Interview: Pau Estrada

by Nicola Thornton

I am very interested in bringing the past back to life through illustrations and documentaries. I made a film about my parents, because they met in Michigan over 50 years ago—my mum, an American, just out of high school, and my dad, a Catalan student—and it was such an unlikely encounter, considering how little people travelled in those days.
I started illustrating books when I was 15. I had always been the artist of the family and it was really thanks to my mother, because she started writing English textbooks and I was her illustrator.

I studied at the Rhode Island School of Design. It’s the school where the Talking Heads came from. I always think it’s funny that their most famous alumni became musicians.

The Picasso children’s book [
Picasso and Minou] came about through my editor in the States. She had seen my private sketchbooks where I did my crazy streams of consciousness, and thought I could do it. With children’s books, you are usually restricted to drawing nice things and I had the need to express another side of myself.

My style is very unusual for Barcelona. Here most people do ‘la línia clara’: it’s very graphic and flat looking, very cool. To do the Picasso book, I wanted to take the style a few notches up to match the material I was working with. I really had to commit myself to get the drawings right, to get the figures and the expressions right. It was a process of improvement and effort.

I spent some time in Paris to get a feel for the place and explore where Picasso had lived. I got into studying French, as I always had the idea that a cultured person should speak French. The foremost French expert on Picasso, his friend Pierre Daix, had the nicest words to say about this book.

We’ve just presented the Spanish and Catalan editions. It was one of my dreams to have a book published here in my city and to present it at the Picasso Museum. Sometimes the wildest dreams do come true.

Barcelona is such a nice city now. My memories of growing up in Gràcia are of seeing buildings being torn down and of old houses and gardens being lost, and all these very ugly buildings being put up. It was extremely sad. They started the renovations in the Eighties. When they unveiled La Pedrera, it was so beautiful, people couldn’t believe it because for years it had been all grey and run down.

I wish I had more time and energy to take in all of Barcelona’s art scene, but the CCCB is my favourite space. It’s pretty amazing, very eclectic. They do all kinds of challenging stuff.

I’m a radical cyclist. I started cycling about 10 years ago and it’s wonderful that the city has changed with me. The Ayuntamiento organised a cycling day and the response was massive: it really changed the way the city feels today.

People are careless about history in Spain. The destruction of the coastline outside of Catalunya, but also here, shows the lack of patriotism. If you want to be a nationalist you should also be an ecologist and you should be protecting your heritage for future generations.

There is a rebellious, anarchistic, fatalistic and individualistic trend in the Spanish soul. Picasso was one example of that. We are a country that produces great individuals but at the same time, a lot of talent has not been appreciated. Many of those artists had to find their name, or blossom, abroad, before they were appreciated here.

Photo by Lee Woolcock