Pedro Nuño de la Rosa. 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.
I HAVE TRACED A WINDOW ON THE CANVAS WALL Pedro Nuño de la Rosa
The existential anguish of our daily lives, the slow advance towards the unknown, the memory like anthropology for an individual culture, death within the memory. Associations of ideas amongst the chaos like an element of creativity that springs from an accident – so it’s not so accidental at all – and the order of rhythm and syntax as semblances of what is subject to a method, tied to a method. And, always, levels of consciousness, experience and creativity. I think a lot of this apparently antithetical combination exists in most of José Manuel Ciria’s work.
“I can hear the sound of my breathing above the sound of my pen and above the sound of a bath being run in the flat downstairs”. Walter Benjamin quotes Proust, then defines the novelist’s style, marked by the torments of a hypochondriac: rhythmically, step by step, his syntax echoes his fear of suffocation. His anxious breathing, as if he was about to lose the last breath coming in through his window, and his pen, the implement of creativity for a writer mined by obsessions, the man who exiled himself in the bed of Manet’s Olympia to plot revenge against an oblivious, affected, refined aristocracy that never came to accept him.
And while Proust is writing these quasi-biographical notes to a friend, the bath overflows, the water comes splashing onto the floor, and the domestic accident takes place that we now see as the snapshot of a transparent stream of water on the beautiful geometry of some perfectly patterned bricks or tiles. It is an image Beuys would have had fun with, and which I have re-read so many times in Ciria’s paintings, in his style where knowledge and play are opposing forces. A few years later on, Walter Benjamin, a cigarette in one trembling hand and the fountain pen of his anguish and fear in the other, wrote his Illuminations on the bourgeois geniality of the wandering Jew in search of lost time, and he too was pursued by haste and the inability to conclude his own line of argument, troubled by another time unfound which was to finally drive him to suicide.
That’s how it seemed to me, anyway, when I wandered amongst José Manuel Ciria’s large-format works where, perhaps more so than in other, more standard-sized works, he insists on declaring that he is not only a painter in his style, but a creator of combinations of forms and theoretical platforms upon a ground we ought to glide over vertically, like birdmen flying low, and upon which Ciria has emptied out all his expressive power in spatial metaphors. Even though the planes are superimposed, and big enough to insinuate the real meaning of Umberto Eco’s proposal of 1962, his Open work which defined, amongst other things, the (poetical) work of art in its three-fold aspect of idea/structure/registration, in order for it to be endlessly interpretable through this meaningful combination, which had been studied by Barthes in his rhetoric of images as a merely perceptive fact to which other components must infallibly be joined, anthropological and cultural ones amongst others. And so this issue was on the table again, ready for global and theoretical negotiation, although the negotiations ended too soon perhaps when Eco rushed on to dedicate himself to other literary tasks, sowing controversy amongst his reputed followers.
Observing Ciria’s paintings is enough for us to agree on the power of perception, and reading the titles of his works and going through any of his ad hoc catalogues, which include his own literary and artistic texts, is enough for us to be convinced of the great orthodox and heterodox intellectual cargo he loads into what is, more than painting, an Open work. Large formats, more “open” although certainly less assimilable, have always required a very special intuition and decision because the physical nature of the brushstroke is absolutely evident. In the case of Ciria, firstly there are non-figurative and gestural signs, colossal in size, and whose own mechanics prevent any corrections or later additions being made, very much in the past style of mural-painting, frescoes, and the grandiloquent academic-style format. Here the body must adapt to the «accomplishing» instant in order to give these forces their form with perfect timing and to control, relatively at least, their intervention over the whole of this spectacular surface, and upon which suitable, proportional, and therefore different, tools are used to make it possible to work on such a large surface. There is no total control, there are no rules, a uniform mix of materials no longer exists, and the artist becomes a genuine anthropometric tool. Ciria’s technique is not about having extreme command over what he wishes to paint, although his command is certainly decisive. The works come to their own conclusion through the reactions of the “liquids” he sets afloat on them, even though they seem to be signed with a question mark. What Ciria does is set the scene for landscapes where art events can easily happen, playing with what he can control and what he can’t: chance techniques, ways of giving form to textural fields, varying the possibilities, tension, accidents in gestures and in the chemistry of matter, repellence of fortuitous and created forms, chromatic expanses …. What most interests Ciria apart from this dialogue between the casual and the causal as he applies his brushstrokes is the physicalness that the work itself proffers through its combination of different supports, particularly in these large format paintings, as they offer greater fields for combination where he can speculate with form. His attitude is dialectal, and container and content are pitted one against the other, becoming imposing in the huge work, and causing a clash, a contrast, a scream, distress, a blind impulse, the force of rupture, against the surrender of the purist finish. In a nutshell, his expressive expanses have the power, but also the interest and variety, of a long reading of prose, and so the reader advances and coasts over the work, while his gaze changes and takes different directions.
