Jesús Remón. Las Formas del Silencio.
Libro monográfico “Las Formas del Silencio. Antología crítica (los años noventa). Enero 2005.
THE SUBJECTIVE PAINTING OF CIRIA AT THE END OF MODERNITY
Ciria’s Remote Gaze against the Culture of Satisfaction
Jesús Remón Peñalver
“What is monstrous to the human gaze, which measures
but does not recognise, is erased under the remote gaze,
which recognises the monster as something not yet
shaped, or as a fragment of a shape,
perhaps like the extraordinary being whose human
perfection is admired by a human gaze”
María Zambrano, Claros del Bosque, 1997
At the risk of over-simplifying, we could say that there are two traditional ways of interpreting any artistic creation. The first, which we could call the Voltairean method, interprets the work as a conscious emanation of an individual genius. The other, which could be called the romantic method, tends, on the contrary, to explain it as a reflection of social forces and historical tendencies. These two methods are not, however, contradictory. Most events and creations that have crystallised along more or less permanent tendency lines are the fruit of a double action: of an intensely affirmed individual will, but also of the spirit of the nation or epoch which it has assumed as an integral part of its own form of life, projecting it towards the future. The conjunction of these two forces reveals the force of artists who, like Whitman(1), may rail at those around them, shouting, “I celebrate myself, and what I assume you shall assume, for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you”.
This double individual and group action is present in all artistic manifestations. Art is, without a doubt, the most revealing sign of each epoch, because it is an expression of the socially assumed or collectively rejected spirit. I say of each epoch and not just of a certain place, town, state or nation, because art cannot be confined within the narrow boundaries of claims on particularity or locality. The artist, the true artist, is and always has been a citizen of the world, provided with an intense “fruition of mundanity”, which –from the here and now– inevitably transports him towards what has not yet been discovered or even descried. Art is, thus, a timeless international language, which discovers the present while it helps us to understand the past.
However, the universal scope of all artistic statements does not prevent us from being able to recognise the distinctive features that define certain national styles. This is true of the Spanish style, up to the point that Brown(2) tells us, that in 1502 the painter Antoniazzo Romano was entrusted with two canvasses for San Giacomo degli Spagnoli, to be painted ad modum ispanje. It is, therefore, possible to speak of Spanish painting, forged in a continuous dialogue with other European regions and characterised, at least, by its sobriety(3), exaggerated individuality, the permanent search for authenticity and an ever-vital creative impetus. All these notes are, without a doubt, present in Ciria.
Ciria is, first of all, an artist and, as such, has not come to bring order into the marvellous disorder of things, but has “come to name them, to commune with them, not to raise fences to their glory”(4). However, Ciria is, overall, a Spanish painter, “as those are who can be nothing else”, because Ciria’s paintings speak “the same language spoken before, long before we were born, by the people in whom our existence has its roots”(5). Ciria is joined by an invisible nexus to the best Spanish painters of all times: the invincible quest for originality, the search for new paths, which also characterise El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, Millares and Tàpies, and a knowing respect for tradition, as in Zurbarán, Ribera, Gutiérrez Solana or Mateos. These artists are united by their overwhelming sincerity, their brutal search for new forms, their magical continence and the rich chromatic range of their canvasses, full of depth and overflowing with passion and vitality. This passion shows us that Ciria is among us to “ply his trade”, stroke by stroke eventually managing –as the poet always sought- to substitute the forgotten, fill the shadows with light and lay the foundations for hope once more.
But let us return now to the initial thread of these lines. As Ortega wrote some years ago(6), the most tragic destiny of a generation is to fail to find its own form of living. Some generations are successful and others are more or less damned. I would now like to emphasise that one of the main ingredients of the form of life of a generation, together with its repertory of ideas on the universe or forms of social organisation, is artistic expression. The powerful creative impulse of a genial artist has been and will always be a fundamental element in shaping an epoch that, without his presence, may have been narrower. Just as decades or centuries of great splendour have given birth to original creations. This also explains how the constant evolution of our ideas about the world has brought forth well-differentiated artistic expressions. Thus we could say that sculpture was the symbol of classicism; the cathedral was the artistic sign of the middle ages, and painting, the preferred artistic representation of modernity.
Having reached this point certain questions arise: how to name the transitional era in which we live now? Are we a successful generation or a damned one? Has painting ceased to be a valid artistic expression for this final hour of modernity? Obviously, it may not yet be possible to give a definitive response to these questions, the solution to which may probably only be found with the passing of the years. But what is certain is that we are living a stage of intense and accelerated change, an epoch of crisis announcing the end of the logical-rational order that characterised modernity. If the most essential element of modernity was freedom or, in other words, the idea that reason and free will determine reality, the most vivid experience of the present moment is that “to do is no longer to be”, that we are getting further away from the behaviours that define our economic, political or cultural apparata(7). These signs illuminate a door, quite close to us now, the end of the long journey that took started in the Renaissance and which could lead to a radical substitution of the traditional forms of artistic expression. Will there be a place for painting in this new city?
