By H. Sergio Mora

ROME, NOV.29, 2012 ( "Beauty is lacking in today's art," says artist David Lopez Ribes. The native Spaniard was in Rome last week to receive the 2012 Prize of the Pontifical Academies.

The award, instituted by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1997, is intended for both artists and institutions who are active in the fields of architecture, painting and sculpture and whose work have made significant contributions to the development of religious studies, Christian humanism and artistic expression.

This year the Pontifical Academies awarded the prize to both Lopez Ribes and Polish artist Anna Gulak.  

The 40 year old artist from Valencia, who is married and the father of six children sat down with ZENIT to discuss the fundamental role of the "beauty of Christian life" in art.  

ZENIT: How were you notified of the Prize?

Lopez: I was called by the Council in February because I have been working for some time on the Art and Faith project, which was presented during the World Youth Day and is reaching many cities, and I believe that it was through this that they learnt about me and invited me to be a candidate for the papal Prize. Every year the Prize is given to different individuals and every eight years to artists. I was called a month ago and was told that the Pope had seen the finalists and that I was given a Prize as well as Polish artist [Anna Gulak].

ZENIT: Is the Prize only for the Art and Faith project?

Lopez: No. I have worked for more than twenty years as an artist in the contemporary secularized world. One sees that contemporary man is undergoing a process, losing the sense of the sacredness of life and of transcendence. This is obvious.

ZENIT: And how do you address this problem?

Lopez: I belong to the Neocatechumenal Way, which enables me to live an adult faith, the love I have for the Church today, and especially the transcendent dimension of my life. I am married, thanks to the Church, and I have six children. The sixth was born a month ago.

ZENIT: You were saying that the sense of sacredness and transcendence is being lost.

Lopez: In my home, all that the Pope is saying –in a providential or mysterious way—is that we are living the beauty of Christian life. When the Pope went to Barcelona last year, to consecrate the church of the Holy Family, he said that "beauty is the fundamental need of a person."

ZENIT: You mean to know beauty?

Lopez: This is impressive, and it is man’s fundamental need; the Pope didn’t say [nan needs] bread, for example, he said beauty. It’s something very profound and I have known beauty. And I’ve had the need to share it through the ministry that God has given us, through my profession.

ZENIT: Can you explain this a bit more?

Lopez: On the one hand, I have collaborated for thirteen years with Kiko Argüello, initiator of the Neocatechumenal Way, and with a team of ten artists to give the Church an aesthetic proposal at the service of the man of faith and of the liturgy, in order to live the liturgy and the sacraments better.  But I also see that God wants us to approach the man that never enters Church as well.

ZENIT: In other words, not just sacred art…

Lopez: I find that God doesn’t want me to leave my secular facet because I wish to share, with those who are outside, the encounter with beauty that I have had; through a message which they recognize, such as video-art, or art, or more contemporary languages. I wish to bring them closer to a content which they probably no longer address, such as the meaning of life, etc.

ZENIT: In other words, to give them content in order to address them.

Lopez: At the same time I see that there are people who live the faith but who don’t find an echo in contemporary art. I have realized that a work of art must say something to someone, either through the language or the content. The man of faith recognizes the content, and so I approach him with a new language, a contemporary language. I work in painting, sculpture and video-art.

ZENIT: Can you explain a bit about video-art.

Lopez: Video-art has extraordinary spiritual possibilities. However, curiously, in that process of desacralization of life, there is very little spiritual reflection in video-art.

ZENIT: What are you referring to, a landscape, a sunset?

Lopez: No. We need to give witness. Its more than [just showing] a sunset, landscape, etc. Everything stems from the experience of my home. In my home, I live many sacramental and liturgical signs, the breaking of bread with the children, for example. My home is a domestic Church where there is beauty, and where there are very many signs every day.

ZENIT: Can you explain this better?

Lopez: For example, in breaking bread for each one according to age, for the six-year-old I break the largest piece, etc. There is here a Eucharistic sign. The hands that bathe children; in those hands in the water there is a baptismal sign. I gather all these signs. How? For example, with a video-camera I recorded my son when my wife was bathing him. And I project that video on water on what is called an installation. In other words, the video comes forth from the two-dimensional format and comes closer to life in the most existential way. I’ve worked a lot on Baptism as initiation of Christian life. [In this particular exhibit, there are] many baths with the [video] projection of the child.

ZENIT: How can one distinguish between real art and trivial art?

Lopez: It’s not true that beauty no longer exists. Art is following a path of exodus which is complicated, but it does not mean that there aren’t artists who establish a relation with their work, which is fantastic.

It’s not a moral question. Art must be art in itself. But, as a Christian, I must translate what I’m living.  However, I try to make very open works because no one has ever imposed anything on me, so that one who approaches these installations can see something which seems fantastic to him, no more and no less.

ZENIT: Does today’s art lack beauty?

Lopez: Undoubtedly. But why? Because if one [does not have beauty] inside, how can one express it in his works. That is why the Pope urges, those who have known the beauty of Christian life to make it known. 

[Translation by ZENIT]

--- --- ---

On ZENIT's page

To read a 2011 interview with David Lopez Ribes, go to: