Gracia Ramírez. MNAC. Bucarest.
Texto catálogo WDW WINDOWS, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (MNAC), Bucarest.
JOSE MANUEL CIRIA: SYSTEM OF PAINTING
Gracia Ramirez Cruz
“Ours is a complex and blurry world,
wherewe do not know the intention of a figure in a canvas. CoBRA
sought hope. Miró the magic of naivety. Nowadays,
is there any use in painting a doodle?”
(José Manuel Ciria, Pozos de Luz, XXXIII)
Since its emergence at the end of the eighties, the work of Jose Manuel Ciria has been aligned to the trends revising Modernism, taking again the problematic of representation and reflexivity. Through this journey, Ciria has proposed a rigorous conceptual analysis of art, an examination that is explicit within the very work’s formal features. The revisionist drive that informs this method does not entertain itself in simply quoting aesthetic and conceptual precepts of past trends, as if mere repetition could reach different conclusions. Neither Ciria’s interest in the specificity of painting’s language is limited to reiterate its already designated conditions of existence. Instead, the artist uses abstraction’s gestural language to test, theoretically and practically, painting’s codes and concerns, and to secure himself as author-agent acting upon matter. Ciria examines signs and abstraction as vehicles for representation and exposes the articulations and dependences that constitute meaning. With this method he demonstrates inexhaustible changes in significance, as well as the continually renewed paths that our minds travel when searching for it. From this results a vitalist painting, tirelessly regenerated. A painting that uses self-reflexive codes to invite us to question the contemporary conditions that link art and life.
Explosion and Restraint: Liberation of Binary Systems
Ciria established his personal style based on a conceptual and plastic play of opposites in the nineties. In those exercises the artist sought subtle points of contact, tension and balance. He often presented strongly contrasted and solid chromatic masses. Over these he highlighted clashing points, as well as balancing moments achieved through modulations such as trailing, pulverising and striping paint. As if it was a laboratory of physical chemistry, this exercise showed the very base of painting, its material qualities. Painting that is on one side material and organic, and on the other, expressive and symbolic. At the same time, these exercises reminded us of painting’s own fluidity and evanescence, and the possibility of subjecting it to total annihilation. The artist also established a dialectic relation between the recognisable components of different media. What may look as a drip of paint at one point, next moment is transformed in something like the grain of a photograph’s film. During this period, Ciria consolidated his practice in the transformation and reconciliation of binary systems that define painting as a medium in itself and in opposition to other media. In this way, he pointed to an always relative reality for it emerges from a contingent position defined by opposed appearances.
These defining and negating procedures, restraining and exploding procedures, result in a semantic game that now allow the painter to operate over the historical material and discourse of painting, almost as if these were found objects on which he applies a liberating and strengthening will. He enriches the surface of the paintings with corrugated spaces that may appear to us as if they inhabited independent universes where they have their own entity. Other times, the painting is folded by transparencies and veils that blur lines and inter-relate the painting’s different components. This is a constant movement between a tangible and autonomous world and an ethereal and diffuse universe. Nevertheless, such dynamism has its own negations. The punctuations of stains and drips, which are finite and solid, reach beyond the boundaries of the canvas through centrifuge movements, while the translucent and evanescent veils meet the limits of the dry plane surface. These turns of meaning do not point to an absolute principle governing over other in a permanent way. Rather, there is a continuous process of dialogue and readjustment that, in each instance, depends on the journey of the gaze that is looking at them. Ciria clearly makes operative the terms and methods he employs so in case the balance turns to one side, we still know what are dealing with.
Errors and Injuries: Interval Values
Ciria’s plastic language has strengthened with the use of marks that can be defined as “errors and injuries”, forms that the artist employs to enquire into creative and destructive principles. Ciria makes us consider the intervals between marks and these allow us to differentiate the transition between solid and liquid masses, variations within chromatic values, and figure and background recognition. Such an operation brings awareness to the interdependent relations between formal and conceptual elements that give entity to each component. Ciria distinguishes that which is from that which is not through oppositions that are reciprocally implied. Thus we reach an instance of meaning that is not reducible to its constituent parts. Each element’s negative values are underscored as active creative principles that concretise the sensorial experience of the artwork and its understanding. The marks left by errors and injuries, incidents and trauma, are incorporated in the artwork, appearing before our eyes, as when burls of paint spilled over the canvas meet the accidents of its surface, an exercise that signals the relation of the author with the object and his means of expression.
