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David Anfam. Valencia.

David Anfam. IVAM. Valencia.


Texto catálogo “Conceptos Opuestos 2001 – 2011”. Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno (IVAM), Valencia, Septiembre 2011.




David Anfam


“Do not despise my opinion when I remind you that it should not be hard for you to stop
and look into the stains on walls, or the ashes of a fire, or clouds”

-Leonardo da Vinci

“I must create a System or be enslav’d by another Man’s”


-William Blake

“Don’t leave any brushstrokes”

-José Ciria

What is the first impression that José Ciria’s art makes? Entering the artist’s New York studio on La Guardia Place in October 2009, followed by a visit to his alternative working space in a Madrid suburb early in 2010—the first time in broad daylight, the second at dusk—I saw various paintings, either recent or still in progress, from the Abstract Memory series alongside others, such as Stick Figure and Uncertainty. At each encounter I felt the same strong, simultaneous tug in different directions. On the one hand, there was an immediate aura of Romantic ardency and bravura, or even violence, in the apparently crackling painterliness and dramatic juxtapositions of crimson, orange-gold and black. On the other hand, the checkerboard or similar geometric divisions of the compositions, the intermittent grisaille and especially the uncannily repeated motifs conveyed a cerebral tone, as if everything were carefully organized according to premeditated spontaneity. Ciria himself tends to project comparable mixed messages. Self-evidently a passionate man, he also comes across as widely read (evidenced in his multifarious titles), deeply thoughtful and a bit melancholy. Fire and ice. Is it coincidence that his two domains, New York and Madrid, share almost identical latitudes? In diverse ways, Ciria seems an amalgam of the old and the new, empiricism and idealism. His work baffles and demands intellectual scrutiny, even as it has a visceral impact. It is as if two drives were superimposed: the visually spectacular and the intellectually circumspect.


It would be easy enough to chart Ciria’s oeuvre from the early 1990s to the present in terms of such oppositions. Nor would this reading be technically incorrect; indeed, it rightly informs the literature. However, a dialectical approach is itself the epitome of modernist thinking—whether it be (to name some examples almost at random) the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel’s analysis of the successive stages of history and reality; Piet Mondrian’s formulation of an art based on the antitheses of vertical/horizontal, line/plane and primary colors versus black and white; or the critic Clement Greenberg’s theories about converting pictorial realism into abstraction by pushing a tendency so far that it precipitates its opposite(1). In short, these strategies reflect what Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer famously critiqued as the dialectics of Enlightenment, a project that gave birth to modernism and ultimately its nemeses(2).


Yet Ciria—conversant with the writings of Greenberg, Walter Benjamin, various semioticians and other canonical thinkers of the last century—has consciously positioned himself after modernism, as befits someone who had wryly titled a work The Last Painting of the 20th Century (1999)(3). Consequently, his initial gaze is retroactive. He regards the past as an archeological site, as it were, to be mined for its signs and schema—which is what gesture, action and meaning become when judged from the perspective of the present rather than at their inception, cultural fossils set in temporal amber. In turn, since time and memory preoccupy Ciria, it makes sense to address his work from the standpoint of an art historical longue durée. Intriguingly, a few radical art historians increasingly view Western painting less as a stylistic evolution than as a semiotic map in which, among various constituent elements, order consistently interacts with, or, more accurately, in fact calls into existence, the inchoate, which functions as a shifting signifier between extremes.


To be specific, first consider a recurrent Ciria motif, the grid. The grid entered his vocabulary as early as La Espera (1988) and Lenguaje (1990). Sometimes it manifests itself as a linear construct; at others, it expands into bands or color fields and even renders the automaton-figure as a cross, as in Follow Your Soul (2005); but always its organizational dictates are the same, like some ubiquitous spatial aether. Obviously, on one level Ciria’s grids refer to the centrality of that device in modernist imagery, a leitmotif extending from Mondrian and Paul Klee in the first half of the twentieth century to Carl Andre and Chuck Close in the second(4). On another level, these rectangular frameworks and compartmentalizations have a longer reach. In essence, they recapitulate the foundational premises underlying illusionistic space in Western painting. Namely, Leon Battista Alberti’s perspectival cube. In Della Pittura, Alberti proposed a checkered floor as the theoretical template for establishing perspectival illusionism:


First of all, where I draw, I inscribe a quadrangle of right angles, as large as I wish, which is considered to be an open window through which I see what I want to paint. Here I determine as it please me the size of the men in my picture. I divide the length of this man in three parts. These parts to me are proportional to that measurement called a braccio…. With these braccia I divide the base line of the rectangle into as many parts as it will receive. To me this base line of the quadrangle is proportional to the nearest transverse and equidistant quantity seen on the pavement…. In this fashion I find described all the parallels, that is, the square[d] braccia of the pavement in the painting(5).

Ciria’s checkerboards resemble a meta-commentary on Alberti’s scenario, the more so because he has specifically alluded compositionally to the window, as in the large Ventana Habitada belonging to an entire group executed between 2003 and 2005, together with the fact that the phantasms laid upon them are protagonists that enact as much of an istoria—albeit an utterly opaque, illegible one—as did the Renaissance theoretician’s men with their modular braccia (itself anticipating the artist’s systematic permutations). Here, Alberti’s words from centuries ago echo the anatomies that populate the La Guardia Place series: “I say composition is that rule in painting by which the parts fit together in the painted work. The greatest work of the painter is the istoria. Bodies are part of the istoria, members are part of the bodies, planes are parts of the members”(6). Scant wonder, then, that at least one writer should describe the La Guardia Place paintings as involving “dismemberments” in which “the destroyed and reconstituted characteristics of the body [are] live and emptied fragments that try to reorganize themselves in a dramatic dialogue”(7). These corps morcélés are like osseous remains, the husks discarded from once-recognizable stories—note the narrative titles, such as Perro Colgado, El Vuelo de Saturno, La Visita de Carlos y Luis, and so forth—that have morphed into impenetrable, semi-abstract allegories. Even when the mood is dynamic, as in Tres Ballarinas, the action is frozen and repetitive, as though the pictorial performers had lost the plot. Bloody Mary Duplicado is an erstwhile fluid mix that will never again liquefy.


Ciria thus becomes the puppet master of a visual drama distantly descended from Alberti’s istoria, except that what was once alive is now stiffly emblematic. In this sense the Post-Suprematist and La Guardia Place series have the mournful air of ruins, as Benjamin memorably described them: “In the ruin history has physically merged into the setting. And in this guise history does not assume the form of the process of eternal life so much as that of irresistible decay. Allegory thereby declares itself to be beyond beauty. Allegories are, in the realm of thoughts, what ruins are in the realm of things”(8). Why else do these mannequins possess pock-marked surfaces evoking eroded stone or bone? What is the reason for the mute, frontal disjecta membra resembling exteriors without any inner meaning (or, conversely, perhaps interiors turned inside-out) and for Ciria’s stress upon time and memory? The ruin triangulates matter with time past and present.


At the start of the twenty-first century, Vanitas (Levántante y Anda) announced, by its title and iconography, memory’s importance. A layered collage, Vanitas includes broken glass alluding to Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (1915-23); a photo of an inverted urinal (again a cue to Duchamp’s 1917 readymade version of the same subject); the reproduction of a kitschy landscape painting; and a text relating to Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs (1965). Respectively, these four items invoke the window (by way of Duchamp’s Large Glass) ; death (since the inverted urinal’s outline approximates a skull, in what may also be a passing nod to Jasper Johns’s allegorical death’s head imagery during the early 1980s); the loss of the artwork’s aura in the age of mechanical reproduction (à la Benjamin’s eponymous essay of 1936); and conceptualism’s deconstruction of objecthood during the 1960s. Overall, therefore, Vanitas suggests a rebus that denotes the successive stations between life and death, reality and representation—each alike caught within a temporal continuum. Also, without so much as even imaging that Ciria was aware of the nineteenth-century still-lifes by the American painters William Harnett and John F. Peto(9), Vanitas approaches their flat, planar layout, about which the art historian Barbara Novak noted: “He [Harnett] so exactly superimposes reality and abstraction that they obscure one another”(10). This observation might just as well apply to Ciria’s arrangements.


