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“Filming a movie is like painting a canvas”: Abbé Nozal, Spanish artist


Translated by  Machetera

He is a painter, illustrator, photographer, writer, screenwriter, producer, movie director. He is Abbé Nozal ─ formerly Tomás Nozal ─ an artist who, as he says, uses the same creative praxis in all disciplines he touches.

Abbé NozalAtheist, anti-clerical, conversationalist, cheerful, successively divorced, although with a stable girlfriend for years, he’s the father of a 34 year-old daughter who’s an engineer, and an actor son of 33. This Spaniard (Palencia, 1950) admits that the Internet has helped him to survive, since through it he has sold a good part of his work and he is able to communicate with lots of people in the forums where he participates.

With five short movies behind him, three “without having been exhibited yet, because they are like sketches, never to be shown until they are finished,” this movie maker who would love to create feature films has just presented his last work in HD under the title of The Awakening of the Sleeping Beauty, filmed in English in order to have access to the American market.

Why Abbé, why not Tomás?

I changed my name in 1992 and I did it in self-defense. Three years later I launched my website. Many people don’t even know that my name is Tomás.

How do you prefer to be called?

I couldn’t care less. What I want is for my work to be known and I say it from a functional point of view, I’m estranged from any personal vanity.

But why did you decide to change your name?

Because I was blacklisted in the place where I live; I was officially excluded as an artist. But I prefer not go into that matter, for some time now I’ve only wanted to be positive, I’m reworking everything.

You’ve been painting and exhibiting since 1967.

My first exhibition was held in the offices of the Tourism Bureau on Palencia’s Mayor Street, a place that still exists. Since then, I have not stopped painting or exhibiting.


Poster for The Awakening of the Sleeping Beauty


Do you continue painting? I used to think that cinema took up your time in such a way that it didn’t allow you to practice other artistic disciplines.

I continue painting, although it is true that cinema takes a lot of my time. I’m trying to exorcise it so now I’m filming something on painting.

So painting is in the background?

No, no. I’m the master of my daily schedule. The real problem is that my schedule usually takes up a 24 hour day, so I hardly rest.

Well, you should take care of yourself; I know that a few years ago you had a heart attack…

It’s true, but I don’t take care of myself at all. At the beginning, you’re so weak that you let your body recover on its own. A heart attack is nothing at all, really, except for the fact that the machine that keeps you running gets smaller and less powerful.

Did the “warning” make you reconsider life otherwise?

I was already reconsidering it. Before the heart attack I’d had six angina episodes and I’d begun reconsidering. With the heart attack I readjusted my body and now it understands.

Why are you now overtaken by filmmaking?

If I didn’t do it before, it was because filmmaking is really expensive. When you are convinced that you will live many years, you save or at least keep the little money you have. But one day I realized that sooner or later this life has an end so I decided to burn it. And I spent all my savings on the short movie Marta’s Song, really a lot of money.


Filming team during the première of The Awakening of the Sleeping Beauty. From left to right: Manuel Brágimo, Luis Bravo, Rafael Pérez, Alberto Arija, Abbé Nozal, Cruz García, Javier Rodríguez, Belén Carrión.


Was it a ruinous business?

Absolutely. But I knew that already. Today whoever does a short film knows that he/she is throwing money down the drain.

And you have to add to it that nobody knows beforehand how the project will come out, so on paper it can seem to be perfect but then quite often it doesn’t work.

But that film was awarded the Best Foreign Language Short Film Prize at the New York-Las Vegas Independent International Film Festival in 2005.

That was its only award, although quite an important one. In Spain we only presented it at a dozen festivals; we should have promoted it more. Short films have a very limited life; if in two years they have not “sold” they are finished.

Last September you premièred the short The Awakening of the Sleeping Beauty, filmed in English as a way to permit an easier access to the American market. Do Americans understand it better than here?

No. I believe it can be understood everywhere. I filmed it in English because if this work ever can make some profit it can only be in the U.S. In Spain there is no market for shorts; only festivals. So here we will move it around, of course, but with Spanish subtitles.

Believe me, it is not a gratuitous pedantic exercise, but of logical business considerations. A short film is a product manufactured by a producer who logically wants to capitalize upon it. So he takes it to where the market is.


Making of Marta’s Song, by Abbé Nozal, with Lucía Quintana and Nacho López


You have chosen the hostel San Zoilo at Carrión de los Condes to film The Awakening. Why?

