Robert Morgan. Tenerife.
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Robert Morgan. Tenerife.

Moving through dream time -Robert Morgan

Texto catálogo “Fauces”. TEA Tenerife Espacio de las Artes, Tenerife.


Paintings by José Manuel Ciria

Robert C. Morgan

Fauces is the title given to this exhibition. It is an intriguing word possessed with several translations from Spanish to English, all of which are exceedingly profound, especially in the context of Ciria’s abstract works painted from 2004 to the present. Fauces is a poetic word that gives an honest, though strange perfection to this potentially broad exhibition. There is little doubt that Ciria reflected upon its multiple implications before assigning it to the works currently on view at the Tenerife Espacio de las Artes. In addition to its metaphorical resonance the sound of the title is confrontational. It constitutes nothing less than a bold beginning by which to see and absorb the complexity of rhythms within this “bravura” exhibition. Indeed, Fauces becomes the takeoff point, the prime literary nuance that informs viewers visiting these hardened exhibition halls in Tenerife. It may serve as a beacon by which to soften our approach these paintings as one passes through the expansive delirious architecture of Herzog & de Meuron. There is an emotional conduit given to these paintings that is not only expressive, but also aggressive in their redemptive extroverted fecundity. Yet, from an anatomical point of view, the word fauces has also been described more mildly as “the cavity at the back of the mouth, leading to the pharynx.” Moreover, another context offered subliminally by Ciria might be the definition whereby fauces are tusks, as on a walrus, or hard jaws, for example, as one may refer to the mouth of a shark. Grammatically, we might consider fauces a plural feminine noun. In psychoanalysis, it might refer to the concept of “vagina dentata” or, the imagined teeth of the vagina, which some would argue is the eternal male problem, casting a formidable doubt as to the status of art on the verge of a vociferous turning point in the unpredictable history of civilization.

Having put this aside (along with other ongoing forms of repressive vengeance, as Freud dubiously predicted), one may begin to address the artist’s work. In so doing, we are addressing neither tusk nor tooth nor indenture, in any direct sense. These, of course, are all within the realm of metaphor, possible even allegory. Rather the essential work we are addressing is, in fact, painting. On this occasion, Ciria is working within the realm of abstract painting, but not entirely without or in opposition to representation. If we include representation to be within the realm of the emotions, which I believe is entirely appropriate to the work of Ciria, then we might consider the possibility that, for example, Crucifixión sobre planos, or La huida de Venus (both 2006), are not without representation, certainly of the emotions. In the past, the Western discourse given to late twentieth century abstract painting, particularly in New York, has been problematic given that the discourse on so-called advanced painting has been coercively separated between abstraction and representation. In recent years, this tendency has begun to change, but is still contained within a type of Anglo-American formalism relatively unknown in Spain where specific forms of emotional coherence through geometry, foregrounding the gesture, are made abundantly, if not obsessively clear. Ciria’s series, titled Máscaras de la Mirada, including the paintings just cited, remarks on a gloriously hedonistic example in support of this tendency.

While observing the paintings of Ciria, our willingness to focus on their structure, as a sign of emotional coherence, suggests that they retain an acute balance between accuracy and diversity, which is not the same as Deleuze’s somewhat ironic repetition and difference. These qualities –accuracy and diversity– appear unavoidable in Máscaras de le Mirada. One might argue they are consistently present in Ciria’s painting –no matter how abstract or figurative the subject may appear. While some might read this statement as a formal one, it is not. Rather I see these qualities as endemic to Ciria, further implying that they are the natural course of how his thinking and feeling are transformed through and into his emotionally charged cohesive forms. Accuracy and diversity are fully integral to Ciria’s playful, if not itinerant method of making art. They are the means by which his paintings retain the sensory cognition of a long lost resonance, that is a historical presence and a retribution that signifies confidence that painting continues to progress not simply on the based of style or subject but toward an invisibility embedded within the network of forms made intrinsic in the presence of painting as a medium apart from others. From a global perspective, the paintings included in this exhibition are a formidable example of a larger, more omnipresent tendency in Postconceptual painting today.

