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Julio Cesar Abad. Alicante.

Julio Cesar Abad. Lonja del Pescado. Alicante.

Catálogo exposición “Teatro del Minotauro” itinerante organizada por el Consorcio de Museos de la Comunidad Valenciana y la Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo.
Lonja del Pescado, Alicante.
Casal Solleric, Palma de Mallorca.
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Ibiza.
Museo de la Ciudad, Valencia. Febrero 2003.

WORDS, WORDS, BLOOD

Julio César Abad Vidal

“Would you believe it, Ariadne?” said Theseus.
“The Minotaur scarcely defended himself.”
Borges. The House of Asterion

Either we return all the arts to a central activity and a central need, finding analogies between painting or theatre and the movement of lava exploding from a volcano, or we should stop painting, shouting, writing or doing anything Artaud. The Theatre and its Double

“Words, words, words”, was Hamlet’s reply when Polonius asked him what he was reading. Polonius, unhappy with this answer, repeated his question, to which Hamlet replied that, although he what was written in his book was true, he held it ‘not honesty to have it thus set down’ (Hamlet, II, ii). Truth, which is always an audacity, is, likewise, inconvenient. In the process imbuing Ciria’s recent years of creation and thought, characterised by a greater drive for communicability, attempting to establish the possibilities of instituting an encounter with the viewer through painting, this introduction of words, both in their formal embodiment and in their content, into the pictorial plane, recall a mise en abîme. The recent Ciria, from the reflection and testing (an abuse of the term insofar as it emanates a theatrical, dramatic category, which we will discuss below) of some of the zenithal statements of vanguard art and from a penetration to subvert strategies, codes and popular instruments, to the furthest extremes of advertising, and of as yet unpublished works, now published to accompany his successive exhibitions, increasingly appeals to the interlocutor to abandon a passive position in order to establish a relationship and a joint and thus social elaboration.

Throughout the history of western art, words have always been present in the pictorial plane. Their presence was generally intended to indicate the names of the persons appearing on scene, thus allowing -or limiting- interpretation. They could also be used as the title of the specific composition, in a more or less extensive legend, discoursing on the painted historical events (in an obviously propagandistic manner), or even as a form of dialogue between the persons therein depicted, such as the clouds or that contain containing the dialogues of the characters of modern comic books, a popular and readily comprehensible resource, harking directly and remotely back to the wearing of phylacteries.

Since the end of the 19th century, daily and particularly urban reality has been dominated by the messages and slogans of commercial corporations. This immediate and persuasive (or openly imperative) imperative form of communication has had many admirers since advertising hoardings first began to fill the streets of urban centres early last century. This is why the urban views depicted in the figurative paintings of the epoch are filled with the words of the crossed messages that began to occupy a growing space in daily reality. This street ceremony is singularly significant in the work of the poet Guillaume Apollinaire (the Apollinaire who rushed headlong into futurism, the movement which took these claims as its passwords), the prophet of technological and rapid celebration, the enemy of classicist memory, for whom poetry offered itself to the man in the street right there, in the space that name him in the hoarding, while prose finds its place in the pages of the newspapers, as he witnesses in his poem “Zone” (“Zone”; in his Alcools, Alcoholes); a sign of an absolute novelty, which becomes old in a matter of hours and for which the corruptible paper on which it is printed becomes sinks into the depths of our conscience. Almost a century after the street-wandering happening erected by Apollinaire and his followers, the presence of words in hoardings, gardens, streetlamps, rubbish skips, canopies, façades under renovation, plastic bags and even in the clothes we wear, is now unbearable . They have become narcotic, sterile, so saturated are we with their visual pollution and noise. It seems as if the image of the word must soon accept its defeat and surrender before the deafness of others to its appellation. Ciria has carried out different works on advertising since 2001, in which he has used advertising posters as backgrounds, responding to the alienating and virtually infinite, identical discourse with painting, a unique and personal statement. This is a question of interest, insofar as posters, those instruments that offer and proclaim the virtues of all types of merchandise, from foodstuffs to political parties, because of their imperative or persuasive discourse, pertain to the affirmation of social values, an essential part of the development of Berlin’s Dadaist movement or Soviet Constructivism, forms which present the word as a visual, essentially communicative instrument. It is possible to consume one’s own identity, or to convert it into a consumer object, by means of cosmetic products, gym hours, surgical experimentation or the subconscious compulsion of fashion, a homogenisation deftly disguised as a forging of identity, a clumsily alienating “be yourself”. His paintings, his actions on real advertising posters thus recall the most patent precedent of the Palabras (Words) series, a series brought to life by identical principles of ethical and social reflection.

The representation of the word began to assert a marked critical characteristic against the traditional western representational system during Cubism, up to the point that it became one of the privileged instruments of a meta-artistic reaction . The introduction of words into the pictorial surface constitutes one of the instruments by means of which the Cubist revolution challenged the lifelike reproducibility of the visual experience of reality that had remained unscathed since its codification in the Quattrocento. It is, therefore, a cleanly realist element of affirmation, which, though standing apart from academic conventions of figurative representation, acquires a marked social significance. In spite of the difficulty of reading offered by the objects represented in Cubist painting, it is no surprise that the maximum representative of French realism, Gustave Courbet, was claimed as the tutelary figure of the new movement . From a formal point of view, the geometrisation of surfaces and the thick lines that mark the outline of the represented objects, the Cubist revolution exalted the material tangibility of what was represented, dissidence as regards the impressionist luminic festivity and the more emotional festivity of post-impressionism, which on occasions became a celebration of shapelessness: shapes, bodies, characters lost their integral structure when their outlines were dissolved; lines, on the contrary, reinforced the informational content. On the other hand, the introduction of words into the pictorial plane becomes essential if the artist wishes to establish a reflection on his vital surroundings, and it is into this tradition where present pictorial-scriptural production of José Manuel Ciria fits.

In these recent paintings, Ciria continues to embody his recent work with content, reflection and communicative anxiety; the development and revulsion of his personal artistic writing. These paintings, in which practically the entire surface is covered (or uncovered) with words which, in spite of their pictorial corporality, are offered to the viewer for recognition and interpretation as writing. This, which seems obvious, like Hamlet’s first reply to Polonius, must be underlined, insofar as Ciria differs from recent creators who aim to make the writing that violates the surface of their canvases a mere indecipherable, insignificant and even paradoxical visual element, as shown by their prevailing inarticulacy or formal proximity with the uncertainty of babbling. A tendency whose most famous proponents include Cy Twombly and, in an discipular manner, Julian Schnabel trapped in Beuysian strategies. In these practices, the writing is hesitant and, because it is (in its parade of concealment), it acquires vigour. The painting is peopled with imprecise signs that consciously go against the logical order of the alphabet, calligraphy, language and writing as the points of reference of a discourse marked by utility. Its emphatic content is no longer that of discourse comme il faut, as it is (i. e., dominant), but rather in this type of painting experimentation itself is the leading character, its meaning, when it has no other. The introduction of words into these paintings by Ciria constitutes a new step in the abundance present in his recent work, marked by a growing anxiety for social communication. And, nevertheless, in spite of abounding in them with greater fury in his recent works, the presence of words in his works is by no means a recent occurrence. On the contrary, Ciria’s painting may be considered a reflection on the possibilities of articulating language through painting. “Does painting exist without words?” , asked the painter, the father of a painting, his own, which has pertinaciously made use of words. “The word of the artist must have the same fundament as the image”, he proclaimed recently . In a generous number of the catalogues that have been published on the occasion of his successive exhibitions, Ciria has contributed with his own texts in which he has attempted to use words to establish a greater relation with his reader-viewer. The first of them, which goes back to 1993 and was published on the occasion of his exhibition at the El Diente del Tiempo gallery in Valencia, and in which Ciria appealed openly to his susceptible viewer to direct reflection, was significantly titled “The Use of the Word”.

