The Origins of Our Souls – Art by Pepe Hidalgo and Guo Yan

November 10 – 27, 2020

Exhibition The Origins of Our Souls – Art by Pepe Hidalgo and Guo Yan showcases twenty five medium to large scale acrylic paintings by artist Pepe Hidalgo, a renowned Spanish artist living in Delta, BC; thirteen large-scale oil paintings by Chinese-Canadian artist Guo Yan; and twenty five pairs of 8 x 10 inches paintings, of which odd numbered paintings are by artist Pepe Hidalgo, the corresponding even numbered paintings are by artist Guo Yan. Each pair of paintings are the result of the duo’s communication over the language barrier with the help of Hidalgo’s wife Noreen Marte and Guo Yan’s English-speaking friends.

Hidalgo speaks Spanish. Guo Yan speaks Mandarin. They met at an exhibition titled Bridges of Friendship in 2019 at Lipont Gallery, which was organized by the Consulate of Mexico in Vancouver on an annual basis to bring together Mexican artists and local artists of different cultural background to showcase their recent artworks and enrich the cultural life of the community. The two artists’ conversation started at Hidalgo’s painting The Spinners, which is a contemporary interpretation of Diego Velázquez’ masterpiece Las Hilanderas (The Spinners).

Shortly after, Hidalgo and Guo kicked off on a year-long collaboration of the twenty-five pairs of paintings despite the language barrier. They considered it innovative soul-to-soul communication. It was revolutionary for both artists’ careers and the results are stunning. The themes of the paintings touch on folklores, cultural symbols, local art scenes, abstract subjects, cityscapes around the globe, spaces that inspired them and so on.

“Although our styles cannot be more different, coincidences keep happening in our paintings, such as the subject matter. We have a common love for classic works that have influenced us throughout our careers. We must admit that each of us is a prisoner of culture. The art education we have received affects us like a brand, which is reflected in our works without fail.” – Guo Yan 2020

During the year-long collaboration, they each finished a body of work prolifically in their own unique styles as well, which are on view together with the twenty-five pairs of paintings at Lipont Gallery from November 10 – 27, 2020 and virtually at https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=Fwc2qQ9bxhM

Pepe Hidalgo

Pepe Hidalgo

Pepe Hidalgo was born in Spain and now resides in Vancouver. He predominantly paints with acrylic and sketches. Hidalgo studied fine arts in Utrecht, Netherlands. Hidalgo has a distinct element present in his paintings. There is a string or cord that can be seen in most of his work. It acts as the umbilical cord that unites him to the universe and allows him to time travel back and forth as it supports his weight and pulls him back into reality. It also takes on the role of identity maker and can almost be considered to replace his signature.

Pepe Hidalgo Artist Statement

Standing in front of each painting one encounters a moment in time created within the world depicted on the canvas. Each of the paintings is representational, depicts, and thus constructs, a world with a unique space-time that is separate from the one which the viewer primarily inhabits. What each of the depicted moments share is that they present moments of leisure or rest, moments when time slows or even stops, sometimes briefly, at others permanently. Moments in one place and then into another place. These paintings allow one to travel, to cross spaces, borders, time, dimensions, and then return.

The pieces often have an intimate personal ring to them, but they are also closely connected to mythological and mysterious distant natures, personal elements that show both the process side and the object side of the art-making experience. The scenarios in each work have their own story, their own relation to theory and history within art, within the art world and outside of it as well. This conjuring of a range of ‘pasts’ become the unifying element in the series. Objects with historical associations make up metaphors for the great differences and dissimilar points of departure that human beings are allotted. Hidalgo’s art invokes the ever-ineffable nature of time and the equally mysterious way that the past, in art and in the rest of life, can push its way forward into the present moment.

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Guo Yan

Guo Yan (郭燕)

Guo is an artist who is extremely sensitive but aims high. Unlike other female peers obsessed about their women’s identity and emotional struggles, she focuses more on people’s life and experience as well as social evolution and clash. In her tiny body lives a strong and compassionate soul. Inspired by but never confined to individual experiences and reflections on life, she has the insights into the real life and mental crisis of people across a generation. That is the quality and power that has made her an excellent modern artist.

– Liang Kegang, artist, curator and critic 2016

Although Guo Yan is an optimistic and open-minded person in the eyes of her friends, I think she is a pessimist in her heart and a very thoughtful artist. She is a vegetarian and she loves nature. In the real world, she always has a strong sense of crisis. She is also an environmentalist. She prefers a simple, pure, low-carbon, minimalist life. She keeps her material in a very low state. She is a very professional artist and spends a lot of time on oil paintings every day. Many of her works are in the collections of arts and cultural institutions in China and abroad.

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Pepe and Guo Yan

Pepe Hidalgo

About a year ago I was introduced to Gou Yan, a Chinese Canadian artist. We do not speak the same language; Guo Yan speaks Mandarin and I speak Spanish. We decided to work together, and we chose the following experience, to communicate through art. We chose to work with a small format of 10 x 8 inches, as if the paintings were a telephone text. We would communicate by sending images of our paintings to each other. We chose art as the means of communication in absence of a common language.

