In 1889, the famed Dutch, post-impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh returned home from the hospital after mutilating his own ear. Like many artists would, he decided to paint a self-portrait – bandage included. This very image is what inspired the young and budding artist Nicolás Romero Escalada, who suffered greatly with ear infections as a child. “I was amazed by Van Gogh,” he says, “I became very fanatic about his works. I had the feeling that he painted them with the concept of ‘fever’, with all the lines, paint brushes and textures. As a child, I had ear infections that made me suffer a lot. I kept seeing Van Gogh’s self-portraits without an ear as a solution for ear infections.”
After this, Nicolás became interested in the graffiti scene in Buenos Aires, which inspired him to pick up a paint brush and start creating his own pieces. “Reconnecting” him with the landscape of art, it wasn’t long until Nicolás found his feet, later incorporating his love of graffiti in with the collage-inspired style of painting. “I try to work around traces that are found in a space,” he tells It’s Nice That, often turning towards symbols of everyday life as his muse. This can range from a plastic bottle of a drink “that is 50 per cent cheaper than Coca-Cola,” or an orange from a school lunch, “or even the image of Jesus, perched in house windows for good luck”. Then, he brings all of these strangely specific inspirations and twists them into one whole image, building a compilation of human existence and the elements that surround him.
Working from his studio in Madrid, Spain, Nicolás starts the day off with a pretty standard routine: a good and hearty breakfast, usually involving eggs or a Mexican breakfast. He’ll then head to the studio, sticking on a soundtrack of classical music and Reggaeton when he’s close to finishing a painting. Everything he makes is based off something, like a recent piece titled Robot – devised from a dream he once had of a giant robot, “one of those Godzilla type, half-anime,” he recalls. “You know when you have a dream and you keep thinking about it? Well, it was something like that.”
Nicolás was in Barcelona when the pandemic hit. With little else to do, he decided to fill his days with walks around the neighbourhood and trips to the supermarket. During these strolls, he noticed and consumed everything around him. “I realised that I always ate the same thing: the same cookies, eggs and water,” he notes. “It was as if time had stopped and I could see myself. Then I decided to combine the dream with reality and in a way, I think that is the summary of how I protected myself during the quarantine.”
The image itself is much like the rest of his portfolio: considered, detailed and filled with various objects and ephemera. Cartons, coffee packets, juice boxes, loo rolls and cans are layered atop one another and cleverly composed into the shape of a robot. It’s almost like one of those transformer bots that you see in the films – futuristic but at once littered with the diligent style of the artist.
They told me not to talk politics at the table is another recent piece, this time blending a vase of (nearly wilted) roses, a stack of CDS (like 2 Pac and Kendrick Lamar), a cigarette, vegetable scraps plus a couple of cats ripping to shreds an image of Donald Trump. There’s also a shiny bauble-type object in the centre, and you can see the figures of two people taking a photograph in the reflection. Everything in this image is linked to the artist’s experience over lockdown, from the mango he ate over quarantine to the leftovers of a dish he made the day before a state of alarm was declared in Spain, to an onion shaped like a bum. “In the centre I made a self-portrait in a plastic pumpkin, this is a reference to artists like Esher. But also I painted it when I made the decision to live in Europe.”
A random assortment of things, you might first guess that there isn’t much in the way of context or narrative in Nicolás’ work. Well, there seems to be a lot going on behind the imagery – even more so than the busy scenes that he’s building. “I think what I’m looking for is to question the observer,” he responds when asked how he hopes his audience will interpret the work. “I try to create a language that is an alternative to the one we always use, since it is very difficult for me to communicate in the conventional way. It also shows that today, more than ever, there is a democratisation of the image, which is also dangerous due to the centralisation of information. In the end, it is a fight with many tactics: manipulating the image, questioning the origin.”
Nicolás Romero Escalada: Empatia, oil and acrylic on linen, 2020 (Copyright Nicolás Romero Escalada, 2020)
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.