If we are inclined to “read” Vanitas as much as we view it, this is because its actual text and layers feel akin to the loosely collated sheets in an album or book through which the mind scans and ponders(11). More generally, Ciria’s dramatis personae—whether figural, as in the heads and presences derived from Kazimir Malevich’s late work, or more resolutely abstract, as with the gestural swipes in the Horda geeométrica o el grito series—assume a hieroglyphic cast, runes that outline the syntax of abstract painting itself. This aspect reiterates the invitation to parse his images like texts. Hence, too, the surely coincidental resemblance of, for example, the compartmentalized rows of Flowers (for MLK) to the gridded configuration and glyphs of, say, David Smith’ sculpture, The Letter (1950). Both are a form of address or script(12). Mutatis mutandis, writing (which of course encompasses hieroglyphs, runes and their like) is inextricably linked to memory, since it records the movements of the mind(13). Furthermore, the importance that Ciria places on his conceptual/theoretical methods—particularly exemplified by his notebooks and other statements as well as the self-explanatory title of his drawings group, Box of Mental States(14)—aligns with his manipulation of various unusual painting grounds, including plastic and thermal panels. Their fragility, reflectivity and malleability as sheets upon which to record traces also has a well-known prototype. Namely, Sigmund Freud’s “mystic writing-pad”.


Freud’s device comprised a thin wax tablet, covered by several transparent sheets that can be marked by a stylus and then lifted to “erase” the writing. “I do not think it too far-fetched,” wrote Freud, “to compare the celluloid and waxed paper cover with the system Pcpt.-Cs. and its protective shield, the wax slab with the unconscious behind them, and the appearance and disappearance of the writing with this flickering-up and passing-away of consciousness in the process of perception”(15). Freud’s model wherein superimposed planes serve to transcribe time, consciousness and the id chimes with Ciria’s systems, particularly his insistence upon memory and transience. As he speculated in the tellingly titled essay, “Mnemosyne and Ephemerality”: “Henri Bergson maintained that memories become images. This idea now makes me relive the entire process of Mnemosyne through a series of images going back in time…. The final support, selected for its special qualities, was Panglass medium grammage place, which, for me metaphorically represented the transparency of Ephemerality, like our earliest memories which gradually turn more opaque”(16). This is the mystic writing-pad redivivus and, increasingly in Ciria’s hands, writ large. But what does it spell?


An answer to the above question may lie in the philosopher Jacques Derrida’s interpretation of Freud’s essay. According to Derrida, Freud identified the psyche with writing as a sign of the unknown, the enigmatic, using metaphors borrowed from a script that is never subject to, never exterior and posterior to, the spoken word”(17). Enter, that is, the unrepresentable. The unrepresentable is the anti-type of Ciria’s preoccupation with ordonnance—be it manifest in geometry, grids, repetition, flatness, formality, the distancing effects inherent in time and systems themselves. Together they constitute the states of opposition that his art encapsulates. A clue to the place of the unknown/enigmatic within this ongoing aporia lies in the series that Ciria did almost a decade ago. It was called Fragmentación de nubes. According to Hubert Damisch in his provocative treatise on the subject, the cloud is a supremely shifting signifier that mediates between the parts of the semiotic system that he believes is embedded in painting from the Italian Renaissance onwards. Indeed, in Damisch’s view, Alberti’s perspectival regimen almost immediately generated an oppositional factor which it could not accommodate and with it interacted dialectically: the cloud. Rather than a literal entity, Damisch’s cloud is a signifier that mediates between different states. Consequently, to denote this shifting status, the word is placed between slashes: “/cloud/”(18).


