Text catalog “Uaset’s Doors”. Tabacalera, Promoción del Arte. Madrid, December 2014
POSSIBLE ANOMALIES: GUIDELINES FOR APPROACHING THE WORK
“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.”
José Manuel Ciria
H0 – All the phantoms were piling up inside my head. Just like other times, I felt a tremendous need to strip the paint from the wall. Certainly an artist, no matter how much he wants to stay true to his principles, cannot escape the reality surrounding him. Like everyone, he is a slave to his profession and is obligated to be shaped by and stay informed of what is happening. That would bring this question into play: is it a true need or simply going along with whatever is happening? The Memoria Abstracta (Abstract Memory) series had turned out to be quite gratifying. I greatly enjoyed creating the compositions and even though countless sketches and preliminary drawings went into that work group, the final collection of images turned out to be fairly succinct. Perhaps it was this mania for always attempting to find “something else”, always wanting to provoke a new uncertainty instead of exploring more deeply by repeating a convenient formula until it reaches the satiation point. Those phantoms were making themselves right at home around a table inside my head. An idea unexpectedly crossed my mind: a grid on the floor, an enormous red grid on the floor taking up the entire area. Inside each square would be a “stain”, a painted tarpaulin or canvas, just like in Memoria Abstracta. I offered a few drawings of the pictorial installation to Donald Kuspit. He liked them very much, but he began to fill the walls with squares and suddenly I was forced to choose: either on the walls or on the floor. Both at the same time were overwhelming and clashed with the overall concept. I tried to explain that the piece would have parts that would be hung from the ceiling, so it wasn’t necessary to fill up the walls. There was no way to change the mind of someone who wanted to show my work. I’m not complaining. It was a true pleasure to work together at his side and our numerous conversations were fascinating. It’s not that easy to find a conversational partner on certain subjects who is so well prepared and so down-to-earth. A last-minute change in location for an exhibition scheduled by the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest precipitated the premiere of a project which had slowly gestated but was by no means ready. I had the entire ground floor and first floor of the complex at my disposal. The problem was with what had once been an enormous dance hall. Adapting the selected work to the new facilities was a simple enough task, but we didn’t have anything to fill that huge hall next to it. When I mentioned the possibility of using the floor installation to Gabi Serrano, the exhibition curator, her eyes lit up and she immediately decided that was going to be the work exhibited in that space. The only bad thing was we had to create the piece on site, with 119 tarpaulins stained with paint occupying 119 squares that measured 120 x 120 cm each. We spent our entire stay stuck inside the museum working, going out to discover the city only when they threw us out for the night. It was a shame it turned out to be impossible to hang part of the installation from the ceiling, but I believe everyone is going to be able to see the piece just as it appeared in my mind in this new exhibition. “Memoria Abstracta Installation”.
When I was a boy, I really hated my drawing teachers. I took great pains to draw the best I could, and they marked up the fucking drawings with a huge B or A written with a felt-tip or red ballpoint pen. Assholes. One day, a teacher handed back my “corrected” drawing and I ripped the paper in half right under her nose. I was fed up. She asked me the reason why I did that. I answered right away that the drawing was ruined with those giant letters on top of them. She got very angry but never “marked” my “little pieces” again. At the end of the school year, they gave me a diploma, but since I already had several, and being a rebel was controlling my actions then, I decided to give it back to them with a huge red A on it. This time it was my parents who got angry, and I ended up having that same teacher the next year in Technical Drawing. A nightmare. But that, that’s another story.
I can’t remember if the questions I have today are the same ones I had yesterday.
I was preparing the large-scale grid mural “Encuentros de Ira” (“Angry Encounters”, Memoria Abstracta series) for the final wall in the exhibition spaces of IVAM (Valencia Institute of Modern Art). The assembly was carried out as planned, occupying a 4 x 11 meter area, although the original idea couldn’t be seen until a few months later in Málaga at MUPAM (Municipal Patrimony Museum of Málaga). The full complement of 45 pieces that make up the composition was exhibited there, creating a stain on the wall measuring 3 x 15 meters. Donald Kuspit loved this piece and decided to include the work, divided into two 3 x 7 meter sections, in the exhibition at the Círculo de Bellas Artes. At the same time as this giant mural, I was working on three polyptychs of nine panels each. I wanted the spirit of these compositions to be a bit separate from their sisters, so I included a group of nine sand-colored panels, something distinct from the usual black and aluminum gray backgrounds. I was attempting to get away from the standard stain by including smaller stains, overlaps on the edges, spots with shapes in another color, a star, a mask, the silhouette of what could be a head. Days and nights, water and desert, stillness and movement in an alternating rhythm of whites and reds. The classical nature of these compositions, similar albeit smaller versions of those in the Memoria Abstracta series, were so perfectly and convincingly resolved that I felt pretty discouraged by the result of these new polyptychs. Turning the panels over, I began to search for other solutions by exchanging some pieces among the three initial designs. I didn’t like any of the combinations I came up with, but in the process of moving them around, suddenly the floor of the studio was covered with the 27 fragments. And that ensemble worked together as a whole. And so was born a single piece measuring 3 x 9 meters. A flash of inspiration entitled “Wake Up“.
I was attending an exhibition by Sarah Lucas at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. I don’t often eat candies, but for some inexplicable reason I was enjoying a lollipop during my visit to the gallery. Suddenly, a security guard walked up to me and says eating in the gallery is not allowed and I have two options. I could either save it in my pocket or not take it out of my mouth. In order to say something about the piece to the person who was with me, I had to take the lollipop out of my mouth and hold it in my hand by the stick. I think that was what bothered the guard. I answered as politely as I possibly could in unintelligible English with the lollipop stuck in my mouth. Just then an idea flashed through my head. Why don’t I unzip my pants, take out my penis and calmly take a piss in one of the old toilets the artist had distributed in different places around the gallery? Success was guaranteed: they would call the police to come arrest me and the press would make a big deal of my fooling around. That meant everyone in London would find out that Ciria had arrived in the city. The truth is that would have made doing it worthwhile and the worst case scenario was just paying a simple fine. The truth is I didn’t have the gall to do it. A few months later, half the newspapers around the world were running the story of an alleged artist named Deborah de Robertis, who exposed her vagina in front of Courbet’s painting “Origin of the World” at the Musée d’Orsay. I believe my idea was much better: instead of being famous for a couple of minutes by going around flashing your pussy in museums, pissing in Sarah Lucas’ toilets would be much more provocative and radical. That is possibly the reason I dedicate myself to painting and there are a lot of things in the art world that simply seem like a “pisstake” to me.
While I was writing this, my eyes fell on the photo of my father I have on the huge, rundown table. His gaze is always supportive and loving. With all my respect and love, how I do miss my best friend.
E01 – In 1992, I prepared a few canvases covered in black and washed with thinner which, along with truck tarpaulins, were the standard backgrounds I was using during that period. I had painted some geometric motifs on them before that remained perfectly visible after I was through handling the canvas. I was using plastic vinyl sheets cut to the proper size to transfer the outlines of the letters and words. The color green was applied with my fingers in several coats looking to create a contrast with the background. Six of those canvases were taken down from their stretcher and rolled up in a single roller. I needed stretchers measuring 2 x 2 meters and I didn’t have any money. The cylinder tolerated a move when I changed studios in Madrid but the external canvas surrounding the others was damaged, suffering a big cut in the middle of the composition. During the first few months of 2006 I was living in a somewhat schizophrenic state. I had moved to New York the year before and the work took off on a new course in the Manhattan studio with the Post-Supremática (Post-Suprematist) series. A return to lines, to structure, to drawing. The problem was that, on my trips back to Madrid, the work I was producing was exactly the same as I had been doing there before my move. That situation lasted for several months, until the work in both studios blended together in a single direction. It was precisely on one of those trips, as I was moving things around and cleaning up, when that roll that had been saved 14 years before reappeared. They were several unclassifiable works that didn’t fit in with the evolution to the later painting but, at the same time, offered some fantastic backgrounds to work with. I decided to stretch and mount them on stretchers with wooden boards, and started painting. They inevitably belong to the Máscaras de la Mirada (Masks of the Glance) series, but I believe they can be considered as some of the best pieces in the entire series. They were the last works I did before picking up the series again in 2011, due to a commission, and I was hoping for a special occasion to include them in an exhibition. “Conscience“, “Painting” and “Voice“
Some people look at you admiringly and put you on a kind of pedestal. Others use a deep-seated envy to communicate with you. There are also those people who only feel contempt and inexorably act in an underhanded way to rub salt in the wound.
I was attending the Frieze London Fair with a gallery owner. In the Frieze Masters pavilion, a magnificent piece from Guston’s abstract expressionist period was hung. My companion remarked to me that it looked like shit (literally) to him. A few aisles further on, we came across a superb piece -one of those you would like to rob if it turned out to be impossible to buy it-, also by Guston, but created during his final period. My friend made exactly the same comment. Do you get the impression he doesn’t like Philip Guston? I found out that same night that my companion didn’t have the slightest idea about art, didn’t know anyone and was pretty reactionary. There are extraordinary gallery owners, but there also many people who should have opened a clothing boutique or a dried goods store instead of an art gallery.
F01 – “This is not an attempt to intentionally make an example of a stance that is certainly widespread among contemporary artists, one that defends the unintelligible and uninterpretable nature of all artwork. In all probability, the ultimate essence that all artwork expresses resists being reduced to logos, because that essence does not obey logical questions, nor can it be explained through language. The challenge of interpretation and criticism. If abstract paintings appear to us in the form of symbols that speak intimately to our emotions and feelings, for being the enigmas they are, they urge us to try to make a greater effort to reveal what they mean. To express what is left unsaid. Philosophy and art. Thought and painting. Theoretical depth and precognitive awareness”. I had the transparent PVC sheets cut to measure, but at the last minute I decided to finish the “Visiones Inmanentes” (“Immanent Visions”) piece with only five “sacks”. After the grant in Tel Aviv and the exhibit at the Sala Rekalde in Bilbao, I returned and picked up the work that had been left halfway finished. But at that moment, it was the text I cited at the beginning of this paragraph that asked me for space in the piece and the possibility of interrupting its interpretation. “Distorsión Semántica” (“Semantic Distortion”) was included in the exhibition mounted at the Moisés Pérez de Albéniz gallery from January to March 2003. Moisés was extremely generous and that greatly encouraged me. It was one thing that he chose to exhibit that work at the ARCO (Art Fair) and the spectacular exhibitions he presented in his gallery were another thing altogether. Motivation.
When my parents decided to return to Madrid after 10 years in England, I had some problems at school: eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen… it took me awhile to adapt to the Spanish once, doce, trece, catorce, quince, dieciséis. I would translate it as once, doce, diecitres, diecicuatro, diecicinco instead. My schoolmates laughed at me a lot.
Professional critics in Spain often seem to have the idea that we artists are almost illiterate. Maybe they’re right.
Perhaps we artists should wear a badge or an ID bracelet with the following warning: “Fine artist. Behave accordingly”. I don’t know if that way people would understand us better, or begin to exterminate us.
F02 – I was working at the same time on several collages of the Sueños Construidos (Constructed Dreams) series. I had small mountains of fabrics trimmed to different sizes, recovered from ruined canvases or specially prepared. Many of them were squares and rectangles, waiting to be cut to the right size. But when I spread them on the floor to start the selection process, my hands stopped because of what my eyes were seeing in front of me. There on the floor was an immense grid that had a “life of its own”. I stayed there for hours looking at that composition. I liked the “gaps” that were formed between the pieces and let you see the edges of the other tarpaulins or canvases that were underneath. To cause grids and gaps. Different grids of various sizes hung from the ceiling with a canvas with a black background to spotlight the geometric shapes. To walk through a small forest of grids suspended in the air. A work aimed at the guts and not the eyes, fire in the belly, “El Sol en el Estómago” (“The Sun in the Stomach“). It was logical to reach that point in the “Compartmentalizations”. Some notes written years before were compiled in the “Notebook of Notes – 1990”, where the idea of a real and physical compartmentalization was already suggested. I only had to delve more deeply into the concept and wait for the moment to arrive to bring it to life. The intention of taking the work off the wall, “expanded painting” as it was called for a while, became a reality between 2001 and 2003 in pieces such as “Visiones Inmanentes”, “Distorsión Semántica” y “El Sol en el Estómago”. There were many ideas, sketches and drawings of various installations. Perhaps the most ambitious was “Labyrinth”, which attempted to recreate a kind of maze of the Minotaur, but I never found a space with the necessary dimensions and features. I even took the trouble to research the ideal shape for a labyrinth full of streets and intersections, intentionally complicated to confuse whoever went into it, and reached the conclusion that my favorite was a grid labyrinth similar to the Ashcombe maze. I still have some of those designs saved.
I went walking around Mayfair and ran into an opening at an art gallery. While I was observing the well-lit building from outside, a friend of mine gave me a shove. After a hug and the usual greeting ritual, we both went in the gallery. Going our separate ways, we calmly looked over the pieces hung by two artists who were completely unrelated to one other. When we met up again outside in the street, my friend said by way of explanation -“The gallery is run by a wonderful gay couple, but this exhibition is fucking shit. They paid four thousand pounds to the art critic because he didn’t want to write the essay of the catalogue-“. You have to make a living from something.
It’s a long road. Possibly, humans should never speak of the gods.
F03 – I was finishing up preparing the pieces they were going to show at a 2003 exhibition at the MPA gallery in Pamplona. I had started two pieces with the same idea: utilize the material and appearance of the “sacks”, but for works that were going to be hung from the walls. The first one that was finished and included in the exhibition was “Visión Crucificada” (“Crucified Vision”). It is a piece that had an enormous impact, but it never really worked right in the gallery because of its distance from the lighting. The brightness of the light didn’t bother me when the sacks were unaffected by it, but I didn’t like the effect it produced on that work during the mounting. Sadly, the piece met a tragic end. The PVC which covered it was badly damaged while being transported and the piece couldn’t be restored. The result was that, on returning to the studio, I decided to modify the “Visión Crucificada II” piece, getting rid of the PVC sheet covering it and moving the composition onto a stretcher measuring 2 x 2 meters. I included it as a variation in the “Imanes Iconográficos” (“Iconographic Magnets”) suite. The piece was recently retouched again to form part of this exhibition. A few months ago, while I was working with Carlos Delgado in choosing the paintings they were going to exhibit in “Las Puertas de Uaset” (“The Doors of Uaset)”, we were playing around with reproductions of many pieces and looking at the different possibilities. Among all that material there were several drawings of the last series, “The London Boxes”. Purely by accident, two images fell next to each other: “Visión Crucificada II” and a rough sketch that didn’t even have a title. Both of us were surprised by the similarities of the composition. One offered some clearly defined geometric shapes, while the other was planning to resolve itself with curves. I decided to modify the sketch so that both had an even stronger relationship and provided the finished work with a more appropriate title, “Icono Memorizado” (“Memorized Icon”). Including an enormous eye in the lower part was also perhaps reminiscent of the “Cabezas de Rorschach III” (“Rorschach Heads III”) series.
It is impossible to live with an alcoholic. Everything around them turns into garbage.
Contrary to what people often think, the Muses are easy enough to trap. They hide themselves carefully, but the moment you get to work, they can’t help coming out to see what you’re doing. If you have some traps prepared, you don’t have to do anything except wait for that moment. It’s even legal to kill them, since most people and the authorities doubt their existence. Sweet muses! I personally like to eat them cooked rare with a pinch of salt, accompanied by a well-chilled dry white wine. Eating them has tremendously beneficial effects for artists.
To be a fine artist, it’s enough to think like an artist. But to paint, you also have to think about painting.
VI – I. A small tarp with stains on a text, crucified, floating in the space secured by a wire. “Desmembramiento” (“Dismemberment“) is the name of the ancient nightmare.
- “Conocimiento Censurado” (“Censored Knowledge“) belongs to a small group of “mutilated” books I painted in 2004. The concept of this work is eminently political. A red shout. We understand censorship as the suppression of a particular content or modification of the form of a work for ideological, moral or political reasons. In the broad sense, it is considered to be the suppression of material that could be considered offensive, harmful, inappropriate or uncomfortable for a certain government or the communications media, acting according to their particular interests. How many books have been burned or simply banned throughout our history? In political censorship, governments manipulate and hide information from their citizens, to control the population or block free expression that could bring about criticism, revolts or rebellion. The practice of disinformation. The religious censorship that has accompanied us since the dawn of time suppresses any material that may disagree with the dominant imposed faith. Faith is one thing and another, entirely different one is the Church, whose actions have been devastating over the centuries. As with all religions, neither to think nor to question is allowed us. The censorship of the communications media blindly obeys the political orientation of the media barons, destroying the efforts of journalists and freedom of the press. Knowledge doesn’t matter, only power and money.
I was talking with Carole Newhouse in New York about the exhibition she was going to curate for me. She had brought me a copy of the floor plan of the exhibition spaces. I didn’t have the slightest idea of the size and was very surprised to see how big they were. It was not going to be an easy exhibition. I spent the entire afternoon and part of the night contemplating those unforgiving plans, moving all the works in the studio around to prepare different concepts that Carole would be able to choose from or combine. The next morning, without thinking, like I was on autopilot, I raised up the huge stained canvases I had protecting the floor of the studio. Another step forward in the intermittent crossover sub-series El Jardín Perverso (The Perverse Garden). I stapled one of the canvases against the south wall and began to draw an image that was running around in my head. Purely by accident, its very size (269 x 350 cm) meant another canvas would overlap on top of the lower part, leaving a beige stripe that highlighted the volume of the composition. Repeated shadow behind the figure over that line and white, black and grays to resolve the work. Light. A red line from one side to the other on the upper edge. After a few days, the work was finished. I used acrylic instead of the usual oil point since the work was always going to travel rolled up and wasn’t going to use a stretcher. The strange thing is that, while I remember perfectly the production of the three “sister” pieces of the work I’m referring to, I remember absolutely nothing about those days. A vague flash of working and working without eating or sleeping, without knowing if it was day or night. A work that overwhelmed me when I raised it off the floor. Capricious muses. “Broken”.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dully boy… It’s possible that, like Nicholson in “The Shining”, there are too many artists who repeat the same identical formula until they reach the satiation point. At least I try to hide it.
