Elena Cue

Elena Cue Blog in Huffington Post
Elena Cue en ABC

Bill Viola: "Mary" at St Paul's Cathedral

 

Author: Marina Valcárcel
Art Historian
 Marina

 

 

 

 

 IMG 4685 

Mary. Bill Viola. St Paul's Cathedral, London

 

As we approach the High Altar of St Paul's Cathedral in London, sunlight floods through the two great windows on either side. The glass is neither stained nor tinted, just crystal clear. We walk slowly here, amazed by the pomp and colossal size of Wren's cathedral, perhaps a little disoriented by its resemblance to St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City with its baldachin, its Solomon's Temple-like columns, its sheer dimensions and its profusion of marble.  But here there is an electricity distinct from that of Rome. Nelson is buried beneath our feet, as is Wellington.  There are flags from old military campaigns,  memorials and, more importantly, there is contemporary art. Staggering present-day pieces that speak to us of current conflicts and originate from all over the world. There is a Virgin Mary in a refugee camp by the graffiti artist CBloxx, two gigantic white crosses by the Indian artist Gerry Judah hanging from the central nave ... Different languages in a powerful crossover between the Baroque and the ultra-contemporary. My companion and I think of Spain. We expect something with a bit more rage to it, something more challenging, something to be overcome. We think of Burgos, Leon, Toledo and others, with their cathedral choir stalls, their altar railings. Bill Viola began working in Gothic churches to reflect their sound, that opaque silence that scales their pillars to the heavens ... 

 

 IMG 4495 

Mary. Bill Viola. St Paul's Cathedral, London

  

We wander further and pass Henry Moore's sculpture "Mother and Child: Hood" in the apse. A little further and we find ourselves in the North Quire aisle to the left of the High Altar. There, where our cultural references would lead us to expect a Baroque altarpiece with painted, gold-leafed wooden figures, we find instead a nun of quite masculine appearance, cassock, dog collar and boyish haircut. She is pointing at three plasma screens with a remote control. And then begins a fascinating experience for Christians like us, in the year 2016, in an Anglican cathedral rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666. This modern-day triptych lights up to show a shaven-headed, dark-skinned woman of indeterminate race. She wears a saffron-coloured tunic whose colours call to mind the Buddhist monks of Cambodia. Her right breast is bared as she breastfeeds the baby boy in her lap. Behind her, the speeded-up lights of the Los Angeles horizon change from morning pinks, to evening , to nightfall over an extended length of time while she, all slow motion, doesn't take her gaze off ours. The scene is emotionally powerful, wrapped in the mystery between modernity and intemporality, between the most advanced technology and the purity of the miracle of sustaining life by means of warmth and a mother's milk.

  

 FullSizeRender 

Mary. Bill Viola. St Paul's Cathedral, London

 

 

FRAGMENT OF LIFE 

The screen then fragments, much like a pradella of reliefs on a Baroque altar, into a series of other scenes depicting Mary's life. There is the visit to her cousin Elizabeth, arriving alone through meadows and embracing another pregnant woman, dead fish on a riverbank, a weeping deer filmed in black and white, blackberry bushes teeming with thorns. Seven minutes shot from the Zion National Park in Utah to the desert surrounding the Salton Sea in California and places in between.   

The final scene is, however, one of classic beauty. A Michaelangelo-like Pietà with Mary this time light-skinned, in a blue veil, rosy complexioned and holding the marble-like body of her son, just crucified, in her lap. She doesn't cry. She just looks back at us, sorrow-stricken and unable to understand the physical reality before her eyes. She then looks down at her son's body, raises his lifeless hand and kisses it. The scene ends with the screen turning black. 

 

We attempt to think of this level of restraint in any other examples in painting or cinema. We also trawl our literary references til we come up with those comments of Colm Tóibín's on writing his "The Testament of Mary": “I lived in the epicentre of Mary's pain. I would never like to return there." But the gaze of Viola's Mary is unlike anything else. We are too used to the fixed image of paintings and photographs or the moving image of film.  In these recordings, as in all of Viola's works that lack narrative discourse, the slow camera maximises our chances of really seeing and  feeling the sentiment expressed.