Well before Ciria focused upon clouds in the 2002 series, the phenomena associated with /cloud/ had emerged under diverse guises. Their sole common denominator was, logically, an opposition towards whatever might fit a fixed linear scheme, a definable representation. In the Encuentros naturales-type paintings from 1992 the stain made its debut, faintly related to the illegible graffiti and erasures found in the work of, among others, Jean Dubuffet and especially Antoni Tapiès. Within a year or so, the stain had materialized as an ovoid entity that acquired “the appearance of a sulphurous cloud of disturbing beauty”(19). Aptly enough, Damisch linked the stain to the cloud, assigning both to the agency of chance. Here, Leonardo da Vinci’s oft-quoted dictum proved seminal: “Do not despise my opinion when I remind you that it should not be hard for you to stop and look into the stains on walls, or the ashes of a fire, or clouds, or mud, or like things, in which, if you consider them well, you will find really marvelous ideas”(20).This exactly anticipated Ciria’s fascination with chance, exemplified in his exploration of Max Ernst’s frottage, decalcomania and dripped techniques. Likewise, his incompatible materials—oil, water, acid and other chemicals(21)—create accidental patterns and textures. Figures, torsos and heads—formless forms—would emerge from these stains, like revenants of Leonardo’s fantastical imaginings discovered amid clouds and stained walls.


Lastly, liquidity completes this metamorphic flux. Announced by the early Piel de Agua group(22), liquids recur throughout Ciria’s corpus, ranging from the Pozos de luz paintings—which the artist explains in terms of how sunlight in a forest leaves “stains” (which are, by definition, liquid and durational in that they transference) on the ground as they pass through the trees’ leaves(23)—to the title Reflejos de Monet (1996), the Glosa liquida group and thence the myriad frothy bubbles and splatters imprinted as residues on his latest pictures(24). Elsewhere, more ominous fluids loom, confirmed by the artist’s testimony: “But my stains also speak of violence, of the days we are living; they speak of torn bodies and of blood, of corporeal fluids on an operating table, of life and death, of the paradoxical and the ephemeral”(25). In sum, water and other fluids belong to the same mutability as clouds: they bespeak a crisis of representation in which things are by turns revealed and concealed. Again, Ciria recapitulates a certain history of modern art, stretching from Gustave Courbet’s oddly material (hence abstract) waves and Monet’s watery reflections, via Jackson Pollock’s submarine depths in Full Fathom Five (1947) and Ocean Greyness (1953), to Hiroshi Sugimoto’s unfathomable photographic seascapes(26). At stake is what lies beyond the limits of vision and knowledge. Damisch summarizes this threshold: “But above all, he [the latter-day Apelles] paints the unpaintable: fire, rays of light, storms, lightning, even—some say—clouds on a wall…. the problematic of cloud is addressed and is most accurately declared to arise at the point where the visible meets the invisible, the representable meets the unrepresentable”(27). The paramount proviso to this paradigm is that Ciria cannily re-presents the representation of these imponderables, controlling (as any good theoretician and conceptualist should) what merely seems aleatory, a lurking malerisch “otherness”. Imagine, we might say, Pollock’s abyssal The Deep (1953)… painted by numbers.


It is in this deconstructive spirit that Ciria can claim, “If what I do is take apart the elements of painting and play with them, one by one, and turn them over, in the end it turns out that while I am painting I am carrying out a conceptual investigation. So that, as I have often said half-jokingly, I am not a painter but someone who observes and analyses the constituent elements of painting and experiments with them”(28). On this score, we should recall Greenberg’s misprision of modern painting. In Greenberg’s highly polemic interpretation, from Courbet and Paul Cézanne onwards, modernist painters exercised a progressive surrender to the ineluctable properties of their medium—primarily pigment and flatness. Along the way, Cubism asserted an all-over structure and Pollock’s pourings epitomized the reduction to materiality, until in the 1960s Post Painterly Abstraction reached a point of no return(29). Thereafter, painters could rehearse their discipline’s unfolding, waxing self-reflexive and prone to convert the supposedly unmediated Abstract Expressionist gesture into a slippery signifier. Robert Rauschenberg led this revision with his Factum I and II (1957), which duplicated Abstract Expressionism’s “unique” brushmark as though it were endlessly reproducible and thus voided. From a similar basis, Ciria has developed his various analyses, such as ADA (Automatic Deconstructive Abstraction, 1990) and DAA (Dynamic Alfa Alignments, 2004). In effect, these are like software programmes with binary bits for configuring abstraction, representation and their permutations.