Ciria inscribes gestural forms and intervals in his paintings, accounting for the determination of each work with each brushstroke and reflecting the very transitoriness of the moment the artist is working upon it. This bears witness to the play of possibilities opening up before the creative undertaking, possibilities that are defined during the intervals in which the painter approaches the canvas, in between the coming and going of the muses and the transits between residencies. Even if the artist began with an approximate idea of the artwork, the outer events -some intended, others out of control- go on deciding the end result, giving it a final value. So the artwork acquires the exact import of the “errors and injuries”, an emotional charge that is also reconfigured in each viewing.
Gesture and Control: Agency in the System
Ciria’s systematic method seeks to ground the essential parameters of painting’s practice and appreciation. This is patent in the assessment of simplified gestures he undertakes in the series of drawings Box of Mental States. In these series, Ciria analyses the pictorial gesture, which modernist criticism initially articulated as immediate action; mystified sign of the liberation of the artist’s unconscious subjectivity. In the drawings of Box of Mental States Ciria acts with graphite over paper, marking it in a way that breaks with the illusory infinity of the white surface. He makes us see again the surface of the paper as that which is; a support for drawing, a physical object seemingly silent. Here the gesture reminds us how the quiet materiality of the means –graphite, paper- and the artist’s action with them awaken the universe of meaning. Such birth is regulated by the artist’s act, which here is as playful and explorative as rigorous, clear and defining. Lines, irregular but strongly marked, create compositional structures in which order and restrain dominate, working as surrounding closures that regulate the flow and relation between lights and shadows, and lines and planes. These closure and balancing procedures reaffirm authorial control. Accordingly, Ciria highlights intention as the main component of expressive gesture; plastic and conceptual variable nor spontaneous and transparent act, neither idealised expression of a transpersonal unconscious, but action interceded by the specificity of the medium and its materials.
Series of Masks, Doodles and Scribbles: Signs and Meaning
In the series that commenced with the new millennium, Doodles, Un-Occupations, Schandenmaske Masks and Rorschach Heads amongst them, the painter applies the rhetoric of transparency and opacity, precision and indeterminacy of meaning. These series testify a deep immersion into the field of figurative references, examining the symbolic content provided by masks, doodles, scribbles, grids and human heads. These motifs are identifiable forms and forms that we identified with, occupying and pre-occupying us. Such representations are capable of condensing expressive charges that provoke strong emotional responses. In these series the artist emphasises formal and psicosocial conventions and warns us of the vain enterprise that is to search for essences in them. Repetitions and variations over the motifs that compose these series underscore the artificiality and mutability of masks and their alleged contents, denying the transcendental value of a supposed original but affirming the immanence of meaning during the unique instant of apprehension.
Sometimes the painter highlights the lyrical and dramatic capacity of masks, as it appears in Mask of the First Encounters, as much as he shows that such forms can be subjected to disarticulations that reveal different and simultaneous identities, as in Figure-Mask-Unoccupied (2008). This is an inquisitive logic on continuity and selfhood as they are supposed to be constitutive basis of the identity of objects as they are perceived, logic that reaches its own conclusions in Duplicated Bloody Mary (2008). This painting is an exercise in copying-seriation within the same pictorial plane. Here, the notion of original that is meant to have higher status looses value when simultaneously presenting two almost identical images. Simultaneous apprehension leads us to think that their differences make them equal.
Along the similar lines, the triptych What I Am, What I think I Am, What Others See (Schandenmaske Masks, 2008) defy us to elucidate the identity paradox of selfhood and difference. Facing these three canvases, the spectator mobilises his or her view in search of formal contrasts that support the conceptual pretext of the title that distinguishes them as three different objects. But instead, the spectator finds similarity and harmony in the rhythm and unity of forms, in the textures and colours. Granting meaning moves between almost immediate convention –as in the icon of the mask with its theatrical references to personality and expression-, and tirelessly questioning that from which a difference is postulated –the different perspectives over identity that are meant to be portrayed in each canvas. Spectators persist in examining accents that compose formal patterns, some of the subtle, others more marked. Yet these differences are levelled off, confirming that the three images-perspectives represent the same: masks. In this manner, Ciria invokes the well-known and almost automatic attitudes with which we project ourselves searching for meaning in signs and images, at the same time that he reminds us of their lack of transcendence.
