Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Last Tango in Madrid...

Hard for me to imagine that it's been twenty-two years since my first time in Spain, more than thirteen since I came here to live. Three years since I've been home to New York and a full decade since I published a full length original graphic novel. I've created a ton of short pieces for various anthologies over the past thirteen years, mostly biographical pieces and mildly unnecessary adaptations of literary classics, and it's not quite what I'd hoped to have accomplished by now, to be honest. With years comes the inevitable decline in health and vigor, accompanied by a wisdom acquired through lessons learned, or so I'm told.
 A gallery setting really isn't my natural habitat. I've always loved drawing and telling stories, with the goal of eventual publication. I love the look, smell & feel of a printed book, the unique qualities of digital work notwithstanding. I'm able to hide it fairly well, but I'm truly a fish out of water when called upon to stand in front of people to present my "best possible self." It's all an act, a talent unto itself, something that I wouldn't pursue if not for the fact of it being a necessary factor in selling my work. "Being the artist" and "playing the artist" are two separate things entirely. After nearly forty years as a freelancer, I still aspire to be the former, especially when circumstances conspire to make me the latter.

After thirteen years, Spain's not been an easy country for me to find a creative foothold in. There's less work for cartoonists here, as in most countries the most popular genres are superheroes & Japanese manga, neither of which interest me very much. I worked in animation for two decades in New York, progressively building up my name and bankroll until the beginning of the twenty first century, but in Spain there's little work to go around and a surplus of brilliantly talented young artists who live with their parents and are willing to work for nothing. (Much like me when I started out... It's the "circle of life," to borrow a phrase from an "old" cartoon.)

All of my work in this century has been for publishers stateside, not an easy task at all during the Bush years. American publishers paid me for the work I sent them over the internet, in miserable US dollars, severely weakened by President Caligula's ill-considered oil war and its devastating effects on the economy.

Spain's been great for me on the one hand... I still enjoy sketching in bars, I mostly like it for the folks I meet & the unpredictable energy of Madrid's nightlife. I've appreciated the support of Spanish friends like the late Josep Maria Berenguer of Barcelona's legendary publishing house La Cupula, Alejandro Casasola of Granada's La Veleta & Salon de Comics and Emilio Gonzalo Mallo of Madrid Expocomic. I've gotten to know a host of marvelous Spanish cartoonists as well... Sadly, after nearly two decades of participating in various conventions and events over here, I can't say I was ever able to find the same level of camaraderie that I took for granted among my artist friends back home. I've attended countless gallery openings, events and book launches in support of my Spanish peers... but not a solitary one of them ever so much as made an appearance at one of my events. More's the pity. (Or the self-pity, depending on your point of view… you're allowed to have one.)
 So, a year ago I started showing art in Bar/Galleries, an accessible alternative to exclusive art galleries which are a difficult marketplace to promote comics art in general, and mine in particular.
 Images from my 2015 exhibitions at Bar Donde Chelo and Taberna Fin Del Mundo are spread across earlier blog entries. This year I presented work at Bar The Gallery and Bar Casa Pueblo. The Gallery was a cozy spot in barrio Lavapies run by Michel from Guinea, Africa and boasted of a warm multiracial atmosphere of music and food from the region. Here are a few images from my brief but enjoyable stay there throughout the month of April 2016.

 Unfortunately the past year for Bar The Gallery has been a difficult one, and my event was the last one they were able to present before closing its doors for good. Shame too, as Michel & Elena are wonderful folks. I'm forever grateful to both of them and wish them all the best.
 In May, I presented a show entitled "Last Tango in Madrid" at the Bar Casa Pueblo in barrio Huertas (de las Letras). It's a much larger space, so I've been able to hang a large variety of work from the various shows I've done. Casa Pueblo was the first bar in Madrid that I felt comfortable sketching publicly in, nearly a decade ago. The legendary Paco ran the bar back then, and it's also where I met Chelo, who I followed to La Taberna Encantada and later, to her own wonderful bar Donde Chelo. Thanks to Arturo for inviting me to show here at the new Casa Pueblo... That brings us full circle, so here are some photos from the current exposition, which runs there until May 31st.

 The day after the inauguration, I ran into my friend Nicole Pearson while en route to Casa Pueblo. She leads a popular group on wine tasting tours throughout the city and she brought the whole gang along with her! A grand time was had.

 So, after a long year of exhibiting and planning exhibitions, I did indeed sell quite a few pieces. I'd like to share a few more images, sent to me by folks kind enough to have purchased my art, mostly expat friends and dear Spanish family who chose to share these photos of their homes with us. That's a luxury few artists ever get... the work belongs to the client now. It's a rare opportunity, for me anyway, to view my designs in such a personal context.

 Thanks to all. As to whether this will truly be my "Last Tango in Madrid," I can't honestly say. There are so many factors, both financial & emotional swirling around me right now that I'm doing the most intense soul searching of my life. Knowing what one needs to do and finding the courage to do it, are once more, two separate things entirely. But in a year when so many of my favorite artists are passing on, I'm uncomfortably reminded that everything has an expiration date. Including cartoonists.

Lance Tooks