This is why Ciria hates the mannerism of insistences, and, even more so, being classified as lyrical or as a commonplace abstract when his aim is to give us a great adventure, a epic of movement that depends on the seriousness of the observer and his capacity to observe it, to constantly seek out the «physicalness» in it, the visual power. And, yes, in Ciria’s work too this quality comes out of the way the materials are worked and his search for striking supports, aggressive even, which actually assume their own materialness.
Our Ciria admires Duchamp : he considers him comparable to Picasso in his drawing and to Matisse in his use of colour. Both he and the famous dadaist agree that our last words will be judged by posterity, so much so that they should be chiselled onto our gravestone. D’ailleurs, c’est toujours les autres qui meurent (Rouen Cemetery, Marcel Duchamp’s grave). The idea behind this gesture, its intention as a kind of posthumous rubric, goes far beyond what will remain of all the treatises he ever wrote that later went on to fuel anthologies and nurture scholars and historians, and it goes far beyond all the other theoretical testaments he left us, so highly prized in the scandalous twenties. And these sowed the seeds for the whole of the next century: a century which, after the torrential pre-revolutionary trance of its outset, has ended up in the Dead Sea of eclecticism where Ciria’s paraconceptual and preconceptual painting comes from – Ciria’s and that of very few others – based on the memory and the myth as thematic centre points of a model of complexity.
Yes, that’s exactly how it is: only other people die. But you yourself, as long as you can carry on «in» art, not «with» it or «behind» it, will go on living. Obviously, «what is death?» and the question “ubi sunt” of the world’s greatest men, are only the sum total of different individual phases or of trends grouped together, and this must be responded to by the antithesis of each one, looking at or looking out from his own works of art, and opposed to everything in the past, whether intrinsic or borrowed – adapted – with no right to return or reply. And the alliance with the mass media means that tautology is never fittingly recognised because of the concept of the artist and his trademark. This has always been a concern of Western thought from Hegel to Greenberg , and, naturally, for all the revisionists of everything that now bears the prefix “post”, Habermas versus Toulmin in contemporary aporia. The original and the copy. A symbiosis where the words (the literary treatise) are set out and taken as a sealed patent from the different fields of analysis: criticism, history, glossaries, etc., below the scenes drawn by the author (his physical and artistic work), and this is the price we pay for non-collective similitudes. But who is watching the watchman? Ciria, or who criticises the critic?, as T.S. Eliot put it.
This reminds me of the cross-functions between the different languages and in the huge amount of rhetoric which attempts to intercommunicate them, from the different fields of study. As Ciria says, “When I write texts for a catalogue I don’t attempt to explain my work, I try to create something new. For me, my work is already justified enough, and to try and explain it would be reiterative. I think the best way of explaining it is simply to paint it” . But this «something new» he refers to is often stained with the theory of the workshop, written in charcoal with his painter’s overalls on, and it does not always seem to coincide with what the other authors writing in his numerous catalogues say. Ciria also intervenes in these catalogues, but never by chance: his reflections are pure theory and hung like warning signs against so much disperse, redundant discourse not only on the subject of his work, but also on a certain form of understanding Spanish Art, so close, so immediate. Ciria provides his own conceptual rhetoric and his own «safe-conduct».