V2 – I’ve always liked to work on different series simultaneously, at least two at a time. It’s a kind of point and counterpoint that allows me to extrapolate conclusions between works that initially appear unrelated. At the end of 2008, I was immersed in the “Doodles” series, which evolved into a deeper exploration of certain conclusions from the previous “La Guardia Place” series, involving more color and a more playful appearance. I was doing a lot of drawings and sketches of different things and I needed to open up a new “path.” I had some drafts with checkerboards and grids. I filled in the spaces between the lines in one of them with watercolors. A few days later, I had a 2 x 2 meter canvas ready with a checkerboard of nine squares resolved in aluminum gray and tanned sand. What surprised me was that I had included an interior frame in black separating the borders inside the composition. For two weeks, I had the prepared background up in plain sight while I was working on other pieces. I had gone practically five years without painting with stains and, to be honest, I was definitely motivated to start again. But the background forced me to respect it and I wanted to do justice to it. Contrary to my usual practice of working in the morning with natural light, “Flowers (for MLK)” was painted at night in a single session. When I got up the next day, I felt very satisfied contemplating the work. In the pre-New York painting of the “Máscaras de la Mirada” series, the geometric elements were a resource for including geometry and the gestural in the same level, thus creating tension. But in the new “Memoria Abstracta” series, the geometric element had grown exponentially to the point that it became the co-protagonist of the compositions. Of all the pieces in the series, “Abrupto” is arguably one of the most powerful and successful. It contains a strange energy and sharpness that goes beyond the gaze. Movement.
Two test questions for the connoisseurs of my work (obviously only interested parties and friends will be able to take the exam):
1 – What is the correct chronology for the appearance of these theoretical platforms?
- a) – A D A., D A A., A A D.
- b) – D A A., A A D., A D A.
- c) – A A D., A D A., D A A.
- d) – None of the above.
2 – Can you complete the full titles expressed by those initials?
The prize for answers receiving an outstanding is an invitation to dinner for two at a good Japanese restaurant. For a notable, a calamari sandwich in the “Brillante” on Marqués de Zafra (Plaza de Roma). Good answers will be awarded a hearty slap on the back. Adequate, just a smile. Anyone who fails, fuck them.
Very enlightened. Particular interests, committees, favors, doctrines, biased positions, the commitments, who you get along with, the well-placed friend, the latest thing that happened in New York, the sudden thought, the hipsters, the lack of enthusiasm for teaching, insisting on the process even though it may not produce works, acting like a gangster, the artistic temperament… Not a lot of room left for the wonder, discovery and fascination.
There should be classes in “Education of the Eye”.
E02 – While immersed in the “Sueños Construidos” series in 2001, I had commitments to do two international exhibitions: at La Recoleta Cultural Center in Buenos Aires and the Museum – Theater Givatayim in Tel Aviv. I was asking myself about the work I should select or prepare in order to fill those enormous facilities. I also had to take into account the transport costs of the pieces, since the budgets involved weren’t too generous. Small scraps from various collages were scattered on top of tables in the Madrid studio. I began playing around with them, forming different structures by imaging the white of the tables were really the walls of the exhibition spaces. The idea was simple: to make very large-scale works resolved with levels of different canvases that would be nailed directly to the walls. This approach in turn solved the transportation issue, too, since all those canvases could be rolled up together in a single roll. Only a medium-sized box would travel along with it, carrying the pieces that protruded from the compositions and the accompanying works to complete the exhibitions. I mixed various kinds of supports: plastic tarpaulins, military tarpaulins, thin canvases, standard canvases and added different iconographies from previous series to them, primarily the stains from “Máscaras de la Mirada” and the splatters of “Glosa Líquida” (“Liquid Words”). Three 3 x 5 meter works, “Paisaje de la Coexistencia” (“Landscape of Coexistence”), “Paisaje del Respeto” (“Landscape of Respect”) and “Paisaje de la Paz” (“Landscape of Peace”) were produced that way, and intentionally titled with those names for my commitment in Israel. My friend Carlos Delgado, the exhibition curator I have worked with most frequently and who knows my work best, was insisting on including at least two of these pieces in “Las Puertas de Uaset”. We have had differences of opinion on occasion concerning the pieces to be chosen for particular exhibitions. But the truth is that I try not to oppose him, since he usually is right -simply because he is capable of outlining a discourse the instant he first sees the plans of an exhibition space-. Ability to see and relate. Well, in spite of everything I just said, I continue harboring doubts over how appropriate it is to feature those pieces. The panel to support these works was 16.70 meters long, meaning it is one pretty monstrous wall. The anxiety went away one night in London when it occurred to me to turn on the computer, look at the digital reproductions and begin to “re-place” all those canvases with a different layout, converting them into a single composition, “Paisajes” (“Landscapes“).
It has been said that painting is dead almost from the day it was born. Today, it is a simple rhetorical question, a product of hypertextualization. What does a chicken laying eggs have to do with the chestnuts fallen from a tree? Someone will tell me the eggs aren’t interesting and what they really like (or affects them) is the “marrón glacé”. Well, great.
I don’t know if stupidity can be cured.
