Marcos Barnatán.
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Marcos Barnatán.

Marcos Barnatán. Las Formas del Silencio.

Libro monográfico “Las Formas del Silencio. Antología crítica (los años noventa). Enero 2005.




Marcos-Ricardo Barnatán


“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endeared,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone…”


John Keats



These verses by Keats, taken from his famed “Ode to a Grecian Urn”, have been translated into Spanish more than once, by such admirable writers and poets as Julio Cortázar, José Angel Valente and José Maria Valverde(1). All the translations of the poem I have consulted, regarded as “a parable on the nature of poetry and art in general”(2), preserve the idea of the greater intensity of inaudible music, the music that John Keats heard in the soft pipes, and which he realised sounded not for the “sensual ear”, but for the spirit which could perceive its apparent silence.


Like this seductive soundless melody, even that of the audible music of the pan pipes, good painting always offers us more than one register: the first, which accepts the evidence, and the other hidden or latent registers contained in the image we see at first glance. In a painting, as in a poem or a melody, when they are true –and here we must use a thick rope to bind the word truth to the word imagination(3)– there must of necessity be an insinuating invitation to a plurality of readings.


In José Manuel Ciria’s Madrid studio I have heard the soundless song of his large canvasses. Alongside the far more plausible melodies that sparkled in the pooled colours, there was also the mute music that rouses us, moves us and ensures that the contemplation of the orgy carries us to a different, higher reality, much more potent than what we believe we are seeing. Gaston Bachelard is very right when he tells us never to give ourselves over to images without warning; we must not strive to understand them all at once; we must let them reveal themselves to us little by little in “a genuine evolution of the imagination and the enrichment of its meanings”(4). On observing these new works of Ciria, we cannot avoid this reflection, which goes beyond the rational and which the curious spectator also takes up for pleasure. It is not a question of unravelling enigmas or solving riddles. His painting has an evident spontaneity which militates against rational speculations but which provokes a crisis of the imagination that transforms it into a beautiful hotbed of astonishing dynamism.


But careful. When I say spontaneity I am in no way talking about a mere automatic gesture or random stroke. The spontaneity that Ciria conveys to us is always the hard-sought fruit of a previous idea, where memory and its free associations have crucial role to play, as does his meticulous technique, for which he assiduously turns to new or unusual materials and chemical processes which often require specialist advice. The painter’s “cuisine” has also evolved now at the end of the century, and success demands of the artist an ever-deeper knowledge of his materials.


If we believe that art never expresses anything foreign to it, we must also accept that in painting of quality “time puts itself on hold”, and invincibly demands to be reinterpreted in each gaze. Ciria not only suspects this, but knows that at each fresh reading the work will tell us more and more, and this first impression will be superseded despite the effectiveness and power of the surprise.


Perhaps it is as with literature, and this inaudible music which comes later, while time waits, will not only be more intense, but also much slower. In the silence of our sofa, as we slowly smoke a good Havana cigar, blue smoke wafting in the air and daylight streaming through the window, we will still be slowly dreaming the painting. And every afternoon the dream is different, because one never stops dreaming a true painting.


José Manuel Ciria now accepts the challenge of larger formats. And a huge space such as the backdrop for this major exhibition calls for more than habitual vehemence. Vehemence of which we have long known him to be capable, and which he can now release at top volume. Like those powerful music systems, or mighty cars, which finally get the opportunity to unleash all their decibels, all their latent speed.


This is why he has decided to show us how far his images can grow, without their large scale detracting from either their force or their fascinating authority.


Two very different series are opposed here. The “Carmina Burana” suite –a cantata that Ciria has identified with joy, happiness, and the fiesta ever since his days as a scholarship holder at the Academy of Rome in 1996. And «Manifesto”, channelling his proposals for a future he awaits with impatience. These two very different series have been mounted so that they can be seen in two different ways; separately, without interfering with one another when the viewer chooses the right strategic viewpoint; or together, allowing for dialogue and confrontation between the two. This is more than just simple trickery.


The creator’s life feeds from the springs of memory, and his creation is always a monument to life, an explosion of life challenging the idea of death and the deep silence of nothingness. The glow of a Titian Madonna glimpsed in the face of a woman seen on the underground, and evoked in the verse of Eugenio Montejo(5), can serve as an example of the kind of metamorphosis at work in the artist when he rescues an image from his past and gives it lasting form in a painting that goes back in time to “capture” a lost memory, but at the same time advances into the future –that ebb and flow– and with the help of imagination, that faithful ally, tattoos on the fabric only what is truly essential, the part of the memory that has really left its mark on the artist.


Ciria has no choice but to tear the living, forgotten flower from the bush and to make it an active part of a new music. It is then that the flower assumes its share of cosmic memory, when it enters a pictorial project that surpasses and contains it.


Technically, Ciria’s painting has become more complex, and in its complexity has taken a great leap forward. Not only has he sought out new supports in the enormous green military tarpaulins which only occasionally reveal a vestige of their original nature, but he also feels compelled to use other new materials, such as manipulated wallpaper, cardboard, wood or wire, connecting with paint, rubber and varnish to confect the outstanding pieces of his “Manifesto”. This is simply the kind of total painting Ciria aspires to, and which constitutes his brave and totally personal contribution to end of century art.


1.The Literary Translation Workshop at La Laguna University, coordinated by the teacher and poet Andrés Sánchez Robayna, published a curious collective translation of Ode to a Grecian Urn in 1977, accompanied by a selection of previous versions in Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Catalan and Italian, and an appendix with some critical notes on the poem dating from 1819-1820.


2.Cleanth Brooks, in John Keats: Odes. A selection of Critical Essays, Macmillan, London, 1971.


3.In this respect, we could also mention Keats’ well-known phrase: What imagination seeks as beauty must be truth.


4.G. Bachelard. El aire y los sueños. Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico, 1958.


5.E. Montejo, Death and Memory. Caracas, 1972.