all covered in tiles, and at night they would turn on these neon lights that highlighted the frame of the building.

Apartamento Magazine - Ignasi Monreal
Apartamento Magazine - Ignasi Monreal

So the mosque was done with tiles?

It was all covered in tiles. The building turned out to have been a porn cinema in the ‘70s that they refurbished as a mosque. It was beautiful, and it was right in front of my house. That’s what I saw in the morning while I was working on all these Gucci things, when I wasn’t leaving my house. My connection with the outside world was through that mosque and it became—you know, it’s a mosque, it’s God, it’s religious. I would get really stoned and look at it. It was a real obsession, and this was the final thing that came from looking at that building for three years in a row.

Why did you choose Madrid? I feel in Spain now, we’re so lucky. First because of the moment we’re living in, compared to—I also moved away when I was 21. I guess we left because there weren’t really any opportunities if you were in a creative field. Now I feel like a lot of people are coming back, or enhancing the fact that they’re Spanish. Why did you choose to come back?

Because I realised the same thing. I had to leave the country to realise how great we are, that only we can do certain things, and that only we can do them that good.

Is there a strong art scene in Rome? Or is that a romantic thing from the past that has died?

There is a scene. It’s very small. I think the problem with Rome is that there’s no nightlife. I find nightlife in Madrid, this new movement of light, comes from a lot of people meeting through parties. And this kind of culture is lacking in Rome. There are a lot of people who know each other; we all meet each other at the openings because it’s always the same exact cast of people. But there’s no real connection between us.

You’re sort of stiff at openings. You don’t let go.

There’s not a space where we can all meet and exchange. I think it will happen eventually. There are a lot of young artists that left, and now they’re coming back. There’s going to be a revival.

Apartamento Magazine - Ignasi Monreal

Why did you go to Rome anyway? Because you went to London, then where?

I wanted the opposite of London. I was in London for five years and it was a bit too much. But I closed a chapter there. I wanted to work and to do certain things and I beat my expectations. So I was like, ‘I think now is the point to move’, and I wanted a space that was more relaxed and had a better quality of life. I didn’t want to come back to Spain yet, although I’m in-between. But in Rome I found a city that I wanted to explore calmly, and it was the first time in my life that I didn’t have a goal or an idea of what I wanted to do.

Did you go to Rome empty-handed?

Yeah. I just arrived, like, ‘Hey’. I found Rome a very romantic place, very inspiring. Also, I thought, ‘OK, I don’t have any plans’. And then I thought, ‘Well, what did Velázquez do?’


And what did Caravaggio do? They went to Rome, and that’s where they reached their creative top, no? I was like, ‘Well, let’s try’. Why not? Nobody wants to move to Rome. And that’s why I thought it was the coolest.

And it worked out?

I think it’s working out, for sure. I mean, it’s a beautiful place. I don’t know how long I’m going to stay. It’s more of a visit, a chapter of my life between here and Madrid.

You have a really nice apartment also, with a rooftop.

I’m staying in a gallery space. So my gallerist in Rome, she used to live there for 30 years, and now she’s at a moment where she says she’s in the third act of her life. She wanted to stop being a bohemian, and she moved to a palace.

I hope I get to make that choice one day also. She has a gallery?

Yes, she has a gallery. She opened the first white cube space in Rome in the ‘80s and brought Marina Abramović, Yoko Ono, all these performance artists, and then she started this film festival of feminist art. It’s been 12 editions now. She was a visionary back then and she wanted to promote the female view in Rome, which is next-level patriarchal. And then she had this space upstairs and told me I could stay there.

Her old house. Chapter two of her life.

Exactly. There’s this little balcony on top of the gallery and that’s where I live. So I see the gallery from my house and I see the people come and they don’t see me.

Is it comfortable?

When summer comes it’s an oven and when winter comes it’s freezing, because there’s all this glass space. But it’s beautiful and it’s in a beautiful area, in Trastevere, but outside the tourist area. If you follow this one road, there’s the Palazzo Corsini and Villa Farnesina on the sides, and then you keep going and there’s the prison—the oldest prison in Rome—which used to be a convent. And then Napoleon turned it into a prison.

Is it still operating?

It’s still operating for petty crimes, and it’s incredible. I live right in front. It’s right under the Gianicolo, one of the seven hills, and at night the wives of the prisoners go up the hill and shout at them.

No way.

Either the news of the day or happy birthday or I miss you. I’m home and suddenly I hear, ‘Ti amo!’ It’s from another time. It’s amazing.

Apartamento Magazine - Ignasi Monreal
Apartamento Magazine - Ignasi Monreal

Right, yeah. Are there other artists also from the gallery, or it’s just you in the building?

No, it’s just me and the gallery. The people from the gallery come and work in the afternoons. It’s nice to have company, because it’s such a big space.

Was your flat ready to move into, or are you slowly starting to build it?

Slowly. At the beginning I was sharing the space with a friend. He had his workshop on one side and I had my studio and my bed on the other side, all in the same space.

Did you know him before moving in?

This guy? Yeah, but he wasn’t living there. He would just come and work during the day, and I would stay and sleep there. So at the beginning it was not a house. It was a workshop with a bed. And now eventually I’m there by myself and I’ve turned it into a proper house. It was a whole year and very unsettling just living on a bed and being surrounded by workshop stuff. But now finally it’s a nice little comfy studio, and I don’t need that much space to work because I’ll either work from an iPad or a canvas.

Do you have a preference between iPad or canvas?

No, I like to switch. When I get bored with one, I like to go to the other. But beyond that, it’s not just with painting; it’s also with video and animation.

So how does that work? You do the art and then someone animates it, or do you animate it yourself?

It depends on the amount of seconds you need to animate, because each second is at least 12 drawings. You can do up to 24. So 60 seconds of animation is a lot of work. For instance, with the TV show Paquita Salas I directed the whole thing. There was a team of animators and I would paint every still and do a storyboard, and then they animated it for me and put it together. It was amazing.

What time is your plane?

I think 4pm. Yeah.

Apartamento Magazine - Ignasi Monreal

Four? Alright, you’ll make it. Is there anything else you want your followers to know? What are your upcoming projects? What’s your inspiration?

The ceramic projects, which I’m very excited about. It’s a whole new universe. I mean, we’re just starting and have just done this thing for a club, which is hilarious.

It’s a bit—was it Velázquez doing the huge arses?

Caravaggio. There you go, that’s the connection. I was like, ‘Can I manage to put a huge penis and a huge vagina on Instagram and not get it censored?’ And it worked.

OK. So we’ve got the trick for all the influencers out there.

We were asked, ‘Do we need to censor it?’ I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to try and see what happens’. We posted it and nothing happened. At the end of the day it’s painted. It was designed for the booths of the VIP area; you’re in a sort of private space with curtains and everything. I thought, ‘What am I going to put here? Imagine you had a huge vagina. You would have the time of your life’.

And the tiles are like a canvas and you painted on them, right?

Yeah. We worked with the guy who does all the street names in Madrid and all the restoration of the tiles. This guy’s been in the business for 40 years, and he was very happy that we were two young people, and he was willing to teach us.

Does the tile company have a name?

We’re calling it Alfar Ocho. Alfar Eight. Eight after Kobe Bryant, rest in peace.


Because my business partner is a big, big basketball fan.

I don’t want you to lose your fucking plane.

Oh, I’m going to get there.

Apartamento Magazine - Ignasi Monreal
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