Pepo Moreno is a multidisciplinary artist bringing the intimacy of his bedroom studio to the walls of a Parisian gallery. I chatted to Moreno about his creative process, the importance of queer art in the 21st century, and how 70s porn magazines and Catalonian folklore helped him to tame his ‘demons’ - the title of his new show at Galerie Charraudeau.
Unfortunately, I am stuck in London and can’t see your exhibition in real life. How would you describe it to someone, what is the atmosphere like and what was the aim behind it?
This is the very first time that I have collaborated with a gallery and put on a solo show. The gallery approached me after I participated in the group exhibition ‘It’s Lebanon anarchy that bothers you’ (a charity event to raise funds for Lebanon) and they saw the work I was doing at home on Instagram. I had a sort of installation in my room, which is also my studio. The notion came out of necessity because I didn’t have enough space, so I started gluing things on my wall, which became like an emotional mood board of my personal story, my sexuality and the way I present myself as a queer cisgender man. The idea then was to transport the mood board that I had created in my room to the gallery, somehow translating the intimacy of my personal space into a public space.
There is a raw and naive feeling to how your work is presented as if on the walls of a bedroom; it’s very personal and fluid in comparison to the traditional exhibition structure. How do you decide what to put in your work and do you draw a line between personal and public?
Not at all, I don’t really have boundaries. I like to talk about sexuality, mental health and the things that trigger me. It’s a mix and match of things that make me who I am, from childhood to the present day. I spent three days installing the main piece because originally in my room it had come together over nine months spontaneously. I tried to create that same feeling and spontaneity in the gallery. I find that the more I plan and prepare what I want to paint, the less spontaneous it becomes and then it doesn’t feel like it belongs to me anymore. Most of the time, I start from scratch and don’t even think about what I’m going to do. Sometimes I see an image that belongs to LGBTQI+ history and I try to mix it up with my own persona. But the process is always very indirect and visceral.
Demons have so many meanings attached to them, but overall, they have negative connotations. What does ‘Demon’ mean to you and why did you choose this title for the show?
There was a moment when I realised that I was drawing demons non-stop; demons as representations of the things that are in my head and are oppressing, burdening me somehow. The whole piece of work revolves around the things I want to avoid, but I am also trying to embrace. It was pretty clear to me that I was going to call the show ‘Dimoni’, which is a Catalan word. For me it doesn’t have any negative connotations, on the contrary, it’s quite innocent. Back home, I grew up in the countryside, in a small town two hours from Barcelona. There is a saying in Catalonia; when a child behaves badly, we say: “You are a dimoni”, “You’re just like a little demon”. It’s also a figure in Catholicism that represents the epitome of evil, but for us, it just meant being naughty. There’s a lot of Catalan folklore around demons and a lot of tales in which a demon is present and personified and has human feelings. On top of that, it is a very interesting symbol for me because demons at the end of the day are angels who decided to choose free will and not to obey God’s orders. For me, it was interesting to mix the Catholic imagery with the free will of demons. Especially as queer individuals, there is a moment when we have to decide to be ourselves even if we lose parts of our privilege on the way. And this happened to the actual demons; they decided to move away from God. They gained free will, but they were cast out of heaven forever. This was a revelation to me. I decided to use the word ‘Dimoni’ because it is easy to understand in every language.
What are your thoughts on the queer art scene right now? Luckily, I’ve seen much more representation lately. Do you see your work in the wider canon as a sort of activism or fight against heteronormativity?
This is something I’ve been asked many times. I think queer art has historically had this side to it that was controversial and tried to mobilise people to change the system. It’s an aspect that still exists today and is still absolutely relevant. But I think the art scene is not prepared or encouraging. The fantasy of queer art has been shown through film and photography. I think we have to expand the way we see queer art. I am a newcomer; this is my first solo show. I am not an expert on queer art and this makes me feel like an outsider because I built my own way of showing who I am. I don’t want to be put into one category. The word activist is very strong and I’m definitely not an activist. However, people say that queer art has to be activism, and we should keep pushing that. But activism can be translated into so many other things. Queer art is more than activism.
Can you tell us about the materials and methods you use, and your creative process?
Out of necessity, I started working with whatever I had at home. I would find newspapers from the 70s in the attic and use them as a canvas or would paint over some porn magazines. I would use watercolour, cardboard, literally whatever I had around to paint with. That gave me a really important sense of freedom because I was trying not to be too academic. I like to use a format I can personalise and modify. This exhibition was the very first time I worked with ceramics, which was very fulfilling, but differed from these other, more immediate ways of creating. It takes time to dry and to build on ceramic. I had to have patience, which I am not used to. I wanted to create a “brand from hell”, so I made a series of limited-edition T-shirts painted with acrylic. They are like ‘goodies’ you can purchase from hell.
I read that you worked in fashion before. Is this something you want to pursue in the future?
I want to develop this side of me. It’s something that I have always been doing somehow. I’ve been working in fashion and beauty for 10 years, but I was also always drawing, painting, illustrating. I really like fashion and it affects the way I work, my references and the people I know.
What is your first memory of art growing up?
I grew up in a very open household, where creativity was encouraged. We had a studio at home and our house had space to do things. My parents had friends who were artists and they really influenced me, especially when I was a teenager, and I think that was the reason I started drawing and painting. I don’t have a degree; I think that we are all able to create.
You express such a positive message through this exhibition in slogans like “gay is bless”.
It is important for me to have a positive mood and message. I don’t want to come across as simplistic, but sometimes you have to go for the easy message. Especially as a gay person, you experience the easy, bad message so many times in your life: “you’re not good enough”, “you’re different”, “boys do this and girls do that”, etc. So I decided to go the other way around and go for the positive, simple message.
I am going to collaborate with a young fashion brand for Pride this year. I also want to experiment with a new format through some other materials, while always retaining this idea of accumulation and blend of mediums. I’m going to go back to my roots and study the queer scene of Barcelona in the 70s and gather information about the people and movements that feel like a part of myself.