The titles of Ciria’s works are therefore a point of reference, an “Attitude”, as is the case with the 2 x 4 m. painting he produced in 1991 and which explains the serious, consciously emancipated beginnings of a self-taught painter. Speaking in all irony, of course, as he had been exhibiting his work for the last seven years, speculating with mannerisms and using major sequences leading to identifiable signs, gradually more and more defined, through his individual shows in Paris in 1984 and Seville in 1987, and the 1991 exhibition in the Al.Hanax Gallery in Valencia, by which time Ciria was already a force to be reckoned with in the art world. From this year on, he exhibited non-stop. It was no longer «J’accuse» but «J’expose». And the more or less obvious references in his work to other artists, or what we have come to refer to as “contamination”, were gradually watered down until they were no more than a suggestion of Ciria’s notable artistic reflections on Chaos and Order. An ideological line that was beginning to find a certain backing in the official fields of philosophy and historiography, and which had already been around for a long time in painting, ever since Rosenberg said that “what was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event”. An attitude that was twice as majestic in large-sized works and where the initial primitivism of the post-war “action painters” and their way of working was resumed in the nineteen-eighties and evolved, with additions from other movements (antithetical or otherwise) towards the subjective, complex and conceptual. So, at this stage of Ciria’s work, the Suprematist references of a white cross on a black background was intermixed with pop, informalist and “post-rational” references that were to come together in Munich in his 1992 exhibition Cry nude Europe, from the perspective of a previous approximation to diffuseness, to art brut, to the vagueness of forms when they fly past as quickly as on a TV screen and all we are left with is the sensation of something seen and not seen, which we compress into a single image or central sequence, a meaning or a signifier, which will go to take its place on the shelf of our perception.
Painting on painting, or painting on art literature, perhaps. This is another of Ciria’s persistences when the metonym becomes a model free from obligations and a work like Guerreros is the result, six metres in length by two in height. Each of the three figures are divided by two superimposed lines that vertically reorder the sinuous human-like forms in a fragmentary process, much better than any literary concept at marking out the final result of the work in the purely pictorial field. The Harlequins and figurines of Cézanne, Picasso and, particularly, Malevich, are revisited in Ciria’s Guerreros: he opens the coffin in which they are rotting or diffusing into timelessness, until an autopsy has finally reduced them to just two colours, and, in this no-man’s land, the abstract and the figurative search for a dialogue that would have been impossible just a few years ago, given the mandatory and anti-referential line of abstraction.
This dialogue – non-figurative upon figural elements – became even clearer when Ciria received a scholarship from the Spanish Academy in Rome and was able to study his idols Uccello, Giotto, Mantegna, Caravaggio, Tintoretto and many others in their natural surroundings, their origin and their real dimensions. At around this time he painted the large format works such as La visión del carro de fuego (Vision of the Fiery Chariot), El anuncio de Santa Ana (The Announcement of Saint Anne) and El nacimiento de la Madonna (Birth of the Madonna), which resemble metamorphosed frescoes or altarpieces created as part of his series Mascarás de la Mirada, in a new attempt to achieve, in his words, a “preconceptual field”, where the primitive gaze, prior to any semantic considerations, stares at the artificiality of a mask, and at the same time it is a continuous allusion to the device of painting, a knowing glance at historical epitaphs and the distorted symbiosis of some creators as opposed to others, either in their composition – Giotto – or in their way of distributing spaces, like Uccello. On the basis of the identity of simultaneous titles, Ciria communicates with paintings created centuries before his own lifetime in order to establish the particular diachronic axis of his works, «removing himself from literary reality» in order to repaint without words the representative, magical and spiritual discourse of those who were precisely to determine the prologue to realism, the image of what is real and its reflection in a work of art or a framed mirror on a surface which leads us in yet another turn of the screw to one of the variants and concerns of Ciria in Rome: «the Narcissus who is not Narcissus». The colossal 310 x 260 cm Ethos and Logos, painted two years later, could be an reverberating indication of the ironic gaze on the eternal and paradoxical contemplation of art for art’s sake, or the negation of Narcissus reflected in the water. The image and its double are always present, the body is there, together with what is seen in the water/mirror. A vertical axis pencilled down the centre of the picture creates play in the composition: the areas of colour rest on this line or on the edges of the picture, generating a kind of association of impossibles. Ciria uses the boat and its reflection, but he also speculates with the man who is staring at himself in the liquid glass; all he sees is an altered, changing silhouette. Today Ciria has returned to compositions with contexts that take us back to Narcissus and this «association of impossibles”. The mirror too can reflect chance abstract forms and provide an anecdote, as Kandinsky was so fond of at a certain stage in some of his early works, seeing it as a didactic support. I can still hear Ciria saying in Rome one night as we were walking home down a cobbled street in the Trastevere quarter, «So where has this come from, if not “Providence”?» He was observing a putty-like substance on the ground that had just been run over by a car wheel; the accidental result he saw as identical to a painting by Motherwell. He took a photograph of it in fact – this photo is included in his Rome catalogue – presumably with the idea of retaining this wonderful ambiguity and then to produce a subjective painting based on the «happening». The impressive 330 x 430 cm Madrebien atropellado por un coche en Roma («Motherwell» run over by a car in Rome»), infinitely larger in size than the circumstantial icon itself, is a depiction of this stain on the ground, remembered and reinterpreted in the artist’s studio and provided with a new dimension/space. He later added painted papers to it arranged in spirals to break with the purely gestural and pictorial image so that the end result of the composition would be a contrast, a collision with the mirror that reflected his admired Motherwell. A sly, allegorical glance is made at the Motherwell author of the compositions on paper in Indian ink entitled Samurai, where the American painter seeks to imitate the sea and provide an artistic metaphor of a wave crashing onto the stones of a jetty, in a mix of control and chance. In Motherwell there is always an element of automatism or improvisation in his way of understanding painting, and this was what led to his famous Window-and-Wall series. Ciria gave the title La ventana habitada (The inhabited window), to another of his large-format works (320 x 500 cm), a composition where we revisit this association between the gestural and the geometric which has always been a leading theme of his painting. In these fragmentations the gesture predominates, even though the grid drawn on a giant cardboard collage in the middle of the composition is still there; he later gave tension to the work using different stains of colour as he had done for Madrebien atropellado por un coche en Roma. Ventana habitada reveals Ciria’s persistent revisiting of his past, and he recurs on this occasion to a work of 1990-1991, where, on a grey background on a canvas, he created a grid and, within the windows of the grid, a collage of paper which also reminds us of the period he spent in France, where he became interested in the Supports-Surfaces group, for their works rather than their theory . This was a time of circumstantial periods spent living in different European countries which was to end in the imperious necessity of the polysemic self-exiled artist to create a world of his own, and, at the same time, a theory of meaning. Long before that Ciria had been a belligerent contender against all those who advocated hastily pulling all the «painting in progress» off the walls – as the canons of the time dictated – and never hanging it again in the post-modernist spaces. The dot and line on the plane were dead, they said, and so was all-over painting, and all the movements had come to an end with Supports-Surfaces in France, in the same place as they had been born. And that was that. All we could do now was to hail everything that fitted in the cul de sac opened by Rosalind Krauss for us to throw in all the works that weren’t either architecture or surface. Marinetti aspirants with their Word Perfect 5.1’s from their newspapers, magazines and TV programmes didn’t know what they were playing at as they crucified and buried something that had already deeply sunk in as a discursive topic in the infant Messiahs. They were a clique who had drunk in the troubled waters of romantic painting in the eighties, on an international art scene plagued with experimental fields based around both «neo» prefixes and what was actually new, while they ate their Beautiful Toast Dreams on Tàpies’ enormous hospital bed in any of Kiefer’s bookshops, remarking with cheap scorn, «What the hell are these gurus dressed up as American curators saying? Let’s paint «The Painted Word» again, let’s paint it big, and let’s throw it in the face of Tom the Wolf, that presumptuous literato who trivialises his fellow critics with his terrible symbolist Misereres. And while we’re at it we’ll answer him too, from the wall, from the