E03 – Javier González de Durana, having seen my exhibition at the Salvador Díaz gallery, offered me the opportunity to do an exhibition of my work at Sala Rekalde in Bilbao. I’ll never be able to express enough gratitude for his help. For me it was an enormous challenge, given the facility’s excellent programming. I don’t remember ever having made a greater effort and working as much as I did on that exhibition. I painted a few 3 x 4 meter billboards directly on a mixture of different advertising posters glued on the real billboards, provided by my friend Miguel Ángel Clavaguera when he worked at Dauphin. There was a selection of works from the “Glosa Líquida” series, various “Psicopompos” (“Psychopomps”), several pieces from the “Suite Buenos Aires” (a hybrid of “Máscaras de la Mirada” and “Sueños Construidos”) and a series of large-scale reproductions of photographs from the “Odaliscas” (“Odalisques”) series. But it was missing something. I had made a few experimental pieces wrapped in transparent plastic, and I had some flat sacks of the same material on which I introduced small pieces resolved on paper or tarpaulin. But the sacks lost their shape when I hung them by the hooks so I placed some washers in each corner of the upper part. I had several finished and arranged them together on a wall to photograph them, but it didn’t work because the edges of the sacks were missing. Then I built a little scaffold from where I could hang the pieces floating in the air. As I finished one after the other, I became very interested in the images I was getting with the Polaroid. By reproducing them in a much larger format, I came up with “Visiones Inmanentes“, quite possibly the best title of my entire career. I want to offer a nomination that gets close to what was running through my head. The DRAE (Royal Spanish Academy Dictionary) defines “immanent” as that which is inherent to a being or something inseparable from its essence, even though one can rationally tell them apart. “Immanent Visions“, the most ambitious collage, attempted to make it impossible for the vision to divide and break down the different elements that made up the design. I wanted its five elements and 10 sides to remain engraved in the mind as a single entity. I included a doll with the face of Wittgenstein, because of the evolutionary possibilities of the work of art. The piece is completed with a text that makes a 2 x 2 meter stain on the wall.
I was with Julian Schnabel at the premiere of his first film in Madrid (Basquiat) and the dinner later at the home of Soledad Lorenzo. I admired his work a great deal. We also saw each other a couple of times in Manhattan, in a meeting with Tony Shafrazi and a meal at the Cipriani on Fifth Avenue. I wanted to say hello and see if he was doing anything new so I went to his discussion-opening at the Diary Art Centre in London. They let me in before the opening and I was able to wander around inside when it was still empty. The Centre was filling up little by little and I decided to go to the bathroom before finding a seat to listen to the interview. I ran into his son Vito at the door and we said “Hi” to each other. When I went in the bathroom, several of stall doors were closed. I opened the first one and, to my great surprise, I found Julian standing there with his pants and underwear down. I excused myself and closed the door as fast as I could. When I came out, he came up to greet me and said: “Well, now we know each other.” My reply: “Not that intimately”. We laughed. It was the most interesting part of the afternoon.
If one chooses the path of the search and surprise, the viewer will demand surprises and feel disappointed if they don’t get them. If one prefers to go down the trail of profundity, the work cannot become baroque, presumably it must go to the essence and synthesis. Can you do both things at once?
Narration I (Origin)
During the first few weeks after the London move, I didn’t have access to the materials I needed to begin working. First, I had to open up that mountain of boxes, put my belongings where I wanted them, cover the floor and walls with plastic, organize and clean everything. I couldn’t even entertain myself by doing collages. For that, I needed a couple of big empty tables, one to cut out and paste, the other for documentation. I was condemned to doing drawings. The first ones that emerged were a few sketches of “Puzzles” and some compositions to resolve with stains. They were quick sketches done without thinking, – just letting the hand wander, as I said years ago. Observing the chaos surrounding me, I began to draw what was around me. I distracted myself by scribbling doodles on the paper representing boxes, packages, bundles, sacks, trash. I didn’t have my sound system or television installed yet.
I was taking a walk in the center of London a month later, heading towards Trafalgar Square. Walking south, I discovered a Walther Koenig bookstore. “They’re everywhere,” I thought to myself. Browsing through the different publications, I picked up a monograph with a very attractive design. I was leafing through the pages without paying any special attention (I had always liked the artist but he wasn’t one of my favorites) when I was jolted by a sudden shock. I was looking at a fragment of a composition on page 71 that was practically identical to one of my own drawings. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I decided to buy the catalog to confirm whether it was real or simply a figment of my imagination when I got home.
Once I came in the door, without even taking off my coat, I rushed off to look in the big pile of my own drawings for the one that seemed so much alike. I sat down in a chair and analyzed both images for a good while. It may seem incredible, but both drawings were extraordinarily similar. I’m absolutely certain that I had never seen that work before until the catalog was in my hands.
Over the next few days, I kept the book open to the page with the reproduction and I gradually noticed an obvious sign that I was later able to confirm on Google. There was a major error in the edition. The photo captions for pages 70 and 71 were reversed. Why not use that drawing on the opposite page as a new “matrix”? Something inside me was pulling me in that direction.
This was despite having already prepared three work groups to begin developing in London: A continuation of “Máscaras de la Mirada” with completely new backgrounds, some 20-odd large format photos printed on canvas to extend the most recent inquires of the “Psicopompos”, and a completely unexplored abstract series named “Procedimientos” (“Procedures”). I decided to put all that aside and use that image as the “matrix”, following the research of D.A.A. (Dynamic Alfa Alignments) that was left unfinished in New York. The result is “The London Boxes”.
Narration II (a version that could have led to the same destination)
Different methodologies. In the second part of the D.A.A. (Dynamic Alfa Alignments) platform, the “matrices” appeared. Identical or similar cores, on which the compositions supported themselves, arranged in diverse places on various works. Going more deeply into that idea, it was clear the nature of the initial approach would be related to arrangement. This means that, when it’s time to represent, draw, photograph… the first thing we organize is the arrangement of the elements that are going to be involved in the composition. To put it even more simply, before portraying a still life, a careful placement of those “objects” we are going to depict. In photography, we could also call this “framing”. As I already mentioned, even though I had prepared the development of three different series to start up in London, the arrival of the shipment from New York bringing all my belongings and over 100 boxes containing everything I had accumulated over seven years, interrupted any possible activity. Opening all those “chests” and re-placing all their contents took weeks. The mountain of wrapping materials, boxes, sacks, and cardboard was unrelenting and only seemed to multiply in the face of any supposed progress. In the meantime, I was scribbling drawings in a notebook during the midday meal and dinner. Surprisingly, what emerged in those drawings were accumulated boxes and packages. Now I don’t know if the studio arrangement of The London Boxes began as a new analysis of the matrices of the second platform, expanding on the ones that appeared in the La Guardia Place series, or whether I was simply obsessed with the “boxes”.
Voices, voices, I hear voices in my head. Boxes, boxes, I see boxes all around. Fucking move.
