Isaac Cordal In-Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain.

The endgame of vulture capitalism. The implosion of the corporate culture. The subtle differences between public housing and private jailing. The melting of the ice caps.

However you have wished to interpret the work of Spanish sculptural street artist Isaac Cordal over the last decade, you probably thought he didn’t hold much hope for our future. Or us. But he says his work is more a reflection of what he sees, and he presents it will a subtle humor.

After a recent visit to his ceramic tiled and flourescent-lit artist studio in downtown Bilbao, we realized that his public art darkness is at least as hopeful as it is critical. All around the studio he has created a variety of rehearsal spaces, vignettes, and theatrical scenarios or displays with his figures interacting with other objects that he collects along the way.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

It is at least as entertaining as it is educational. His sad characters and formal scenes of concrete dystopia are also humorous in their unlikely repetition, their utter lack of comfort, their repurposing of common objects as dire ones. His critiques of consumerism, environmental degradation, militarism, corporatism merging into fascism are sometimes couched by his own understated humor and attitude of childlike play as well.

Not that people were chuckling as they encircled the austere and degrading urban jungle scene he constructed in the Spanish capital for the Urvanity 2019 showcase in the courtyard of the Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de Madrid. The tribal clusters of bald men in suits were situated above, partially submerged in, or up to their chins in gravel from a bombed out lot, perhaps churned rubble created by a drone.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

But did the art crowd also see the two businessmen carrying a stretcher full of wheatgrass? The absurdity is a relief. Are they rescuing a rectangular slab of nature? Possibly cultivating it for farming? Blissing out on a wheatgrass juice cleanse to counter the martinis and amphetamines?

And what about these new human-faced pigs gathered around, looking for a trough? He presents the human/animal hybrids without comment under electric lights that glitter warmly across the compound. They could be a metaphor addressing attitudes or behaviors. They may also be a glimpse into a law-free amoral future where any new life-form you conjure can be sequenced and produced.

(Click here to read our review :Urvanity 2019: Isaac Cordal’s Dire Courtyard Installation”)

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

A graduate in sculpture at the University of Fine Arts near his hometown in Galicia, he also studied conservation of stone crafts and trained in London at Camberwell College. He was a founding member of a digital art community called Alg-a.org, a heavy metal guitarist in a band called Dismal, and a publisher of a fanzine called Exorcism.

As you learn these details about his life in the 90s and 2000s, you gain a greater appreciation for the powerful work of a guy who has emerged uniquely on the global street art stage with his Cement Elipses.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

As hard driving electronic drums, bass, and cryptic lyric loops pounding from a radio on a shop stool, we witness the fastidious artist at work in the tidy studio area in this converted warehouse on a dead-end block. As he circles the center island in his overalls looking for the appropriate steel bit or resin mold he bobs gently to the beat, skillfully switching attachments on his drill and hand-designed vacuum device.

Here is where you see the craftsman at work; carefully attentive, problem-solving industry in play, possibly more at peace while he is creating than when he is left to think too much. He picks up a pink pig figurine and begins the plastic surgery, the fine reconstruction; a gentle whirring, a whittling away of snout and a defining of chin-line.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The result is rough and unrefined, proportions not sweet. He blazes through these final actions and presents his new hybrid man-pig, a satisfied glint flashing by as he blinks. The drill whirrs downward and he sits on the stool for a minute to flip over the figurine a few times and inspect it.

BSA: I imagine sometimes that people must think that you are walking around with a cloud over your head –  but you’re not really. You’re a happy person who thinks seriously about the world and its issues.

Isaac: It’s not that I am choosing the topics. It is something that came by default. It is my personality. Also I make this work because I do not like the kind of society that we have now. I think about all the improvements that we have from our new discoveries – and I don’t understand what the reason is that we have all of these situations and problems. We should be a smarter society and more just.

We can find water on Mars but we can’t feed people here – what’s the reason for this? Why is our only worry about how we can have more and more and more? In that sense probably in my work it is like that because I don’t understand what we are doing, or our idea of progress. I say ‘Wow, it’s incredible that we cannot work on a common welfare.’ So the work is probably a reflection of what I do not like.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Do you think your work is conceptual art?
Isaac Cordal: I don’t think so because it’s pretty direct. It’s not codified. It’s very easy to understand and with conceptual art there is a semantic idea, meanings. It’s more of a movement of art.

BSA: So you been doing this project using cement for maybe 15 years?
Isaac Cordal: I don’t know maybe the first one was in 2005. Maybe before because I have some others that I made in cement that maybe go back 1999 it’s crazy how fast time goes. Because it was in 1996 that I started to study fine arts at the university in my hometown in Galicia. I also went to stone-carving school for five years. We were like slaves there because we were working with big stones – but I learned quite a lot because I learned to do more in terms of carving and modeling clay.

It was quite an experience for me. Most of the school was nice because it was more conceptual or theoretical – and it was interesting for me to learn more about contemporary art.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: How do you feel about this time of your life as an artist?
Isaac Cordal: The future for me I think is a little uncertain because every day is like a new year. I’m laying in the bed hiding behind my covers just looking over the edge. You say, “Oh my God another day that you have to prove yourself, do your projects.”

There are different venues and situations for artists but I think it is a kind of battle, a combat that first starts inside of you and after splashes onto others – your family or maybe your girlfriend. It’s not easy. It’s quite complex. I’ve had so many friends who were studying with me and they were talented but they couldn’t live their lives in this manner. It is a little bit uncertain. People may prefer to have a proper job. For me, probably not.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Do you have a sense about how people see your art?
Issac Cordal: We have to deal with so many fears that this society is selling to us and it seems that you have to think about them. I think the people can understand my work very easily as it is very simple and representative.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: What perceptions or reactions do you think they are having when looking at the “Yard” installation, for example?
Isaac Cordal: The “Yard” is kind of a reflection of ourselves on a small scale. The topics are a little bit pessimistic but perhaps people can see it as a sort of reflection. They probably think about the topic that is suggested behind the installation.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Did you feel a sense of tension, given your worldview about politics and power and privilege and all of the societal structures we work within – your politics are so strong. How do you decide what to manifest?
Isaac Cordal: I don’t want to do real political art. I think it is quite complicated. You have to be very clean. When you do political art you cannot make mistakes. In my work I am more interested in creating a reflection of what I see through the window. Sometimes I think I’m only speaking about myself. We are a reflection of the society and the society is always growing and evolving so probably as an artist we have to grow too.

Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Isaac Cordal. Studio Visit. Bilbao, Spain. March 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Please follow and like us:

____________________________________