Cardona el Persa, José

About Pepe Cardona I always remember —when we met and we were at school together, from the age of eight to fourteen— his great imagination to draw and to invent beautiful comic books in the times of Diego Valor, a comic book about extraterrestrials he improved with his talent. [LJS]

The first time I met El Persa was at a party thrown by a common friend in late 1969. He arrived on a beautiful Ducati 250 De Luxe accompanied by an exuberant girl. Immediately, his appearance and his conversation captivated me, so different from what I was used to in my reunions with friends from the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature. From that moment on, my life changed. El Persa opened doors to such unknown and fascinating worlds that I stopped going to class to be able to follow him closely. [TM]

Unknown, El Persa? If he is one of the most overt and simple guys I know! I think we know him well… many of his friends. Because we are many. There is just one subject that escapes my understanding: why is he not known by many more people, by those who are called ‘the general public’? Is it because he does not want to, because he does not know how, or because he believes he should not achieve the socioeconomic success he undoubtedly deserves? [RS]

I remember the day I met El Persa. After organising a literature assignment, Jorge Pi, an unknown and admired townsman who had become known again in the faculty, was going to meet El Persa at seven in a café located in Caudillo Square. He was going to introduce us. Of the numerous ones I had that day, that meeting was the most colourful. I saw El Persa as older than me, wrinkles sculpting his face, and his small eyes, shiny as if they were made of sweets and colours, seemed like they knew many things already. He transmitted peace and trust. You could also tell he was a hippie, but in a particular way, almost rural; this reassured me and made me feel closer to him. What surprised me most about his appearance was the huge montera he had on his head, bloated and about to explode, formed by his heavy and curly black hair. I was unsure what his profession was. Apparently he was living in a pastry shop in Borrull Street. [JVM]

I met El Persa thanks to his publication La beca del artista (The Artist’s Grant). I bought several issues in the Valdeska bookshop in Valencia, which back then was in Quart Street, next to the Botanical Garden. I found the grants, hidden in the shelf, running my hand behind the books in the front row. The credits, full of deliberate spelling mistakes, included the author’s address so I decided to go and greet him. He lived in the next street. [VF]

I remember the first time I saw El Persa. He opened the doors of his house and guided me, with short steps and dragging his feet like a Famosa doll, to the studio where he worked in Xàbia. When entering the room I found myself in front of a tidal wave of objects, from mechanics’ magazines to assembled and unassembled cutouts, from canvases, posters, manuscripts, tins, sculptures, an infinity of books, and even a native fly from China. The apparent chaos only reaffirmed what I already knew: El Persa was a complete artist, even if he preferred to present himself as a cutout drawer. [AL]

I remember the generous spirit of Pepe. I was a foreigner in Spain, and a total stranger to him, but without a second thought he considered me a friend and enthusiastically supported my creative efforts, as he had done with many others. [GR]

What most impacted me about his house, packed with his and other people’s works, was the blank canvas hanging on the wall in the main living room. I remember that El Persa, when he caught me looking at the untouched canvas from the corner of my eye, would say: ‘One day I will paint it’. [AL]

The name ’El Persa’ was assigned to him by a professor we had in common, when he saw him arrive to class one day dressed as a wizard with a cone hat full of stars and shades of blue. We were around eighteen-years-old! [LJS]

When I looked into his eyes I discovered that, although he was in his sixties, he had lived more than a thousand years, and those life experiences manifested here and there in the form of artistic creations. His conversation took me from here to there, and we covered topics upon topics, making brief pauses to roll a cigarette or have a coffee, and we spent hours enjoying the pleasure of sharing ideas and emotions. I remember that was the beginning of a great friendship. [AL]

Of the multiple memories and anecdotes I will pick the trip we made to Morocco by motorcycle, and what I learned, once again, about his immense GENEROSITY: on our way back, while spending the night out by the docks in Ceuta —where I had the precaution to get tickets for us and the motorcycle— we had as our only funds five Spanish pesetas. In those times that could get you a sandwich. Then, some American tourists came over, and he gave them the money! The next day, we only ate a watermelon some farmers gave us. Only when we arrived in a big city could I go to a bank and ask for a transfer… for gasoline! [RS]

