Storytelling

Guillermo Santomà: an avant-garde creator who shuns labels

By Txell Hernández Gil

All pictures
taken by 

Mireia Rodríguez

Guillermo has invited me to his studio in Cornellà, on the outskirts of Barcelona. He greets me dressed in his work outfit: a colourful old jacket, a black hoodie pulled up over his head and large shoes liberally flecked with paint.

Guillermo Santomà

Once through the door, the space opens up into a large, cold warehouse. A container that looks like a den contains some of his works and items still in progress. There are splashes of paint, remnants of post-industrial materials (plastic, polystyrene, silicone, pieces of pipe), old junk and household items that look like they’ve been dug up at Els Encants, the legendary Barcelona flea market.

We go upstairs where he keeps models of his works, which include both art installations and architecture projects united by a common denominator; the poetry of the aesthetic and the conceptual merging into one. Unexpected materials, vibrant colours, unintended uses and great taste in spades.

Guillermo Santomà (Barcelona, 1984) shies away from labels: “For me it’s more interesting to think about interdisciplinary interactions than to limit myself to just one thing. It’s more about an evolution, a body of work that speaks for itself”. He wants to feel free and distance himself from any particular profession. He doesn’t like being called an artist as the word lacks freedom: “It’s what I know, what I've learnt and try to put into practice in a new way”, he says.

He studied industrial design engineering and architecture, degrees he didn't complete but that gave him the chance to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the professionals who would become his mentors. Santomà doesn’t really believe in the power of formal education: “they give you the job title and tell you you’re a certain thing, you believe it and have to act like it, to go along with it. It’s a very social thing. I’m more into being self-taught, really wanting to do something”. This philosophy comes up again when asked how he is bringing up his 3-year-old son, Jan, who he had with his partner, graphic designer Raquel Quevedo. “Children are like puppies, they need to be loved more than taught. That’s what’s really important.

Jan is a happy child, who loves visiting his dad's studio. “This summer we took him on a trip to France, Italy, the beach, the mountains. But he had the best time on the days I brought him to the studio. Here he wears his overalls and does body painting”. For now, artistic creation is just another way for Jan to express himself and Guillermo hasn't even considered whether his son will want to work in an artistic medium when he grows up. “If he does, that would be great; he should do whatever he likes, it's a case of finding out what’s really important to you. Although I wouldn't recommend it because it’s pretty tough, but if he wants to, he should do it. All fields are competitive, but the creative world particularly so”.

"It's more about an evolution, a body of work that speaks for itself"

"Jan is a happy child, who loves visiting his dad studio"

Guillermo Santomà has exhibited in prestigious galleries and museums (Side Gallery Miami, CCCB in Barcelona, Palais de Tokyo in Paris), and his work is recognised throughout the world (the Art Institute of Chicago is preparing a retrospective for next year). He says he was always more certain about wanting to be an artist than a father, and that fatherhood has made him do less navel-gazing and place more value on time. He acknowledges that since they had Jan, he and Raquel have become homebodies and that it's difficult to get them out of the house at weekends. They enjoy doing simple things like playing on the floor and eating pizza in bed. 

The family live in Casa Horta, an existing building Santomà has artistically remodeled and in which every nook and cranny is a distillation of his style. The house uses light and space, and especially colour, in an unusual way. It’s full of pieces designed by Santomà and his creator friends; a unique place that Jan enjoys in his own way. “He loves his house, it's his den. He likes it because it's where his parents and toys are, not for aesthetic reasons”. He laughs as he explains how artist María Pratts painted a giant worm, which Jan calls “my friend the worm”.

As well as having a son together, Santomà and Quevedo occasionally work on shared projects. One of them provides the graphic element and the other the conceptual, thus complementing each other. “Working together has always happened unexpectedly, the same as Jan. He was our first joint project” - he laughs - “and having such a powerful thing in common strengthens the other work we do together. We don't differentiate between Jan and our work, it's all the same thing. It's a way of playing with another element, the conversations merge and enrich each other.

Creativity, contemplation, the day-to-day; elements intertwined in the life of this Barcelona family.

Guillermo y Jan

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