top of page

An interview with: Rachel Arua

In conversation with Barcelona based artist Rachel Arua.

We were instantly mesmerised by Rachel Arua's spellbinding Gouache artwork featuring esoteric and magical themes contained within her impressive catalogue of work. Her mystically alluring art is instantly recognisable, the highest compliment an artist can receive.

Gouache itself is a centuries-old painting medium that has its origins in the Middle Ages. It is a water-based paint consisting of pigment, water, and a binding agent, often gum Arabic. Gouache is known for its vibrant, opaque colours and its ability to be reactivated with water even after it has dried. Gouache's history dates back to ancient Egypt, where early artists used a precursor to gouache to create intricate and colourful illustrations on papyrus.

Gouache as we know it today became popular in Europe during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and over the years, gouache has been used in artistic movements, including Impressionism and Art Nouveau, having been used by the likes of William Blake.

More of Rachel Arua's work can be found on her instagram. Read on below for our interview where we discuss her inspirations, spirituality, origins and life in Barcelona.

Firstly, how is life in Barcelona ?

Life in Barcelona is full of possibilities, the cultural scene is highly active, with an endless list of exhibitions, artistic interventions & other art related events. I've also completed a postgraduate degree in illustration and other related studies here. I think I'm pretty classic for the modernity of Barcelona, although I love the city. My mind tends to wander to other paradises, far away from time and place.

Tell us about Gouache and what drew you to this particular style ?

In art school, I discovered Gouache to be one of the most unworthy and unsatisfying paints to use, haha. Something I understood later on, is that with school grade paints and materials, there is a direct path to despair and frustration. Over the years, I began to be attracted by illustrations made with gouache. Those vivid colors, along with their matte and velvety texture, could turn a light watercolor texture into a paint that is almost as dense as acrylic. Finishes that could fit almost any technique...

..That suited me to bring life to the naive and dreamy images that I cherish so much. So I decided to give it another shot, but beforehand, I thoroughly investigated the materials and brands used, as if they were going to do some magic. The result was a new experience much more satisfying, little by little, yes, I am still experimenting, gouache is as easy to use as it is difficult you want it to be.

What does spirituality mean to you and how / does it inform your creative practice?

The way I feel spirituality is through the deep connection with oneself, which in turn is connected to the whole. I like to delve a little into the beyond, into the magic of life and the intangible, through popular folklore, mythology, and philosophy. Discovering the parallels we can find in the myth behind folklore in different cultures that have moved our souls for millennia, it fascinates me. All that is common to each of us, regardless of distance in time or cultural difference. Today, when you listen to a story, read a poem or watch that movie, and the spark jumps: magic, ghosts, creepy vampires, respect, and love for nature, dreamy supernatural worlds. All of this stuff have accompanied our psyche and soul in one way or another for centuries, and I like to share and express that magical feeling that comes someway from the deep, through my drawings. In many of them there is something of this. In the end, it's popular culture, I guess.

What are the key ideas and themes that inspire you the most and why ?

The key ideas that most inspire me are usually found in magical realism. The point resides somewhere in that fine line that separates a scene that could be real but contain something else that makes it fantasy, or at least ambiguous. The themes that most frequently captivate me are those that are inspired by nostalgia and melancholy, the mysterious, the fantastic, the poetic. It brings me joy to depict these types of scenes because these themes evoke a special feeling on me and open up new worlds. With them, I would like to express those feelings, and transmit it someway to whoever sees it, just as others have conveyed it to me through their art in any form. That "Je ne sais quoi" that makes your imagination soar. Cinema, classic literature and poetry, other illustrators, and even vintage American comics are also my favourite sources of inspiration.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, when did you first get into creating art ?

When I was a teenager, I started buying books of impressionist and pop art painters, which I loved. At that time there was no Google, so I only knew what I could find in exhibitions and bookstores and little else. And since there were no social networks or streaming movies, I amused myself by copying, in a very naive way, the paintings, and scenes that I liked from these books. I also used to give portraits as gifts to my relatives. Well, now that I realize it, I still do!

Later I decided to study at art school, it was a fantastic time. Anecdotally, I remember that you could smoke in class! Can you imagine it today? At that moment, it seemed like the most liberal thing to do, even though I would not like it today. I opted to carry on with my studies in graphic design, which will be my primary focus in the future. I worked in publishing for a while. At the same time, I continued training in illustration for pleasure. I learned basic craft book notions, and built short runs of my own picture books that I sold at illustration fairs. I illustrated a couple of children's books for writers, and also did some book covers for publishers. Although at that time I draw mostly for the simple pleasure of drawing at my own way.

What are some books that have inspired you over the years ?

Well, sometimes I think I have an overabundance of inputs, if that's possible. Literature, films, and the charm of old photographs are the main sources of inspiration for me. In literature, although, the list could be quite long, the classics are the ones that have stimulated my imagination the most. Maybe it's because they were the initial ones I read when I was young and my lizard brain was still forming! Like: E. A. Poe, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Richard Matheson, Lovecraft, Edward Gorey, The drama of Shakespeare's plays, Richard Adams, the naturalistic poetry of Walt Whitman. In general, all the stories by : Charles Dickens, Tolstoy, The Brothers Grim, (the unsweetened versions), Oscar Wilde, Guy de Maupassant. Stephen King classics like Salem's Lot, The Fog, Pet Sematary. And I love all of Jane Austen's work and the Bronte Sisters.

How are you feeling right now during Autumn?

This is one of my favourite seasons of the year. Nature is beautiful at this moment, and it's starting to feel like a chocolate with churros. But what I am most excited about in Autumn is Halloween, here in Barcelona we call it "Castaween" because of the tradition of eating roasted chestnuts (castañas) in this season. I love this month, it is very magical. I take the opportunity to read and re-watch my favorite horror and mystery movies wrapped in a blanket. Likewise, I get excited about Halloween decorations. And I think of some way to celebrate the autumnal equinox, and I begin to hibernate in my own way. Of course, all the ideas that come to my head at this moment are linked to these feelings. Images related to Halloween and autumn, coziness, eerie stories, witches, autumn leaves, deep raw nature, and longer nights….



bottom of page