El Persa introduced me to the world of motorcycles, he showed me how to enjoy the possibilities and the freedom that came with driving a two-wheeled machine with an engine of four speeds. He revealed to me his theory on how to negotiate curves, taught me how to feel part of the landscape, and to appreciate the different smells the air brought to our faces during nocturnal getaways around the outskirts of Valencia. His influence managed that in a few months I debuted my first Ducati. This biker complicity has been alive between us until today. [TM]

One day I rang El Persa to tell him I had sold my scooter to replace it with a traditional motorcycle. Instantly, he responded: ‘Well done, Aitor, motorcycles must be carried between the legs and not under the arse!’. [AA]

El Persa designed a tiny vehicle called Pangolín. For some time it was a secret project. When it was made public, an interview appeared in the newspaper. I remember that Pepe’s original idea was to gift the vehicle to whomever bought the instructions guide. [VF]

When we finished school for the day in Carniceros —he was living in Borrull and I in Lepanto— he would reveal from afar, as he saw them parked, all the makes of cars there were back then. He had a great memory. [LJS]

El Persa told me that when he was a student in Barcelona he wanted to go see the cemetery, so he asked the guard for directions. The guard thought it was a good idea; he replied: ‘Ah, you must be a poet!’, and gave him instructions on how to get there. [VF]

One time I went to visit El Persa in Barcelona. I remember I told him I wanted to see a friend of mine from military camp, but that I did not know his address, only that it was close to a place called ‘Lipe’ or something like that. He took me on his motorcycle, we went to the outskirts and saw a sign that said ‘Hiper’, so we went that way. Then we got lost in some industrial area and we ended up in a neighbourhood of new houses that were already old. When we arrived at a junction, in a bar on a corner, I saw my friend. I told El Persa: ’Stop, we have arrived!’. It was magical. [RRR]

We called it ‘the worldwide football match’. Ricardo, El Persa, Jorge Pi, Tomás, and I were in the Seat 850 coupe. We were driving back from Rincón de Ademuz (Ricardo’s inspection trip). The night was falling and near Landete we saw how in the western horizon, drawn by the outline of a small hill, a flying football appeared, making a considerable parabola as it landed on the side of the motorway. Chasing after it, a man emerged from the same spot. Fortunately, Ricardo hit the breaks before he could run him over. Behind him, another three or four other men appeared, and behind them, some more, all running after the ball. The first one to reach it kicked it over the motorway, out of sight. The crowd of men ran in front of us after the ball, without even glancing in our direction, between euphoric and concerned, and disappeared along with it. [JVM]

El Persa was a prodigy of imagination and academic and non-academic knowledge, his sources were highly diverse: books on technical drawing, the magazine Mecánica Popular (Popular Mechanics), science fiction books, novellas about aeronautical adventures, esoteric philosophy works, conversations with mysterious characters from his neighbourhood… All of this, in addition to his privileged and creative mind, became a creative continuum that was greatly attractive to his dialogue partner. This has always been one of his assets: intellectual seduction. [TM]

How fascinated is Pepe by small things, such as the vein pattern on wooden tables, or a fly trapped between the narrow walls of a glass! Pepe always discovers a world of wonders in an empty room. [GR]

El Persa lived on a high floor without a lift with views to the Botanical Garden. On a specific occasion, we left the house together and when we reached the street he realised he had forgotten his keys or some papers and had to go back upstairs. When he came back after five minutes, he told me that when entering his house he had automatically turned on the television and seen the famous Palio di Siena horse race, held in the Italian city since the 12th century. He thought it was wonderful that those five minutes he believed would be a waste allowed him to attend a memorable event. [VF]

‘El ensueño del califa’ (Caliph’s Daydream) was both in a central and remote location, in one of the cave-shops on the ground floor of Santos Juanes, next to the Central Market. ’The Daydream’ consisted of a number of trinkets, devices, and colours distributed over papers and fabrics made by El Persa (or ‘Caliph’?) and company that were put up for sale. The cave was a native hippie space with the authenticity of a small town or a neighbourhood —a characteristic El Persa gave to everything— even though it was located in the middle of Valencia. [JVM]

