Alicia Fernández. Alicante.
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Alicia Fernández. Alicante.

Alicia Fernández. Lonja de Pescado. Alicante.

Catálogo exposición “Teatro del Minotauro” itinerante organizada por el Consorcio de Museos de la Comunidad Valenciana y la Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo.
Lonja del Pescado, Alicante.
Casal Solleric, Palma de Mallorca.
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Ibiza.
Museo de la Ciudad, Valencia. Febrero 2003.


Alicia Fernández

The first time you observe José Manuel Ciria’s new series “Psicopompos” you immediately feel two sensations. Firstly, the advertising poster images are easily identifiable, although they are complex at the same time as they have been painted over with a kind of second skin. This produces a photomontage or collage effect covering and intermixing the different parts and ultimately enriching the works. The compositions are based on previously existing photographs upon which the artist directly intervenes using “expanded painting”, with huge stains of colour and eloquent material gestures. The colours and the pictorial action itself thus play a decisive role, something fundamental for a highly intuitive artist such as Ciria who is able to channel the tide of abstract creation wherever he feels it convenient.

The result is a powerful image. To start with, the title of the new series is “Psicopompos” or “Psychopomps”, “conductors of souls”, in reference to the dolphins who were guides for the Renaissance painting angels. The ten works forming the group are painted on advertising posters, the type you usually find on bus shelters. Ciria intervenes freely with an expansion of painting on a support designed to withstand weather changes, extreme temperatures, light and damp, imbuing the images with an extraordinary artistic power. However, this is nothing new for an artist who is accustomed to masterfully cruising over the borderline territories of the strictly pictorial without restraint. His images speak to us of a wanderlust that has become a combat with painting, or a battle of wills. Ciria’s works clearly reveal this constant need for questioning the act of painting, examining its ends and building a road that is long, wide and with an uncertain end.

However, the expressive and artistic force we witness here has always been present in his work. When we take stock of his many past exhibitions we are not surprised to find a clearly continuous thread, powerful, gestural and abstract, which the artist picks up again and again, never exhausting his possibilities but instead merely adapting them to each of the works he produces. With “analytic passion”, as Guillermo Solana defined it, he “takes his projects apart and puts them back together again” until he succeeds in reinventing his own lines of reasoning, regardless of the physical and conceptual pains he has needed to go to.

For a long time now, Ciria has maintained the same attitude to his work and his research into pictorial representation, space and the compositional ordering of the picture. The creative process and how materials, supports and other elements of his medium operate are issues that have defined his career. It is tremendously interesting to witness the coherence with which he resolves each of his series, and to see how this rigour in his work has recently placed him amongst the biggest names on the Spanish art scene.

Fresh challenges

The “Psicopompos” series came as a result of José Manuel Ciria’s instinctive need to search for and explore new territories on the borderline of the strictly pictorial. The immediate precursor to this series is “The Dauphin Paintings”, which were created using posters and large advertising hoardings and exhibited at a solo show in the Sala Rekalde in Bilbao in 2001. In the same way as for this series he uses photographs as a support on which he paints great sweeps of heated reds and raging yellows, blotting out part of the original image. The artist superimposes another painting, an abstract plane, on the figurative representation of the photographic image, and in some cases – in the Mahou lager cans advertisement for example – he attains a high degree of complicity. When this happens, the photograph and the painting merge, and what seems to be a chance conjunction is really a consciously generated action on the part of the artist himself.

Ciria takes on new challenges when he works in this way, assuming the experience emphasised by the objectuality imprinted in the photograph and providing a new slant on collage by deliberately painting certain areas of the photograph. After reinventing the process, he follows his intuition and simultaneously creates other images, images in their own right, stressing the gestural and defying the image lying beneath. In “Psicopompos” the artist explores the basic properties of the stain of paint, the gravity and tension between opposing elements and, particularly, he makes a direct intervention on the idyllic landscapes and beauties of the advertising posters. He does not aim to deliberately criticize how appropriate (or not) the advertising images are: they are simply an excellent support on which to give form to his own ideas.