I would say it the other way around: the people at San Zoilo chose us and I’m very grateful to them. The place is incidental. We were about to leave for Málaga, but San Zoilo gave us every consideration. I only needed a mirror and a bedroom with a ceiling 5 meters high. I’ll keep Málaga for my next film.

Has your novel Dollar and the Black Virgin already been published?

Not yet. The novel has been written for many years. I finished it just to be able to make a script from it and now I am finishing the seventh script version with the help of Andrés Longares, to me one of the best scriptwriting teachers in the world.

Do you want to film that story before publishing it?

Sure, publishing it doesn’t interest me so much as being able to film it. Even if my good friend and brilliant writer Manuel Talens (La parabola de Carmen la Reina, La cinta de Moebius, etc.) is determined to publish it. Mycompañerayeah also insists that I should offer it to a publisher. But I’m a radical on the matter. I believe that the contemporary language par excellence is cinema, above novels, painting or sculpture. And our life is so limited that sometimes we have to choose the media through which we want to express ourselves . I prefer to dedicate what little time I have left to preparing the filming ─ in Málaga! ─ of Dollar and the Black Virgin. It is an expensive project that’s resting for now in standby, planned from the start to be filmed in English, because I want it to enter the international market. In our country even films in Spanish have serious difficulties.

What gives cinema to you that other arts don’t?

Cinema gives satisfaction from the beginning, when you write the script, to the casting, the filming, editing ... until you watch it for the first time, in the première at different festivals.


A Real Scream, oil on canvas 100 x 100 cm, from the ArtDollar series


You’ve made eighty-four exhibitions, twenty-two of them individual and sixty-two collective. When was the last time you presented in Palencia?

Back in 1999.


The Goddess of Justice Watches and Gets Paid, oil on canvas 100 x 100 cm, from the ArtDollar series


What is your current pictorial work about?

I’m working on two collections. One is called Bishop’s Hornet’s Nest. It is a consequence of the tons of pages I have written about the Catholic Church and its clergy, a topic that has obsessed me for many years and still does. And this is so perhaps because I see that in Spain secular options are still not respected. For instance, some people continue to overlook the damage that children can suffer by being obliged to say the Lord’s Prayer in public school, or try to make light of the fact that there are crucifixes hung on the walls of a public classroom. It is, simply, an unacceptable lack of respect. I tell them, take your crucifixes and hang them in your living room, not in public places. The series Bishop’s Hornet’s Nest alludes to these things and in these canvases I represent bishops, priests, nuns.

The other collection is about the current social situation and incorporates an audiovisual series.


Education for Parishioners, 90 x 70 cm, oil on canvas, 2007


What does the Catholic Church represent for you?

Ah, the Church, the clergy… the further away, the better. The brakes have to be put on the clergy. Historically, it’s a gang of swindlers, accomodated by cowardly politicians. I cannot understand how the Spanish Government still shamelessly maintains its 1979 Holy See Pact with the Vatican. How aberrant is that, to call a tiny state born of Mussolini’s Fascist whim the Holy See! That1979 pact is just a rejuvenation of the Francoist one from 1953 in contradiction to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; many Spaniards consider it clearly unconstitutional because Article 10 of our Constitution refers and promises fidelity to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

From 1979 on, our politicians have accepted that all Spaniards should pay an immense fortune every year to priests who, as feudal lords, continue to maintain the rancid national-Catholicism to which this country was subjected seventy years ago.


Thirteen Nuns and One Economist, 64 x 80 cm, oil on canvas, 2007


To me the Church represents the maintenance of an infamy, a historical monument to irrationality, the biggest crime against women’s dignity and equality imaginable (it is still completely inexplicable to me that there could even be one intelligent woman voluntarily associated with Catholicism, with Christianity, with Judaism or Islam).


Chrysalis or The Plasticized Embrace, oil on canvas 100 x 100 cm, from the ArtDollar series


What role does eroticism play in your painting?

Eroticism has always been important in everything I do; there is eroticism even in my last short movie, despite the fact that it alludes to macho violence, or actually, because of that. Any excuse works for eroticism.

Do you believe that machismo will end up disappearing?

Maybe with time, after several generations, but I’m not so sure because boys continue to receive a macho education and what they see at home or on TV is macho as well. The terrible thing is that women have been educated in that macho culture and they assume it as unavoidable.

Are you ahead of your time or just an irreverent individual?

