Coco Dávez Pays Tribute to Pop Culture Icons at Maddox Gallery

14 Mar 2019 | Updated on: 27 Sep 2022 |By Dominic Jeffares

"Some people have an aura around them, a specific colour that expresses who they are"

London looks incredibly glum on this March day. Drizzle spits in my face as I walk towards the Maddox Gallery in Mayfair, where I am meeting one of the art scene’s hottest rising stars, Coco (real name, Valeria Palmeiro), who was recently included on Forbes distinguished list of 30 under 30 creatives.

The Maddox Gallery quite literally springs into full view thanks to the lavish bouquet of flowers that crawls up the Edwardian townhouse. Recognised as one of central London’s most Instagram-worthy spots, the contemporary space has five sister-galleries in the capital, as well as two overseas outposts in Gstaad and Los Angeles.

Awaiting Dávez, I sit cocooned in a deep leather chair and gaze at David Yarrow’s enormous monochrome photograph of an African elephant. Behind me is a 1985 silkscreen print by Andy Warhol – ‘Be A Somebody With A Body’ it proclaims. In walks Dávez; dressed in a cheery palette of reds and yellows – vermillion lipstick, a matching coat and a sunny tote bag – she looks like the Spanish flag. We’re here to talk about her latest exhibition Faceless, a series of graphic paintings dedicated to her idols, which will go on display at Maddox Gallery’s Westbourne Grove branch in May.

Joining us in the gallery are Elvis, David Lynch and Elton John, in the form of her pop art-style paintings. Characterised by an interplay of bold hues and simple lines, her acrylic on canvas Faceless collection demands attention. Despite their large dimensions, there is a delicacy to the works, achieved by a masterful combination of playful colours and an attentive understanding of chiaroscuro.

Luckily all of Dávez’s subjects had great hair because, as the name suggests, her series of paintings are entirely faceless. My rookie knowledge was exposed when I encountered a red-haired specimen and immediately assumed it was Dame Vivienne Westwood – alas, it was Yayoi Kusama. Attempting to regain some composure we move to a portrait of Keith Haring – who I then mistake for David Hockney. All part of the fun, I suppose. And perhaps that’s the exact point of these works. There’s an elusive quality to the portraits that teases the viewer and provokes inquiry. I couldn’t pull myself away from a portrait of Kahlo. “How on earth did you do Frida Kahlo without the eyebrows?” I ask Coco. “Sometimes, you have to look beyond the obvious,” and her eyes go all dreamy momentarily.

Starting her creative work in Spain, she was discovered by the art director of the national Spanish newspaper El Mundo, Rodrigo Sánchez, who gave Dávez her first break. She has since amassed 137,000 followers on Instagram and worked with the likes of Prada, Chanel and Puma. For Chanel, she created chic animations to mark the 2017 launch of its Gabrielle fragrance, which was then published in Vogue Spain.

We talk about the vivid use of colour in her works. “Faceless brings together the joy of colours and my comic side, it’s my creative engine. Some people have an aura around them, a specific colour that expresses who they are. When I painted my sister, she was horrified that I painted her in neutral beige tones. ‘Am I that boring?’ was her reaction.” One of her earliest memories was being taken to see Guernica by Picasso at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid. Apparently, she was so shocked by the absence of colour that she looked up to her father and demanded who had painted it.

Given her recent partnerships, the topic of fashion naturally comes up. “I would love to start my own label one day. As an artist, I am always looking to channel my creative energy in various ways. I hated to be told what to do when I was at art school, and there was a period when I couldn’t find any authentic inspiration. I like to experiment with clothes. I once got a haircut wanting to look like a Japanese girl. I ended up looking like the French character Amélie instead.”

I ask why she doesn’t create faceless works of divisive political figures – after all, Kim Jong Un’s hairstyle would lend itself marvellously to a canvas, or, even better, Trump’s. “I feel that by doing that, I would be creating art for the sake of making a statement, for the sake of being controversial,” she explains. The purpose of the series, she adds, was a joyous one, not a political one: “These are figures who I admire, and whom I pay tribute to. I always do things out of authenticity.”

The hour goes by astonishingly quickly and I’m left with more questions than I came in with. First, it’s off to a radio interview and then later in the evening, the gallery will be holding an Influential Women’s Dinner, at which she is one of the star artists on show. Models, artists, socialites and powerful businesswomen are all expected to attend.

For now, at least, the future looks very colourful indeed for this Madrilenian artist.

A collection of works will be on display at Maddox Gallery Westbourne Grove from 10th to 31st May 2019.

112 Westbourne Grove, London, W2 5RU