Interview of Isabel Oliver by Olivier Bergesi (project manager, MAMAC exhibition manager). February 25, 2021
• What does Pop Art mean for you?
When I finished my academic studies in 1970, Pop Art represented a modern and innovative way to understand the work of art in opposition to Abstraction. During the 70’s Pop Art became a widely international style and was becoming a very strong influence in my own town too, in small groups as Estampa Popular, as a style and way of expression to fight against Francos’s dictatorship. Pop Art gave me the opportunity to explore the condition of women in a patriarchal and dictatorial framework in a suffocating society for women. I approached the Pop style because it was perfect for my communicative intensions of protest and I thought that with this style the meaning of my paintings was more obvious and appealing.
• Did you ever feel member of a Pop group or community and why or why not?
During the 70’s I started to work with Equipo Crónica. This group gave me the opportunity to mingle with the Spanish Avant-garde movements of the period because the group was very well known on a national and international level. In Valencia there was a very important artistic movement whose main claim was to fight for people’s liberty and in this town all the artist knew each other.
• What were the sources of your imagery and subject matters?
Society and everyday’s life. My (male) colleagues were not interested in affronting feminist issues in their work and I thought that it was up to women to handle this subject matter otherwise nobody will have the courage to deal with it. In Valencia and Spain in general, we did not have information on feminist ideas and censorship was controlling each aspect of cultural life from literature, cinema, political critic to music… we were conscious about this situation and we were obliged to travel to France to buy artistic material and to be updated with international events.
• Did you embrace in your work the major issues and events of the period 1961-1973 – in this case which ones?
During the 70’s my work was devoted, from the very beginning, to the condition of women in the Spanish modern society. Dictatorship gave to women only one way to follow, to become mothers, wives and to give service to men. They imposed us a stereotype of woman that we were obliged to follow. Women were not allowed to have bank accounts, to travel or even to have personal opinions without the permission of the father or the husband. The condition of women in the Spanish society was then a priority in my work.
• Did the role assigned to women in the society of that time had an impact on your production and situation as an artist?
Totally!!! The invisibility of female artists was really humiliating and I was very concerned to report this oppressive situation in works like Cirujía, Cosmética, Familia numerosa, Es niña! or Las tres gracias, etc. As expected, my work and the issues I was dealing with were soon rejected: they were not decorative pieces and worst than all they were painted by a woman!
• How did you make your living at that time?
I worked for some years in an architect’s firm, then I started to give lectures on Art at the Universidad Politécnica in Valencia, in the Facultad of Bellas Artes de San Carlos and finally in the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura. Until 2013 these jobs have been my principal source of income.
• Did you receive support from galleries, critics or collectors?
During those years funds reserved to contemporary art were very few and they did not last forever. We have to remember that during that decade economy was not thriving due to the international oil crisis.
• Was the art economy enough to make you live? Did you have any other way to sustain your daily life (teaching, commission or other work)?
As I have already explained, I understood quite quickly that my works were not commercial and for this reason I decided to become a teacher, obtaining a professorship in Painting at the University. My economic independence gave me the opportunity to take care of issues that were interesting to me without dealing with aesthetic or fashionable market demands that were of course more profitable. This personal approach to Art gave me the impulse to paint in 1975 a series entitled La mercantilización del Arte which is much acclaimed today.
• As a female artist did you feel limited in your visibilty and possibilities of exhibiting at that time?
Totally!!! Female artists were not considered as their male colleagues. Women have always had the “handicap” of maternity which for certain activities or professions has been demolishing. For what concerns to me, I even had to deal once with a gallery manager who said that having a girl baby was incompatible with being an artist….something that never happened while working at the University.
• How do you look today at this situation and how do you perceive this renewed or new interest in the work of that period?
Today the work of female artists has been revalued but I think women have to keep fighting to gain more space and visibility in the world of Art. We keep fighting for equality in all aspects of our lives but our goal is still far to be reached. I think that modern generations are well informed about the huge effort and perseverance women have proved in working in such an adverse conditions and the excellence and bravery they have reached in their works of art. In this moment we are the reference that they still need to keep believing in their work.