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Painting Is an Outlet for Arca’s Fury

‘There’s oil, there’s acrylic, there’s spray paint, there’s Sharpie, there’s glitter, there’s plastic … They’re kind of sculptures that hang off the canvases’, Barcelona-based musician Arca introduces ‘Angels’ (2019–23), her debut painting series, at Bourse de Commerce, Paris. When we met in her dressing room earlier this month, the artist had already spent the prior two nights exhibiting ‘The Light Comes in the Name of the Voice’, a three-day programme comprising visceral improvised performances, a Björk DJ set and her debut paintings.

The 34-year-old artist’s spectral take on pop and reggaeton has won her the likes of FKA twigs, Kanye West and Rosalía as collaborators, making Arca one of the most sought-after producers of her generation. But what precipitated this change in artistic direction towards painting? In a fleeting twenty-minute interview, we discussed her latest work, creative inspiration and why queer clubs matter.

Painting Is an Outlet for Arca’s Fury
Arca, ‘The Light Comes in the Name of the Voice’, 2024. Courtesy: © Bourse de Commerce – Pinault Collection, Paris; photograph: Léonard Méchineau

Jad Salfiti We are now in the Bourse de Commerce where your debut exhibition is hanging in the foyer. What was the starting point for this series?           

Arca I started painting when I fell out of love with making music. What started as a passion became stifled by the industry and its release calendars. I started to feel like there were expectations and that drained me of all spontaneity. I was only able to fall back in love with making music after dedicating myself to a new medium – painting. Even though I studied fine art, I feel as though I’ve entered the medium humbly. I don’t just want to do it indulgently. I’m thinking about intentionality and how to relate to the zeitgeist so that my visual art can leave as much of a legacy as my music.   

JS What is your artistic process from conception to completion?

Arca I’ve had the same canvases since before the lockdown. Each canvas contains, like, five paintings as I would paint over them until an instinct in me said that it is done. So my process is very impulsive, very spontaneous and in defiance of doing things ‘the right way’.   I’m searching more for expressivity, searching more for catharsis and less intellect. I try not to let my thoughts enter the equation when making art, only when it is time to edit.

Arca, untitled painting
Arca, untitled, 2024, from ‘Angels’ series, metal, synthetic textile, spray paint, 120 × 100 cm. Courtesy: the artist

JS How would you describe the difference between thinking and feeling?

Arca Thinking is an over-identification with the ego, and feeling circumvents ego for a more full-body processing of our environment and our internal mood.

JS I would say your paintings are characterised by a raw energy; lots of abstraction and vibrant colours reminiscent of graffiti or street art. But hidden in the canvases there are faces. Could you elaborate on that? 

Arca The faces represent different ‘self-states’ – a term borrowed from psychoanalysis. In each of us, there’s an outward idealised ‘self’ that is usually aligned with the superego, but behind that there is a thriving ecosystem of many self-states.

All the violences, both physical and verbal, that I’ve sustained throughout my life were redirected towards the canvas. I would go into a trance when I made these paintings. I stabbed them, wrapped them in plastic and burned them as if they were bodies turning into meat. The glitter represents incisive fury sparkling in the face of an abyss.

ARCA Bourse de Commerce
Arca, ‘The Light Comes in the Name of the Voice’, 2024. Courtesy: © Bourse de Commerce – Pinault Collection, Paris; photograph: Léonard Méchineau

JS Some of your paintings also contain obscured words. I think one said ‘blood’ or ‘bloody’? Could you tell me more about that.

Arca There’s a whole uncanny valley between the abstract and the figurative. The more your brain has to decode things, the more compelling things become. For example, one painting has the high heels I wore the fuck out of for years on stage. In others, they contain my skin, my hair and dead skin cells because those canvases never left my house. I slept next to them. They were in the rooms that I play video games in; that I make music in; that I stretch in. They’re by my bathroom. It’s the first time these paintings have left the house.

JS Speaking of leaving the house, your paintings also serve as a backdrop to the club night at Bourse de Commerce. What is a queer person’s relationship to nightclubs?

Arca The club is where one finds the means to survive. It’s a place to forge new connections with the other freaks that have been banished from the daylight. It’s a place of resistance. Resistance to authoritarian regimes; resistance to brainwashing via algorithms mediated and monitored by corporate interests. There’s nothing like an underground club scene or a queer space that allows for resistance to systems that function on shame.

Arca, untitled painting
Arca, untitled, 2024, from ‘Angels’ series, spray, acrylic paint, rubber, Sharpie, 120 × 100 cm. Courtesy: the artist

JS Could you tell me more about the title of your performances?

Arca ‘The Light Comes in the Name of the Voice’ comes from when Joan of Arc was answering the Inquisition. They insisted she tell them what God had said to her but she refused to answer. She just kept saying ‘the light comes in the name of the voice’. Even though there was something Jesus-like about her for having visions and hearing God’s voice, they burned her like a witch, yet she kept her integrity.

JS Integrity is everything. So, how do you plan to stay true to yourself, and your personal style, while also exploring new techniques or ideas? Is risk and discomfort paramount to innovation and growth?

Arca Of course. You have to take risks to grow. That’s one of the earliest things that one learns as a creative. To lose your fear of failure is what allows you to face your demons. Otherwise, the fear paralyses you.

Main image: Portrait of Arca. Courtesy: Lengua