Catalog Exhibition “Juego de Espejos” Museo del Patrimonio Municipal (MUPAM). Málaga, Marzo 2012
JOSE MANUEL CIRIA: PAINTING AS STRATEGY
The creation of a work of art passes through several states until it is perfected with the gaze of viewer. But of all those states, the first steps in the creative process are, perhaps, the ones that José Manuel Ciria is most interested in. And, that is why his poetics take on more breadth during the genesis of the sign; uniting meanings, signifiers and conceptual nuances in his contemplation. Upon discovering the meaning or concept, he must also discover the signifier and use it to build the right path for the idea to take, and in that way unite investigation and communication, thought and diegesis, to create new signs with it. Processes such as controlled automatism are part of this signic creation, and abstraction is justified by it.
The origin of these poetics is a notebook that he began writing in the late 80’s in which he put down in writing and gave structure to more than fifteen years of previous work. The instrumental nature of this theoretical corpus allowed him to carry out a deep purification that led him to discard mimesis and situate himself in abstraction, which even though he recognizes as not being the ideal vehicle for expressing specific ideas, is perfect for expressing the rupture his painting makes visible.
His fundamental texts are Deconstructive Automatic Abstraction (DAA, 1990) and Alfa Alignment Dynamic (AAD, 2004). They are theoretical developments that divide his career into two periods, if one accepts that the path of art is necessarily tautological. In this examination of the creative process, José Manuel Ciria gives us a meditated poetics in which he systematizes composition from the subject’s relation to a protean universe to the last brush stroke of the painting.
For Ciria, painting is a method of aesthetic inquiry. For that reason, it is not surprising to come across discoveries like pools of light in the forest, or phosphenes akin to the ones found on the trail of crepuscules that, among thorns, the pilgrim walks down in the first Gongorian Solitude This uncertain light draws a path, it defines a method, and it likewise leaves an indelible imprint on the viewer’s gaze. Because, aside from a method of inquiry, for Ciria painting is overcoming a language, it is the process of communication itself, which distances itself from the intellectual game playing so typical of postmodernism. In his own words, “it’s not about being able to resolve a few paintings cleverly, rather it’s about being inside the painting; to keep saying things that might be interesting and to keep doing it for many years while, logically, also being subject to ups and downs and periods of greater or lesser inspiration. “
His work is an oxymoron whose inexact contrasts are based in their beginning, on one hand, and their execution, on the other. Ciria’s work comes out of an examination of painting itself, out of a meticulous theoretical conception, and it manifests itself within an Informalist dictum with its customary expressionistic appearance. Yet, in this evolution from idea to painting, from the conceptual to the material, the result may change course in terms of both intention and planned procedure, presenting unforeseen challenges the artist has to resolve.
This can all be seen in his latest series and in the predilection, which the artist himself acknowledges, for moving between the limits of the geometric and the gestural, which he has set down on the same plane.
We can also see that on a single surface formal contrasts and harmony cohabit, because it is not a matter of resolving pre-established tension rather of presenting opposites in which balance is achieved through reason, (this approach was already present in the Techniques of Controlled Chance, which was one of the analytic areas that made up the first state of DAA). The points of gravity are changed, oppositions are established and disparity is created making the elements cohabit and shifting the balance to a second plane where the concern for tones and textures becomes dominant.
Abstract Memory is a synthesis of the previous series. Some processes seem purified, while others are simply eliminated, and there are also allusions to some issues dealt with in earlier series, being as, when all is said and done, they are steps along the same path. Using his preferred formats (200 cm x 200 cm, or even larger), the calculated geometry that might construe the work itself is used as a counterpoint for adding new forms and a kind of pointillism that comes from chance. Chance and painting are carried out under the rubric of the compositional layout, which has become the ideal scenario for the phenomenon of creation. The equilibrium between red and black, which is typical of Ciria’s internal chromatic dialog, is maintained in the series. These formal constants give cohesion to the discourse of the whole, which we must remember is constructed upon memory, and that is why Belle Vue Amusement Park is a key painting in the series. The title of the painting is a reference to the amusement park in Manchester, where the painter was born. The recollections themselves appear on top of the solid structure of memory, defined later in the chronotope of the childhood amusement park; now expressed in a gestural way, now combined with chance impressions.
The painting, its execution, the part of the creation that doesn’t entirely belong to the artist, emerges over the common geometric matrix. In some cases, the base prevails, like in Baroque Violent (Violento barroco), where the strength of the red, black and orange is contained so the ground may be seen. In other paintings there remains a glimpse of the initial composition, but the dominant formal presence is the outcome of the originary geometry. One example of this is the painting Meeting of waves (Encuentro de olas), where a composition based in ruled geometries, similar to Sol Lewitt’s, lays the groundwork for the outcomes of the tensions on the plane, expressed once again with encounters of red and black.
José Manuel Ciria’s new approach to figuration takes the name of the well known test created by the Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach. Ciria presents a series of bust length portraits that look directly at the viewer who has no choice but to react. The Rorschach Heads series oscillates between figures close to mimesis and faces that are far from any attempt at emulating reality. In fact, the compositional process of the series sometimes involves using photographs taken from the Internet that the artist uses as the starting point for creating his physiognomies. As Carlos Delgado wrote in the book that I had the privilege of publishing a few years ago (Ámbito. Ciria: imágenes del Quijote (Area. Ciria: images from Don Quixote), by Antonio García Berrio), “in the context of his recent return to referential iconography, the figure has been approached (…) like a stimulus for free interpretation that, even in its most figurative manifestations, is oriented towards defining the essential features of the shape of an icon that has undergone several levels of metamorphosis”. When the viewer looks at some of the heads they see the anthropological dimension of them self, and their fear and cruelty is correspondingly increased. In a way, the heads work like folds of the self that pierce the sensibility of whoever looks at them, sharing a certain analogy with the punctum that Barthes wrote about in relation to photography in his essay Camera Lucida. Although all of José Manuel Ciria’s work makes the viewer think, these paintings, with their folding sensation, exemplify Serge Daney’s notion that all forms are faces looking at us more effectively than the rest of his work: because we look at ourselves, and recognize ourselves in the other as well, (at root a threat to our selfness, if we remember Sartre).
With the Abstract Memory and Rorschach Heads III, series Ciria synthesizes figuration and abstraction, calculated geometry and the controlled chance of dripping. In any one of the paintings from those series, you can perceive the desire to simultaneously apprehend and give form to the itinerary followed by different artistic movements that throughout the history of art have consistently exhibited a pendular oscillation between opposites. Along these lines, I believe Patrick B. Goldstein’s observation that almost the entire history of painting can be found in Ciria’s painting is correct. Furthermore, it is correct in regards to the paintings as well as the role played by the artist, being as both series have the intention of making him at once demiurge and medium. The repeated, mathematical, perpendicular lines of the grids in Abstract Memory is the subterfuge for the appearance of images that scrape the gaze, albeit both cohabit the flatness. The heads allude to figuration with varying degrees of referentiality, but they continue to be a matrix upon which the creative process is undertaken. It is a calculated strategy ensuring that during the entire process the artist makes the right decision.