The tangible presence of words in Ciria’s work was already evident in his earliest stylistic exercises, generally articulated as the exclusive use of several concepts, without forming discourses, or even propositions; indicators of the anxiety with which the critical and aesthetic thoughts of this artist have increasingly been taken up. This occurs, for example, in Artista atrapado (Trapped Artist) (1989, mixed technique on canvas, 200 x 200 cm.), an excellent painting in spite of its flagrant immaturity and with which, significantly, the artist has never wanted to part. It is a dark and cold scene showing the figuratively represented and expressionistic figure of a fallen man, stretched on the ground and crumpled up, whose joints are offered formally until they take shape as what could be interpreted as a gnarled, useless hand, a hand like a pain, like the representations of the hand of crucified figures in western religious painting. We could say that Ciria has attempted a pretend self-portrait or, at least, the portrait of a heteronym. On the body-hand (the hand here is the synecdoche of the integrity of the painter, a trade in which the hand is used in a merely physical manual activity) can be seen a star or light source which at the same time can be interpreted as the exit or mouth of a tunnel in which the integral atmosphere of the scene is written. The words “alfabeto”, “significado”, “azar”, “experimento”, “concreto”, “conjunto”, “abstracto”, “lenguaje” [alphabet, meaning, chance, experiment, specific, joint, abstract, language] and “cultura” [culture] read horizontally on the vertical registers of the composition. Trapped Artist thus becomes a critique of the sensualist and sterile rapture of painting marked by the absence of any volitional approach, and may be fully considered to be a statement of the search for the conceptual and social content which has increasingly occupied the painter. Other concepts such as “cultura”, “lenguaje”, “espacio”, “contexto” [culture, language, space, context] (in Cruz, 1991, oil on canvas, 200 x 200 cm.) or “actitud”, “intención”, “búsqueda”, “concepto” [attitude, intention, search, concept] and “aportación” [contribution] Actitud (Attitude), 1991, oil on canvas, 200 x 200 cm.) can be read in the later reticular statements of variously-sized squares, closer to the minimalist structure from which he stands apart, nevertheless, due to his rejection of flat colours and to the exploitation of the possibilities that offer an accumulation of procedures of emulsion. The hand into which the body of the trapped artist is transmuted is, as we have said, a synecdoche, as is likewise the signature. Many artists nowadays have relegated the signature to the back of the canvas. Ciria is one of them but a small oil painting of his from 1989 (25x 25 cm.) simply showed the five letters of his surname, his signature, in black capitals (lettered out over and over, hesitatingly, on a clear background), in an order not ruled by the dictates of intelligibility, thus celebrating inaccuracy. The signature is, certainly, one of the most unnoticed aspects of contemporary artistic practice, and however it is at times a privileged instrument with which to establish some of the essential preoccupations of more than a few creators. For Michel Butor, Action Painting is a development of the very signature of the artist . In reality, all gestural statement, whether decidedly abstract or with a personal figurative realisation, consists of an unmasked prolongation of the painter over or in the work. In the signature, seal of guarantee, of testifying to something, two activities are joined: that of bearing witness to a presence (fui hic: I was here) and authorship (feci hoc: I made it), in the most purely gestural painting, an aspect which is abysmally underlined in the practice of graffiti, where the double function becomes a sole identity. The signature bears the name, the presence –on the occasion on which it is printed- of a man who has, ideally, at least, to be accompanied by a time-space reference to his (then) here and now.