Two boxes are stacked one on top of the other, floating in the air, secured on the upper edge of the composition by a kind of folded brown sack. Next to it, I guess hooked on to a hanger of some kind, is a broken garment bag that acquires a whimsical variety of colors from the night lights playing on its different surface textures. Behind it, a paper roll poorly covered in bubble wrap supports a canvas rolled up in a small cardboard tube. Beyond that, a small sack of red scraps. Why not portray that, isolated on an empty, dirty backdrop-landscape? A pair of power lines in the upper left corner and then stains and atmospheric elements to cloud the vision. And “The London Boxes” series was born.
Many historians divide Picasso’s work on the basis of the different women he was involved with. A new love, new life, a change in direction in the work… the approach is quite appealing. Saving anyone the enormous distances involved, I suggest in all humility that any person taking an interest in my work over the past few years should pay attention to the place, the change in location of my studio: Madrid, New York, Madrid, London… My intention on arriving in Manhattan was to reinvent myself. That accounts for the return to drawing, the line, structure and the abandonment of the “stain”. Closing the studio in New York for family reasons was probably rewarded in part by a return to my old work method. All of us are overcome with nostalgia at some point on returning to the old familiar way we knew so well. That is why I recognize that I greatly enjoyed going back to the “Máscaras de la Mirada” series (between the end of 2012 and summer 2013), and also forcing myself to find something new. The result was the series unfolding on three levels: the classic compositions, the pieces which incorporated collage over the surface of the spots under the name “Puzzles”, and a third mixed group, with the “Psicopompos” serving as the support with their photographic backgrounds and a decontextualized blend of the iconic symbols from “Máscaras” and “Memoria Abstracta”. Everything was presented at the end of 2013 in an exhibition titled “Over/Under the Raw” at the Kornfeld Gallery in Berlin. That was why I wanted my arrival in London to again be accompanied by a new direction in the work, possibly from returning to the schizophrenia of working on two different things in one studio or the other. Perhaps what we artists truly like is to put obstacles in front of ourselves so that we can sort them out later.
I’ve always understood that art is, among other things, an exercise in freedom. The hard thing is getting rid of the chains we impose on ourselves. In my way of thinking, investigating and working, I slave away subjecting myself to the creation of series and work groups that express the lines of my discourse. Maybe I should send myself to hell to achieve total liberation some day, free of inhibitions and not caring about anything. Even while admiring the work of many people, the main problem is that I like my way of “addressing” painting more than the methods of most of my colleagues. Attitude.
Each piece doesn’t offer an unambiguous result. They open doors to different possibilities. From this working premise, I make an effort to show there is no chance, only work and deeper exploration.
I draw and re-draw the same “matrix” 50 times. Fast drawings, trying for each one to have some change, a new direction, the disappearance of one element or incorporation of new ones. Afterwards, I begin to alter the angles and awkwardly mirror the images. I focus on moving the compositions by forming hubs and creating diagonals. It surprises me that the chosen way of using the matrix may produce results as different as the ones achieved with the “Rare Paintings” in New York . There, the element triggering the compositions on many occasions was small and left a great deal of open space, so the results were completely unalike. Now that element has come to the fore as a kind of mechanism that turns in all directions, offering a tremendous range of possibilities for resolution. I decided to create a series of pieces within the same color range. To the greatest degree possible, I want the viewer looking at the completed works to be able to easily understand the concept.
V3 – The attempt to represent a specific abstraction through some impossible volumes that imitate being truly sculptural. The system of matrices has been perfected ever since the “La Guardia Place” (“Rare Paintings”) series, while simultaneously revealing itself by showing the similarity of the compositions. The iconography of “The London Boxes” over a background of the “El Jardín Perverso“. In the foreground are a few white, sharp boxes, slightly inclined and framed in red, a color that continues into the middle distance to give shape to a body that we perceive as triangular. Behind them, a black gap gives way to a delicate, multi-toned form that rises up to end in a curve. There is still space left, in its progress towards the left side, to fit a red line-bar in the background which chokes the image. A red and black shape stretches the lump closed off on the upper edge by abstract bulges, one sharp, the other rounded and dark. All of that is balancing unsteadily on a kind of globe that shines from a non-existent light and has a kind of small, whitish-pink box stuck to it. A red circle-ball finishes the composition on the lower side. We don’t know what it is, but we perceive the strength of its own being. “Provocadamente Diacrónico” (“Provocatively Diachronic“).
Having finished the third and fourth works of The London Boxes series, I returned to my studio on Shepherdess Walk after an enjoyable dinner. When I turned on the lights, like so many times, I went directly to the work area to look at the pieces supported on the walls and columns. A sweet idea crossed my mind: Morandi. Not only was there a matrix and distant spirit that recalls Guston, the theme as arranged clearly related to the Morandi still lifes I love. There is a marvelous, elegant still life by the Italian painter that shows three boxes in the foreground. Scully also knows this composition for other reasons.
It bothers some vandals that you have a small place and they want you to get out. It doesn’t matter to them if you’re shy or poor. They decide things without blinking that concern you and don’t even know you. Very strange people who go away mad if you don’t constantly keep giving them little gifts. I prefer to live outside and not find out much about what little goes on in there. And on top of that, there’s not one bit of friendliness or humor. Human pride.
The rooster was a little retarded or had a screw loose so it was crowing at 12 noon. At least that’s what my friend from Roa claimed. Do you know that the English translation of “kiki-riki” is “cock-a-doodle-do?” My friend didn’t believe me. Neither did her English teacher.
V4 – Inverted composition contrary to my usual procedure. The weight is settled in the upper part of the work, an invention of modern painting that has a great impact on contemporary painting. A band in the rear becomes the horizon. Behind the strange boxes are countless bulges that grow more distant in different descending planes. Like its sister works, the image doesn’t conclude, it has no starting or ending point. We only see a fragment of something that continues beyond the borders of the canvas-window. Things that can’t stand by themselves, lack of balance, impossible planes. Disconnected body parts where the colors want to stitch themselves together without any possibility it will happen. Denial of all references, nevertheless representation. Abstract. Figurative. Abstract. A big floating eye. “Signos privados/Signos públicos” (“Private Signs/Publics Signs”).