  

 IMG 4684 

Mary. Bill Viola. St Paul's Cathedral, London

 

MARY: HOW THE WORK COME ABOUT


Bill Viola's works can be found in some of the world's greatest museums but this is the first time  in 2,000 years that a sacred moving image, on video, has ever substituted painting or sculpture in a grand temple of Christianity.  

Bill Viola (New York, 1951) took 13 years to conclude these two works for St Paul's. It was in May 2014 that the first video, Martyrs, arrived in the South Quire aisle, to the right of the High Altar, Mary being installed to the left on the 8th of September 2016. Both videos are on permanent loan from the Tate Modern  and his wife, Kira Perov, collaborated on both.

Viola admits to long-term 'artist's block' about the figure of Mary and confesses: "She nearly killed us." The theme of both installations was suggested by the cathedral itself: "Until the middle of the 20th century, there were other paintings in the Quires based on Mary and the martyrs. They intimated to me that it wasn't necessary to repeat those themes but, effectively, they were setting me a challenge given that the fundamental thing about them is - for what reason and for whom would you be willing to lay down your life. And that is a devastating question."    

 

 IMG 4822 

Martyrs. Detail: Earth, Air, Fire. Bill Viola. St Paul's Cathedral, London

 

Bill Viola believes that there is a universal chain that links human beings: his parents continue to live inside him and he will continue to live inside his son after his death. From a very young age, he has felt drawn to Buddhism and its vision of the world, the idea of eternal rebirth - a principle  rather more complex than the life - death - resurrection cycle of Christianity.

 

In all of Viola's work, silence reigns. It is as if each of the four elements that saturate his characters come straight from the noise in the depths of the universe. The silence in his videos is the equivalent of those areas left deliberately blank by painters, the ones we have to fill in ourselves with our own imaginations or emotions. It is precisely there, in that emptiness, that one finds the greatest of painters, musicians and poets. What Viola aims to do with his videos is to sculpt time: extend it, stretch it, slow it down, wind it in on itself in order to show us all its lines, shapes and ellipses. Somewhat similar to the practice of meditation, fixing the present moment, concentrating one's gaze so as to delve deeper into one's perception of a subject. And channelling the internal question: "What do I see?"

The artist transforms his camera into a second eye to teach us how to look at things the way he believes we should, namely, through introspection and seeing beyond external appearances. He invites us to share in the journey he himself has been on for forty years, one pertaining to three fundamental, metaphysical questions: Who am I? Where am I? Where am I going? Not to look for answers per se but simply to confront the question. He sums it up as: "The men of antiquity called them the mysteries. There are no answers to life or death. I think mystery is the most important aspect of my work. That moment when we open a door and close it without knowing where we're going. To be lost is among the most important things."

Viola is a 'painter' who invented a new palette of technological, numerical colours and created moving pictures that adhere to a  new understanding of art.  It is a crossover with the great masters of old - Giotto, Bosch, Pontormo or Goya from whom he takes not just themes but also an aesthetic. Nevertheless, far from being a link that prolongs the chain of art, he explains: "I'm not interested in appropriating these images. Rather, it's a case of penetrating into their interior, bringing them to life, inhabiting them, feeling them breathe. What interests me is their spiritual dimension, not their visual form."

 

 IMG 4816  

Left: Pietà, Tomaso Masolino da Pinicale (1383-1447). Right: Emergence, Bill Viola (2002)

 

THE APPEARANCE OF ZEN

When Viola was studying at the The Getty Institute in 1998, the painting that he couldn't stop looking at was Dieric Bouts' (1445) Annunciation: "I fell in love with its austerity and zen-like appearance. The Annunciation is one of those unique moments when, through the figures of the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, some news is transmitted before words, before language is spoken. The intimate knowledge by which a woman knows she is with child has nothing to do with verbalization. The conversation that is about to be held in this painting is of another dimension. That is its magic - the silence, the stillness ... all of it comes from a very profound place" he says.

But Viola also focuses on the aesthetic language of the classics and transcends it: "In this picture, I would point out the ambiguity of Mary's hands - raised, her palms open and facing each other. One doesn't know if this is in order to receive or to then close as a sign of prayer. The Archangel, however, has his index finger raised. This language of the hands is charged with symbolic meaning. Many of Christ's gestures, for instance joining his thumb and index finger together as a blessing, are also made by Buddhas. In the Hindu tradition, every hand gesture has a very specific meaning." 