In these Words, Ciria’s intention is far removed from lyrism of any sort. On the contrary, some are crude swearwords, which we could define, to use a term from classical rhetoric, as parenthyrsus (the expression of an extreme, indecorous, excessive pathos), even in the absence of exclamation marks, which would be redundant . Neither is it Ciria’s intention to appeal to the well-known narrative disruption of the monofocal perspective opened in Cubism and present in some of the most enlightened works of the representatives of Pop: Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns; and, with mixed fortune, in some oils of the René Magritte in which, in a superficially paradoxical manner, he focussed attention on the confusion that the paint had made proverbial between referent and representation, a process in common with writing, both forms embodied and incarnate in these works of Ciria. On the contrary, these Words are charged with a content that goes beyond meta-artistic reflection, constituting itself in lacerating words that find their ideal translation in their broken, bloody and violent pictorial configuration. In these pictures also, there is apparently no representational content other than the very words that open and close the composition. This can also be observed, for example, in the works of On Kawara, showing the date on which they were painted, or the canvases on which Simon Linke announces the inauguration of the exhibitions of other artists. But, whereas these use a neutral typography, making use of stencils, (as in the paintings of Johns, for example) and are set out on a flat coloured background, in these works of Ciria, the configuration of the writing presents a more calligraphic, more personal sense, more like a signature, being twinned, if the choice of the term is not obsolete, in intention and doctrinal sense with the words written by Joseph Bueys in chalk on the blackboards that were the focus of attention in his events (staged as conferences) , all lighted by a political dimension, but of a non-dogmatic politic, approached as a call to attention, as a wish to establish a free thought open to intuition and the subsequent joint taking of decisions . It is likewise worthy of note that these works are placed on a pictorial background linked to the family of the liquid glosses, opened by the painter in 2000, paintings which, characterised by the use of very diluted oil paint, take pains to be poured from a melancholy content. This seems to hint at an invitation to a removal, if possible, regarding the form of nostalgia and inactivity. A removal that is confronted with infrequent statements in the rooms of an art gallery or a museum. Or removal of the nostalgia of a deproblematised language, proud in the ignorance of its shattering.

This formal and thematic family, carried out between summer and autumn 2002, consists of twelve paintings in series of six (each 300 x 200 cm. and 225 x 150 cm.), advanced by a studio which, due to its dimensions (and to them only) stands apart from its companions or, in better words, its disciples. And, in spite of the apparent inarticulacy of their address, these works make up a sermon, an invitation that is in no way prescriptive. This time, Ciria has chose wood as his support, superimposing three identically sized boards, varnished and framed by a solid metal structure, as if to protect and shelter the proverbial fragility of the organic material. At times, the title of the picture is an exact copy of the content of the words that devastate the composition; at others, title and words differ, or even contradict each other, in an ironic, or absolutely sarcastic exercise, from which any laughable connotation is nevertheless absent. . The attacks most present in the written and titular content of these pictures are aimed against the ruling order and its demagogical and false obstinacy. An empire of submissiveness and the promise of an action which, when not openly hypocritical, is sterile. A febrile and masked alienation for which the world of art is at times a privileged standard. It is not, therefore, any surprise to see references to the poetic-artistic idyll of Arcadia, the serenity and concupiscence of Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe, or the more than direct allusion to the motto and anagram (Avida dollars) with which André Breton rejected the greed of Salvador Dalí, after his expulsion from the surrealist community. A world, the world of art, which –too often- and because of its retinal and sentimentally bland exaltation, shelters promises of transcendence in which nobody seems to believe any longer and which is the domain of an amazing speculative machination.

