Julia Sáez-Angulo. Madrid.
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Julia Sáez-Angulo. Madrid.

Julia Sáez-Angulo. Annta Gallery. Madrid.

Catálogo exposición “Alasdurasyalasmaduras” Annta Gallery, Madrid. Mayo 2009.




Julia Sáez-Angulo


“A picture is an artificial work, outside nature.
It calls for as much cunning as the commission of a crime”.


Edgar Degas

Among the artists of the 80s, José Manuel Ciria may be regarded as the most versatile and protean. You just need to follow the pulse and rhythm of his pictorial series to see how he undergoes a particular metamorphosis, where abstraction and figuration sometimes merge, sometimes coexist, giving birth to a kind of perpetual movement. Shapes and color strive in rivalry in his pictures; figures allusive to reality or shapes without any reference at all compete with color for the main feature in the picture. A painting, the same author’s painting that splits up into successive frames, in different versions and visions of a continuous, almost endless creativity, like the folds of the great map in Borges’ story, that of a cartographer who, in search of perfection for his map, needed to wrap the whole planet in it.


As a player in his painting game, Ciria’s personality appears and disappears in its own dynamics, in an energy that translates itself into an inquiring and constant work, almost like that of a playful and hyperactive child who fears the escape of something he has glimpsed −thanks to his great intuitive, searching and creative capacity− and manages to finally capture it on the surface of the canvas or paper. An artist whose work may eventually emulate that of the two most intense, prolific and productive artists in the History of Art: Picasso and Dubuffet.


What moves Ciria to this joyful elaboration of painting? If you take a close and careful look at his pictures, you will perceive the answer: the intimate joy of painting, his taste for the choice of color, the delight when pigment is applied or the relief over the controlled gesture. The pictorial subjects or representations of his series set the starting point into motion to extract, from one or several apparent icons, a morphology of singular and frenetic stains that take turns, alternate with or invade one another without ever falling into a modular structure or the easy single template.


In his new exhibition, Alasdurasyalasmaduras, the artist has partly resumed the idea of the mask −which comes from the 90s, from the series called Máscaras de la mirada (Masks of the glance) −, the origin of one of the most decisive movements of historical avant-garde: cubism. Yet, Ciria has not taken the mask in the literal sense of the African or Oceanic reference used by cubists and surrealists, not even the theatrical or carnival mask, all of which have helped man to make representations outside himself. Ciria has taken the mask from a different conceptual angle, less referential to shapes and more complex and elaborate in its idea.


In his dictionary of symbols, Juan-Eduardo Cirlot refers to the mask by saying: “Every transformation has something deeply mysterious and at the same time embarrassing, since misunderstanding and ambiguity occur when something changes enough to become “something else” but is still what it used to be. That is why metamorphoses have to be hidden; hence, the idea of the mask comes up. Hiding leads to transfiguration, to paving the way from what one is to what one wants to be; there lies its magical feature, present both in the Greek theatrical mask and in the African or Oceanic religious mask” (1). The idea of metamorphosis applies very well to the continuous iconic visions of Ciria’s pictures.


Ciria’s masks often take part in long literary picture titles, in the Dalinean manner of old days: Máscara desocupada recordando a Giotto (Vacant mask remembering Giotto); Máscara partida desocupada y regleta de colores sobre trama (Split vacant mask and color ruler on weave); Desocupación de la máscara (Vacancy of the mask)… Some titles denote a certain positional description of shapes. The title sets the spectator’s mind into motion towards a concrete interpretation of the picture. Is this what the artist is really looking for? Certain titles are straightforward or slightly bizarre: Coleccionista de ojos (Eye collector), El ojo que llora ante la pintura (The eye that weeps before the painting), Días de musas (Muse days)… And if this were a ludic resource from the author aimed at the observer of his picture? Ciria is capable of this and much more. The names given to his series or the titles of some of his pictures urge us to think about it. Let us see some referents as Fuck Picasso or the very title of the exhibition, Alasdurasyalasmaduras, which may be split –following a Ramonian game (from Ramón Gómez de la Serna, author of Istmos (Isthmus)– into “alas duras y alas maduras” (hard wings and mature wings) or the very origin of the popular saying “A las duras y a las maduras” −the Spanish equivalent of the English proverb “A friend in need is a friend indeed”.