While these times come irrevocably closer, we are pondering our parts on a stage that is part a surrender to mass culture and part a search for ourselves, turning inwards to avoid (or at least, not to recognise) that the dreams of reason that freed us can sink us into the dreary dungeon of another slavery. Our lives are less and less our own. They are full of foreign products that we did not ask for, that were imported in our name and which make up our artificial baggage for the coming journey. This loss of the capacity to control our destiny, of the possibility to influence our own projects marks the forthcoming end of modernity. One of our basic historical tasks consists of not attending this change impassively, resisting because, as Cernuda wrote(8), “What the spirit of man/ Won for the spirit of man/ Down the centuries/ Is our heritage and the inheritance/ Of future man./If we let them deny it/ And kidnap it, man then falls,/And oh, how far?/On that hard scale/ That goes from animal to man”.
Ciria’s work is, to my eyes, the reflection of this inauguration of the end of modernity, of transit towards a place still only descried but distinct. Ciria has launched an important challenge against the alienating side of this new city from the watchtower of his frank and overwhelming dedication to “the task of painting”, the old trade of painting. His canvasses are populated by monsters and emotions; they are dressed with honed and prodigious technique but also stained with the mud stuck to the hands of a potter. They can lead us to a gallery of dreams or throw us into the bottomless abyss. Ciria does not accept the tyranny of forms. His freedom leads to freedom and, thus, allows multiple interpretations, debating between order and chance; music and silence; fullness and emptiness. This essential ambivalence frames the singular nature of his personal and original pictorial language.
For Ciria, painting is vital courage and the intense need to communicate. These forces lead him to transcend objects and matter to settle his work in the reign of imagination, time, distance and memory. The profound sincerity of Ciria’s proposal resides in the plurality of questions on life itself which, straight up and with no holds barred, he directs at the spectator, to cause a crisis of conscience. The aim is not to seek “the eternally beautiful”, because Ciria is more interested in the road than the inn; he is not attracted by calm but by the storm; he is not as interested in quite immobility as in the succession of instants. This subjectivist proposal –anchored in distance and fed by a will to eliminate the superfluous (the deceptive clothing of things)- is not possible without the spectator, cannot be conceived without the presence of another look, which may fall on the “enveloping poetry”(9) of his canvasses or perhaps may remain definitively trapped by the “result of using paint organically, viscerally, at times with a brutal intensity, applying it in suspended layers of lacerating planes”(10).
Ciria’s inner gaze cries out loud in his pictures to stimulate in us the necessary courage to continue to be free. Among many others, there are four pictures (The French Model (Mnemosyne), Seducing the night (Masks of the Gaze), Verb to Hate (The Use of the Word) and Manchester Dream (New Works 1997), belonging to different suites, the expressive force of which reaches limits of intense vitality and fortunately leads us out of the culture of satisfaction, noise and equivocation that constantly surrounds us. Contemplating these works always brings to my mind the hard lines of Dámaso Alonso(11), “From what cave do you come, black shadow? / What do you seek? / (…) You come, /Hollow devourer of centuries and worlds, /Like and immense tomb, / Driven by furies that bow their foreheads, /hard, erect goats, eyeless and deaf, /that know not of tenderness. /Hurt, hurt, you sower of hate./ Hate must not leap, like a sulphur flame,/ From my wound. /Here I am:/ I am a man, like a god,/ I am a man, sweet mist, warm centre, /Fleeting boiling of a mysterious metal that irradiates/ tenderness.
Ciria’s creative impetus does not oppose change, nor does it ingenuously attempt to freeze a contradictory present. But now, at the end of modernity, it builds a bridge to bring to the future the zeal for freedom and also the distance of the deceitful and superfluous appearances. His seal: the remote gaze, vertigo and silence. The result: the revelation of the unspeakable word and with it the definitive incorporation of painting into the way of life of the new era, whatever it may be.
1.WALT WHITMAN, Song of Myself. Translated into Spanish, with prologue by Mauro Armiño, EDAF, Madrid. 1991.
2.JONATHAN BROWN, The Golden Age of Painting in Spain, 2nd ed. Madrid, 1991, p 307 (translation).
3.According to MENÉNDEZ PIDAL, in Los españoles en la historia, Madrid, 1947, “the Spaniard, tough in facing up to hardships, is sustained by the wise rule: “sustine et abstine” or “stand firm and stay strong”, which places man above all adversity”.
4.JOSÉ HIERRO, Para un esteta, included in Quinta del 42 and in his Poetic Anthology published by Alianza Editorial in 1990.
5.These two quotations are from CERNUDA’s magnificent poem, Díptico Español (it is a pity it was my country).
6.JOSÉ ORTEGA Y GASSET, Prólogo para alemanes, contained in his Complete Works vol. VIII, Madrid, 1983, p 29.
7.This idea is expressed lucidly by ALAIN TOURAINE’s in Can we live together, Equal and Different, Madrid, 1997 (translation).
8.LUIS CERNUDA, Díptico Español.
9.MARCOS RICARDO BARNATÁN, Líneas como llamas que se elevan, Catálogo José Manuel Ciria, New Works 1997. Hugo de Pagano Gallery, New York.
10.DOMINIQUE NAHAS, We are all Feared Events (New work by José Manuel Ciria), in the CIRIA catalogue quoted above.
11.DÁMASO ALONSO, La injusticia, in Hijos de Ira, Madrid. 1946.