Spanish Artist Lita Cabellut Creates Evocative Portraits Using Renaissance Fresco Techniques—See Them Here

"Lita Cabellut: The Colors that Remain" is currently on view at Art of the World Gallery in Houston.

Lita Cabellut, El Principe del Sol. Courtesy of Art of the World Gallery.
Lita Cabellut, El Principe del Sol (2020). Courtesy of Art of the World Gallery.

The Spanish-born, Hague-based painter Lita Cabellut’s impassioned portraits sometimes depict cultural figures who have nestled their way into her imagination, like Frida Kahlo and Coco Chanel. Other times, the figures are strangers that Cabellut has encountered on the street. Over the decades, she’s captivated an international audience with her paintings and unique process, a contemporary variation of the fresco technique—meaning she must work quickly.

Now, the artist has a solo show, “The Colors that Remain,” at Art of the World Gallery in Houston. We spoke with Cabellut about what attracts her to the fresco technique and how trips to the Prado changed her creative life. 

Lita Cabellut.

The artist Lita Cabellut lives and works in the Hague.

If you had to describe your work in three sentences or less, what would you say?

I could describe it in three words: risky, exciting, and unexpected. The risk consists of letting go of what I have learned, the emotion happens when I meet the final decision of the act of creation, and the unexpected arises from the act of creating itself. It is an unexpected creation that arises after a process of arduous discipline and knowledge of the material with which I work. This element of the unexpected is essential. 

Who are the characters you paint and why? What about their stories captivates you?
I am always trying to represent humanity itself through a theme or concept that mirrors our feelings and thoughts. I try to be a journalist of whatever historical moment we find ourselves in. My models are around me, on the street. I find them on corners, in the subway, in stores—they are characters that surround me because I can only paint what is close to me.

In this exhibition, all the characters are based on models who have occasionally represented other series of mine. They are the ones that impressed me the most because they allowed me to tell a story. So this exhibition is filled with my inspirations from the past.

Aside from artists, who are the poets, writers, or musicians that inspire you? Recently you worked on a book project called Bodas de Sangre (Blood Weddings), which reproduces Federico García Lorca poetry with images of your paintings inspired by the Spanish poet.

Bach, Janis Joplin, Camarón, Max Richter, Billie Holiday, and so many others inspire my colors and lines. In recent years, the poet Federico García Lorca has been very present in my mind, and in this period of my life I have been absorbed by the admired great poet. Of course, my other favorites are on the table waiting. 

Your work has also bridged into performance and costume design. Can you tell me about these experiences? There is a gestural aspect to your painting as well. I wonder if you see these as connected?

Working on these opera, set design, costumes, lights, and video art projects has been enlightening. Right now, I am also working on the artistic direction of a documentary about the life of Charles Chaplin, which is a new field for me. What I have learned and have seen very clearly is that the “material” is not decisive. Art uses different materials to express itself—the concept is not only the stroke of paint, it is the force of thought that translates the essence of art into different mediums.

As a child, you lived the first years of your life as an orphan on the streets of Barcelona before being adopted. Do you think your childhood experiences influenced your desire to become an artist? You’ve mentioned how trips to the Prado influenced you greatly.

The first years of my life took place in a humid, dark, and arid landscape that lacked beauty and sensitivity. I think that aroused in me a great concern to know all that is magical, intense, and lyrical in the world that is art.

Art can sometimes have a carnivorous and ruthless aspect because it is so intense that everything that is intense makes you suffer, but beyond all that suffering is the thrill of beauty. And that was the crucial moment in my life: When I stopped being a street child and stood with my adoptive mother in front of a masterpiece that felt limitless: The Three Graces by Peter Paul Rubens. It opened a world full of color, freedom, and new possibilities. I think that at that moment my soul disappeared in that painting and I am still wandering around those landscapes

What attracted you to the Renaissance fresco technique?

Its cracks—a pictorial decadence that includes the intervention of time. That technique is a very important tool in my contemporary work.

Francisco Goys, Two Old Men Eating Soup (circa 1819–1823). Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Francisco Goya, Two Old Men Eating Soup (circa 1819–1823). Courtesy of Wikimedia.

What are the most essential tools in your studio?

The energy and movement of my body. To deconstruct the work I need the strength of my body and an element of risk from my subconscious. My work has two facets. On the one hand, there is the discipline of 40 years of work that has achieved a kind of mastery over portraiture and pictorial composition. The second part is allowing my whole body to do “exercises of freedom” and trust that the previous process will flow into the present.

Who are the artists in history that you most admire and why?

Francisco de Goya, for his social involvement. Velázquez for his sublime line of beauty. Hieronymus Bosch for his way of approaching objects out of place to rethink them. Vermeer for the fragility and strength to capture the light in a masterful way. Edward Hopper for remembering human loneliness. Pollock for recognizing accidents in art and turning them into an identity. Lucian Freud for illustrating human prisons and Francis Bacon for daring to face delirium.

If you could own any artwork in the world (no restrictions) what would it be?

Two Old Men Eating Soup by Francisco de Goya. 


“The Colors that Remain” is on view at Art of The World Gallery through November 20, 2020.

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