Using a pictorial means of communication created emotion and surprise. I looked forward to receiving an answer to my ‘text message’ paintings. There was laughter, confusion, and wonder involved in receiving answers. Every time I received a painting or sent one I wondered if Guo Yan understood me and also I wondered if I understood her. For me the experience can be divided into three stages. The first stage was not knowing if we were communicating and understanding each other correctly. The second stage is when I analyzed Guo Yan’s work and tried to understand what she wanted to say and answer her accordingly. My analysis of her images was so intense that I can still remember what motivated me to answer pictorially the way I did. The last stage was more fluid and lighter, communication appeared to flow between us without words, only with images.

The absence of the words gave more vitality and intensity to the proposal since a misinterpretation of the content of the sketch could occur and take the conversation in any direction. Goodwill prevailed throughout this time, regardless of true understanding and communication. There were times I received a painting from Guo Yan that took me away from my work at the time. When this happened, I would take the image on my phone on walks in the forest and along the beach to contemplate on my interpretation of her message and how I would answer it.

It was during the beginning of our pictorial communication that the COVID-19 pandemic started. During this time, Guo Yan began to feel distressed by the situation in her country China, later the same thing happened to me because of the situation in my home country, Spain. After some time confinement reached us all here in British Columbia. Reflecting on if the situation affected my painting, I would say that it affected me emotionally, but not in my style of painting or the content. There were two moments when I chose to paint about the pandemic. One painting represented the end of the confinement by shattered boats and the other, the ending of the confinement with a family reunion of dancing and joy.

We had decided to develop larger paintings from our sketches and to create a painting together. I chose three of the sketches, with the intention that I could demonstrate my method of working. It shows how I am inspired to take a simple image and create a complex painting. A sketch inspires me to realize a painting that may only maintain the essence of the sketch. That is what I demonstrate by creating three paintings from three different sketches. These paintings were created from sketches 13, 16 and 20. Once we reached number 50 we decided to stop our communication so as to prepare for this exhibition. Overall, creating an artwork together was very gratifying and fulfilling. It was extremely rewarding to work alongside Guo Yan.

I recognize that it has been a great pleasure to face this challenge with artist Guo Yan. The project was an additional source of inspiration on an individual level for us both. I think this experience has been and will be useful for both of us on a professional and personal level.

Pepe Hidalgo

The Origins of Our Souls
Conversation between Artists Pepe Hidalgo and Guo Yan

Guo Yan

It was in the autumn of 2019 when I met artist Pepe Hidalgo and his wife, Noreen Marte. It was at a group exhibition at Lipont Gallery that featured fifteen Canadian and international artists, including Spanish Canadian artist, Pepe Hidalgo. His large painting caught my eye immediately. It was an incredibly special alternate version of Velázquez’ masterpiece, The Spinners (1655 A.D.), which was done in a style that I never had seen before. Perhaps it was a tribute to Pepe’s predecessor Velázquez, or maybe Pepe wanted to reconstruct the famous masterpiece. Undoubtedly, he is full of creativity, which intrigued my strong curiosity.

At the exhibition opening, I was conversing with people in English, at which I was not very skilled. Pepe usually speaks Spanish, while I mainly speak Chinese. Fortunately, my friend Liang Hua, who was with me at the event, speaks particularly good English, and Noreen Marte is fluent in English and Spanish. We each communicated through complex translations in Chinese, English and Spanish and exchanged contact information.

About twenty days later, Pepe sent me a message expressing the interest in meeting up again and visiting my studio. A few days later I welcomed him and Noreen to my studio. Because of the language barrier, the three of us struggled to communicate. I learned that Noreen is Canadian and that they had lived in Spain for many years. They returned to Vancouver only five years ago to settle down. Noreen is engaged in Spanish education. From the many details of our contacts, I can feel that Noreen is a very simple and honest lady. I used my very basic English to communicate with them about each others’ recent art projects. Pepe was hoping that I would work on a project together with him and, since verbal communication was so difficult, why didn’t we use art to communicate in this project? “Let’s start a year-long ‘dialogue’ with each others’ paintings!” I was totally sold on Pepe’s proposal and agreed immediately although, over the past ten years, I had been in a state of independent thinking and working, and rarely collaborated with anyone. Yes indeed, art should be the best medium for communicating with people. Isn’t it?

In order to make me understand how to work together on this project, Pepe explained it in very fast Spanish. Noreen took notes in English and then explained the details to me. Pepe’s idea was that he would create a painting first and let me create a painting as a response to his. The size of each painting is 8 inches by 10 inches. We use each others’ understanding of each others’ works to communicate in these paintings. One year later, after we have finished the 25 pairs of 8 x 10 paintings, we will collaborate on two large paintings. We shall use our own styles in these two paintings and finish them together. He uses acrylic and I use oil. So, on this journey, what themes will we come up with? Will this project give birth to new styles? Are we at the point at which we have the freedom to do anything we want? After this first meeting, we discussed the details many more times. We were sure that at the end, the ‘products’ will be the most interesting to be presented to the audience. The art of painting and drawing has its unspeakable myth, and it does not need to be over-interpreted with too much language. This type of collaboration requires a tacit understanding, and there may even be some misunderstandings, but what does it matter? This seemingly simple and direct way of cooperation is natural and true. Creativity comes from the depth of the artists’ own souls and their unique perception of the world. It is also ordinary and beautiful, just like the correspondence between friends in the old fashion, and we did it just by making paintings. On October 26, 2019, this project between Pepe and me officially kicked off.