 

 IMG 4819 

Annunciation (1445) Dieric Bouts

 

"I was born at the same time as video." Bill Viola identifies as being of the second generation of artists who use video, a generation that benefits directly from the discoveries of the first. He has experimented with this technique since the 70's when he was a student at the College of Visual and Performing Arts of Siracuse University, New York, one of the first centres to specialise in the technique. It was there that he observed the work of its pioneers and was assistant to Nam June Paik.

In one of his first videos, Reflecting Pool (1977-79), he records a man - himself - divebombing naked into a pool, his body suspended mid-air above the water by the camera, gradually fading into the substance of the image itself while the leaves on the trees in the background and the reflections on the water's surface continue to move. Reflecting Pool is probably based on personal experience. As a child, he fell out of a boat and almost drowned. Then almost unconscious, he now recalls feeling a total completeness and seeing images of extraordinary beauty. Since then, he has never been able to forget the spectacle of sunlight piercing the water while he was sinking in the lake. Neither has he ever been able to portray the incident in a direct way. However, his oeuvre is full of allusions to it, be they subtle and sweet or more violent immersions: births, baptisms, death. For Bill Viola, water represents each of the stages of life and is also the nucleus of his reflections on death.

 

 IMG 4811 

Martyrs. Detail: Water. Bill Viola. St Paul's Cathedral, London

 

 

A BRIDGE OVER THE THAMES

Staying with the water theme, we leave St Paul's and immediately sense the nearness of both the river Thames and that other "cathedral" - the Tate Modern on the opposite bank, separated from each other, or rather joined, by the Millenium Bridge. It is almost as if Foster, its architect, had stretched its wings to enable communication between the two great bridges of our culture - religion and art. We continue over the bridge and on towards the Tate's Turbine Hall. The single central chimney rises like a counterpoint to the cathedral's dome. Likewise, the perforated dark brick latticework standing out against the glowing inner lights of Herzog & de Meuron's new facade creates a dialogue and complements Wren's solemn white colonnade. We step out into the mildly humid fresh air and onto the bridge again, seagulls flying overhead, all the while remembering the inscription on William Blake's Memorial in the crypt at St Paul's: "Hold infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour".

 

 IMG 4821  

Millenium Bridge (2002) London (Foster and Partners and Sir Anthony Caro)

 

 (Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

   - Bill Viola: "Mary" at St Paul's Cathedral -                                                           - Alejandra de Argos -

 

 

 

Caroline Kryzecki: Between The Lines

 

A "glitch" in the Information Technology and videogame world refers to a system error that has no negative impact whatsoever on performance, playability or stability. On the contrary, it is not uncommon for users to turn a glitch to their advantage.

The essence of Caroline Kryzecki's  (Wickede/Ruhr, Germany 1979) work, currently on show at Madrid's Bernal Espacio Gallery in her first ever solo exhibition in Spain, is partly that kind of glitch. That unforeseen error whose ocurrence only reinforces the fact that human nature is present. 

 

 Caroline Kryzecki: KSZ 50x35 51 

KSZ 50/35–51 Courtesy of: Sexauer Gallery, Berlin / Bernal Espacio Gallery, Madrid.

 

The exhibition comprises a collection of works on paper of various sizes (50 x 35 cm, 100 x 70 cm or 200 x 152 cm) in which the image is achieved using only horizontal or vertical lines and is based on a motif of repetition. These works are closely linked to the digital world by their automated appearance. A carefully carried out job in which each impeccably-drawn line is separated from the next by a mere 3mm and would seem, at first glance, to be the printed product of some digital data processing mechanism.  

 

However, spotting that tiny defect in the system, that almost imperceptible line that is out of place, helps us to step away from a "digital" reality. Like when some discordant note in a dream makes us aware that we have just dreamed, those little mistakes in the drawing are what make us realise that what we are looking at is, in fact, totally analogous and hand-drawn with pens.

 

 KSZ 200x152 06 

KSZ 200/152-06 Courtesy of: Sexauer Gallery, Berlin / Bernal Espacio Gallery, Madrid.

 

Kryzecki's methodology manages to stop time in its tracks, not just for the patently laborious determination to find her own language, but also because she is radically opposed to what modern society demands of us. In a world of fast and fleeting consumerism, chained to constant new starts and the incertitude of our "liquid modernity", as described by Zygmunt Bauman, the artist here reclaims our attention to detail and a reflection on a geometric abstraction that seems encripted and apparently inaccessible to the spectator.