It particularly strikes me as odd that the author does not resort to the cold and easy reference of Sin título (Untitled) or to Arabic or Roman numbers for his series, which denotes his narrative or dramatic taste. Pablo Picasso used to say that he did not like painting without drama; that is why he hardly cultivated abstraction. Ciria does work on abstraction persistently, but is not limited by it. Semantics is not harmless, and the artist has a wide specialized vocabulary to accompany his paintings. Each picture carries a statement that redirects the spectator’s look to the title before actual contemplation of the work. A statement that admits or denies a piece of information, casts doubt upon it, poses a question or suggests a second thought. Not because the title exerts a certain power over the painting, but because the painting has accepted to be accompanied by the words set out for it.


The word “eye” (ojo) is implicit in two pictures: El ojo que llora ante la pintura (The eye that weeps facing the painting) and Coleccionista de ojos (Eye collector). Titles are so powerful that they inevitably force the spectator to question their conceptual meaning by watching the painting. A hard task that may lead to a great many interpretations. Does it refer to the so much talked about and never-arrived death of painting? To the painter who eagerly seeks the spectators’ look? What ought to be done? Certainly, one should remember the utmost maxim of an art critic: “The mystery of the picture has to be respected”. The spectator contemplates the painting and should let himself be carried away by a first impression before getting wrapped up in the theoretical discourse ranging from the artist’s title to the critic’s or art historian’s review. The painting, above all, is created by mingling pigment and color on a flat or relief surface. And that first and sensual look at color and its application has to prevail when contemplating a picture. The idea takes shape in art; what gets hold of the look is the thought.


Ciria, unlike avant-gardist Max Ernst, who refused to put a single word or phrase to his novel entitled Une semaine de bonté, written on the basis of a collage of drawings on printed paper, places us before his pictures with a cascade of words that he certainly thinks necessary, even if the purpose is to give a clear and identifying name to his works, as opposed to the cold and sometimes confusing Sin título (Untitled) when reference is made to the works of an artist, both for the art historian and the general public.


Reticles, shapes and paint


The author of Alasdurasyalasmaduras often resorts to the stroke of the line, the square or the reticle, because he knows that geometry shapes and combines elements by building a powerful structure in the picture, fixing abstraction and endowing it with a weight that avoids the inconsistencies of mannerism. The artist creates a dialogue between complementary rather than antagonic elements: geometry and stain, geometry and gesture; Apolo and Dionisos… the eternal constant in art. The idea of the square, or the picture within a picture −and not precisely in the manner or with the intention of the Baroque− is another performance taken on by the artist in his formal repertoire. In the case of the picture entitled Figura estereoscópica (Stereoscopic figure) or even in Días de musas (Muse days), this can be appreciated more thoroughly.


The figure of the human body was the starting point in Ciria’s work, and although in the 90s his change to abstraction became evident, he does not abandon the idea of the human figure in some of his pictures, on the basis of shapes that denote body masses, hominids, characters, dolls or formal elements that forcefully hint at man, the human body or the human being as a suggestion element. This happens, for instance, in his picture entitled Figura-Máscara desocupada (Vacant figure-mask), where we can clearly appreciate a face with somewhat alarming eyes, mouth and ears casting a restless and frightened look. It may be in this field where we can witness the embodiment of what some historians have referred to as the nostalgia for the human body or the absence of man in contemporary art repertoire.


Ciria’s chromatism still stands out in the dialogue between red and black, along with white and different hues of ochre. A kind of pointillism, resulting from a controlled brush shake in the manner of a “controlled chance”, softens and encloses the composition while avoiding the feeling of full, cut-out, lonely cold shapes on the support.


In brief, we find ourselves before a full-fledged painter. José Manuel Ciria is an artist who pledges himself to painting because he believes and has always believed in it, because painting has allowed him to easily surmount the hard pitfalls that tried to overthrow it. He is fully knowledgeable of its language, its possibilities of diction, its capacity to suggest chromatic combinations, its possibilities of change, its capacity for drama, included in abstraction… Painting will not die as long as there are smart artists who practise it.


Considering his vast track record of almost three decades in the art circuit, his joyful and free statements before each work, his conceptual, formal and allusive certainty to elude repetition in every picture, one feels tempted to call Ciria the wise advocate of painting or, even better, “the master of painting”, capable of completing the great book or the huge map of painting on the basis of singular and different pages, with different series and pictures. To sum up, an inexhaustible painter. His versatility and humor make him the most protean of our artists, without forgetting Fran March’s statement that art is the expression of our Utopias.


1 Cirlot, Juan-Eduardo. “Diccionario de símbolos”; Editorial Labor. Barcelona, 1992 (page 299).