Although our styles cannot be more different, coincidences keep happening in our paintings, such as the subject matter. We have a common love for classic works that have influenced us throughout our careers. We must admit that each of us is a prisoner of culture. The art education we have received affects us like a brand, which is reflected in our works without fail.

As you can see, Pepe’s paintings are occupied by the omnipresent ‘bubbles’ that look like little spheres at first glance. Through these spheres, realistic and abstract forms overlap. He possesses a unique language that he speaks freely and easily in his paintings. There is a shocking contrast between the world depicted in his paintings and the real world, which is genuinely “Pepe’s world.” He travels through time using his paintings and pays tribute to the predecessors whom he admires. I am envious and taken aback by how freely he can express his world. Pepe is a perfect romantic, persistent and pure, all of which a good artist should be.

It is a coincidence that my works also re-interpret classic art. As a spectator, I am not criticizing reality or describing reality, but creating an entirely virtual world. In my Knight’s Dream series, there are goddesses fighting for freedom, the Birth of Venus, Cupid’s arrow, and many other references across the times, for a peaceful, romantic, and beautiful world. In my Noah’s Ark series, a pessimistic person is placed in another reality and is intimidated by his own strong sense of crisis. When the flood is coming, who is going to board Noah’s Ark? Will angels arrive for rescue? With a perilous sense of instability, Noah’s Ark is suspended in the borderless city, floating above the dark and cloudy ocean, with only a faint light in the sky. Painting is a monologue in one’s heart and a subconscious mapping of the outside world.

In 2020, when the epidemic is spreading, it seems that the end is coming. Everyone is worried. We all have experienced the slowest and the most unusual year. This year Pepe and I have only met five or six times. Communication was through email and text messages. Neither of us is the talkative type. Perhaps we are better at thinking in images, because our minds are filled with colours and images. We always smile knowingly when we receive pictures of each other’s paintings. Interestingly, during this year-long collaboration, we also had many misunderstandings. For example, when I finished the twentieth 8 x 10 painting, I forgot to send him the picture, but only a serial number instead. He thought I was leaving the canvas blank intentionally. He then responded to my “blank canvas” with a question mark. Another example is that he drew a picture of Tai Chi. He was expressing it in a Chinese way of thinking. What I responded to this painting was a Western-style street scene with public sculpture in it. The scene was also filled with whirling shades of the trees, which is a metaphor for the balance of yin and yang. I was not sure if he would understand it. It was like a pantomime. We tried to express our different opinions. Once he said a series of things, but I did not understand a word, but he said, “Sorry, I am speaking Spanish again.” Recently, because we needed to attend to the trivial matters before the exhibition, when we were discussing the theme of the exhibition, I actually understood some words in Spanish, which were completely different from English pronunciation. One more language means one more world. It makes my own world seem small. However, the art of painting is a type of silent language. This reminds me of visiting Hamburg, Germany a few years ago to participate in the exhibition Impermanence, curated by Liang Kegang. There, we communicated with artists from Korea, Japan and Europe at the Northern Art Festival. None of us were good at speaking foreign languages, but we still arranged the exhibition together and helped each other out. After the exhibition ended, the Chinese artists returned to Beijing, leaving me alone. The next day I went to Denmark to check out a sculpture exhibition together with artist Ren Rong and artists from Germany and Korea. There is another thing in common, that is, the names of artists who are familiar with each other are all transliterated. Everyone understands that this is an artistic language that does not require translation.

While expressing our views on art, we occasionally encourage each other. Being an artist is an extremely marginalized profession and a very ideal existence at the same time. I know that his working status is the same as mine. Most of his time will be spent in the studio. Many people think that this simple life is too hard of a life, but it is a way of life we artists enjoy. In my opinion, art is the inheritance of culture, a silent emotion. Art can heal wounds and redeem the soul. Art is also an extraordinary creation. It is an artist’s individual perception of the true experience of life, and art is inter-connected. Yes, art has no boundaries.

Two artists who are not good at speaking English live in a country where English is one of the official languages. Although we came from two different countries, we came from the same kingdom of art. We all love Canada as our new home. Carrying the cultures originated from our respective hometowns, we also are actively absorbing new cultural nutrients in Canada. It is very important to me that this exhibition uses our own artistic languages to construct a dialogue. It is a very precious year for our careers. Although we are immigrants, we have open minds. Our works are not limited to the themes of immigration. We hope to continue to make art we love in Canada. For the title of our collaboration, we settled on Returning to Mountain Ararat, which may be the most beautiful symbol, a metaphor for returning to a new world. It is recorded in Genesis in the Bible that Noah’s Ark was last anchored on Mount Ararat after the Flood.

Guo Yan Sep 29, 2020
Guo Yan Studio in Vancouver

Translated by Toni Zhang McAfee