 

She alone has access to an algorithmic system made up of patterns of repetition, a system of codes all her own that, nevertheless, possess a huge power of attraction as much for their aesthetic beauty as for their ability to depict infinite horizons and to hint at realities beyond mere lines on a page. The works require close inspection and dedication although, in some ways, there is no secret message to decipher. The work is the representation of Kryzecky's interpretation of the parameters of her environment for which she needs to  establish structures and to order the chaos of what is considered "normal". It's an intimate and delicate work that transports us into its universe.

 

 KSZ 100x70 11 

KSZ 100/70-11 Courtesy of: Sexauer Gallery, Berlin / Bernal Espacio Gallery, Madrid.

 

Caroline Kryzecky's  work has as a starting point an archive of the pictures she has compiled, focussing on landscapes and, especially, the decorative images we see around us in our day-to-day lives. These references have always been present in her work, linked to geometry in both her more abstract paintings and in others less so where the lines were always accompanied by figuration. Without following pre-established parameters, her trajectory sometimes involved experimentation with objects or sculpture-like pieces. But her art took a different and deliberate turn when she started a residency in Istambul in 2010, arriving with absolutely none of her previous working materials or media at all. This was a voluntary gesture of closure that enabled her to discover a language with which to best express herself.

Blue, black, red and green are the colours she uses in her works - those being the four basic ballpoint colours - and she limits herself to the paper dimensions mentioned above. This self-imposed restriction has favoured the creation of her own personal code and has opened the way to the possibility of an infinite variety of combinations. And as she herself admits, this has served to expand her creative potential. In the same way that "error" became a powerful element in her work, she has been able to turn limitations into her greatest freedom.

 

 Exposición Caroline Kryzecki: Between the lines 

View of the exhibition. Courtesy of: Bernal Espacio Gallery, Madrid

 

Demonstrating emphatically a divergence from other artforms based on shortcuts, she engages directly with each piece, tending and refining it until a language is obtained that needs no illustrations, whilst producing the most abstract and poetic version of the work.  On entering the exhibition, visitors find themselves surrounded by the beauty of slow movement and transported to a lucid dream of infinite worlds.  

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

 

Caroline Kryzecki: Between The Lines

 Bernal Espacio Gallery, Madrid

26 October ~ 30 November 2016

The Nun by Denis Diderot

Author: Maira Herrero, 
MA in Philosophy.

Maira

 

 

 

 

  Archivo adjunto al mensaje 

 

I suspect that the idea of writing about French convent life in the early 18th century had occurred to the brilliant philosopher, writer and "Encyclopedie" founder and editor-in-chief Denis Diderot long before the spring of 1758 when the dismal news of a young nun's misfortunes reached and scandalised Madame d'Epirey's progressivist Parisian salon circle. Diderot had never forgotten his own beloved sister's sad fate within the confines of an Ursuline convent at Langres, where she'd been secluded her whole life due to delicate mental health.  

The story of Marguerite Delamarre, the nun whose woes began at the age of three when her parents sent her to a convent where she would remain until her death, despite tireless and desperate efforts to escape a life of privation and sacrifice there. Her desperation led her to seek help down every ecclesiastical and civil  avenue within her reach but all her efforts came to nothing and she died without ever savouring the liberation she so desperately craved. The news had such a spiritual impact on a free-thinker friend of Diderot's, the marquis of Croismare, that he tried his utmost to help the impoverished nun with his time and money, albeit, again, to no avail. This incident, coupled with his deep-seated uneasiness about the then-customary practice of locking away young women lacking wealth or good looks behind convent bars, became the perfect excuse for him to write this unusual novel: "I write on the spur of the moment. I put pen to paper on The Nun and at three in the middle of the night, I was still writing. It's no longer a letter, it's a novel. It will contain truths, pathetic truths." This is how Diderot described the initial stages of his book, written in a direct style, almost report-like but without losing its dramatic powerand conferring on the work a mark of authenticity that reveals the terrible background to a reality only just coming to light.


