the faces of life: portraits by María Herreros

By Sebastián Gámez Millán
Illustration: María Herreros

What is the point of painting in the age of selfies, Facebook, Instagram and social media? Looking at the paintings and illustrations by María Herreros is enough to answer this awkward, challenging question. What the camera replicates in a mimetic way with accuracy and rigour – even though we may not recognise ourselves in the image – can be enlarged and surpassed by painting, which offers us nuances and aspects of ourselves that aren’t captured by state-of-the-art technology, like time, the paradoxical matter we are made of.

It can be said that María Herreros (1983, Valencia) has a personal style, a world of her own we can recognise even if we have only had a glance at it: cinematic compositions carried out on many occasions with spontaneous, vivid brushstrokes that play with an apparently sweet aesthetic the message of which is anything but that, since it manages to reflect the ambivalence of feelings and life through faces.

The fact that portraits are the genre we find the most in her work is not a coincidence. Human identity mainly concentrates on our face and it’s not just due to social convention. There, we can find the eyes that stare, the ears that listen, the voice that speaks and savours, the nose that sniffs…Our senses are the hinge giving us information about the outer world while shaping little by little our inner world. Apart from our face there is no other body part offering so much from ourselves. According to Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, the face isn’t the mirror of the soul, it is the soul itself. The person who loses their face loses their soul forever, the person who gets their face back redeems their soul. Therefore if your face / soul gets lost you can always ask María to recreate it.

Dante claimed that in order to paint a horse you have to be a horse first. In a process of empathy and intuition, María Herreros reflects emotions with lines and colours and sometimes, between the artist and her characters there is a transference, which is indispensable in psychoanalysis to cure the patient and in art to depict others properly.

With a neutral background the chromatic intensity of which makes the portrait stand out, she tries not to idealise and through the gestures and facial expressions of her characters she delves into the inner world of human beings, generating through her symbology a narrative that turns on the imagination of the audience, making them wonder and completing what was, what wasn’t and what could have been…

María Herreros got a degree in Fine Arts and she also has a Bachelor’s Degree in Illustration awarded by San Carlos University. Since 2009 she has worked as a freelance illustrator doing projects for international and national clients like Coca-ColaReebokEl País, El Mundo or La Vanguardia. She has exhibitied her work in Bootsbau gallery (Berlin), Ogaleria (Porto), Galeria33 (Santiago, Chile), ColectifBlanc (Montreal), and she was comissioned by Chandelier Creative as an artist-in-residence in New York. She has worked with publishing houses like Taschen and Lundwerg and she has illustrated books by Rosa Montero (Us: stories of women and more) and Máxim Huerta (Paris será toujours Paris). In addition she writes books (Marilyn had eleven toes on her feetThe summer of rain…). She admits that the international aspect of her proyects and the possibility of meeting people like the aforementioned in cosmopolitan cities all around the world is an extremely rewarding experience.

Her work and creation method usually begins by acquainting herself with and researching the topic she has to depict. Then, without a sketch, she lets her cultivated intuition lead the way. Her illustrations don’t try to be comical but, maybe unintentionally, they look pop, naive and casual and they border on the aesthetic category of the grotesque, which according to Valeriano Bozal means lucid laughter and it is one of the main paths of contemporary art since it involves certain distance, humour and criticism.

She admits to not binging on illustration, maybe so as to be free from the anxiety of influences but she can’t help falling for photography and the cinema (among her favourite film directors she mentions Yasujiro Ozu and Sergio Leone). Despite the obvious differences and in order to make reference to classic artists, her portraits remind me of the expressionist painter Otto Dix due to their grotesque, introspective dimension and David Hockney’s portraits because of the way she redefines pop, a visual language that has become universal. Yet, as I said before, María Herreros has a personal style, a world of her own.