Poetic Reflections of Humankind in the Work of David de la Mano

By Jelena Martinovic on April 10, 2019

The stirring and complex murals of David de la Mano explore every corner of social behavior, and he translates this behavior into intricate and poetic works characterized by monochromatic compositions and anthropomorphic silhouettes coexisting with other beings.

Born in Salamanca, Spain and based in Montevideo, Uruguay, David uses minimalist aesthetics to offer poetic visions of the human condition in society and the ways humans perceive the world. Pulling the viewer into the chaos of human existence, his murals tell stories about journeys and exploration, narratives of odysseys, exiles, crossings and collective migrations. In addition to public murals, David creates studio work on paper and canvas, using materials ranging from coffee, pens, watercolors, ink, acrylic and collage.

Sharing a tribal intimacy and constructing choreographies on the walls, his figures march inside a dystopian world, often featuring heads of other animals, such as dogs and birds, and limbs morphing into roots. These characters unite in an eternal and recurring movement, becoming driven by their dreams, ambitions, fears, vices, hopes and internal conflicts.

PRØHBTD spoke with David about his immersion into street art, the never-ending journeys of his characters, how humans have always relied on one another, and the uneasy relationship between humankind and nature.

Before creating murals, you were developing land art projects, public installations and sculptures. What drew you to urban art in the first place?

It was the direct contact with people, the freedom to choose the location of the work, the possibility of independent realization of projects without mediators or other agents, the economy of the means necessary to carry out the works, and the ephemeral nature of the pieces. But the quality that interested me the most from the beginning was undoubtedly the immediacy with which I could start and finish the projects.

You use monochromatic anthropomorphic figures, of both individuals and masses, as a narrative metaphor. How do you reflect humankind in your work?

The human figure always challenges us. Through our reflection and the groups we are part of, we reach the representation of our broader "I," and a possible "we" as a human species—beyond races, borders or other fictions that we created ourselves. Although invented and therefore fictitious, we embrace these as being natural and as our own.

Humanity is a sum of millions of men and women throughout history and a result of their great deeds, deep investigations, tireless explorations and trips to the unknown. A human has an infinite capacity to perform the most audacious and the most terrible actions.

These figures seem to be caught in a perpetual movement, marching to unknown destinations inside a dystopian world. How would you describe these journeys and the drive behind them?

Well, I would describe them as necessary journeys in order to know our limits and to know each other, but also to know the “other,” the "different," to get out of the lethargy in which we sometimes fall, to run more risks and to not settle. These are journeys, as you say, in a perpetual movement that place us in a particular position in which we are always "strangers" in continuous change, adaptation and empathy.

Group behavior is a major theme in your work. What kind of narrative are you looking to convey through this?

We live in complex societies. We always depend on the "others": We need a shoemaker because we don’t want to go barefoot, we need a teacher to educate our children, we need a farmer to sow and harvest. We need each other, and that is what has helped us for hundreds of years to build villages and cities, nations and empires. We are social animals, and we have to build this coexistence in the most egalitarian way possible.

There are many recurring characters within your work, such as men with animal heads or women with roots. Could you tell us something about these archetypal figures? Where do they come from?

The figures and characters that appear in my daily work have been generated and developed after years of research. Some figures have been born from different traditions of the rich folklore of the community of Castilla y León, where there are characters such as the bishop of Pobladura de Aliste [from Zamora], the moss man from Bejar [from Salamanca], zafarrones de Riello [from León] and others.

Man’s relationship with nature is an important part of your practice. In a time when this relationship is becoming more uneasy, what issues inspire your work the most?

Yes, it is true. We are responsible. It is in our hands to reconstruct our coexistence through the necessary measures on a political level. At the same time, and this is the key, each and every one of us should be consistent and decisive.

How do you differentiate the work you are doing for the street and for a more controlled setting such as a gallery while still maintaining your visual identity?

These are very different things. The street is always the place of conflict, the place of real contact. The street always gives you the energy, and the reactions of people are always unpredictable, and you have to be prepared for it. Painting on the street is a conviction I exercise as a citizen and through which I express myself, as anyone could do on the street. This is a particularity of urban art that always interested me.

On the other hand, there is studio work that is simpler in principle but that confronts you with your worst enemy: your artist self. I enjoy this possibility as well as it helps me evolve and develop my research, but it also reveals the opinions of collectors, gallerists and other artists firsthand, which helps my concepts mature, helps me improve my technique and polish issues of the trade. On a practical level, the work in the gallery helps me raise funds to carry out personal projects.

Both street and studio work fulfill a necessary task for me, complementing each other. The street practice sometimes requires a simplification of the forms due to the scale, at the same time being more expressive in its completion, while the studio work is more detailed and requires a greater degree of control.

You are from Salamanca, Spain, but you have been living in Montevideo, Uruguay for the past five years. Has this change of scenery affected your work in any way?

Montevideo is the capital, and it is a large but affordable city, full of contrasts, and with lots of life in the streets. Since I arrived, I have tried to connect and understand the logic of the city. Knowing where you work is the key to establishing a more effective and fruitful dialogue. This experience has also put me through a process of introspection where I could observe my own personal uprooting and the experience of being a foreigner.

You often collaborate with other artists on your murals. What has been your favorite creative exchange so far?

Over the years of working in the streets, I have had the immense fortune to collaborate with huge artists with whom I have had the opportunity to exchange interests and experiences and learn from. Of all the artists that I have painted with, it is difficult to single out anyone. For example, my latest collaboration was in Uruguay with the Italian artist Nemo, whom I admire for his virtuosity, generosity, versatility and extremely creative personality. We painted in an abandoned house, 20 kilometers from Montevideo. The result was fascinating, and this place, abandoned and inhospitable, was transformed forever.

Could you share some plans and future projects in store for you?

Luckily, I have quite a few plans for 2019. I will soon paint two large murals in Montevideo and create a large-scale sculpture. I will also paint in Haarlem, Holland, in Berlin for Urban Nation, as well as in New York, Washington and Toronto. I also have to prepare a work for an exhibition in a gallery in New York as well as an individual exhibition at the Itinerrance Gallery in Paris.

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