Coco Capitan’s Writing Reaches New Heights

Coco Capitán.

During Art Basel Miami Beach, Gucci is opening the doors to its long-awaited boutique in the Design District. A highlight of the occasion is the brand’s continued collaboration with Coco Capitán, the 25-year-old Spanish artist and photographer who renders handwritten phrases like “I want to go back to be living a story” and “What are we going to do with all this future?” as standalone artworks. A selection of these were first featured in the label’s fall 2017 collection, on bags, tops, and sewn into the lining of coats. In Miami, her unaffected penmanship graces the store’s façade. Capitán is also unveiling a new Art Wall—the latest in a series of public murals commissioned by Gucci. Installed in Wynwood, it joins two others by Capitán, currently on view in Milan and New York City.

Is this your first time at Art Basel? It’s my first time in Miami, actually.

What do you think of it so far?I arrived yesterday, at night. So, haven’t seen much yet. I went for a walk this morning…I love the light, I love the weather. Let’s see how everything else looks!

Before this collaboration with Gucci, most of your professional exposure has been through fashion photography, it seems like. How you balance the photography side and the visual arts side or your practice? Or, to put it another way, how do you think about the photography side, and how do you think about the visual arts side? Well, I like working in different media. Because I have this personality where attaching myself to just one type of medium, it can turn a little bit boring. I started with photography, because I think it’s a tool that is quite easy to use. It’s making a moment eternal, which is something attractive. It’s like a research tool: I can go to a place and take pictures and then look at the photographs and remember how it felt being there. I can analyze the situation—”How did it feel being in L.A. when I did the road trip this summer?” Photography for me is mainly about that. Then, there are some pictures that you like more for a specific reason and you decide to print them, frame them, and make them into a final piece. Looking at my photographs, I also add a lot of text. Basically, for me, everything starts in my notebook. I have many of them—like, a whole drawer full of my notebooks. Then I start writing about photographs, from memories. After that, if I still feel that what I want to portray is incomplete, I think of doing a painting, or perhaps an installation. I think paintings and installations are the media that relaxes me the most, because it’s what you need to use when you are talking about something that doesn’t exist in the world. You can paint yourself with wings, and then you are this flying person.

So, these written-out phrases becoming artworks in themselves started with your notebooks? Yes. I’ve had my notebooks for years and years. Pretty much since I learned to write, I’ve been writing in notebooks. I’ve never thought of handwritten text as a form of art. But when I started to share my photographs, whether online, in galleries, or in publications, I always felt that there was a part of me, or my thoughts, or my analysis on a specific subject, that was missing. I thought, how can I make these words part of my art? I decided to start, first in some publications. I used to have a normal Instagram, with pictures of my friends. Then it started to become a thing about three or four years ago.

Whenever I shared photographs, I felt like I needed to find a way to incorporate my thoughts, and find a way to make people read them. What could be visually attractive, or what could make people want to connect and actually read them? I wanted the text to speak as a photograph, so I thought: Maybe if I start photographing my diaries and my notebooks, and make them into written paintings, perhaps, people will stop and look at them, and they will be on the same level as the photographs. So, that’s how it evolved.

Did you actually start making standalone paintings of the words? Yes! I have here a few, actually. [takes out laptop] Sometimes, what you care about the most is not online. Or, people don’t know about it. So, I like showing it. [pulls up an image] This one was an exercise of trying to describe the sunset: It’s called Picture of A Blue Sky Falling into a Deep Blue Ocean. It’s trying to describe the sky and the ocean only with words. It’s an abstract way of painting, and I think this is where I have the most fun, when I’m trying to do something like that.

Can you walk me through the Gucci collaboration, from the beginning to us sitting here in Miami right now? Sure! So, I’m from Seville in the south of Spain. I think Spain, especially the south, is completely different from Miami, and completely different from New York, and different from London, as well. We don’t really have capitalist culture; you’re far [away] from advertising. I grew up not knowing any fashion brands. My ambitions were never about having cool sneakers—things like that, in school, weren’t values of coolness. When I was 17 years old, I moved to London to go to university [at London College of Fashion, part of University of the Arts London], I started to realize that there was a different network, a different level of semiotics. I wanted to do fine art, but at the time I thought that it would be better for me to study something practical, to get a job quickly, so I studied fashion photography. I started to collaborate with magazines. My plan was to be very efficient. By the time I finished my studies I wanted to have my portfolio ready, and have worked a lot. They suggested I go on to do a masters at the Royal College of Art. So, I had fashion photography, which was more fashion and brands, and then, at Royal College of Art, they focused [on teaching] the students to produce work for galleries. In the transition between London College of Fashion and Royal College of Art, Gucci found my work, and contacted me. I started doing photography for them. Through that relationship, and getting to know the team, they got to my written work, and then Alessandro [Michele, Gucci’s creative director] suggested including it in the collection, and we started the collaboration.

You’ve since continued the collaboration with Gucci on its Art Wall project, with versions in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, and in Milan’s Corso Garibaldi district. I feel like it’s a cool contrast, between your handwritten texts existing as these tiny intimate details on bags or t-shirts, and then being blown up for these huge murals that many people can experience simultaneously. I feel like, with the nature of your phrases, they have subjective meaning for everyone who reads them, too. Do you agree with that? Yes, I do agree. I think that’s the magic of it, that I cannot be there to explain it, nor are you in a gallery with a little explanation. There will be people who like it, and people who don’t. I think my writings are quite open to interpretation—I’m not saying black is black, or white is white. I think that’s one of the most interesting things: people say different things about it. If it’s in a gallery only people who are into art will see it. But if it’s in the street then you have teenagers, you have older people, and you have people who are into art. You get all kinds of different reactions.

Writing down these phrases, do you think of them as poetry? Or as something else? Poetry traditionally is a very “thought of” exercise—like, in the past, poems had to have a specific metric. What interests me about narratives and text is more the naïve part of it—like, how people talk, or how people say something when they’re not meant to write it properly. There is a massive difference when I’m writing something in my handwriting in my notebook, and when I’m writing essays for university. And I feel like poetry is so overanalyzed that, I think, for me, this is something else. There are many artists who also use text as art; what I like about that is when it’s actually handwritten, it has the visual part of it. I feel like poems sometimes can feel so distant in a typography that someone else designed. It puts the poets farther away.

So, I wouldn’t really say that I see it as poetry. The visuals are an important part, but the most important part is the message. I care about naive messages, or how to talk or how to say things before they are overanalyzed. This doesn’t sound beautiful, let’s put it a better way, you know? It’s more immediate.