“I soon realised that there were many opportunities for me in the UK” “British people are reserved and particular but you always know where you stand with them”
Why did you leave Catalonia?
It was October 1973, Franco was in power and repression was alive everywhere in the country. Picasso had died in April that same year and it felt like an indication that it was time to move on. I was working in Granollers (Barcelona) for Piher International, a powerful Catalan company in the field of electronic components. They offered me the possibility to go to London to learn English, and I took it. A few years later the company was driven to bankruptcy by the USA because they dared to sell goods to Cuba.
So you ended up in London by chance?
I did not choose it. The options were Chicago or London, and London was nearer. Piher transferred me to their subsidiary in the UK, in Middlesex (near London). I soon realised that there were many opportunities for me in the UK, and within two years I was at art college where a new life began.
How long have you lived there?
I have been in London since then, although I was in Italy for a year, two years in Holland, and in other countries as Artist in Residence. In 1988 I returned to Barcelona and lived and worked there till 1995, then I won the Pollock Krasner award and returned to London.
Are you happy with the job opportunities you found in your adoptive country?
There are many jobs available if you have the right qualifications or if you are prepared to take poorly paid jobs. The best jobs though, go to the 7% of the population educated at private schools. When I arrived in England the country was governed by the Labour Party and the possibilities offered to students were enormous. I managed to complete my secondary education and then I obtained scholarships to study for a B.A. (Hons) and an M.A Fine Art at the best art schools in London. Later on I obtained further scholarships to study in Paris and Amsterdam. London gave me the ground to build what until then had been a dream: to be an artist. Unfortunately all this has now gone for newcomers. At present to study at university young people need to borrow money to pay fees and support themselves, so they start their first job with a huge loan to pay off.
What do you think is the best thing about living there?
The museums, the libraries and the parks. British people are reserved and particular but you always know where you stand with them.
What would you most like to change?
The madness created by the prospect of Brexit
What do you miss most from home?
The Mediterranean, the sun, the mountains of my village, and a dozen people.
What do you take with you as a present from your new home when you go back to your own country?
Food supplements because they are cheaper in the UK
What characterises your neighbourhood?
I gather that like everywhere else, your neighbourhood defines your status. However, in London you can be in a street with houses worth millions of pounds and the street parallel to it has council houses (homes for the poor) and squats full of squatters. I live and work south of the river; on the whole people prefer to live north of the river which is where the majority of the night life is. In recent years gentrification has changed the bad name the south used to have. The area around my studio though still has isolated areas that can be a bit scary, yet where I live is very bourgeois and peaceful. Yet, it is all in the south.
Are there any places to avoid at all costs?
Sure, any dark or narrow street at night is a threat and if you are a woman alone, stay away from parks after dusk.
What is the best experience you’ve had in your adoptive country?
The freedom to go out in the street without a shower, with old clothes, in other words, looking like a mess and no one bothers you and respects your privacy.
Do you plan to go back to Catalonia?
I have never left Catalonia. Your homeland is like your first love, it is always in you.
CATALANS ABROAD london (UK)
Can you recommend a place to have lunch with friends?
All the charming and adorable places I used to know have all closed down and have been taken over by mobile companies or similar business. Gaby’s in Leicester Square was the last bastion for people of my generation. Now if I want a quick lunch I go to Nando’s, Costa Coffee or Caffè Nero. There is no privacy but the food is good. Alternatively, I would suggest the Café/Restaurant at the National Gallery, Tate Galleries, British Museum or big book shops like Waterstones. There are also the Tea Rooms at the traditional department stores like Harrods or Fortnum and Mason. They are not cheap though, but they are very comfortable.
Where would you have a special dinner for two?
There is a Turkish restaurant in Stoke Newington called Mangal 2 Ocakbasi Restaurant where Gilbert and George, two very respected and well-known English artists, go daily for their supper. It is a nice place. There is also a very reasonable restaurant in Elephant and Castle that will soon be forced to move. It is placed in the shopping centre and it is called Castle Tandoori. Their portions are large and the staff is extremely friendly. It is definitely south London but charismatic.
Where are the best places for visitors to stay?
It all depends on their budget. Travel agencies are well informed, I would recommend them. There are often offers and package holidays which include hotels placed in the centre of the city that are very comfortable. There is also an exchange system. You exchange your home for a home in London during the period of your holiday. I know people that have done that very successfully.
What do you consider the highlights for any brief visit for the first time?
Besides the obvious sites; Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Covent Garden, Piccadilly… I would suggest the British Museum, the Tate Modern or the National Gallery, but a walk along the Thames, and a wander around the parks, plus opera or concert are also essential.
And if visitors have more time or make a return visit?
More of the same and a tour through the markets. A trip to Cambridge/Oxford/Bristol or Brighton.
When is the best time of year to plan a visit?
Every season has its charm. Winters when the sun is out are beautiful. Spring and autumn can be pure poetry and summer, if lucky, can be truly hot.
What is the best kept secret about the area?
Founded in 2008, Cafe Oto (sound or noise in Japanese) provides a platform for experimental music ranging across all genres from folk, rock, noise and electronica covers. People like Yoko Ono have performed in the place. The Print House, 18-22 Ashwin St, Dalston, London E8 3DL.