This suggests a heightened view of Ciria’s artistry that virtually encompasses the forms he continues to evoke and explore through his personal vocabulary in painting. While Ciria’s work to date has shown a plethora of thematic subjects and visual devices, both in dramatic and often defiant terms, they constitute a revelatory point of view that take painting to another level, to a heightened level of manifesting what might be understand as a new source of reality through accuracy and diversity, and of giving painting a much needed separateness from what exists in the abundance of commerce that bombards our senses in the everyday world in no matter what electronic or print medium they appear. Whereas Ciria may appropriate visual devices from commerce, he will retain his allegiance as a painter in the process of transforming them.

Whether derived from the realm of the imagination through abstract planes and gestures or through his highly evocative portraits (also painted from the imagination), Ciria’s painterly concerns are forever consistent with one another. His imagination and pursuit of abstraction and representation exist on the same level. While there are infinitesimal degrees of separation in terms of color, design, material, and application of pigment (a crucial part of his working method) – as made apparent in the current exhibition – his dynamic intervals are nearly consistent in his paintings. These intervals or spaces between the forms and within his dynamic application of color cohere and enrich the surface. These intervals are what give majesty to his aluminum on wood paneled oil paintings, such as Encuentros de Ira, Abstract Memory series (2009), which holds a width of 1.500 cm.

In this, among other series included in this exhibition, Ciria is intent on revealing the source of his thinking that goes deeper into the structure as he builds (paints) his surfaces. At this juncture, we cannot ignore the rhythmic intervals that operate as an essential part of this process. It is, in fact, this structure that ignites our perceptual process. The intervals created within and through this modularly of paintings –or painterly surfaces– depend largely on equidistant relationships in relation to one another. It is the balance between the regularity and the measure of each modular coordinate in contrast to the painterly and optical differences that appears in each painting that ultimately matters. The structure held within these works is therefore contingent on the painterly surfaces that constitute our sense of rhythmic vibration in the act of perceiving them. These coordinates are essential to the task of how our perception works in relation to the whole. This sense of a rhythmic structure is observable throughout the serial works in this exhibition. Remember the fauces, the teeth and/or the bite –which is it? Ciria’s Máscaras de le Mirada is one series, among others, each of which contribute to a somnambulant sensation. Are we in a dream taking a bite or in the process of being bitten? It occurs in the rhythmic configuration as to how we embrace visually and optically these painterly elements. Our perceptions may lead to a tactile sensation, each modular surface offering its own rough-hewn tempo, moving through dream-time in red, black, and white.

Our awareness of these sensations occurs as our perception moves across the field of paintings. Even so, our optical movements are not merely about encompassing the design variations on each surface. It is more complex. Not only does optical process operate according to an anomalous variation of repetition and difference, but at the same moment is being transformed into a phenomenology of seeing. In such an instant, we are immediately exposed to the tactility of the various surfaces as paradoxical forms (again optical) in static motion. The contrasting forms in each painting offer the potential to take us to another level of combined thought and feeling (a tendency familiar in the work of the American Minimalist, Donald Judd, as well). In the painting, Ángulos (2004), from the Máscaras series, there is a clear example.

In the process of perceiving these encounters, there is a further dimension that comes into view, a feeling of premonition that involves a transensory crossover between sight and sound. For example, the divergent and contrasting elements distributed on the picture plane appear to collide instantaneously in space that suggests a sudden impact, as we see in Ángulos. Notice the gestural spears of cadmium red optically moving in contrapuntal positions against a black square softening into gray in the lower right. To see these seemingly instantaneous forms in collision suggests a transensory point of view. We see them, but we could easily imagine hearing them. The sound is a loud one. Could we arbitrarily taste them as well? Or touch them? Perhaps. The energy latent in this assumption crosses over from one sensory mode to another, not unlike a dream where images vacillate between their assumed reality and a sudden transposition into surreality. In our dreams, fluidity usurps stability. The ambiguity can be profound when the conflict of transposition overtakes us and we suddenly awaken.

