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Despite her youth, Elena Gual has developed a unique and easily recognisable style thanks to her star theme, the female figure in different corners of the planet, and a classic technique that she brings back to life and adapts, impasto, consisting of painting with really thick layers of paint. This is how she’s turned into one of the most well-renowned Spanish artists internationally in the realm of painting.
A tireless traveller, it was precisely on one of her journeys that Elena Gual (Palma de Mallorca, 1994) discovered her true vocation. After seeing a Van Gogh painting in Amsterdam, she called her parents to tell them she no longer wanted to be an architect —what she’d always wanted—, but that she’d discovered her true passion, painting. No sooner said than done. That’s how she decided to train as a classic painter at the Academy of Art in Florence, where she completed a three-year degree in academic painting and drawing, followed by prestigious courses in London, at Central Saint Martins and the Royal Academy. Over these years, this Majorcan artist developed her own signature style which, she herself assures us, “is a blend of styles and eras combined to fit the world we live in”. So, it’s no surprise that, recently, she’s signed an exclusive contract with Gallery Red, whose owner, Drew Aaron, is one of the biggest art collectors in New York, the city where she’ll exhibit her work between the 1st and 22nd of September.
You always knew that you wanted to follow your father’s footsteps and become an architect, but destiny changed your course towards painting. What was that like?
During an architecture internship, I realised that what I really loved about it was it’s more primitive side, when everything was done by hand. I guess I was looking for the more artistic side of architecture. Although the real trigger was when I was left gob-smacked in front of a Van Gogh at his museum in Amsterdam. When I came out, I called my parents in between tears and laughter to tell them I was going to be a painter.
So, is a painter’s talent born or made?
I guess, like with any artistic trait, it’s a curiosity you need to have as a child. I’ve always drawn and played with watercolours or whatever I found at home, although obviously being an artist isn’t the first career choice that comes to mind. More so when people keep telling us from a young age how risky it is, which it is. But, in short, I think that to take the leap to work as an artist you must have a strong intention to study, learn, and paint as much as possible.
“Being an artist isn’t usually the first career choice, more so when people keep telling us from a young age how risky it is”
Since you were young you’ve had the chance to travel around the world, how important have those trips been to develop your talent as an artist?
I always took my camera on my trips, so it’s helped me to easily create my work compositions. When I started painting seriously, my works were based on my own photographs. I also believe that learning from such different cultures has given me an outlook that I unconsciously use daily at the studio and which I’m sure has been key to the way I appreciate colour in its different forms.
Those trips have also been decisive in your decision to paint women from around the world. What relationship do you build with them?
Everything started with a trip I took at the age of 18 to India, where I had the chance to collaborate with an orphanage. There, I heard lots of women’s stories that changed the way I saw gender equality and made me throw myself into exploring the female figure. What brings us together and what divides us. My greatest intention is to capture and highlight women’s beauty in all its forms.
And which woman would you choose?
My mother, who’s portrait I should do more often. I think I’ve inherited her strength and optimism in the face of difficult situations. She’s one of the most independent women I know, without forgetting her more social side. I admire her with my whole heart.
How would you define your work?
I don’t like defining my work much. I prefer to be free to create, and defining my style, even if it were just for myself, is something that can limit me as an artist.
One of your distinguishing traits is using the impasto technique, why?
I think I’ve always had an emotional connection to impasto. My favourite painters when I was younger are still my favourites today, like Van Gogh or Monet. During my classic painting studies, my teachers would tell me off for using too much impasto in works that required a renaissance technique, although the truth is that I’m really happy that it’s one of my distinguishing traits.
If you had to choose one work of art, which would it be?
When I was 22, I fell in love with Madame X, by John Singer Sargent. I was obsessed with her for a long time and today I still consider her my favourite work of art. As an anecdote, in the last year of my studies I won a competition that allowed me to choose a work to paint it at the MET in New York. Guess which one I chose?
Do you remember the first work you sold? How did you feel?
Not many people know this, but it was a portrait I made of one of my father’s best friends, and the truth is that the first thing I thought of was buying a dress I longed for (laughs). Beyond the fact itself, my first sale represented a turning point for me, since I finally saw that being an artist was a possibility.
“My greatest intention is to capture and highlight women’s beauty in all its forms”
You’ve recently signed an exclusive contract with Gallery Red, by Drew Aaron, one of the biggest art collectors in New York. What do you think he’s seen in you?
What someone who knows about modern art can see in my work is a combination of techniques. I’d add that they probably see potential because of my age, but, above all, I imagine that they appreciate an easily distinguishable work in a saturated market. What we both see, Gallery Red and I, is joint growth and prosperity.
What projects are you working on?
I’m really excited to be working on my upcoming solo exhibition in Tribeca (New York), with Gallery Red and Voltz Clarke Gallery, to whom I’m really grateful. It’ll be from the 1st to the 22nd of September, and the truth is that I’m dying for those days to arrive. I've been thinking about making an exhibition like this for a long time, and I can’t think of a better place.
Is there something you’re dying to paint? And something you’d never paint?
I’m dying to paint the landscape of Mallorca, and, regarding the second question, I’d say that my assistant always complains that I change my mind a lot, so I never say never, but when I finished my studies, I swore to myself that I’d never paint another still life again (laughs). But as I said, I’m open to anything.