His father, a great artisan who worked in confectionary and pastries, and who livened up the display window of the establishment they had in Borrull Street, instilled shapes and colours in his son’s artistic soul, which he later included in his creations: San Dionís, the famous marzipan snakes in round boxes, etcetera. [LJS]

Due to his love for sweets, El Persa had problems with his denture and suffered great toothaches. From these painful crises came the great idea for the ‘Mascarilla Masticadora Bowerbräu’ (Bowerbräu Chewing Mask) manual of instructions, a project I found one day on his desk fully developed, with perfectly finished illustrations and texts, like a final artwork awaiting to be taken to print. Fearing that it would be left in a drawer, as I have seen happen with many of El Persa’s projects and ideas —unfortunately for the rest of us mortals—, I took it to the printshop with his permission, and we made an edition of 200 copies which we sent out to journalists and notable people. The Mask had great media impact in press, radio, and television. [TM]

I remember Pepe in my house, pouring so much sugar into his coffee —ten, eleven teaspoons!— that it startled me. ‘It is scientifically proven that sugar is good for the brain, Gordon.’ he said with a cheeky smile. [GR]

When we were children he would make us believe he had been to the Moon and would tell us stories about him and his family there. It was the 1950s! The Americans would arrive in 1969. He could make fiction a reality, and we told our families all about it when we got home. [LJS]

We went to Huelva together to participate in a Conference for Independent Publishers, and El Persa drove the car for twelve hours there and twelve hours back. At the conference, he was going to present El rayo verde (The Green Lightning Bolt), his particular tribute to Jules Verne. He had prepared a speech in which he had to communicate with the audience through small flags, according to the code used to send messages from one boat to another. I remember El Persa spent a large part of the night before rehearsing in his room and that the day of the presentation he could move them very smoothly. As his accomplice, I had a second game to play. At a specific moment, I had to interrupt the flapping of his flags from the back of the room to ask with mine: ‘c-o-u-l-d-y-o-u-g-o-s-l-o-w-e-r-?’. [VF]

We were going to enthusiastically support El Persa at his job in Terravill Distilleries, right next to San Miguel de los Reyes. The job consisted on painting with a brush the name of the corresponding beverage on its bottle —an original and unique label—. He took the bottle with his left hand and with the other he dipped the brush in red paint and wrote ‘COGNAC’ on the bottle’s body, ten bottles in a row with their corresponding variables depending on what the night, the ambience, and his imagination dictated. With the same cadence, he wrote ‘ANISETTE’ in blue, ‘GRENADINE’ in purple, etc. [JVM]

Pepe told me about his idea to make a transparent book: just by looking at the cover you could simultaneously see all of the book’s contents, as if you were swimming around a coral reef where a shoal of fish were stirring. [GR]

El Persa held an exhibition in which a book of puzzles was handed out as a catalogue at the entrance. Each of the exhibit’s paintings presented a hieroglyph or a visual puzzle. The faces of the attendees lit up whenever they solved an enigma and they all seemed rather entertained, as it rarely happens in art exhibitions. [VF]

Luis Vila, son of the owner of Terravill Distilleries and good friend of El Persa, told us about a time in Hamburg in the mid-70s when they were invited by some girls to a rock concert. El Persa ended up going to bed and Vila accepted the invitation. Over time, the band that played that concert, named ‘The Beatles’, turned out to be the real thing. [JVM]

I was surprised to hear how well El Persa could speak English the first time he met my father. He told me he had learned the language listening to The Beatles, and he could remember exactly from what song he had extracted each word. [GR]

I remember a visit. It was four in the morning at El Persa’s house and we were in full creative peak, the artist’s grants were running through his head, and we were surrounded by a thick marihuana fog accumulated over the span of a few consecutive nights. Suddenly, the bell rang and… —ta-da!—: the chief officer of ‘Brigada 26’ (a police night patrol of the 70s and 80s) and company. The parrot, as scared as we were (or even more so), provided the dramatic touch by intensely flapping its wings around the house. We wished the Earth would open and swallow us up, but the Earth did not do that. In conclusion: someone had suggested the visit and had given them the address so El Persa could make their team’s Christmas card. Since we are all friends here, nothing has happened and this house smells of roses. [JVM]