transgressive ramparts». Which is damned well difficult, when you’re up against the empire of the purely conceptual. This was the declaration of the youngest curtain-raisers before immediately throwing themselves into the task of recounting «their» something different. On the chaotic shelves of the Art Supermarket of the newest mixed-race generation, Baselitz sat cheek-by-jowl with the latest “Spanish School in Paris” (Barceló, Sicilia, Campano, Broto…), Jasper Johns was piled on top of Antonio Saura, and underneath them was one of the best selections of German artists, 17 works in all, that came to the Palacio Velázquez in 1984 with an influential group exhibition called Origin and Vision . Many of the works were far bigger than anything that was normally seen in Spain at the time, and the show truly left its mark on the future creation of this generation. Everything was ready for the great street battle, even the aerosol spray signs proclaiming the global acceleration process with deconstructed state-of-the-art labelling, a process which also affected trends in art, tel-quel, and where theorists of the commonplace exhibited their programme of events as the opposite and the antidote to all others, bipolarising between El Cultural, Babelia and similar newspaper supplements everything that moved around the boundary between what should be and what was not. Before the crowds and the Art Fairs arrived there was a time and a country that felt it had to hurriedly fill up its album of the avant-garde (1945-1980), clearly incomplete, and great batches of artists suddenly sprang up like so many strains of mushrooms in the rain of the rising democracy, artists who were able to bootleg their wares anywhere, pushed on by the modernising need to offset Spanish art’s endemic deceleration. But they were always slightly behind in their imaginary intuition because «you can’t remember what isn’t in your memory». Within such a hasty social contrivance it comes as no surprise that certain historians of the instantaneous, like Ana María Guasch , have been fairly sceptical about the final result of this age of improvisations. From the days of his first exhibitions in 1984, Ciria had a critical attitude to this status and the all-absorbing market which needed to change its showcase each season, where the figurehead galleries imposed certain tendencies on the emerging and second-rate galleries, and as a result on their artists, which were then immediately fostered by critics and the media. It happens everywhere really.
At this time Ciria was making continual references to “inspiration” together with the vademecum of Greek and Roman mythology, as components of his particular form of ordering the chaos . This has always been the idea behind the creativity of this heterodox, multi-cultured artist born in Manchester, brought up in Madrid and re-educated in the post-Fellinian and post-transavantgarde Rome: to compartmentalise his originally suprematist stanzas with the most expressive features of a silent monologue, far removed from surrealism in its dripping vertical gestures and calligraphy, although it could be considered fairly close to automatism . Years of rhetorical options and confusions on the autonomy of representation had to pass until in the nineteen-nineties certain semantic conventions were systematized, not without some critical battles first being waged on their deficient linguistic substance. Ciria himself, in 1998, used the initials A.D.A. (Automatic Deconstructive Abstraction) as a semiotic/cognitive motto. This was presumably a humorous attack against pedantry and affectation, showing Ciria’s fondness for paradox and ambiguity referring to the literaturising of art and which he uses so much in his demystifications.
We are always almost obsessively immersed in Chance and Determinism. Determinism is the attempt to control the painting throughout the entire process of its creation, after a series of reflections which may be ideas, notes, sketches, jottings or any other conclusive or rejected works (Ciria destroys many of his failed works), or the problems raised by what he jokingly interprets as an expression similar to «automatic writing», accidental in the creative process we were discussing earlier. Ciria, as a result, is not so interested in the plane of dreams or of psychic automatism as in that of physical automatism, of material reactions, gestures, and chance. That is, a way of creating a work where, independent from any «literary» meaning, the artist gives form to the energy of his movements, crossing the canvas until he runs off the edges, creating and enlarging the battlefield on the concrete floor, a battlefield which already has an infinite number of remains and memories of previous immediate epic deeds. A field for confrontation which, ever since Pollock replaced verticality by horizontality and the articulated easel by the open, multidimensional space, urges us to hang the canvases like Rembrandt’s skinned oxen, ready for attacks from all angles, no longer allowing the artist to return unharmed to the Greek Ithaca of Aristotelian proportions.