It is also interesting to note how the two series of overpaintings on poster and advertising hoarding photographs, “The Dauphin Paintings” and “Psicopompos”, bear a certain relation to mural paintings where very different scenes are created in huge dimensions, providing strong visual impact. Ciria’s images are highly suggestive, interrogating and captivating; they work in unison with the observer’s retina but without needing to provide any specific narrative order. In his latest experiments Ciria has intermingled photographic images and painting: while the former has already been created and is already there, the latter is purely of his own invention. It is this creative logic that works so well here, establishing an order and rhythm for reading the work, marked out by the elements within it.

Personal poetics

Ciria is highly knowledgeable of the history of art and its resources, and makes constant references to Pollock, Twombly, Rauschenberg and other admired contemporary masters. In his own style he revisits the overpainting technique that these and many others have worked with. The inter-activity between surfaces is tangible, it is an activity or action that surges from the painting itself and asserts itself when it occupies the space of the picture. When Ciria “enters his painting” he finds a way of applying his materials that becomes more and more expressive, not as a means of representation but as a real way of feeling the life in painting from inside. This is nothing new for an artist who has spent years researching into the innermost aspects of how a pictorial work functions, aspiring to recover the strictly artistic values that make up the image.

In “Psicopompos” the most characteristic traits of the artist’s personal poetics appear. His interest in the stain, colour, sign and gesture painted over the photographic image for advertising purposes reaches a crescendo of contrast in these works. Unlike the great series of advertising hoardings “The Dauphin Paintings”, where the stains of paint practically obliterate the poster itself and even run off its edges, the new series is more contained and Ciria shows greater interest in leaving a bigger area of the printed message visible. There are parts where the painted image appears to rush headlong with an incredible force and other parts that are absolutely empty. And this produces a structure where the painting, grave and eloquent, floats freely.

There are moments when the need for filling the surfaces responds to conscious impulses which come to form decisive spaces together with words, faces, figures and architectural elements, gargoyles and models. It is precisely this crossroads between spontaneous gesturality and photographic reality that enables a new image to be created which contains compulsive diction, a sediment of a pure action from which the artist faces the world without fissures, the ideal world of advertisements. There is also a gesture of heroic proportions here, as a reflection of the specific experience of the creative act and which an artist like Ciria, always keen to step over borders, can take to its ultimate consequences even though these consequences may be contradictory in their interplay.

On the border

We do not need to ascribe Ciria’s work to any particular style to find valid justifications for his lines of reasoning. He quite naturally questions the boundaries of creation and the structuring of the artistic experience, and at the same time he widens our perception of time and space in art. He creates visually powerful works which force themselves physically on our gaze through their images, rich colours, inconceivable procedures and remarkable gestures. And produces a work that is a constant reminder of how important perception is for this artist, a border animal wherever there was one.

This personality is present in all his works: the lover of limits, defying traditional categories. Using elements found, selected and rescued from oblivion – phrases or fragments from posters, or in other series the texture of a frayed canvas, pieces of material or objects – the artist widens the space surrounding the picture until he captures the reality of life. And this leads to a final abstract result which amazes us with its vigour and violence: this is manifestly the case with “Psicopompos”.

Sometimes the images are replaced by a metaphorical use of words, phrases and mottos. Turned into symbols, the words are juxtaposed with colour fields and material gestures which impose rhythm and relation as they organise and order the surface of the work. His command of scale, direct gestural action and the overall concept of the work are revealed as a cumulus of impulses, sensations and elements that surge from the author’s mind.

Also, on occasions, the brusque intensity of certain images gives way to the more lyrical side of some of the sequences, or a flow of atmospheric appearances in the painting itself gives new worth to the spatial values of the colouristic backgrounds of the posters. Born from first-hand knowledge of the contradictions of his time, the mutated, provocative work of José Manuel Ciria turns towards the inside of his own creative experience. The artist aspires to defy the idea of the traditional painted picture as a mere representation and expression, always searching beyond the borders so that he can offer the observer a wide range of sensitivities latent in his consciousness. Without any shadow of a doubt, José Manuel Ciria is the perfect representation of the roaming, intrepid artist who works on the edges of the abyss of art. Audacious in his use of formal resources and unconstrained by conventionalisms, he seeks to construct new artistic paths leading to the conquest of territories unknown on an exciting, experimental mission of discovery.