Venture to the furthest corners of the Internet and you will uncover the darkest truths of the human condition; demonstrations of depravity, remorseless acts of animosity, and atrocities that, once witnessed, will forever be burnt into the retina of your mind’s eye. While many of these artifacts hide in clandestine digital dungeons, the artwork of Barcelona-based cartoonist and illustrator, Joan Cornellà, exhibits humanity at its worst in plain sight. Cornellà’s comical world is one without words, where violence and absurdity define the natural order and one can lose a limb without losing a smile, while exploring the harsh realities that make up our social fabric with nonchalant hilarity. Naturally, the Internet has taken a fervent liking to it. Before his first solo exhibition in Singapore, we speak with Cornellà to explore the makings of his madman visions, and how social media has become a necessary evil in launching his artistic career to supernova status.
Hi Joan! Before creating the absurdist artworks you’re known for today, were there any other kinds of art you explored?
I studied fine arts and, during that time, I used to paint with an abstract style. When I finished college, I hated the art world for its pretentiousness, but drawing comics was great – it was a kind of relief. Now there are two ways of understanding my work: one is more related to comics or ‘trashy’ stuff that you can find on the Internet; the other is more related to art. For example, you have referred to my work as artwork. Both ways of seeing my work are fine.
Upon first seeing your works, it reminded us of some of the more outrageous childhood cartoons, like The Ren & Stimpy Show and Invader Zim. What kind of cartoons did you enjoy growing up?
When I was a kid, I loved Dr. Slump; it was the best cartoon and I grew up with that kind of humour. After that, I was more interested in American underground comics. Comics were more a source of inspiration to me than animations. I was never into animated series; I just preferred comics or comedy sketches played by actors.
We’d be worried if any of your illustrations happened to you in real life, but have there been any situations you’ve experienced that have made it into your comics?
I live in a country with one of the lowest rates of homicide. I’ve never seen a situation similar to my comics in real life, and I hope that I never do. This is just fiction, and that’s why we can laugh at my comics. The violence in my work is always treated in an absurd way; the main thing in them is the joke, and the crimes depicted in them are ways to reach laughter. Death is always the main theme, but it can be sort of cathartic to laugh at something that’s essentially taboo in most cultures of the world.
"Social networks are evil and, at the same time, the best way to spread your work these days."
Is it comforting or concerning that so many people enjoy the disturbing humour within your works?
I think neither. The main thing is to have sense of humour; I would only be concerned if people couldn’t enjoy my work. I like the line between humorous and haunting. If you look at Franz Kafka or Luis Buñuel’s work, you can see that this line is so thin. I enjoy that so much.
The subjects in your comics have humorous, yet haunting, smiles in even the most gruesome scenarios. Is this in any way a commentary on peoples’ reactions (or ignorance) to the horrible things that happen in our world?
I wouldn’t say that, but I like that my work can be understood in different ways. I like that my work speaks for itself and has an ambivalent idea. Some people think that my comics have deep meaning with a political or philosophical commentary. Let’s say that it’s just about making a joke, but it’s OK if people think there’s an inherent deep meaning. I think it’s important to let people think for themselves. I don’t have a monolithic idea about my works.
Social media has not only served to promote art like yours, but has now become an artistic platform in its own right. What are your feelings on using social media like Facebook to further your reach, while also publishing your works in less transitory mediums like print?
If I didn’t post all my work on Facebook, I wouldn’t have this huge audience right now. Social networks are evil and, at the same time, the best way to spread your work these days. I’d prefer the Internet to be a place where everybody can express themselves without censorship – but that’s the way it is, with owners that can decide what can be banned and what’s not. I could share my stuff through less coercive media, but it wouldn’t have the audience that it has this way.
Laughter isn’t a reaction that’s often provoked (or wanted) in an art gallery, but something tells us that’s the exact kind of response your solo exhibition in Singapore will elicit. How do you feel about your works being showcased for people to “study” in this manner?
This way, it can be laughter in a group. Most times, you just laugh alone in front of a screen when you see my work. By showing my work in a gallery, people can have another experience. You can see more detail in original or printed works than in front of a laptop; I prefer to see them this way, aesthetically.
If you were to give advice on where to hang one of your prints in a home, which room would you say is the most appropriate?
JOAN CORNELLÀ: A Solo Exhibition runs from June 24 to July 3 at Far Out!, 188-8 Tanjong Katong Road. For more info, visit the official Facebook event page.
Text Trent Davis
Images courtesy of Joan Cornellà & The Artbishop