Ciria has explained his investigations as follows: “Many artists, from different times and periods along history, share a series of instructions, tension lines and distribution of weights which are constantly repeated, although their works are diametrically opposed…. The search for those basic or primary alignments, which I call Alpha, and their dynamic is what I am studying”(30). Of course, Ciria is hardly the first artist to set store by systems. On the contrary, modernity resounded with William Blake’s clarion, “I must create a System or be enslav’d by another Man’s”(31). Likewise, the retort to Blake was Friedrich Nietzsche’s assertion that “the will to a system is a lack of integrity”(32). Twentieth-century painting ran its course between these two maxims: from Mondrian (whose art aspired to an scientific objectivity) as opposed to Wassily Kandinsky (for whom art aspired to the subjective condition of music), to Pollock’s anti-theoretical pantheism versus Ad Reinhardt’s systematic reduction of painting to symmetry, blackness and emptiness. Ciria is the twenty-first century heir to these oppositions. Of special interest, though, are the junctures in his work where the two polarities merge.


One such fusion came with Ciria’s absorption in Malevich’s Suprematism and its quasi-figurative postlude from c.1927 to the Russian’s death in 1935. Malevich’s utopian path to the absolute that culminated in his Quadrangle, commonly known as the Black Square (1915), presupposed an erasing natural appearances to the point where he claimed that “the blue color of the sky has been overcome by the Suprematist system…. A hard, cold system, unsmilingly set in motion by philosophical thought. Indeed, its real power may already be in motion within this system”(33). The ultimate irony was that Malevich’s campaign itself came to grief under another “hard, cold system”, Stalinism. Hence it is easy to understand Ciria’s fascination with his Russian forebear: his art personified the ambiguous conjunction of the visible and the invisible, expression and erasure. Malevich’s late peasants, from which Ciria developed his Post-Suprematist series, covert the human countenance and figure into inhuman schema, hovering between geometry and gestures. Ciria’s recast Malevich’s automata, such as Campesina, amplifying this ambiguity to an iconic level. Moreover, the germinal Máscaras de la Mirada, begun in 1994, also have their touchstone in another of Malevich’s paradoxical positions. Having reached the zero of form with the iconoclastic Black Square, Malevich nonetheless spoke about the its physiognomy: “It is the face of the new art. The Square is a living, royal infant”(34). The act of giving a voice or face to what is absent and lacks one is an established rhetorical device called prosopopoeia(35). The effaced masks to which Ciria returned his attention from 2008 onwards codify this trope into a visual primer that pivots around repetition and difference. With Desocupation del Máscara, the “face” falls apart, the already residual human agent blown asunder by some deconstructive bombshell. This is the ultimate destiny of a desire to anthropomorphize abstraction that Mark Rothko voiced when, in 1943, he said that “all of art is a portrait of an idea”(36). What, to rephrase Rothko, is the point of art if it does not communicate the same human drama that Rembrandt had expressed in a face? To this, Ciria’s masks seems to answer that even their dehumanized integuments are as vulnerable as flesh once was. Herein lies the disconcerting poignancy about his erstwhile coldly calculating gaze. It is the pathos found in someone still touched by the vitality of what he dissects(37).


