Scissors, glue and fantasy: Celsius Pictor is the world collage champion

Celsius Pictor grew up in a Galician town where there was an abandoned country house very close to his home. In the summer he would sneak into it and spend his afternoons reading. It was a furnished manor house, which had a church inside with a baroque pine altarpiece. There he found a pile of books of old engravings that he was leafing through those long summers. Now that he has been working as an illustrator for years, he thinks that his work drinks from those afternoons. "I think that the atmosphere of reading the summers by myself in that 18th-century mansion has influenced me. There I read storybooks, legends or novels by Jules Verne. It was a very movie-like atmosphere," recalls the artist.

Pictor creates collages from old 19th century prints recovered from flea markets and flea markets, combined with ink and digital color in a meticulous work process that he compares to that of a goldsmith. "I select, cut and compose small pieces to bring to life a new universe in a recycling and reuse process that respects traditional textures and media, and transports them into the future," explains Celsius Pictor. And he adds: "My work seems old, but it is not. On a formal level in the 19th century, all the images used are very static, it is very rare that there are risky compositions or strange drawings. On the other hand, when you see my work, there are strange perspectives, or expressive faces, and those are current elements".

Pictor was an illustrator, and he drew. In 2013 he had a very large commission for a publisher, he ended up saturated and unable to draw. To get unstuck and break the block, he got into a group, Los Días Contados, and every morning he had to make a collage in his studio before starting. From then on, collage became a technique, but for him, narration is fundamental. "Most people use it as an end, and as an illustrator I want to tell a story. There are people for whom the goal is to make a collage, even as something therapeutic. For me it is a tool, I need to tell something "explains the artist.

Celsius Pictor has created a deck of cards in which each card shows a character that is a combination of animal and machine, meticulously illustrated, until creating with all of them a unique universe that mixes the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution that is a tribute to the history of European playing cards. "In traditional poker, each card represents a character. There is King David, Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, or also Esther or Rachel, from the Bible. There is a lot of iconography in the cards and that freaks me out. I have reinterpreted it for me Julius Caesar, for example, is an eagle, or the two jokers are a minstrel who plays the hurdy-gurdy and a minstrel playing the bagpipes," explains Pictor, who started the project personally in 2015 until this month he launched a crowdfunding to publish the entire deck, which has achieved 100% financing in just one week.

"Playing cards are a marvel of design and history. They have evolved over hundreds of years amid endless mysteries, symbolism and theories. At first, each country used its own suits and symbols, then in the 15th century England copied and adapted the designs created in France that later spread throughout the world", says the illustrator, who invites each person to invent a story between the characters each time they spread all the cards.

The deck is the evolution of Celsius Pictor's own language, in which he fuses medieval animals and real machines that he finds in mechanical manuals from the 19th and early 20th centuries. With them he reconstructs a bird, a snail or a giraffe until he creates a kind of bestiary of fantastic beings that inhabit a utopian world where animal species coexist and complement each other with mechanical ones. "I like to say that I am like a goldsmith or a watchmaker, because of my patience, meticulousness and detail, and that includes the idea of ​​a machinist," explains Pictor, who clarifies that when he does personal work, he makes the collage, prints it and assembles it with real parts raised in 3D, as if they were real gears.

Celsius Pictor belongs to the Madrid Collage Association. For four years they set up the Collage Championship in Spain, which was stopped by the pandemic. The University of Chile proposed to do it there so that it would be worldwide. Thus, for three days last May they brought together exponents of the collage technique from Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Spain. Pictor participated as a jury and as a special guest, in Chile he has many followers, and Chilean design teachers use his material for their classes. "I was impressed. In Madrid there were no more than ten or fifteen competing in the championship, but in Chile I found forty people to compete who were kids, university students," says the illustrator, who gave a workshop in which decided to make La Oca del fin del mundo, a game in which each participant had to make a collage for each of the squares. "It is believed that the Goose is a mythological representation of the Camino de Santiago, it is not known where it comes from, it is believed that it is from Italy. I am Galician, and the University of Santiago de Chile is called Finis Terrae. The Camino itself is a accumulation of fictions, and I reinterpreted the game. I liked to believe that the square of death is the cathedral, where you die and are reborn and that the end is Finisterre", explains Celsius Pictor.

With the Camino de Santiago as a guide, Celsius Pictor has illustrated a book, Mirabilia, based on the legends and the culture that has been generated around the pilgrimage for ten centuries. "Those who commissioned the book from me had done the Camino de Santiago and did not want to make a typical book about the Camino. They used an old concept that is to make a compilation of anecdotes, which is not known if they are true or not. But that is not The important thing, the interesting thing is that these anecdotes exist. I have grown up with the history of the Romans reaching the end of the world, hallucinating seeing how the sea swallowed the Sun", recalls the artist.

On the pages of the book there are drawings of Knights Templar, mysterious moles, or master builders of cathedrals. "Some legends like that of the Leonese hermits made me immediately think of the hermits painted by El Bosco while others like the Topo de León called me for its surrealism, or the story of the Passo Honroso led me to think of the Black Knight of the Monty Python movie," explains Pictor.

In the United Kingdom and other European countries, anthropomorphizing fantasy is commonplace, and in Spain this tradition does not exist. "They have Alicia, for them it is normal that there are characters that are animals. In Spain there are some cases, but especially when it comes to advertising it is strange to see a campaign in the media with characters that are not people," says the artist, who attributes this to the repression of the Franco dictatorship. "Fantasy and science fiction have grown a lot, but they don't have as much travel as outside. The dictatorship prevented any attempt at expression like that. When Jules Verne or Melies' films were outside here, in Spain we were crying for having lost Cuba, and then came the Civil War. Science fiction things in Spain have never been mainstream. In mainstream cinema there is a predominance of the realist in those decades. The representation of a reality was shown that was also what was wanted to be sold, not space was left to fantasy", he concludes.

Despite this, the artist believes that collage is a trend. "Now it is more fashionable, reuse is prioritized before the creation of new images. In Latin America it is very current, in the university it is used as an educational proposal within advertising training, it is offered to students as a possibility of language. In Spain and Europe it is also used a lot, sometimes in a therapeutic way or as a creative strategy. We are in an age full of images, and collage has a place there", reflects Pictor.

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