John-Paul Pryor talks to the iconic Spanish actress about sharing Almodovar’s vision of beauty and personal happiness
Rossy de Palma is one of life’s most unusual and eccentric creatures, a towering rarity often described as a living Picasso due to asymmetric looks that have attracted some of the the world’s greatest designers and directors to her – from Almodovar and Altman, to Gaultier and Mugler. Here at PORT headquarters we like to celebrate those truly inspirational women who add a certain je ne sais quoi to our increasingly homogenised cultural landscape, so when we were invited out to the cultural summit Liberatum at Soho House in Berlin last week we jumped at the chance to interview a woman unlike any other – one who has stolen the limelight in countless cameos since her breakout role in the Almodovar classic Women on The Edge of a Nervous Breakdown.
To say that De Palma’s 6.7-inch frame is imposing upon first meeting is an understatement of some degree, it’s positively humbling (she has a Nephlim-like physicality that would likely have Robert Crumb scrawling erotic cartoons in paroxysms of joy), and her effortless charisma only serves to heighten the strange aphrodisiac that serves as her aura. Here, exclusively for PORT, the colossus of alternative Spanish cinema, celebrated visual and performance artist, and longtime muse of Almodovar tells us why to strive to be unique is a noble purpose in life, and gives a definition of beauty unparalleled.
What drives you to be so unique in your art?
For me, pushing against things is the most exciting thing in art – I always like art to be visionary, searching for treasures[/one_third]that nobody has seen before, discovering new things and sharing them with the people; working in unexpected ways and not following any blueprint. It is such a therapy to create. I do it in a selfish way but afterwards we can share it, and if the people love what you do, then perfect, we can make therapy together: group therapy! (Laughs) I am always concerned with what others make too; I am not isolated. I’m always hungry to discover – through the internet; through magazines. I don’t know what I am looking for but I know I will never have enough. I think if I had not been artist I would have been depressed. The real heroes in life for me, of course, are the doctors, the shrinks and the heart surgeons – those kinds of people who are really helping others – but if life doesn’t allow you to have this kind of special talent, at least you can try to be original and to discover new things.
What does it mean to you to be an artist?
Life is so heavy but if you are possessed with creativity everything is so much lighter, because even if everything is falling down then there are still creative things, and to create is in line with our being in relation to nature, because art is always trying to reproduce the mystery of life. We don’t know why we have clouds or the sun or all these amazing things, it is a mysterious universe and that realisation helps us transcend our regular life – prices, taxes, misery, infamy, money, all the shit… even religion. Religion is just a human invention, and that is a problem with humans – they are far too much into their own inventions, and they get lost in that.
Did you have a religious upbringing?
I grew up in Catholicism, with guiltiness and all that shit. My mother believed and I think faith helps people, but me, I just have a lot of faith in human beings. I have a faith in good energy but not this crazy religious shit. I think religions can help you, of course, because they can be like Tai Chi, like a mantra and you can forget yourself – like when you brush your teeth you wash a bit of your soul and the toxins go out – but not Christianity, I don’t like the way they take everything for themselves and they change it all to however they want it, even though I know there are a lot of Christian people who help others in charity, or whatever. I think love is the only thing the thing to believe in. Intelligence without kindness or love is not real intelligence. Real intelligence has innate goodness, and is full of meaning from the heart.
When you create or act do you begin from the head or the heart?
Heart. I need the heart always. I do all the things I do in an intuitive way. It’s like discovering what you have. When I make sculptures, for example, I’m not into the strategy or the preconception. I am not thinking: ‘I’m going to sit down and do a sculpture and it’s going to be a face or a body, or whatever…’ I never think that. I feel the medium with the body, with the hands, and I go! I am quite surprised at the results.
That is what is really interesting to me – not to prepare things, but to let it happen. We are all vehicles of something and it’s just vanity when people say, ‘Ah, I made this. I own this song or artwork because I made it, it’s my own song and nobody can steal it off me.’ The music or art you make is just the result of a lot of music you hear or art you see – there are a lot of people who influence you and then you give birth to this new song, but it is like something that was already there.
An African boy making art with small stones is a real thing. If you saw a Picasso and you didn’t know it was a Picasso perhaps you wouldn’t know it was special at all, then someone says, ‘It’s a Picasso!’ and you go, ‘Wow, it’s amazing!’ Who’s going to say that it is not good once they know? But does that make it real?
What is your definition of beauty?
Beauty is very, very vast, because real beauty has nothing to do with fake beauty – fake beauty is like seduction and I’m not interested in seduction. If I meet a man and I am coquettish, it’s fake. I don’t like that. I am not interested in that kind of beauty. I want to make the man and I feel something even if we don’t want to feel it – we don’t invite this; we don’t create that fake situation to go to bed or whatever, it just happens. It’s the same with beauty – it is something accidental, something that surprises you. It can even be an animal. For example, four days ago I lost my dog of twelve years old. This is beauty too!Death has some beauty to it. Even in death I have seen beauty.
Do you think Pedro Almodovar shares your vision of beauty?
Pedro’s films are beautiful because in Pedro’s films people always create positive outcomes from the things they have around them. They are never complaining: ‘I don’t have this, I don’t have that.’ It happens even in the moral drama – you can be my mother even though you are not my mother – people arrange what can happen for the best possible outcome. The thing that is true about Pedro’s films is that you can create happiness if you really want it. So many people sabotage their happiness, always making excuses and punishing themselves, like they didn’t really deserve happiness. In the films of Pedro’s, if you want happiness, you get it. It’s amazing. I can’t explain in general, but in particular for me, for example, I want to still believe in men, but I learnt to live without them. Sometimes I say, ‘Well, perhaps one day I will find a man…’ I have been single for a long time now, though, but at the same time, I have no anxiety about that. I have dedicated a lot of energy to men, a lot. (Laughs) Now I say, all the energy, all the love, all the beauty? I’ve got to give it all to me, I’ve got to be my own man and all that I gave to them, I give to me. Like Almodovar, I make the best.