A second semantic fusion is the apotheosis of the stain-cum-cloud, the oval orange-red-black flash repeated throughout the Abstract Memory canvases. In this shape the gestural mark, Abstract Expressionism’s pictorial messenger for authentic, ineffable emotions—what its apologist Harold Rosenberg in his “American Action Painters” essay (1952) grandiloquently described as the “event” that was to go on canvas—is transmuted into what I would propose is a self-reflexive representation, a cipher duplicated within a constraining conceptual geometry. By its replication, this descendant of the /cloud/ shows itself up to be mere spectacle, a play-within-a-play(38). Willem de Kooning’s and Pollock’s slashing strokes have crystallized into a residue that Ciria compares to a phosphene, “the light sensations that remain on the retina after one has looked into the light”(39). Being a simulacrum, this phosphene is a trace, not the hand’s indexical mark. Therefore it is immaculate too: “Don’t leave any brushstrokes”(40). This increate quality might explain the similarity, as striking as it is doubtless altogether coincidental, between several the Abstract Memory compositions and, for example, such an artefact as the fourteenth-century plenar of Duke Otto the Mild. Set within the gilt rectilinear framework, which communicates both disciplined medieval craftsmanship and the era’s rigid hierarchical mindset, are compartments containing Biblical scenes and symbols, interspersed with extravagantly patterned stone panels. These geological surfaces, later to play their imaginative roles amid the otherwise strict perspectival construction of Fra Angelico’s tableaux(41), have an ancient association (common also to the venerable Chinese tradition of “lingbi” or “scholar’s rocks”) with meditations upon the invisible, the concealed and the transcendent(42). Those who have discerned crystalline and igneous traits in Ciria’s motifs have therefore correctly responded to their stoniness(43): stone materializes time’s passage without the touch of the human hand and, besides being created by fire when its origins are igneous, may contain fiery veins and eruptions. Early on, at least one writer considered fire a key to Ciria’s cyclical alternation between light and ashen residues, while a title such as Burning Scuff (1994) speaks for itself, as do the systematic incandescent holes or flares in the Abstract Memory nexus(44). This leads me to conclude with a parable hopefully true to Ciria’s thinking.


Either seriously or perhaps with a deft wit, Ciria intuits some archetypal blueprint, an underlying family of signs, that conjoins artworks otherwise utterly remote from each other across time and space. For instance, he has discerned the gestalts of Robert Motherwell’s Elegies to the Spanish Republic in Arnold Böcklin’s The Centaurs and echoes from Leonardo’s Last Supper in an Anselm Kiefer composition(45). Following these correspondences, we might add another. Quite apart from Ciria’s high regard for the Spanish painting tradition—signaled by his great triptych from 2006—few paintings from any national school cleave closer to his sentiments than does Diego Velázquez’s The Forge of Vulcan . It is not just a question of Velázquez having employed, as did assorted Spanish masters, among them El Greco, Juan Sánchez Cotán and Francisco Zurbarán, a limited imagistic repertoire that they constantly varied. Nor is it Velázquez’s phenomenal ability to conjure verisimilitude from brushstrokes that often, when scrutinized, dissolve into abstract vectors—crucial as both these precedents may be for Ciria’s modus operandi. Rather, it is that The Forge of Vulcan conjugates concepts that most accord with Ciria’s.


For a start, Velázquez’s stagecraft pivots on metamorphosis: fire transforms base metal into shining armor, leaving ambient ash. Secondly, Vulcan personifies homo faber, who rationalizes his making (which is what Ciria’s conceptual plans do)(46). Thirdly, Apollo—to whom the plebian workmen react with shock—radiates a stable pool of light amid workaday grayness. His ostensibly mortal skin is transfigured into the supernal order that godhead inhabits. That is, Velázquez outlines the unrepresentable (significantly Apollo’s face almost vanishes in profil perdu). Fourthly, the entire dramaturgy concerns energy—raw as burning metal and human muscle, yet also modulating into the steely perfection of radiant armor and the poised deity. Lastly, The Forge of Vulcan constellates sundry gazes focused upon Apollo—the archetypal form-giving artist—and latent with the more sinister lineaments of desire, since the god bears news about Vulcan’s wife Venus’s amorous tryst with Mars, the warrior(47). Velázquez keeps these contrarieties in suspension, as does Ciria, for whom meaning is always deferred(48). This equilibrium, in which invisible desire and materiality, the inchoate and the polished, beauty and alienation, coexist is the heart of Ciria’s vision. It beats with energy, by turns unruly or contained. The painter conjuring shameful masks (Schandenmaske), the nightmarishly disfigured Cabeza de Rorschach series and altered photographs such as Mr War (2003), not to mention the visceral martyrdoms of Sts Sebastian and Andrew, alongside the bloody Victimas visages and a Campo de Concentración (2005) in which the phosphorescent fire/cloud/paint swathe levitates against a gridded ground, now conceived as wire mesh—everything that we hide from or try to conceal, pushing it beyond recognition—is also the cool post-modernist for whom his medium can be deconstructed, “undressed” to its constituent schema, as if by a computer(49). Despite the vast gulf separating the English Georgian era poet Blake and the contemporary Spaniard, the former would surely have recognized Ciria’s grand system: it equates to a metaphorical marriage of heaven and hell, the mercurial halves of a conflicted yet always symbiotic order(50).