And it was as if Ciria’s painting had suddenly acquired the visual characteristics of sculpture, changing all previous concepts of approaching and understanding the artistic action and the fractal geometry of creativity. The door was slammed shut on the Rome Academy. The Paris study with its three-metre high ceiling was replaced by a huge machine shop in New York where any sized work could be created. The painter was a real fauve now, but, in contrast to the Bretonian theorems, in the New York abstracts that impregnate Ciria’s work there was (and is) always rigorous control over the context of the idea and its sequences, both as regards the support and in the use of expanding painting where any possibility is determined by a directed impulse, and what is apparently spontaneous is previously calculated and sustained on its essence and gesturalism. If we turn back, without retracting of course, we have to remember the territory chosen by Ciria, the study, experimentation and analysis of the tradition of automatism – the decalcomanias «invented» by Oscar Domínguez and later used by Max Ernst, and Ernst’s automatic techniques, frottage, grattage, or the pendulum composition later absorbed by Pollock, who also adopted the oscillation process, thus closing the conceptual ellipse. Because any immediate “exaltation”, emotion and gesturality occurring in the work of Ciria happens as sequentially as if his approach was (and perhaps it is) purely conceptual. Like meanings of expression without attributes. And that, as I see it, is what José Manuel Ciria is aiming for with the different «meanings» that exist in his works. Meanings and signifiers: what a great topic to talk about by the firelight in Byzantium. But moving on to another subject, certain painters have asked me to explain Ciria’s «signifying(?)» technique, which, although it is undeniably an «invention» of his, I don’t really think is particularly revealing of any great culinary discoveries, or, if we’re being ironic about it, no more than those registered by Rebecca Horn or Alicia Abramovich, but we can say something about it: there is evidently a series of general guidelines, like those referring to the technique of using oils on supports such as plastic canvas, and finding a way for them to last, for which he uses a series of «tricks» and a mix of chemical ingredients. The results have amazed preservers and restorers, who were convinced they would fade away in no time, but who had to acknowledge their durability after testing them in the laboratory. Ciria achieves this material aspect on surfaces that are absolutely flat, working basically with two types of canvas: Aztor Z and Aztor 2, and firstly sanding the fabric down to obtain the correct porosity. He then makes up a solution of oil with solvents and acids and works with the canvas laid out on the ground. The final result is that when the stain of colour «soaks through» sufficiently to the canvas (or other support) and dries, it cannot be erased and it is practically impossible to correct. This is a real signifier, and the reason behind my making these comments. There is very little margin for manoeuvre in his work, so it is essential for him to have the previous idea for the work absolutely clear in his mind, with everything perfectly planned, because while the paper or fabric are still wet they can be worked on, but once they have dried there is no turning back. Control and chance at the same time. Ciria uses very little paint, as he has to spread it out in a very fine layer which, apart from enabling it to soak into the canvas correctly, prevents it from cracking and allows it to remain supple, responding perfectly to Ciria’s immediate gesturality, to the reflex conditioned by experience. The finish is created with a very thin layer of varnish which protects the paint. Then, finally, he spreads another layer of resin over this varnish, to obtain the plastic look that the support had before it was painted. It is curious and meaningful to re-read what José Manuel Ciria himself wrote about his work in 1999: “It’s not a question of managing to cleverly solve pieces of a puzzle, but to be within the painting, and to stay in it, saying things of a certain interest…”.
