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Norm Profile: Matador Norm and the beauty of the Corrida

As part of my introduction to the Norms which I’ve painted so far, it is only appropriate, since I write this is sunny Spain, that the first Norm to take the stand is Matador Norm. He’s a popular chap: Used as the principle publicising image of my 2006 solo exhibition “Between Me and My Reflection”, he was one of the first paintings to be sold on the opening night. The buyer (who’s name, of course, I am not at liberty to publicise) is the owner of one of the UK’s most prominent men’s fashion and accessories brands and I was therefore delighted when the sale was made – the buyer obviously has excellent taste! While Norms have always been popular amongst my dedicated art-loving followers, it did not surprise me that Matador Norm had particular appeal. The image, with its warm golden colours, the sparkling costume of the Matador, and a slightly retarded looking bull, all flanked by a curious crowd of spectator norms, combines to illustrate the spectacle of the bullfight which is now synonymous with Spanish culture across the world.

While opinion on bullfights is of course split (the partly autonomous Spanish state of Cataluña has now banned bullfights, holding its last fight this year), as an artist, I have been long captivated by the sport, not for its gory, bloody ending, but for the elegance of the matadors, the tense interaction between crowd and fighter, and the pomp and artistry of the whole event, its music, solemnity, and of course the dance-like actions of its sprightly toreadors.

Bullfighting has proved to be an inspiring factor in much of my art. Here is one of my first forays into the medium of oils, Corrida (2000), painted when I was 16. It’s imagery is perhaps slightly naïve, and its technique rather amateur now that I look back on it nearly 12 years later. However it hangs still in my family home in Spain, ever reminiscent of the time when, inspired so much by the Corrida spectacle, I would drag my family along to fight after fight so that we could indulge, as tourists in Spain, in this most Spanish of events. I was equally inspired by the superb account of bullfighting described in Death in the Afternoon as well as The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, a novelist who was undoubtedly more obsessed by the sights, sounds and excitement of the Corrida than any novelist before or since. It was a passion fuelled, he said, by “the emotional and spiritual intensity and pure classic beauty that can be produced by a man, an animal, and a piece of scarlet serge draped on a stick”.

Cover of "Death in the Afternoon"

Cover of Death in the Afternoon

Below are two detail snapshots from two more recent paintings which formed part of my España Volver collection (‘Return to Spain’). The first is taken from my painting “¡Guerra! The Spanish Civil War” (2009, oil on canvas) and uses the short furry banderillas, plunged into the bull at the start of a fight to vex him, as a symbol of the violent clashes between Spaniard and Spaniard which erupted catastrophically at the heart of the Spanish nation at the end of the 1930s. Secondly, in my painting “Souvenir of Spain”, my play on Spanish touristic stereotypes includes a typical 19th century bull ring taking the place of the also characteristically Spanish paella dish, with the banderillas again featured, this time taking the place of spoons.

But above all the spectacles included within the Corrida, perhaps one of the most intricately stunning aspects is the costumes worn by the toreros, often known as “the suit of lights” (“traje de luces”). The costumes, whose intricate embroidery can only ever be fully enjoyed at close quarters in a bullfighting museum (unless you’re the bull), are truly magnificent examples of Spanish craftsmanship and artistry which is continuing today. The costumes, which are made painstakingly by hand, and often include precious pearls, and thread made from real gold and silver, are worth several thousands of euros each. The makers must therefore be truly devastated when their costumes are so often ripped apart by a close shave with the horns of an angry bull! I enclose a few pictures which were featured in Oro Plata by Peter Müller and Casa Fermin. They provide beautiful examples of the kind of intricacy and beauty which can be seen, close up, in every torero’s costume, from floral motifs, to religious icons, set within the costume to safeguard the matador during his perilous encounter with the bull.

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