1.See “Dialectical Conversion,” in Donald B. Kuspit, Clement Greenberg: Art Critic (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979), pp.20-29.


2.Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, transl. E. Jephcott, Dialectics of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments (Stanford: Stanford University Press [1947], 2002).


3.Ciria’s post-modernism was noted early in the literature. See, for example, Javier Maderuleo, “An Affirmation of a Different Coherence in Painting” [1993], in Ciria: Las Formas del Silencio, Antología Crítica (Madrid: Sotohenar, S. L., 2004), p.19.


4.The seminal study remains Rosalind E. Krauss, “Grids,” in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1985), pp.7-21.


5.Leon Battisa Alberti, transl. John R. Spencer, On Painting (New Haven and London: Yale University Press [1435-36], 1966), pp. 56-57. 6.Ibid., p.70.


7.Carlos Delgado, “Ciria, Rare Paintings, Post-Genres and Dr Zaius,” in Ciria: Rare Paintings (Madrid: Fundación Carlos de Amberes, 2008), p.146.


8.Walter Benjamin, transl. John Osborne, The Origin of German Tragic Drama (London and New York: Verso [1928], 1998), pp.177-8.


9.Ciria says that he had in mind the seventeenth-century Dutch artist Samuel van Hoogstraten; Mercedes Replinger, “Glosa Liquida,” in De Profundis clamo ad te aqua (Oviedo: Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias, 2003), p.16. Nevertheless, the aluminium band that binds the objects in Vanitas to the surface is especially reminiscent of the constraints that Peto used to hold his still-life items to an illusionistic board or similar support.


10.Barbara Novak, American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism and the American Experience (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), p.234.


11.On the textuality of images, see Garrett Stewart, The Look of Reading: Book, Painting, Text (Chicago and London, 2006). 12.See David Anfam, “Vision and Reach: The World Is Not Enough,” in David Smith: A Centennial (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2006), pp.28-30.


13.Eric Jager, The Book of the Heart (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p.2: “The Greek poets frequently pictured memory, experience, and other aspects of the interior person as a written ‘tablet’ or ‘scroll,’ giving this metaphor an importance place in ethical and religious thought.”


14.See note 2, above.


15.Jager, op. cit., p.160. Sigmund Freud, “A Note Upon the ‘Mystic Writing-Pad’” [1925], in Angela Richards, ed., On Metempsychology: The Theory of Psychoanalysis (London and New York: Penguin Books, 1991), p.433.


16.Ciria, in Las Formas del Silencio, p.52.


  1. “Freud and the Scene of Writing,” in Jacques Derrida, transl. Alan Bass, Writing and Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), p.199.


18.Hubert Damisch, transl. Janet Lloyd, Theory of /Cloud/: Toward a History of Painting (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), p.14.


19.Delgado, op. cit., p.302.


20.Leonardo da Vinci, transl. A. Philip MacMahon, Leonardo da Vinci: Treatise on Painting (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956), vol.1, p.50.


21.Box of Mental States, p.41.


22.The concept of Agua de Piel entails surface tension and is therefore about a precarious equilibrium between exterior and interiority—another variant of Ciria’s states of opposition; see Steven Connor, The Book of Skin (London: Reaktion Books, 2004), pp.260-62.


23.See Ciria’s interview in this publication, p.X.


24.Titles such as Narciso and Bañista are only a two among many similar references to water. Cf. a forerunner of this quality in Damisch, op. cit. pp.33-34: “One example is provided by Protogenus who, despairing of reproducing the appearance of the froth issuing from a dog’s mouth, was said to have hurled a sponge at his painting, thereby, without intending to, achieving his goal: a representation the truth of which owed nothing to art”.