Ciria’s second solo exhibition in the Salvador Díaz gallery (September/October 2000) impressed me essentially because in the group of works presented the note was predominantly on large format, eloquence, mural-type painting, a provocative excess. Of the considerable works on show, Magari ora lucidus ego, Ego magari lucidus ora (both 250 x 500 cm.), and Una tarde en el circo (260 x 540 cm) are the most impressive for me. The first two refer to the play on words that can mean one thing or another depending on their order, and this is reflected in the form of the complete work: they are combinable diptychs and triptychs, that is, there is a central element which can be interchanged with another of the panels and then four rear panels of 250 x 250 cm. which when they are placed together produce two perfectly coherent works of 250 x 500 cm. All eight possible combinations were reproduced in the exhibition catalogue. These interchangeable works come together within the formalist sphere in Una tarde en el circo (An afternoon at the circus), where Ciria interrelates all their technical properties and interests in a random, chaotic mix, joining together different artistic solutions on one single pictorial plane using collage, very much in the style of Rauschenberg, in a tribute to this pop artist. What most interests him about Rauschenberg is his investigative attitude to all types of associations and the accumulation of photographic transfers, in the Picassian sense of «finding», of some of his formal works that broke with abstract expressionism. In 2001, Ciria produced an exhibition for the prestigious Centro Cultural Recoleta in Buenos Aires. The works were basically polyptichs proceeding from his constant questioning of collage as a contrast and alternative to the flat surface. Different supports are used, one on top of another, interposed and superimposed. This was the first time he had created works of this size where he escaped from restrictive frames to venture out onto the wall itself in a series of canvases fixed in different sequences, spread out directly through the different halls, achieving a new composition as they merged and synthesised by themselves. They form a total of three works, first exhibited in Buenos Aires and then in the Givatayim Theatre/Museum in Israel, as immediately after the Argentina exhibition he received a scholarship to study in Tel Aviv, where he stayed for two months. These works, from the series Sueños Construidos (Constructed Dreams), had not been titled beforehand and were now given their definitive names: Paisaje de la coexistencia, Paisaje del respeto and Paisaje de la Paz (Landscape of coexistence, Landscape of respect and Landscape of peace), in a clear reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which Ciria witnessed first-hand on his stay. It was as if each day that passed, fresh blood settled on the dried blood of the day before, and where the only way out was to admit that art can also be ideology. From here we go on to the polysemic meaning of the image, and, continuing our route, to the controversial relationship between Art and Advertising, accepting that advertising is subject to criticism from an artistic stance. When we see a Western luxury advertisement on one page of a newspaper and on the following page a photograph of starving children, we feel angry inside that society has reached the point where nothing can attract our attention any more because perpetual media bombardment has rendered us senseless, as we were warned in McLuhan’s expostulations. One way of condemning this is to tear up that reality, and its metaphor, to tear up happiness. «I think about upsetting the inkpot over real life, not over Warhol, and not over Barbara Kruger”, Ciria replied once to a malicious missive of mine. “Once I compiled various photos of concentration camps, a mountain of dead bodies, a man committing suicide, a drug addict, soldiers … and I set them off against my own work, with a condemning intention, although a lot of people didn’t get my point. We all feel bad about the world around us but none of us ever get up off our arses to change things. And I think criticism can be made in an obvious way, insisting on the drama of a gaze. Sometimes red is a colour, other times it’s pure blood”.
This drama has its latest cinematographic representation in another of Ciria’s scenarios where he projects works such as Erial Kentucky Bourbon, Serpiente, Sucio Perro Azul Cacique de Venezuela and See What I mean?. These were advertising hoardings and they would ultimately go on to his exhibition Visiones Inmanentes (Immanent Visions) in the Sala Rekalde in Bilbao (December 2001-January 2002). They had a standard format of 3 x 4 metres, and were a mix of different advertisements and brands. His technique is classical here, as he works on the photograph to turn it into painting; this in theory is a provoked reflection on persuasion, a kind of negative with regard to his photographic series Odaliscas which was still painting rather than photography. An attempt – a vain one perhaps before the collective consciousness – to generate reflection through an image.
But let’s go back to the “Narcissus who is not Narcissus” with Eyes & Tears, an impressive mural painting of fourteen by two-and-a-half metres, in its original version, complemented by another version laid out on the floor and measuring 320 x 400 cm. It was created ex-profeso and exhibited for the first time in Israel, the precise location where the human condition is the enemy of the human situation. It is all eyes, Aleph’s eye flanked by three Ciria paintings which seem to listen as the black paint/tears run down the white background, amongst spattered pigments of red blood. And in front of this, on the ground, staring at the sky, there are three pupils and, surrounding them, three eyes that stare in distress from their respective cultures. Nothing exists any more, only a revealing silence.