Neither Lufthansa, Air France, nor Iberia knew how to profit of one of Pepe’s many ideas. He proposed to these companies that they offer passengers with children a magnificent gift to entertain them during the flight: a series of origami planes, each more incredible than the last. Easy to assemble, and with detailed characteristics so, among other things, the parent can brag about how much they know about the plane their child has built during the journey. In his cage, Pavarotti (the parrot) followed the flight-perfecting rehearsals we held from the balcony and tweeted every time the model planes took off. The children in the street would run after them when they landed. El Persa seemed rewarded by the acceptance of the product: the goal was fulfilled! [AB]

When I saw Pepe’s comic Los fundidores himalayos (The Himalayan Melters), I remember how surprised I was by the perfection of the style, the mastery of the use of black and white, the wisdom and the brilliance of the concepts. And all that greatness was buried in a drawer and practically forgotten about. [GR]

El Persa used a text by Georges Perec about puzzles for the catalogue of an exhibition about cutouts. He replaced the word ‘puzzles’ with ‘cutouts’. Perec’s text described with admirable precision the work of artists who assemble cutouts or puzzles, and compared it to the job of a writer, who equally requires the collaboration of an accomplice reader willing to play that game. [VF]

El Persa had his studio in a terrace in Tossalet Street. With a big window looking over the street and high walls that finished in a tilted roof, skylight included. It was full of everything, and when I say everything, I include a colony of twenty or thirty white hamsters that, from one point on, El Persa did not know how to stop. [JVM]

Pepe’s never-ending optimism. For him everything —everything— has a positive side, and every setback means a new opportunity. [GR]

One of the greatest joys was when he announced the birth of his daughter Marta, who turned thirteen a few days ago, and who was born when he was already old, in the style of Abraham with Isaac (God laughs). I told him he would be a perfect father and somewhat of a grandfather, and that this was a great prize in his life. [LJS]

Pepe told me that his daughter Marta, who was still very young, had been the first in her group of friends to detect the presence of the Moon in the sky. He said it with pride. [VF]

I once showed Pepe a picture I had painted when I was trying to learn to paint with a brush, away from the computer. ‘Wonderful!’, he exclaimed; he was not looking at my painting, but at the piece of paper where I had mixed the colours, fascinated by the abstract motifs I had accidentally created. [GR]

El Persa always thinks at a vertiginous speed, and he does it without intending to: it is his natural rhythm. He is not mistaken for it; his neural connections are as fast as they are accurate. To observe the external manifestations of his intellectual work is hugely rewarding. El Persa always discovers where the interest of any topic resides. His thought process is so fluid and effective that it sometimes causes puzzlement and confusion. Yet, he is always right. [JLC]

Friendship, as we all know, is a great treasure. In addition to many enjoyable moments and wonderful stories, my friendship with El Persa has given me wise precepts that have helped me navigate life. I want to reveal the first of his teachings here, the one I received the day we met. Fascinated by the brilliance and the originality of his work, I had called him to interview him and prepare a story for the Hoja del Lunes (Monday Paper) of Valencia. After an intense review of his artistic beginnings, his references, hobbies, and influences, the conversation led to the I Ching, Book of Changes, which back then he oracularly consulted almost every day. At one point in the conversation, he warned me: ‘The I Ching does not really allow us to predict anything, but it does force us to connect ideas and reflect on the matters we are concerned with; something we usually do not do. And, above all, it shows that everything flows, that the world is dynamic, and that angst cannot remain inside you unless you are obsessed with chasing it.’ [JC]

Aitor Arregui / Álex Bello / Jaime Canales / José Luis Castillo / Vicente Ferrer / Leonardo Jiménez Sánchez / Amadeu LeBlanc / Tomás March / Juanvi Monzó / Gordon Reece / Ramón Rodríguez Ríos / Ricardo Sanz

Portrait of the author by Santiago Martí