25.Guillermo Solana, “Salpicando la Tela de Agua,” in Ciria: Squares from 79 Richmond Grove (Warsaw: National Museum of Poland, 2004), p.34.


26.See David Clarke, Water and Art (London: Reaktion Books, 2010), pp.78-111.


27.Damisch, op. cit., p.129.


28.Ciria, in Squares from 79 Richmond Grove, p.39.


  1. “Modernist Painting,” “After Abstraction Expressionism” and ‘Post-Painterly Abstraction,” in John O’Brian, ed., Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, vol. 4 (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp.85-93, 121-133 and 192-197.


  1. “Conversación de Juan Estefa Freire con José Manuel Ciria,” in José Manuel Ciria: Limos de Fénix (Barcelona: Bach Quatre Art Contemporani, 2005), p.98.


31.William Blake, “Jerusalem,” in Geoffrey Keynes, ed., Blake Complete Writings (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), p.629.


32.Friedrich Nietzsche, transl. R. J. Hollingdale, Twilight of the Idols (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, [1888], 1968), p.25.


33.Kasimir Malevich, “Non-Objective Art and Suprematism,” in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, eds., Art in Theory: 1900-1990 (Oxford: Blackwell Ltd, 1992), p.291.


34.John Golding, Paths to the Absolute (London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000), p.62.


35.See Bernard Dupriez, A Dictionary of Literary Devices. Gradus, A-Z (Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1991), pp.358-59.


  1. “The Portrait and the Modern Artist” [1943], in Miguel López-Remiro, ed., Mark Rothko: Writings on Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006), p.38.


37.On this existential note, see Donald Kuspit, “Tragic Modernism: José Manuel Ciria’s La Guardia Place Paintings,” in Rare Paintings, pp.167-174. Some noteworthy precursors to the effaced masks of the gaze/shame are René Magritte’s The Rape (1934) and the elderly woman who peels off her face in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1968); each mingles desire and pain. Philip Guston also treated the erased visage as part of his wish to build a new pictorial “alphabet” starting from scratch.


38.Cf. Damisch, op. cit., p.63: “But such is the paradoxical nature of representation that it is never more assured, as such, than when it openly presents itself as a representation, or even as the representation of a representation [emphases original].”


39.Marcos Ricardo-Barnatán, “Alphabet: Ciria/Gilgamesh,” in Ciria: La Epopaya de Gilgamesh (Buenos Aires: Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, 2007), p.102.


40.Ciria, “The Absent Hand,” in Box of Mental States, p.83.


41.See Georges Didi-Huberman, Fra Angelico: Dissemblance and Figuration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), which argues that Fra Angelico’s stones and their splattered blotches prophesy Pollock and represent the hidden and the divine in unformed matter.


42.See Andrew Moore and Nigel Larkin, eds., Art at the Rockface: The Fascination of Stone (London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2006), pp.68-81; also, Damisch, op. cit., p.33 cites the concept of “’imagistic’ stones”.


43.Angel Antonio Herrera, “El Dueño del Volcan, o El preferido del incendio, o Salvaje es el que se salva,” in Rare Paintings, p.10; Delgado, op. cit., p.112.


44.Miguel Logroño, “Where Signs Are Born,” in Las Formas del Silencio, p.74.


45.“Experimental Lines of Investigation and Analytic Proposal” [2010], typescript kindly provided by the artist.


46.As postulated by Henri Bergson in L’evolution créatrice [1907]—to whose opposite Ciria implicitly refers in his allusions to homo ludens and its playfulness, such as Habitacíon de Juegos and Máscara Para los Juegos.


47.Accordingly, Ciria has referenced Venus in his titles.


48.Ciria, in Delgado, op. cit., p.102: “There is nothing even like a literal meaning, if by meaning one understands a clear, transparent concept”.


49.Limbos de Fénix, pp.37-38.


50.Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” [c.1790-93] envisaged a dynamic relationship between a stable celestial world and an energized nether realm. Ciria typified this bifurcation in a pictorial set piece such as Gabriel y Mefistófeles (1999).