My journey through a decade of Ciria’s large-format painting ends with what is his latest work as far as I know, created in 2002. A huge canvas of 400 x 416 cm, without stretchers. The Goya’s Dog diptych that Saura interpreted so often with his haunting, luminous obsessions, is given a horizontal reading and, in a review of Saura himself, he aims to generate an image that is different but closely inspired on the form of composition of the most theoretical of Spanish painters of his generation, and who was to end up synthesising the large format and reductionist overspill of the Transformaciones and Superposiciones. Ciria works here on backgrounds that are pretty well neutral, aspiring for his whites to be as aggressive as possible, although white as a colour is not normally given to this type of solution, particularly not in a work as belligerent as Ciria’s. So perhaps the time has come to whitewash the wall again. White over white.
After so much wandering around amongst spectral wall-paintings, I feel like a voyeur staring ecstatically through the half-open bedroom door at the bearded, dishevelled-looking Proust, who has just breathed his last breath while the merry din of the avant-garde resounds beneath his window. Through another open door, a dazzling white bathroom is flooded and gallons of crystalline water flow out like liquid roses from a bathtub where the naked, inert corpse of Walter Benjamin lies racked with morphine. A glass rain falls on the walls, washing time away, and at the peak where the impossibles meet, it joins up with a stain of colour which suddenly reminds me of the liquid painting of José Manuel Ciria. Maybe I will never cross the mural of all anguish again, or hear the beginning of Pink Floyd’s version of Carmina Burana, and I wish I could tear myself away from this door and drift on to new dreamworlds. Hey, I forgot to feed the dog … Goya’s dog? Saura’s dog? Nobody’s dog? Poor Polyphemus, he’ll never be able to see those beautiful parietals that nature painted in his eye-filled cave. And Ciria, meanwhile, is still travelling onwards, his straitjacket half unbuttoned, in pursuit of the mythical polyhedral tear searching for a new gaze in the Sargasso Sea. 4.6692016090 .……
Eco, Umberto. The Open Work. Seix & Barral. Barcelona, 1966.
Ciria, J. M., Intersticios pp. 16 – 34. Fur printing ediciones. Madrid, 1999.
Hegel, F, t.I, trad. R. Gabás, Península. Barcelona, 1989. Greenberg, C. Art and Culture. Critical Essays. Gustavo Gili. Barcelona, 1979.
Habermas, J, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Taurus. Madrid, 1989, and Toulmin, S., Human Understanding. Alianza. Madrid, 1977.
Ciria, J. M., Quis custodiet ipsos custodes. Catalogue of the Galería Salvador Díaz. Madrid, 2000.
Eliot, T. S. Criticar al Crítico y otros escritos. Alianza Editorial. Madrid, 1967.
Unless I expressly mention the catalogue in which Ciria has stated his ideas in interviews or in his own texts, I refer to a series of notes taken in the artist’s studio.
Rosenberg, Harold. The tradition of the new. Monte-Ávila editores. Caracas, 1969.
Stangos, N. Conceptos del arte moderno. Destino. Barcelona, 2000.
Ciria, J. M., Catalogue of El tiempo detenido, Roma, 1996. p. 12.
Motherwell, R., Catalogue of the Fundación Juan March. Madrid 1980. Catalogue of the Reina Sofía National Museum. Madrid, 1997.
Pradel, J. L., La strategie de Supports-Surfaces. Opus International. Paris, 1977.
Joachimides, C. M., Orign and vision. New German painting. Palacio Velázquez. Madrid, 1984.
Guasch, A. M. El arte del siglo xx en sus exposiciones.1945-1995. Barcelona, 1997.
And he still is, ten years later. He entitled his exhibition and catalogue for the Givatayim Theatre/Museum (October-December 2001) Between order and chaos. I recommend Botella sin contenido, section VIII of the text written by the artist himself.
With regard to this question we should consult the numerous writings of Guillermo de Torre, and what the modernisers referred to here as the “Superreal”, a dreamlike transcendence of a reality which had never – up to then, or at that time – been considered separately from imitation, including all the merely surrealist iconography, however instantaneously they wished to represent it.
Ciria, J. M., Intersticios. Fur printing Ediciones. Madrid, 1990. p. 40.