The art of presence - Tomás Barceló Castelá

We all strive for perfection in life. We want to feel worthy and to see the fruit of our work. But how can we climb those long stairs of difficulties in life? That answer, as well as inspiration, we started searching in the world around us. And, yes! We found it! The answer is simple, work hard and step out of your comfort zone. When it comes to inspiration, it is everywhere around is. We found it in one amazing sculptor, whose work takes your breath away.

The ability to make his sculptures look alive is astonishing! From a high-school teacher to one of the most impressive sculptors in the world. The imagination and highly perfected skills of Tomás Barceló Castelá feel magnetic to our artistic soul.

Where are you from? Where does the art journey start for you?   

I am Tomás Barceló Castelá, half French from Montauban and half Spanish from Mallorca. I studied Fine Arts, specializing in Sculpture, at the Sant Jordi Faculty of the University of Barcelona, and there I had the honor of learning from J.S. Jassans. For more than fifteen years I was a high school teacher and I enjoyed it very much. In 2014, I left teaching to try a path focused on my work as a sculptor, and I have been working on several projects of all kinds, including international films (Asura, Maleficent II, Dune 2020,…). Lately I have been focusing on the creation of personal work, exploring new themes and new paths.


How did you get into sculpture? Was it a lifelong interest?

I have always been a sculptor, but I didn’t know it until I was 21. As a child I always played building things with clay, with Legos, with cardboard and with anything I could find. I played at constructing sets and props for films that were filmed in my imagination. My passion was cinema, but my day-to-day work was building things. Fortunately, my adolescence was not very social and I never stopped playing (although I did it on the sly). I didn’t stop playing with clay until college. I started my career with cinema as a goal, but in the third year I understood that sculpture was my path, that it had always been my path. I abandoned my dreams of being a filmmaker and dedicated the last two years of university to sculpture with all the intensity I was capable of.


Are there any artists, styles or visual references that you draw inspiration from?

The Faculty of Fine Arts, where I studied, was actually an academy of conceptual art, where they played superficially with ideas of postmodern philosophy. I tried to believe it; but every now and then, secretly, I would go to the library and devour books on archaic sculpture. There was something in the Truth of ancient sculpture that allowed me a reprieve from the emptiness I felt in the classrooms. My fascination with hieratic sculpture has not ceased to grow. I believe that ancient art is my main source of inspiration.

My problem, during the 20 years that followed my secret trips to the library, was believing that the language of traditional sculpture must be linked to traditional themes. As if, to make a classical sculpture, I could only make naked figures; or if I wanted to make something of Egyptian-style, I had to make writings, and so on. For too long, I was focused only on the language of sculpture, and I forgot the content.

It took 20 years of dead-end roads, frustrations, and changing lives several times to understand that I could use traditional language to tell the things that had always interested me. I reclaimed the films I shot in my imagination as a child, and played again. Suddenly, the two paths came together: the path of the search for formal rigor and sculptural language; and the path of fantasy, science fiction, and the creation of worlds.

In my head, Joan Rebull, Spielberg, Wingelmo de Modena, Jim Henson, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lucca della Robia, Michael Ende, Wetta, and many other artists (many of them old and anonymous) mix together to discuss and propose crazy things that sometimes lead somewhere.

We can also see an intriguing touch of steampunk, weaving through your collection. What part of the Steampunk genre appeals to you?

I got to know steampunk thanks to some fans, who started to define me as a steampunk artist. The steampunk world was for me a breath of fresh air in the cultural environment I knew. The creative freedom of the steampunk community is like nothing I have ever known before.

I know that there are dozens of classifications included in the concept of “steampunk”, but I prefer the open idea of anachronism as a creative principle. The world that the steampunk community discovered for me has nothing to do with gears or the Victorian world, but with a deep knowledge of culture and history and the freedom to create whatever you want from it.

How do you imagine these figures in the beginning? How do the names emerge? Does each of the pieces have a story behind the surface?

I believe that sculpture is the art of presence. When you look at a painting, you look at a window opening to another world; the sculpture comes to look at you. Sculpture shares space and time with the viewer, and that is what makes it so powerful. That’s why I don’t try so much to tell stories as I try to create powerful presences, each in its own way. The fact that a small robot girl looks at you more intensely than you look at her, is fascinating to me.

I try to make each piece have its own identity, and although for some of them, I imagine small fragments of stories, I don’t find it necessary to tell them in words. I am a sculptor and what I have to say, I say it through sculptures. The only small literary pleasure I allow myself are the names, which I invent with the help of minority languages and sounds that I like. I look for credible and distant names.

I am also fascinated by the fact that they treat futuristic themes as if they were really antiques.


You transform common materials and recycled pieces into fantastical icons. How is your creation process?

I consider myself a traditional sculptor to the core. I usually work by modelling in clay and carving in plaster. When I opened up to new themes a few years ago, that pushed me to open up to new ways of working as well. I naturally began to add found objects to my pieces and to explore new materials and new ways of working.

Now I am very focused on polychromy. It is something that interested me from the beginning but I never developed it sufficiently. In each piece, I try to find an answer to how shape and color relate to express something.


Do you use models while sculpting, or do the figures come from your imagination?

I really like working from scratch. Having to adapt to something that comes from your head forces you to learn. The effort required is very creative and the model’s personality pushes me to do things that I would not do alone. La Princesa Dormida, Vinna, or Alberich, would have been impossible without the models that helped me.

Other times I prefer to work without an external reference. That helps me to depersonalize the sculpture a lot and it can more easily acquire an air of icon or archetype.


Any new collections or plans for you in the near future?

There were several projects underway before the pandemic, but now, no one knows what will happen. I have two possible film projects that I cannot talk about and two ambitious personal projects that I have been dreaming about for some years now. But for the moment I am still exploring and enjoying my little creations in my workshop.


The FOURLINEdesign team would like to thank Tomás Barceló Castelá for sharing inspiring thoughts with our community.