These explorations on identity and emotion find a particularly fertile terrain in Rorschach Heads where Ciria establishes a dialectical relation between the recognisable and unrecognisable aspects of the human head in order to call our attention again to the unending movement that brings about conscious and unconscious meaning. In these series Ciria clearly delimits head contours as he did with the rigorous lines of Box of Mental States. The line contour creates human form as recognisable entity, but the interior it contains is grotesque: amorphous matter, disproportionate gestures and vacant features. Each head is punctuated by a title that qualifies it into what could be a Borgesian taxonomy -whimsical and infinite- of social types and sentiments. These images challenge our usual conception of the properly human and socially acceptable. The Rorschach Heads invoke from fear and repulsion to a jester-like comic laugh. The imposing grotesque forms that populate each canvas allow us to objectify our unconscious fears and desires. But such is a transitory objectification for the gaze continues moving across shapes, finding marks, intervals, disjunctions and restrains that launch again the process of searching for meaning.
Installations: Impermanence and Experience
More recently Ciria has delved into the dialectic of objectifying emotions and dissolving concepts through installations and street interventions that work as scenarios for even more self-conscious aesthetic experiences. The installation My Father’s Jacket (2012) is a video projected over a large black suit jacket where images of the Rorschach Heads III series mutate from one to another. The animation technique of morphing instils life into the pictures and allows the painter to bring to the fore the time variable to approach the issue of representing and perceiving the expressive instant from a different front. Each of the heads takes a brief – yet noticeable- lapse of time to appear in a clear and distinctive way. When this happens and the gesture or expression is identified, the contours and contents of that image begin to dissolve, merging with the next head. The result is an almost hypnotic experience where a slight expectation for recognising the emotion in each image mixes with a satiation provoked by moments of transition, when the patterns of changing forms create their own relational values and rhythm. In addition, the images accumulatively projected have a retroactive effect over our memory that evidences how this faculty mediates between retention and loss. Each new image alters the memory of the previous one, incorporating a new layer of meaning that upsets the previous identity and passes it to the flow of the present. The images of Rorschach Heads III, made during the time between the sad news of the terminal illness of the artist’s father and his inevitable passing away, now find meaning within this installation that points to the constant need of facing the deepest fears and desires, as well as the mutability of identity and memory as life vectors.
In other recent installations, Ciria plays with the ordering and intentionality that determine the aesthetic experience of the artwork. The tower of painted cubes Dice Accumulation II (2010) evokes a random disposition that reaches a delicate yet towering balance. Contained by the cubes’ stereoscopic stand, the paint explosions on each side bring into play painting’s simulation of three-dimensionality. Painting and sculpture are here in harmony, reminding us that appreciation of volume and depth is an everyday perception previous to the historic delimitation of each media. Through these cross-references, dissolving and balancing acts, art questions life and life questions art. A similar dialectic is established between the poliptyc Window Dreamer (2012) from the Abstract Memory series and the floor installation Constructed Grid (2012) which contains a matrix of compositions with materials such as papers, rubble and cardboard, mixed and painted in a fashion that recall the ordering of explosions of the previous series.
In Window Dreamer the spectator is dwarfed by the overwhelming presence of the poliptych. Nevertheless, s/he can modulate this experience by getting closer and farther away from it and going round its different parts. On the contrary, the spectator has to lower the gaze to contemplate the grid on the floor and analyse the work from that position of command. In this manner we start to assess the way in which the materials’ mix and disposition has achieved such effects. Seen together, poliptych and floor installation represent a two-way journey down the same road. Spectators’ action and reaction before the artworks dissolve the power and value relations from which they departed. Having explained the terms and procedures employed, the process of dissolving the boundaries between art and life is triggered again when we wonder about the fate of each artwork.
Ciria invites us to contemplate with slow silence an agitated concert of representations, to feel how time, as if still vibrating, is arrested in each painting but reconfigured with each look. This direct confrontation with the liveliness of lifeless forms inhabiting art’s universe returns the gaze to us after having been one with us for an instant. He delightfully reminds us that everything with form and name is a sublime deception, as artificial as necessary.
Through his work Ciria establishes a system of enquiries, procedures and exercises that does not stop at confirming the problematic we find when delving into the correspondence between image and concept and the relationship of the spectator with them. Rather, the artist set bounds to such problematic through operations that help us to clarify the logic that articulate these often paradoxical relations. He underscores the relational and inexhaustible value of signs in their role as links between images and concepts, between individuals and perspectives and leaves spectators to draw the conclusions relevant to each moment. This is a programmatic art that invites us to unravel those paradoxes that are normally elusive and astonishing, proposing a precisely grounded system, ready to take the challenge of those questions about art and life that after all, are unavoidable.