Voltaire was so ahead of his time that he might have dreamed of a 35mm film for his Maiden of Orleans, and Leonardo da Vinci was also so ahead of his time that he might have dreamt of sheets of steel as vertiginous wings for his flying devices. Perhaps as far as they were concerned, we might consider them ahead of their time but as for myself, not really. Quite the opposite, I have the feeling that I always arrive late everywhere, except to cinema, which I’ve come to just at the same time that the traditional model is going through its death throes. Film is done for, and if we still see things on a screen it is because the big distributors and exhibitors still don’t want to finance a total digital conversion.


Making of Marta’s Song, by Abbé Nozal, with Lucía Quintana and Nacho López


Today all movies are digitally filmed and in spite of that, producers are forced to convert them afterwards to 35 or 70mm because movie theaters are still not digitally equipped. But sooner or later that situation will change, maybe with government help, let’s say in a year or two from now.

What does Abbé Nozal live on?

I survive thanks to the Internet with the sale of my paintings, graphic work, book covers, posters and illustrations for editing houses. Occasionally, I do ceramic and concrete murals. And I hope to realize my first stained-glass sculpture very soon.

Apart from that, my production company CASIBIEN PRODUCCIONES AUDIOVISUALES is working on five projects with private television channels. As well, other educational audiovisual projects are actually being negotiated with local authorities.

Will you be a rich man if these projects succeed?

I am already rich (laughs). For me money is not a high-priority; when I have it I spend it; when I don’t I hold my breath. Anyway, I only understand profit as a possibility to start new projects nonstop. People who die inactive leaving a great fortune after them sadden me; they subtract happiness from collective life. Their epitaph should say: “Here lies an idiot.”

What about this stained-glass sculpture you just mentioned? Where will it be located?

It is a sculptural group formed by the combination of water, light and color. I want to take color to the squares and traffic circles of our cities. Steel, concrete, stained-glass, water, bronze and fiberglass. The series is called The Memory of Water. It is my personal gift to Alzheimers patients.


Projected stained-glass sculpture The Memory of Water for a Palencia square, by Abbé Nozal


I’ve been insistent about this project for 6 years now. I would love to erect my first stained-glass sculpture in my city, Palencia, but I’m also in conversations with other cities such as San Benedetto (Italy) or Cancún (Mexico). For each one of these cities I have designed a different project.

Is Abbé Nozal an example of the Internet as a good tool for living?

I would have not professionally survived without the Internet. Thanks to it, I’ve grown. The Internet is a replica of our world, sometimes a more real world than that which we call reality.

Do you visit the exhibitions that are organized in your city, Palencia?

Yes, sure, although I go several days after the opening, when the political-cultural glamour has disappeared.

What do you think of the local artistic production?

That‘s a leading question, in the sense that... I have never made any statement about any exhibition and I will continue that tradition. In Palencia there are people with a lot of talent. But the city doesn’t count at all in the national art market, except for a couple of cases that I won’t mention; we, all the others, just watch the circus of the market, like mannequins looking in from the outside.

Yesterday you were a painter; today you are a film director… What will you be tomorrow?

Yesterday and today I’m a painter and a film director; tomorrow I’ll be stiff (laughs). A stiff I hope nobody will say a Lord Prayer to, much less bury with a crucifix. While I am still alive, on behalf of the corpse to come, I request common sense and a little respect, please. Not the least Catholic ritual ─ nor that of any other mythology whatsoever ─ just throw my ashes in the nearby sewer. Priests and religious fanatics, withhold yourselves.


Bishop Onan, 64 x 34 cm, oil on canvas, 2007


Clearly, you are a versatile person…

I am what I am, as Perogrullo would say. It just so happens that creative practice is always the same, it doesn’t change, whether one is painting a canvas, drawing an illustration, writing a novel or a script or directing a short movie… If you think about it, filming a movie is like painting a canvas. One must confront numerous variables and possible solutions through a personal technique acquired over time. A brushstroke on a canvas to rescue a point of light can end up being the same thing as a foreshortened figure in front of the camera or a close-up shot showing the glimmer of a tear.

The Dance of Submerged Economy, 2001, giclée print on canvas, 38 x 38 cm, 30 numbered units

Source: http://carrionglobal.com/web/?p=133

Original article published on 7 October 2009 

About the author

Abbé Nozal and Machetera are members of Tlaxcala, the international network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author and translator are cited.

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STORMING BRAINS : 23/03/2010