artnet Asks: Artist Alejandro Guijarro on X-Raying the Old Masters

Alejandro Guijarro, 73813 (Siege of Beauvais in 1472) (2016). Courtesy of Tristan Hoare.

Artist Alejandro Guijarro has managed to do something rare: Truly combine the old with the new. While many artists and designers are fascinated by the possibility of juxtaposing differing aesthetic eras, few manage to conceptually link art that is separated by centuries in a way that feels truly urgent and relevant.

Madrid-born Guijarro, however, has managed to do just that. His latest exhibition opening tomorrow in London consists of a series of exceptional photographs taken of works in the collections of the Louvre in Paris, National Gallery in London, and Prado in Madrid. He was granted access to submit their 17th- and 18th-century paintings, conducting X-rays, infrared, and ultra-violet scans that result in ghostly images that hint at the wonder of technology, both in its early analog and present-day digital form.

Here, we have a quick interview with Guijarro on the eve of his solo show “LEAD,” opening at Tristan Hoare gallery on March 9.

Alejandro Guijarro, installation view (2014). Courtesy of Saarchi Gallery.

Alejandro Guijarro, installation view (2014). Courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
When I was 12 years old, my mother bought me a camera and I have been taking pictures ever since. Later, in my 20s, I started assisting a commercial photographer. Although I learnt the technique aspects of photography, I got bored of the given language and I felt the need to find my own.

When is your next exhibition? Why should we come?
My show “LEAD” will be at Tristan Hoare, and opens on March 10 in London. The work consists of photographs and scans of X-rays and ultra-violet images of Old Master paintings from the Louvre, the National Gallery, and the Prado.

The title of the show refers to the metal in 17th- and 18th-century paint. This is what the X-rays show, as they bounce back off lead pigments and transform the paintings from widely recognizable images into otherworldly, semi-abstract scenes.

At the heart of this work is a paradox: As X-rays, they belong to the realm of scientific images—they are objective, and possess an unquestionable scientific truth. Yet, by their visual indeterminacy, they also exist in the subjective world of personal interpretation.

Alejandro Guijarro, Berkeley II (2012). Courtesy of Tristan Hoare.

Alejandro Guijarro, Berkeley II (2012). Courtesy of Tristan Hoare.

What are some things that inspire you?
I get inspiration mainly from readings, documentaries, and exhibitions. I guess it changes depending on the project. Lately I’ve been intrigued by science and images from scientific processes, so I have been spending my days looking into conservation magazines, browsing scientific papers, and going to archives and libraries—wandering through their documents.

What is the best show you’ve seen in the past year?

The Abstract Expressionism show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. I was particularly affected by it, as I’ve had Kline, Rothko, and De Kooning in the back of my mind for all these years that I’ve been working on my latest series.

The X-rays from LEAD belong to the realm of science, but their appearance is more akin to Abstract Expressionist works that the original paintings predate by several centuries.

Alejandro Guijarro, P01637a00xf2012 (The Brazen Serpent (2016). Courtesy of Tristan Hoare.

Alejandro Guijarro, P01637a00xf2012 (The Brazen Serpent (2016). Courtesy of Tristan Hoare.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Back in 2013, I was included in an exhibition at the Artipelag Konsthall in Stockholm, “Blackboard: Teaching and learning from Art.” It was beautifully curated in an incredible space.

It was an honor to exhibit my work next to artworks by Rudolf Steiner, Joseph Beuys, Tacita Dean, and Marcel Broodthaers, amongst others.

What are you working on right now?
At the moment, I am playing with microfilms from different archives, but it is perhaps a bit too early in the process to speak about it! I guess I am exploring similar concerns from my previous series, but from a different perspective.

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