José Manuel Ciria produces works of art that are inexorably related to authenticity from the vantage point as to how they are perceived. This vantage point becomes the fulcrum where his work delegates our mode of perception. Ángulos is not intended to offer the viewer a serene or static vision, but quite the opposite. We are phenomenological involved with this painting as an active moment in time and space and in relation to the related painting in terms of their scale, color, line, texture, and composition. But relative to the New York idea, this does not make Ciria a formalist. These are simply the tools within a modular sequence that manifest a surge of energy that the artist believes is intrinsic to the experience of painting. It has nothing to do with futurism. There is no imposition of power or illustrative symbolic content. It anything, the artist is seeking a response embedded in the psychology of perception. This requires a heighted degree of non-specificity, even when he paints his ambiguous faces, claiming that each is an imaginative conjugation of himself. The rhythmic configuration is still there, but adjusted according to its parts, the evolution and exorcism of another language, a conjugation within another set of principles, elements, components, where the tactile sensation combines with its rhythmic output.

One last note, dependent on a suspension of belief, that here is offered as a form of critical compensation. Ciria’s notion of memory in relation to history is inextricably bound to painting. His art largely depends on this premise. Without the context of history –both his own history and that of his surrounding environment– Ciria’s paintings are deprived of meaning, which suggests that they lose their ability to transmit a psychological perception. Without history, they would exist in a void. But interpretively there is no void in Ciria’s work. It is forever being pronounced again and again by way of interpretation. One reason might be the artist’s shifting patterns between the abstract and figurative context. Sometimes his psychological intention appears obvious, while at other times it does not, in either case, it is most always hidden in the shadows, in the dark side of his temperament, which he retrieves his force as an artist. There would appear to be numerous examples of this in other field of creative endeavor, such as music and literature, to argue the point any further.

Yet it is important to confront this as the source of his sublimation, that is, how the conflict that resides within it, whatever that might be, is transformed as an artist into something else. His recent Procedures Installation may have come through this process. However it came, Procedures offers another step in many of the issues I have put forth in this essay. Clearly Ciria has expanded his selection of color and his methods of application, which now appear to verge on a systemic process to be seen either from an aerial or a perspectival point of view. Either way, it is a new direction that holds rhythmic sensation within a serial approach to painting in a way that finds its parallel in the synchronic moment of the present. There is energy in Procedures, even as these paintings exist in suspension, perhaps, in deferral for the moment. Time will tell, as it occasionally does. But the perception of time requires a human calculation in order for art to make any sense.

Four years ago, while writing on an exhibition in New York, I became aware of Ciria’s facility to move between abstraction and representation as shielding an inspired poetic nuance. It was a valid maneuver –indeed, a veritable sensibility– that carried with it an acute aesthetic awareness. I suggested that his paintings (at the time) went beyond the scope of expressionism by imagining time within timelessness. I understood this as Ciria’s way of confronting the inevitable deceit that accompanied virtual networks in which the deluge of electronic images offered the despairing possibility of dissolving the prospect for the human sensory apparatus to operate effectively. Ciria’s inadvertent solution was to return painting to the possibility of another kind of truth, which I spoke of as follows: “While the poetic darkness of Federico García Lorca and the painterly visions of Motherwell and Tàpies may still hover in an exfoliated landscape, there are unsuspecting moments of brilliance [in Ciria’s paintings], like indeterminate fireworks bursting like clockwork overhead.” As for the present, I cannot determinate whether they are still fireworks or fish glowing in an iridescent tank of brilliant sunlit seawater, but whatever the phenomenon, it remains a remarkable one as Ciria continues to invent fluid structural forms through a heightened poetic vision that engages the way we look at painting today.

Robert C. Morgan lives in New York and functions as an art historian, writer, critic, artist, poet, educator, editor, and curator. In 1999, the Municipality of Salamanca awarded him the first Arcale prize for his work as an international art critic. Author of many books, his Spanish language editions include El Fin del Mundo del Arte y Otros Ensayos. Buenos Aires: Eudeba (Libros del Rojas), 1998 and Del Arte a La Idea. Madrid: Akal, 2003. His is a member of the European Academy of Science and Arts in Salzburg and is Professor Emeritus in Art History from the Rochester Institute of Technology.