artnet Asks: Martín La Rosa and the Tradition of Still Life

His work might look classical, but it's coming from a very contemporary place.

Martín La Rosa, Algunos limones II (2016). Courtesy of Praxis.

For Argentine artist Martín La Rosa, the practice of still-life painting is as fresh and relevant as ever. Working in a highly traditional approach, La Rosa deftly layers oil paint to achieve a high degree of painterly realism in simple compositions that feature arrangements of bowls, fruits, and, in his most recent exhibition, flowers. In “Flores Encontradas,” now on view at Praxis in New York, La Rosa presents quiet works that seek to evoke complexity, fragility, and the passage of time.

You can catch “Flores Encontradas” in person before the show comes down on December 31, 2016.

Tell us about your current solo show, “Flores Encontradas,” at Praxis gallery.
It’s hard to talk about it because it’s too recent—with time, one discovers what it is that one intended to do. However, as with all my still lifes, it does have to do with the emptiness of silence. The different element this time, however, are the flowers: Besides the battle that one already has with the canvas, there’s another battle with time and how it affects flowers. I try to capture that instant of life, which lasts about two to three days, before they die.

In some way, a flower is the essence of life. It sums up what happens to all of us.

Martín La Rosa, Flores encontradas (2016). Courtesy of Praxis.

Martín La Rosa, Flores encontradas (2016). Courtesy of Praxis.

Living and working in Buenos Aires, are you inspired by your everyday surroundings, or do you search for your subjects?
It depends on the piece. For this exhibition, these are all still lifes and all the flowers were from around my studio. I could have painted these pieces anywhere in the world, but I painted them in Buenos Aires because my studio is in Buenos Aires.

Your works are unbelievably realistic, almost photographic. What moves you to create work so realistically?
It’s not a personal decision, it’s just what comes up. Realism is something that I like now, it is what I do now, but it is not something that I decide to do or that I set my mind to.

However, I don’t see my work as realistic as other people see it. I understand that they interpret it this way, and compare it to other realistic and hyper-realistic works, but my intention is to paint an atmosphere. Flowers, to a certain extent, are actually an excuse to paint an atmosphere, silence, and solitude.

There is a calmness in your work that is almost tangible. When you are creating the works, are you also in a state of calm?
I do believe that every artwork is an artist’s self-portrait, so if my pieces transmit calmness it might be because I must have some calm in me.

Martín La Rosa, Maceta con flores blancas I (2016). Courtesy of Praxis.

Martín La Rosa, Maceta con flores blancas I (2016). Courtesy of Praxis.

What has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced so far? What has been the highlight of your career or personal life so far?
The most important challenge is to paint “the next painting.” There are some works I realize that I have executed better than others, and there are about 15 to 20 pieces that I can say are the most important paintings in my career. The challenge is to make “the next painting” as good as that selected group.

One of those relevant pieces is a painting called Still Life, portraying my newborn son lying on top of a table. That artwork was exhibited at my solo show at Praxis Buenos Aires in 2002, and I believe that it was one of the highlights of my career. As I said, I believe each piece is a self-portrait, and this piece might be one of the most important self-portraits I’ve ever created.

Do you ever experience artist’s block? What do you do to overcome it?
Yes, a couple years ago I experienced a situation in which I would get to work, and nothing would come up. It lasted a couple months, and the only way out of it was to keep on trying. I did not realize when it happened, and when it went away.

I just woke up one day, and realized that I wanted to paint an apple, and I just couldn’t. It was fascinating to see a previous painting where I had already painted an apple, and discover how it was that I had painted it. In spite of this, I still could not paint it again. It took months of hard work, constantly trying, being frustrated, even crying, until one day, I was finally able to paint an apple again. Getting up every morning, and going to the studio to try to paint an apple, it was through that persistency, that I was able to achieve this again.

What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects or exhibitions?
Now I am very excited to be working with the gallery as well as being involved in an institutional project, which I had never done before.

Martín La Rosa, Algunos limones (2016). Courtesy of Praxis.

Martín La Rosa, Algunos limones (2016). Courtesy of Praxis.

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