In his simple yet visually arresting work The Gray Man, photographer, and sculptor Cayetano Ferrandez explores the “human condition”. It is an exploration that is profound, darkly humorous but evidently tinged by a certain uncomfortable knowledge:
“Gray……… defines the mass, the bland society and human mediocrity”.
That blandness somehow accentuated by his use of dolls as the subjects of this exploration. For all our protestations of individualism perhaps that is merely an illusion. Like the dolls collectively we can be moved and moulded.
How (and did) your childhood set the foundation for an interest in art?
In my family there is no artistic background, I did not stand out especially in anything, but I was attracted to drawing and crafts. For years I asked for a Madelman doll for Christmas. Eventually my wish was granted. I remember perfectly; it was an Arctic explorer in his corduroy suit. Perhaps that is where my fixation for dolls stems from.
Tell us about your childhood in terms of environment and culture again how did it impact your later choices?
As a teenager I remember attending drawing classes, the exercises of copying classic plaster figures was an ordeal. It seemed somewhat boring and slow. I did not have the patience or the discipline to finish the work.
Later photography crossed my path, it was different, magical and above all immediate. Together with a friend, we began to take countless technical and laboratory courses (analogue photography in 1986), contests, workshops and more. In an association of young artists, I met my wife, Begoña Martínez, a sculptor. She really introduced me to the world of art. Together we founded an art centre where all kinds of artistic disciplines are currently taught.
In the mid-90’s I met the artist and photographer Javier Vallhonrat. He brought together two worlds that interested me a lot: a personal work around the human figure, the nude and another work on commercial fashion photography, both closely related to body expression. He made me realise the different readings, the nuances of the semantic richness of the images. From that moment, I was only interested in working with people, in the studio with the greatest control over light.
Looking at your resume your first publicised work (it seems) was Virgins, saints, and martyrs 1990 -tell us about the genesis of that work and how you have (if you have) changed as an artist?
This was my first solo pictorial project around the recreation of religious iconography, the models were friends or family. The work is a mixture of irreverence and sublimation of the everyday, it is a debate between the pagan and the divine. Here the symbolism begins to take centre stage.
And of course, talk about the medium of choice. Dolls seem to be a regular feature in much of your work even though we note in your 2012 work Dance of The Damned, you used live models.
Currently, there are casual encounters with contemporary dance artists facilitating this series. Body expression and the nude have a great role. They are weighted, sick, marginalized characters: loneliness is the great protagonist.
At one point in my life, I found it difficult and convoluted to set up photographic sessions with models. I began to photograph with dolls, first with Barbie and Ken of my daughter’s (Es plastic 2001) with purely sexual connotations. And later with those Madelmans of my childhood.
These new plastic models allowed me to expand the spaces, play with the formats, but above all (and more importantly) the loss of referentiality in the case of Gray Man series. You do not know if they are dolls, sculptures, people, and you do not know their size they are only representations of humans. When you photograph people the question is: Who is this? Now the attention is on the event, on the action.
Explain the genesis of The Gray Man series and the aims?
The work begins as a journey through the human condition, where there are no winners or losers. The social pyramid is constantly inverted. One day you are an abuser and another you are abused. The loneliness in the middle of the crowd is general and the nonsense of life takes centre stage.
I see myself reflected among those characters, I see myself directed, manipulated and I think the viewers do too. They are fictitious representations, grotesque situations but at the same time more real than our own lives. I believe that my work as an artist is to awaken consciences, where are we and where are we going?
And the use of gray as the primary colour: It certainly has a powerful effect but tell us the reasons behind your choice.
The gray man series is the compendium of everything that happened previously and arises from a need to unify all those plastic elements in a single color. Gray is the color par excellence for photographers, (the backgrounds of that color allow modulating the light of the scene) I only extended the gray of the background to the characters, the scenes painted in gray are reminiscent of the black and white of analogue photography. But most importantly, it defines the mass, the bland society and human mediocrity. We all believe and want to be different but deep down we are the same.
Evidently other colours are limited but you do use them-why?
The photographs are all in color, but since the background and the characters are painted in the same color, the effect is the classic black and white. Now the focus is on the form and it is the chiaroscuro effect that enhances the theatricality of the scenes. Only some elements of color can enter the scene breaking the composition or highlighting specific aspects.
How would you define your work?
In 2015 I began to transfer previously photographed scenes to sculpture, now the viewer could feel involved, enter the scenery. It is a new sensation that completes the creative circle. At the same time, I began to make animated gifs, repetitive images, which reinforce the obsessions. Characters who try in vain, repeatedly, to complete an action. I believe that these two disciplines complement, expand, and better define my project.
And your parting words for itchysilk?
Photography restores and comforts me from the wounds that this society inflicts on me. I want to think that my own work as an artist is the best form of self-knowledge. If all this serves other people, time will tell.