The Nun is an authentic treatise on 'woman' wherein Diderot looks deeply into certain problems of our human existence, the ones that continue to plague us despite the world having changed radically. France, the most intellectually and culturally developed country in the second half of the 18th century, continued for a long time to uphold the moral dictates of the Ancien Regime. The established social order would take a long time to adopt the premises of the Enlightenment. The Nun is a story in epistolic form, written in the first person by its protagonist  Suzanne Simonin, a beautiful and intelligent young woman who finds herself deprived, against her will, of the life she had been destined for. Suzanne's voice denounces issues as universal as the role of women in society, the hidden goings-on in convents and religious orders, the shame and blame fanaticism of the Church and the cynicism of an intolerant society of the day.

 

 Archivo adjunto al mensaje 2 

 

The crux of the novel's question is in the protagonism of 'woman' and her quest for independance by means of the idea of having self-defined, free thought and the liberty to exercise it. Being faithful to oneself, not taking on others' blame, not taking God's name in vain are just a few of the reflective themes of this novel. Basic moral dilemmas that are still pertinent in our modern society and which serve Diderot's purpose of converting one individual's lived experience into the central analysis of everyone else's in the world at large.  

We are not here confronting the existence, or not, of an authentic God.  Neither are we doubting faith in itself.  Rather, we are denouncing a religion that denies what is the most precious thing for wo/mankind: namely, liberty. Diderot's anti-clericalism here references the stifling of free choice and the imposition of, under the auspices of God's will, an enforced, cruel and sordid existence, with its inevitable consequences. The novel is quite the treatise on female behaviour in the face of arbitrarily and definitively imposed obligations by a society that sought to control and desexualize them. It is also a cry for tolerance. Enforced vocational holy orders, lives devoid of dignity, work with no apparent point to it: all are in the mix here along with fanaticism, melancholy, hysteria, sexuality, reclusion and the dogmatic cruelty of a dark, out-of-control world warning of eternal damnation. All of which were and are alien to individual values and reason, as espoused by Enlightenment advocates.   

From 1780 onwards, the novel appeared in instalment form in Grimm's Literary Correspondence, a handwritten newspaper-like publication accessible only to a small group of European aristocrats. It would not be printed for a public readership until 1796, more than  10 years after Diderot's death and too late for the author to mount a defence against the heated controversy it caused.  

It is worth not forgetting that Denis Diderot was one of the figures who did most to radically change the mentality of the civilised world. As one of the  great and universal Enlightenment pioneers, he elaborated his interest in anything and everything with great wisdom and originality. His thinking has stood the test of time against the great challenges of modern history with exquisite and exceptional prose writing and he continues to be a guide to understanding the vagaries of life and and our own involvement in them. One doesn't have to 'read between the lines'  to realise the ongoing pertinence and sense of this work since Denis Diderot first started writing it over 250 years ago.

The Nun by Denis Diderot, published in English by Oxford University Press, Penguin Classics and Folio Society

 

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

 

- The Nun by Denis Diderot -                                                     - Alejandra de Argos - 

David Hockney and the human comedy

Author: Marina Valcárcel
Art Historian
 Marina

 

 

 

 

 David Hockney - Barry Humphries 

David Hockney ~ Barry Humphries (March 2015)
 

The three Royal Academy rooms dedicated to 82 portraits and one still life painted over the last two and a half years by an almost 80-year-old David Hockney, are heavy with the sensation one experiences in Tube stations at rush hour: a hum of murmurs, a mass of human bodies and, above all, a buzz of vital energy.  Three narrow rooms without natural light or fresh air but with an all too conspicuous barrel-vaulted ceiling that,  if one's mind were to wander down to the far end of the last room, create a peculiar dialogue between the public and the characters Hockney introduces us to. A kind of living theatre.   

 

 David Hockney - Edith Devaney 

David Hockney ~ Edith Devaney (February 2016)

 

 

Full-body portraits, hung or rather squeezed tightly next to each other, half a metre from the floor, our eyes at the level of their lips. All of the paintings have the exact same 120 x 90 cm dimensions and the exact same pose time for the sitters of two and a half days or what he calls, using photographic terms, "a 20 hour exposure".  And the coordinates are identical. All of the models sit in the same chair, on the same platform, with a blue curtain behind. The only differences are their posture and clothes. Variations on the same theme. The background and the floor are each a block of pure colour, either green of turquoise, with no apparent criteria as to which or why. And the faces, of an otherworldly pink and purple, seem about to explode from the subjects' dangerously high blood pressure! All are from a continent where the light is different. The white light of California. Seen from a certain distance, these gleaming paintings look as if they might have been painted on a plasma screen. Art sometimes emits that light. 