Some final words regarding Ciria’s homonymous series. Ciria chose to show these works in a series of exhibitions which he decided to call Theatre of the Minotaur. The Minotaur, imprisoned in the labyrinth designed by Daedalus, is the image of strength and fury, but also the image of solitude and stubbornness, a sentence on for the maidens (who were offered to him) and on himself (excluded from the game of seduction or from communicational exchange). Maybe for this reason, Picasso, throughout his multiform and inassimilable production, and particularly after the death of Matisse, the only artist he deemed his rival, considered the Minotaur his alter-ego, imprisoned for example in the La Californie studio, a space of interdiction and isolation . Maybe this is why, in the hell of inaction and tedium, in Borges’ version of the myth, the Minotaur scarcely defends himself from Theseus, his executioner. Because of their daring, theses pieces or scenes of Ciria’s theatre refer, in spite of their differences, to Artaudian and Brechtian subversions: the theatre of cruelty of the former and the epic theatre of the latter, insofar as they appear to share a common premise, that of establishing a new relationship between actor and spectator, eliminating, for example, the frontiers between stage and auditorium. The philosophies of Artaud and Brecht raised a provocation and a rupture of the conventions that ruled the dramatic dynamic and its incidence in the animus of the spectator, appealing to a vital transformation. Thus, by ‘cruelty’, Artaud attempted to stimulate the conscience, to make it rebel against the rupture of the values which, he denounced, affected the society of his time, a society soon to live through the hardships of World War II, and against the prevailing prostitution of culture, a culture which has lost its transforming nature, which is unrelated to life and which obscenely insists in perpetuating itself in leisure, its last redoubt; the culture that Arnaud denounced is denounced, essentially, for its idle nature . This same anxiety is also apparent in the recent production of Ciria, who, though with a certain darkness, has shown a growing desire to use his painting to approach social matters, even though it is still of interest to note that Artaud based his particular defence of the elimination of the dramatic text as monotonous, constrained, deficient and funereal, while Ciria has made use of exactly the same resource, that of the word, to achieve greater communication with his possible interlocutor .

In this theatre, in which we are invited to participate, there is still space for reaction, for meeting, for sanity. For resistance. And for the happy discovery that, in spite of everything, as the very Words of our painter exhibit, we still have enough blood for affront.

  1. Madrid, where Ciria lives and works, represents the exaltation and excess of the city-advertisement. Visitors are often taken aback and feel threatened by the urban spaces where advertising is placed.

2.Louis Aragon said as much in 1923: “for cubists, a postage stamp, a newspaper, a matchbox stuck to the canvas had the value of a test, an instrument to control the very reality of the picture”, and made a distinction as regards the collages of Max Ernst, which he felt to be the bearers of a poetic instance, of the most strictly cubist collage, “the intention of which is purely realist”. ARAGON, Louis: Los colages. Translated by Pilar Andrade. Madrid, Síntesis, 2001, p. 27. For Douglas Cooper, witness and prosecutor for the evolution of cubist art, the first painting to contain stencilled words is George Braque’s Le Portugais (The Emigrant) (1911, oil on canvas, 117 x 82 cm., Kunstmuseum Basel). COOPER, Douglas: The Cubist Epoch. Translated by Aurelio Martínez Benito. Madrid, Alianza, 1984, p. 64.

3.The first essay on cubism, published in 1912 by Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, About Cubism, opened with the following declaration, “in order to evaluate the importance of Cubism, it is necessary to go back to Gustave Coubert” (Sobre el Cubismo. Translated by Isabel Ramos Serra and Francisco Torres Monreal. Valencia, Colegio Oficial de Aparejadores y Arquitectos Técnicos de Murcia, 1986, p. 25). However, the two artists denounced Coubert’s acritical submission to the visual conventions prevailing at the time, but praised him as considering him the pioneer in the break with idealism and for adding the tangibility of reality, without additives, into his paintings. Likewise, in his text on Cubism written in autumn of the same year and published in 1913, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire coincides with the thesis of Gleizes and Metzinger regarding the capital importance of the realist painter on this movement, “Courbet is the father of the new painters”; On Painting, VII, in Aesthetic Meditations. The Cubist Painters. Translated by Lydia Vázquez. Madrid, Visor, 1994, p. 32.

  1. “Residual Ideas before the Mirror”, in José Maunel Ciria. Entre orden y caos. Tel Aviv, Givatayim Museum-Theatre, 2001, p. 10.
  2. In his unpublished text, written in 2002, “Retazos. (El miedo al rojo de las bestias)”. As regards Ciria’s reflection on the suitability or possibility of establishing relationships between visual and verbal language, the reader may find Joseph Towerdawn’s interview with Ciria of interest. It was published in José Manuel Ciria. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes. Madrid, Salvador Díaz gallery, 2000, pp. 33-50.