According to André Malraux, art is a rebellion against human destiny. Arturo Graf claims it is a critique of reality. Maybe it’s simply the history of culture. For Paul Verhoeven, art is the reflection of the world and if that world is horrible, the reflection should be that way, too. Chekov more humorously declared that art was divided in two categories -“the pieces I like and the pieces I don’t”. I detest many of the dumb questions often asked of artists. Probably the worst of them all are: What does this represent? What does it mean? I frequently resort to a whole series of answers prepared over the years that, although there is truth in them, they don’t stop being lies. They are phrases designed to offer a handle for the neophyte interviewer. If we manage to escape the parameters of the social criticism that was so en vogue for a few years, art often doesn’t mean anything. That means the answer would be: There isn’t any meaning. Painting only serves for reflection, to expand its on limits and provide us with an aesthetic experience. The theoretical or hermeneutical tools that we may give to our work don’t matter. Neither do our analytical or conceptual concerns. The viewer often remains stuck on the mere surface and the person who is well versed in the media doesn’t need any explanation. Another question will be the “personal” platform artists provide for the progression of their work, independently of intuition and so-called inspiration. I spent years saying that my efforts consist of working with a scalpel instead of only using brushes, and my approach to painting is the same as a forensic doctor working on a corpse. To give an example, to remove a liver, put it on a tray, and analyze its structure and characteristics has neither meaning nor interest beyond the purely “scientific”. In that vein, Claude Bernard told us that art is “I” and science is “we”.
A.C.C. (Committed Contemporary Art). I’m very sorry, I couldn’t help painting you a drawing on the back of your coat when you left it on the chair. I poured the leftover paint in your shoes underneath the table. Now, if you give me a second, I’m going to hit “play” on the video to record how you beat me up and then took me to the hospital. I would like to include the video, coat and shoes in my next exhibition, as long as it’s all right with you. They would go with some used underpants I stole from one of my kids and a pair of empty bottles that belonged to my ex-wife. I’ll explain what the concept is to you later. By the way, have you tried the V8 soup with leftover rice and potatoes on the menu? Many times I see so many stupid or atrocious things around me I think I’ve gone crazy and they must only be hallucinations.
I wonder, why don’t some people spend more time in a swimming pool? I mean at the bottom of the pool, without moving and no air.
V5 – I. “El Color en los Ojos del que Mira (Campo de 2,467 Flores)” (“The Color in the Eyes of the Beholder (Field of 2,467 Flowers)”. This is the only piece specially prepared for this exhibition and maybe the most baroque of the whole group. The original idea came from Carlos Delgado who, in light of previous exhibitions he had seen in the space, expressly asked me to create something that “had movement”. Although I had done several videos, including one of them in this exhibition dedicated to painting didn’t appeal to me at all. So I thought about a special lighting from the very first moment. The piece has turned out to be the most conceptually elaborate work I’ve ever done. On the one hand, the fabrics and tarpaulins that form the flowers-mandalas are the discarded materials from the collages when I was working on the iconography of “The London Boxes” (The London Boxes/Sueños Construidos), so we can speak of a kind of assisted ready-made. The size of the pieces was determined by the size of the excess material, just as most of the drawings-shapes it contains were dictated by the need to eliminate or conceal the wrinkles and folds in the material itself. The idea is for the viewer to see a field of flowers “swaying in the wind”. To create that effect, different “bands” of illumination were created, from lighting the different colors separately one by one (the original intention) up to the projection of waves and the codes included as substitutes for the colors. With the latter, I’m referring to the colors having an alphabetical code that enables you to identify the particular colors and their placement, like letters forming phrases that speak precisely about the color. To make the method I used clearer for the viewer, here are the keys to the color code, with the observation that the frequency of use of the colors is in descending order (highest to lowest) in the alphabet of our language. E = red center, A = white center, O = pink/light orange center, S = medium gray center, R = light brown center, N = light gray center, I = dark brown center, D = black center, L = dark gray center, C = red top, T = white top, U = pink/light orange top, M = medium gray top, P = light brown top, B = light gray top, G = dark brown top, V = black top, Y = dark gray top, Q = red bottom, H = white bottom, F = pink/light orange bottom, Z = medium gray bottom, J = light brown bottom, Ñ = light gray bottom, X = dark brown bottom, W = black bottom and K = dark gray bottom.
- I think all my friends know, even though the general public isn’t aware of it, that the “Cabezas de Rorschach III” series was a heartfelt mourning over the death of my father. The tumor in his head and the agony of watching him reduced to practically a vegetative state after the radiation sessions inexplicably dictated the course of my work in that series. It was a series that was totally removed from my lines of investigation, but necessary on a personal level and for which I received all kinds of criticism. Pardon yourselves, an artist must be free and not subject to being pigeonholed and the rules imposed by the market. There are extraordinary pieces in the series that are undoubtedly on a par with many of my abstract works. And pardon me, but time will also put things in perspective. Once I reached a sufficient number of pieces for “Cabezas de Rorschach III” so that the concept was clear, I put the oil paints and canvases aside and jumped right into turning it into a collage. The experiments in this “new” territory are fully linked with the “Sueños Construidos” series and allowed an extremely interesting tangent later dubbed “Jeroglíficos” (“Hieroglyphics”), which should be featured in an exhibition at some point. Within the same line of investigation is “Sentimientos Tóxicos” (“Toxic Sentiments“), a large collage measuring 3 x 2 meters, resolved in two parts with its iconography belonging to “The London Boxes” series. A cold work which distorts the gaze through its different depths, as the upper plane seems closer to the viewer than the lower panel. Two superimposed and connected realities with similar elements that produce a transgressive effect of sublimation. We don’t know if the image facing us is resolved or not. A deliberate provocation that eludes rational explanation. As Richard Prince would say, how do you make art? Easy… by not making it.
Friendly interview with an art critic of an opposing side. Questions: Do you consider yourself a person with a special and undeniable talent? What is the nature of that talent and how it is expressed? Why didn’t you choose another profession more in keeping with your superior intellect? How long were you studying to reach that level? Why do you dress so badly? Why do you defend certain concepts so insistently and disdain others that are similar in nature? Do you go to a lot of exhibitions to observe the evolution of a certain body of work or search for fresh talents, or do you carefully select the exhibitions you see? Do you feel responsible on some occasions? Have you ever trembled or gotten excited over a work of art? Do artists bother you? (Thanks David, you are the fucking master!).