 

 David Hockney - Galería 

Exhibition Room : "82 Portraits and A Still Life" at the Royal Academy of Arts, London 

 

In the spring of 2013, and for the first time in his life, David Hockney (Bradford, 1937) stops painting. It is a time of silence, also, and it lasts for months.  Amongst his small, family-like team, no-one is finding it easy to get over the suicide of one of their number, Dominic Elliott, who died after consuming a bottle of bleach during a cocaine and ecstasy binge.  Hockney decides to leave England for his house in Los Angeles and it is here, on 13th July 2013, that he paints his faithful assistant, Jean Pierre Gonçalves de Lima (J-P). Against a background and carpet of the saturated, cheery colours that are his trademark, stands a portrait that, nevertheless, portrays the fragility of life and a very deep sorrow. It is, perhaps, a self-portrait by the artist of his own mood and mental state. Sitting on a chair, his feet apart,  J-P cradles his head in his hands, elbows on knees, in such a way that we cannot see his face. We imagine he is crying. Consciously or not, Hockney has called to mind Van Gogh's "Sorrowing Old Man", that sad little old man in the same pose,  inside the four walls of a wooden cabin, the warmth from his open fire not enough to even take the edge off the cold.

 

Just the beginning 

The portrait of J-P, with a powerful impact all of its own, could have been the only one, isolated in its message. But Hockney's responses are never to be expected and more paintings in the same vein follow. He embarks on a new project. He shifts from the enormous Yorkshire landscapes of his 2012 exhibition, "A Bigger Picture", towards the more intimate. This is the indefatigable Hockney we know. In the era of the selfie, Instagram or photos stolen from real life via tablets and mobiles, the most important painter alive today stops what he was doing to vindicate the two types of painting either neglected or given the kiss of death by Abstract Art at the start of the 20th century: the still life, here a table/fruit composition improvised by Hockney one day his model failed to turn up to an appointment; but especially, the portrait.

In this new series, all his subjects are friends, relatives or collaborators and nothing is commissioned,  stand-alone, or meant to be dispersed, sold or given away. They are components of a unique artistic declaration, a profession of faith not just in the portrait but in painting itself.  And above and beyond any sociological aspect is the analysis of human psychology embedded in these 82 portraits. 

Hockney's taste in literature would tend towards the 'heavy'. At this time, he is immersed in his reading of Balzac's Human Comedy. The sequence of portraits he has in mind becomes a visual study in humanity on a par with Balzac's literary endeavours. Hockney could never be classed as a reader of 'light' books: "Reading for me is not a leisure activity. Or a way to kill time while the world passes you by. I need a project. Something that pushes me to go on. And right now, these portraits are my engine".

 

 David Hockney - Rufus Hale 

David Hockney ~ Rufus Hale (November 2015)

 

A need to paint

Hockney believes that human beings have an urgent need or pressing desire to paint, from childhood onwards. Painting comes from somewhere deep down within our roots, as do are feelings. He painted because he was fascinated by the world around him. And he still is. His eyes take in open landscapes, water, an impenetrable forest, the people he meets, plants, ..... but his real challenge is being able to translate that and reflect all he sees into the right combination of lines, dots and washes of colour. How can one relay onto canvas a visual experience, for instance a sunrise that encapsulates fleeting time, volume, air, water evaporating or light flickering? How does one capture and compress all of this onto a flat surface? Some time ago, he described this immersion into the creative process thus: "Being able to reduce things down to a line is no easy task". As well as being prodigiously accomplished at drawing, Hockney's thinking and composition come very much from a chromatic angle. He is a huge admirer of Piero de la Francesca and Fra Angelico. Aged 11, he stopped spellbound at a reproduction of The Annunciation by 'the painter of angels' on a corridor wall at his Bradford school. This is not an irrelevant anecdote. There is much of the 15th century Florentine painters in the English Hockney: clear, intense, fresco-like colours; the use of light; even his technique of alternating between acrylic, oil and watercolour which would suggest a quest for effects similar to the clarity afforded by tempera. For this series, Hockney used a new brand of acrylic paints, discovered by J-P, that he thought especially useful: the advantages of watercolour - speed, spontaneity and transparency;combined with those of oil - layer upon layer of paint, allowing him to return to different areas of the canvas as often as was necessary.

