My Life Is Pointless: A Conversation with Joan Cornellà
It’s funny, I knew this day would come. I’m not a dark person, per se, but thoughts of calamity surface often enough, and I knew there was a chance of interviewing renowned Spanish artist Joan Cornellà, when the world’s events might be even darker than his most sinister works. Even now, he continues to up the ante. In the midst of a planet ragged with political uncertainty and ravaged by pandemic, he names perhaps his most important show to date, My Life is Pointless. It’s bold, but Joan Cornellà’s work is always BOLD in upper case.
There’s no question that in 2020, Cornellà is an iconic figure in art. His Instagram has nearly 3m rabid followers, so clearly, his love for biting social commentary and comic strips exploring the darker side of contemporary life have touched a nerve. The work is so bright and cheerful with characters exuding menacing smiles and disquieting happiness that comparisons to David Shrigley, David Lynch or even Gary Larson seem apt. However, Cornellà stands alone, a genius, a genius cartoonist, illustrator and fine artist.
From December 15, 2020 to January 29, 2021, Sotheby’s in Hong Kong will present Contemporary Showcase: My Life Is Pointless by Joan Cornellà, a solo exhibition of 48 works by the artist in partnership with AllRightsReserved. The show sees a new side of Cornellà’s work, with life-sized panels, shaped panel paintings and bronze sculptures, as well as a selection of limited print works which will be released only as part of this exhibition. We caught up with Cornellà after he touched down in Hong Kong, set to showcase works in the great city for a third time but obviously under the most unique circumstances ever. We spoke of satire in times of strife, his love of Hong Kong and some Hollywood moves.
Evan Pricco: How does it feel to travel right now? Did it excite you to end the year on a new note?
Joan Cornellà: Traveling is a privilege, and because of the pandemic, we’ve been forced to confront this idea even more. Goods and services like this will be increasingly unaffordable for most people, which we already knew before Covid. But the pandemic has told us that this and many other things are not working anymore.
I’m not sure if I would use the word excitement... It feels we’re living in a dystopia and it’s not going to change much.
Did you find it harder to create satire in light of the real chaos happening? I know there are some instances where I’m watching old political satire or even disaster movies, and it feels way different. Your work addresses a sinister feeling we all have. This is funny, but was it, in fact, way easier to make the work?
I’d say this year I’ve been really productive, but to be honest, I’m not sure how the pandemic affected my work besides that. I think we all need time to understand what’s happening, and nobody actually seems to know. I still think I need time to digest all the things that happened this year to know at what extent it’s been inspiring.
Did you find you were more productive than normal this year?
Oh, yes, especially when the pandemic started I spent most of my time working. I tend to work in some sort of obsessive bursts of time. But this time, the lockdown forced me to do it.
So many people who follow your work get such a dark sort of laughter from it. I laugh but also say to myself, “Oh, man, this could make people feel uncomfortable.” How often do you make yourself laugh in the studio? Do you ever get to a point where you think something is too dark to produce?
I have moments of joy but I only sometimes laugh with my own. I laugh more easily with other people’s work. And sometimes I reach a point with what I’m doing that it gets too twisted, when that happens it might not be even funny so I have to go a step back (or some steps back) in the process. Sometimes I try to see how far I can push it, especially with the comic strips, but I need to know when to stop. It’s the same when you are making a painting, you need to know when to stop for not messing the composition.
What are you excited about with this show? I would think the larger works would be exciting...
This is the first time I show die cut wooden panels, I never painted directly on wood before and it was great. The last exhibition I had in Hong Kong was 3 years ago, I think this is a special place for me. It’s the place where my work has received more attention and also the place where I spent the most time in the last years, so it feels like having a show at home.
Are you someone who pays attention to the virtual art fairs? Or what is going on in the capital A “Art World”? Because that was the talk of the town this last week. Who do you like right now?
Not much really. My tastes haven’t changed much, I like Guston, Michael Ray Charles, Shrigley… I would also recommend the work of Louie Cordero, who’s a great painter from the Philippines… but you may already know him (Editor’s note: We love Louie).
So you are a busy guy, what’s next for you?
I’m preparing a Hollywood movie, but don’t tell anyone.
See more at Sothebys.com/JoanCornella