6.“Une bonne partie de la peinture gestuelle, de l’«action painting», peut être interprétée comme un développement de la signature”. BUTOR, Michel : Les mots dans la peinture. Ginebra, Albert Skira, 1969, p. 87. The term “parenthyrsus”, originally from rhetoric, was first applied to the analysis of artistic works by two outstanding characters of the then incipient discipline of Aesthetics, Johann Joachim Winckelmann in Gedanken über die Nachahmung der grieschischen Werke in der Malerei und Bildhauerkunst (Reflections on the Imitation of Greek Art in Painting and Sculpture), Dresden, 1755 and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in chapter twenty nine of his Laokoon (Laocconte), Berlin, 1766.

7.One example of this is Tafel (Geist-Recht-Wirtschaft), [Blackboard (Sprit-Right-Economy)], a conference-event held on 29 April 1978 at the Politiek Cultureel Centrum 042, Nimega, Holanda.

8.While the personal calligraphy of Beuys is omnipresent in blackboards and posters, the greatest formal similarity between Ciria’s current works and those of Beuys is a poster that he exhibited during his event, broadcast live by an East German television station on 11 December 1964: Das Schweigen von Marcel Duchamp wird überbewertet (The Silence of Marcel Duchamp is Overvalued), in which poster, in red (or grey, as Beuys would have preferred to specify) letters, the sentence that gives the title of the event can be read. In Ciria’s work, both in his painting and his writing, references to Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Beuys are not infrequent, regarding whom his reaction is marked by anxiety. Ciria in no way considers them to be overvalued or exaggerated creators, -to paraphrase Beuys–; on the contrary, Ciria is sorry that their approaches, which have contributed to break with previous taxonomies of art, and which, as they would have liked to know, extend the relations between art and life, have been superficially learnt by a shower of artists who ooze self-complacency and success.

9.The payroll of this series of Words reads, Hijos de puta {Bastards}, (studio, 122 x 82 cm.); 300 x 200 cm.: Avida Dollars (Miseria {Miserliness}), Hijos de puta {Bastards}, Arcadia (Hambre {Hunger}), Almuerzo campestre {Picnic} (Nulas conciencias {No Conscience}), Polvo somos {We are Dust} (Dioses de mierda {Shit Gods}) and Safari (África Sida {Africa Aids}); and 225 x 150 cm.: Mierda {Shit}, Impotentes {Impotent} (Prepotencia {Arrogance}), Nosotros haremos el resto {We’ll take over} (Políticos basura {Crap Politicians}), ¡Que os jodan! {Fuck You!} (Pobreza {Poverty}), Cotización en sangre {Quoted in Blood} (Diseñadores de guerras {War Designers}) and La paz sea con vosotros {Peace be with you} (Fe {Faith}). Where title and painted words differ, I have given the former first, followed in brackets by the words painted on the pictorial plane [NT – In each case I have placed the translation in curly brackets. I have given the literal translation of Almuerzo Campestre as {Picnic}, although this is indubitably a reference to the Spanish translation of the title of Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe.]

10.Picasso himself gave a marvellous explanation of his identification with the Minotaur in a vast amount of his works, “Si on marquait sur une carte tout les itinéaires par où j’ai passé, et si on les reliait par un trait, cela figuereit peut-être un Minotaure” (“If you marked all the places I have been on a map and joined them together, the result would probably be a Minotaur”). DOR DE LA SOUCHÈRE, Roland: Picasso à Antibes. Paris, Fernand Hazan, 1960, p. 66.

11.The first time Artaud used the expression “theatre of cruelty” was in his text No More Masterpieces. A concise definition of his thesis is given in a letter dated Paris, 13 September 1932, “from the point of view of the spirit, cruelty means rigour, application and implacable decision, irreversible, absolute determination”. ARTAUD, Antonin: The Theatre and its Double. Translated by Enrique Alonso and Francisco Abelenda. Barcelona, Edhasa, 1978, p. 115.

  1. Artaud had affirmed the impossibility of attaining an translation or absolute correspondence betweent theatre and painting, and nevertheless concluded that it was necessary to establish an analogy between both practices.