Masters & Muses
Interview by Camilla Frances
Images from Pablo Bronstein and Herald St, London
Born in Buenos Aires and based in London, Pablo Bronstein is a multi-disciplinary artist whose architecturally inspired work spans drawing, choreography, performance and prints. His work is held permanently in many of the world’s leading museums, including London’s Tate, Le Centre Pompidou, Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Pablo shares with Cabana his experiences, inspirations and obsessions.
The most memorable trip I've taken:
My partner, the poet Leo Boix, and I went to China in 2002 and witnessed a fascinating country in a period of radical transition. We stayed in a traditional courtyard hotel in the centre of Beijing at a time when they were starting to be demolished at pace (today very few survive). Beijing felt like it continued in a highly traditional way of life for many. At the same time the first Pizza Hut had just opened, and it was full of honeymooning couples. I’m obsessed with Chinese traditional architecture and design, so I was in heaven. The temple of Confucius was my favorite, then in a state of gentle decay, emitting an air of calm and dignity. We also went to the Buddhist pilgrimage island of Putuoshan, then a long boat ride from Shanghai but now accessible by road. Nothing stays the same, but neither of us could have imagined China would change so quickly in 20 years.
The best party I’ve ever been to:
Not one particular party, more a period in my life. When we were teenagers, around 13 to 14, we’d go to an abandoned playground in London’s West Hampstead with a load of people from my school. We’d get stoned and drunk on cheap litre bottles of cider and make out with each other.
A moment that defined or changed my career:
There are always times in the lives of artists when we suddenly succeed in doing something that looked difficult before. As a six-year-old, I remember managing to draw something so as to appear three dimensional, and that trick of spatial illusion I've repeated to this day. Often I've been given a break that has developed my work significantly, or allowed me to show in new places, but when major museums, such as the Tate, commission or acquire my work I feel immense pleasure knowing the work will be looked after and made available after I'm gone. My galleries, Herald St and Franco Noero, have always cushioned me through my career, so I have always felt consistency and support, rather than the crazy winds of fate.
The greatest challenge I’ve overcome:
Coming out as gay is a tremendous challenge and achievement for everyone that has had to do it. Professionally, realising I didn’t want to be an architect was daunting – I'd got to architecture school after telling myself I wanted to be an architect since the age of seven – but, of course, a necessary step to realising I was an artist.
My proudest achievement:
Still managing to live as an artist through the sale of my work and continuing to exhibit publicly after nearly 20 years in one of the most short-lived and fashion-prone professions.
The possession I treasure most:
My grandmother gave me a silver sugar caster that she’d been given as a wedding present. It's not particularly valuable or interesting, but I was obsessed with it as a teenager. It opened the door to a lifetime of collecting silver casters. Without it I'd be a lot richer no doubt, but what drew me to it years ago continues to fascinate me.
The best gift I’ve ever received:
Leo gave me a hideous ceramic poodle with a multi-colored pottery beard. It’s hilarious and his most daring gift to me. Normally he just gets me a book, but he took a risk and so it stays.
My favourite flea market or antiques fair:
A silver sale at a provincial auction house is hard to beat, like Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury, Lawrences in Norfolk or Dreweatts in Newbury. It's amazing how much expertise these auction houses still have, and how they are able to get the consignments that they get. These places put on astonishing sales a few times a year and there are always surprises. And once every few years a sale happens that is just full of marvels. I'm never rich enough when those happen unfortunately because I've already spent my money on stuff I didn't really want.
Ideal interiors in three words:
Grand. Deluded. Creaky.
Distasteful interiors in three words:
‘Spitalfields’ style for Financial Services millionaires. Three words would make it 'Financial Services Spitalfields'.
I feel most confident when wearing:
Jeans, boots, a blue shirt, a boring jumper. I have no idea about clothes unfortunately.
My signature scent:
Middle age and its associated disgraces. Combined occasionally with Marlborough by Dr Harris. It's a straightforward leathery woody cologne yet smells a bit difficult, like my DIY tool cupboard.
My all-time favourite fabric:
I love stamped velvet, especially if it’s antique. I love the way it has pattern but doesn’t always give in to it, so it can be treated like a solid colour. I’ve used it on upholstery on 17th century furniture and it looks right for it, and yet it isn’t fussy (not that I mind fussy necessarily).
A new artist or designer whose work excites me:
Martino Gamper. Everything he does – from a table to a vase to a whole room – is carefully considered, but not in a particularly logical way, which makes it thrilling. I would never have it in my house as it's a bit too difficult for my tacky homo taste, but he’s really good I think.
My next weekend-away destination:
I want to see the Indo-Portuguese churches of Goa, but that is more than a weekend trip.
The person I call for good advice:
Catherine Wood, performance curator at Tate. She knows me personally and professionally, inside out, so she can advise and bitch as necessary. We’ve worked together and been friends for years. Normally I call her when I’ve been asked to do something ridiculous by the art world and I don’t know whether I should do it or not, and she tells me to do it. I don’t know why I listen.
The person I call for a good time:
My old friend, the artist Seb Patane. We’ve been going out in London for years (I met him at Smashing nightclub when I was 17). Now we just meet for a moan and pint in Comptons, which is as wild as I get these days.
The most interesting dinner party companion:
I'm crap at dinner parties. It would be easier to list 500 people I'd rather not sit next to at dinner. There's nothing worse than that first three minutes when the conversation starts, and you realise the night is going to be even worse than you thought. Normally the most interesting person at a dinner is sitting on the far side of the table.
The person I owe the most to:
My partner, Leo Boix, who puts up with my ridiculousness on a daily basis. We both work from home and bounce endless ideas off each other, so we manage to spend every waking moment together, often in the same room, without killing each other. He's very kind.
Just one more thing...