Unpleasant situation. Imagine having your own index finger pointing at you.
E04 – Many facets of hermeneutics agree that any painting of a face is a self-portrait of the artist in one way or another. Velázquez, Goya, Picasso, Miró… they painted in the horror. It is said that the horror has a face, although it’s impossible to describe what that really means… The “Cabezas de Rorschach III” series was demanding with great eagerness to make the leap to photography. But I always resisted that temptation in order to steer clear of what all the other artists had been doing. But divergent paths some time can lead you to the same place. The recovery of the “Psicopompos” in order to split up the “Máscaras de la Mirada” series, forced the issue of using photography as a basis of the work. It was logical, given all the possibilities with photography, that at some point you would have to resort to the self-portrait. Self-portraits in the horror. Remember the phrase: “I saw a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. My nightmare is crawling, slithering along the edge of a straight razor, and surviving.” I had the backgrounds, with all the ugly expressions, prepared over months in the Madrid studio, but the body wasn’t asking me to convert those pieces into more psychopomps with stains. While working on “The London Boxes”, there was a moment when I was observing the structural elements of the matrices, meaning I separated the “linguistic” units and cores. It was easy after that to get some images purified of those syntheses. The title, as if could be anything else, is “Sintagmas” (“Syntagmas“).
She is great, even though she doesn’t get along with anyone. I think she has a hidden tattoo. Of course she’s an atheist. Politically, it’s strange, she works for some but belongs to the others. She never wears jewelry. Her intelligence is much superior to ours. She laughs like a maniac but only twice a year, on January 5 and July 26, and always when no one is watching her. She’s getting fatter all the time but she’s on a diet and acts as if she was very pretty. That’s not bad, obviously there are others who are much more unattractive. She has something weird in her eyes, apart from using contact lens. In addition to writing, she dedicates herself to making trouble. I’m very lucky because she greeted me once.
Too many people in complete possession of the truth.
You pain in the ass, listen! If painting is dead, we buried it, and it will be resurrected on the third day. As always.
E05 – I. “Circuito de Códigos” (“Circuit of Codes”) belongs to the final group of “The London Boxes” series, the fifth and final piece in a group of five large-format works (240 x 350 cm.). Practically the same matrix mirrored in “Provocadamente Diacrónico”, but simplified and more upright. We are viewing a composition with three superimposed planes that are sculptural in nature, with a red band running along the entire upper side which provides stability to the composition. This piece is the “emptiest” of the entire family of works due to an interruption while I was painting on the canvas. When I returned and looked over the work again, I discover that it “worked” and I didn’t need to follow the initial idea of adding more elements. The group contains a message that gives it the strange title.
- Three display cases with a diverse assortment of elements that form part of the search in everyday life. Time collected in three receptacles full of drawings, tests, catalogs, toys, amusements… A continuous line if you pay attention to the chronological sequence, and total lack of continuity if we alter the order of interpreting it. And a final piece already mentioned in F03 titled “Icono Memorizado” (“Memorized Icon“). On occasion our own visual memory surprises us. When a new idea takes shape in a simple drawing, we wonder if it comes from the muses, from a place we already traveled through or something we saw and recorded in our brain. The total similarity between ideas separated over time is incredible, or the casual resemblance you can have between a few specific works by two different artists –understand, without copying or appropriation-. And nevertheless it happens, and happens many more times than we would think. This paradox figures among the various triggers for “The London Boxes” series. I’ve always bragged about having a visual memory. I remember that before the mobile phone era, I was able to remember countless telephone numbers simply by inserting them in a drawing. The phenomenon is known as mnemonics and there are entire manuals dedicated to learning its techniques. As I already commented, the geometric element was slightly forced in “Icono Memorizado” both as a gesture to viewers of the exhibition and also to reflect on the random nature of repetition of a particular pattern or design. It won’t be the first time I’ve painted the same composition without any intention of doing so -except when this “repetition” is created under the parameters of a specific investigation-. I’m referring to my own work. Or that I have to destroy what I created on the canvas because it is too similar to a specific piece by another artist. Certainly memory has always been one theme of my work. In Paris many years ago, I painted a few pieces that will only live in the memory. Mnemosyne.
Divos and divas. Welcome! Welcome, everyone, to the world of contemporary art. Here you’ll be able to see all the wonders imaginable, including the illustrious mustachioed midget, the one who follows in his footsteps, the ones who suck up, the three-headed hen, the troll woman who knows how to write, the ugly man of the proverb, the talking head, the extra clever thin man who never shuts up, the ones who break their necks to see it, the gay who thinks he’s the most important gay in the country, the genuine bully, the authentic mystic with in-your-face attitude, the fat lady with glasses, tightrope walkers and acrobats, contortionists and clowns, beasts of all kinds…, and even some real flesh & blood people and works of art. Egos, immense and unbearable egos.
A friend tells me he’s much more flexible since he started doing yoga. Will you be able to do mental yoga? There are people in our country who would benefit from that.
I have many very good friends who are art critics but I don’t know the reason why I don’t get along with some of them. And I’ve always tried to be pleasant and explain my work with the maximum sincerity when they’ve asked me. Is it possible that I broke someone’s toy when we were little kids, or ruined their rubber hippo by hitting it with a stone? Did it bother them that I dressed up a priest in that confession, or they don’t like my haircut, or I would change the radio station when they were listening to Silvio Rodríguez? Or that the comments they were making at a particular time simply seemed to me like an incredibly stupid thing to say? Was it because I never dared to call on the phone or didn’t suck up enough or for training my dog to piss on his pants whenever he mentions Duchamp…My most sincere and heartfelt apologies to each and every one of them. I’m very sorry if I’ve bothered anyone over the course of these years.
I once wrote about how banal the practice of painting was in times of sleight of hand (concept?) and designs for window dressers and circus performers. Long live the crap! I keep going to the studio each day to paint the first painting.