 

 David Hockney 

 



Non-verbal language

"Hockney has an inner strength that gives him the impetus to paint" says JP whilst filming a new portrait session. After just 30 minutes of carbon drawing directly onto the canvas there emerge the outlines of the facial features of Rufus, son of Tacita Dean and the only child portrait in the exhibition. Hockney has been almost deaf for a few years now and avoids crowded places but remains a tireless conversationalist. A contagious on, even. His hearing difficulties mean that he scrutinises the models' gestures, expressions and body language meticulously. For this reason, he prefers absolute silence while he works, albeit punctuated with the odd: "Pass me some cadmium yellow  ...  Give me a neutral grey, please". The colours are mixed in a couple of metal paletteson a trolley behind the easel. That same afternoon, Rufus will return to the platform. Hockney willl have positioned himself , at eye level with the boy, as with all his models, in order not to see their faces from below which would obscure their eyes. Next come the hands, which are make-or-break for Hockney: "I think the skin of the hands gives us the skin of the face. If you get the hands right, the face will always follow". At a certain point, he will step away from the easel to rub the boy's suede shoes, as if to analyse their texture. He will be thinking about the shadow they cast on the rug. And then Hockney will return to his abstracted silence and his erudite travels through the History Of Art to the Orient where shadows don't exist and a painting's tale is told via various points of light. And then he'll return to Rufus Dean's feet. Wasn't it he who said: "A shadow is just the absence of light"?

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)


David Hockney: "82 Portraits  and 1 Still-life" at the Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London  

Curator: Edith Devaney 

2nd July ~ 2nd October 2016 

 

 

 - La comedia humana segun David Hockney -                                   - Página principal: Alejandra de Argos - 

 

Banksy: From the Backstreets to a Roman Palace

Author: Marina Valcárcel
Art Historian
 Marina

 

 

 

 

 BANKSY 

 

We are here for what could arguably be called the retrospective of an unknown artist. The Terzo Pilastro Foundation in Rome is showing the largest exhibition to date of a certain Banksy, the faceless star of Street Art. A pseudonym for a rebel artist whose incisive, sometimes ironic and irreverent work, questions and denounces the political and social mores of our time. A short distance away from the Cipolla Palace where the exhibition is being held, in another palace on the Vía del Corso, hangs Velázquez's "Portrait Of Pope Innocent X"; we can only imagine wryly his thoughts, more amazed than ever, watching the endless queues wind past the canvas: 15,000 entrance tickets sold in the first fortnight. What would Velázquez think of this graffiti artist who dared to depict a Christ similar to his own but whose outstretched hands, instead of being nailed to the cross, are holding aloft shopping bags stuffed full of gifts, sweets and champagne?

 

 

 BANKSY4304 

 


"War, Capitalism And Liberty" is the title of this exhibit that encapsulates three of the main concerns tackled in the discourse of this instigator of a brand new type of engagement, one that is more astute, more intelligent and double-edged, all essential qualities in today's world. His anti-materialist, anti-capitalist and anti-establishment skits have spread like wildfire, particularly amongst the young. Banksy is not just a graffiti artist but a thinker. His campaign of action, far-reaching and sustained, would be on a par with the best Secret Service strategies. Between 1992 and1994 his work, but not he, was to be found in each and every one of the places his audience looked for him.
First gallery, first wow factor: in the same way that his "Love Is In The Air" (Flower Thrower), that emotive graffiti picture of a 21st century "Discobulus of Myron", in which a young boy in full flight, his face hidden under a handkerchief and baseball cap on backwards, throws what one would expect to be a molotov cocktail but is, in fact, a bunch of flowers ….. the exhibition kicks off with a similar punch. It's a message from Banksy that could just as well be a gas canister: or a petrol bomb: "I like to think that I have sufficient courage to reclaim, anonymously, in a Western democracy, the things that nobody believes in anymore ~ peace, justice and liberty." And after this quote, highlighted against a jet black background, come 150 of his works, dated 1998 to 2011 and all belonging to private collections, spread over ten rooms. The curators have pointed out, in no uncertain terms, that Banksy had absolutely no involvement in the organising of this exhibition.
According to popular myth, Banksy, born in Bristol, perhaps in 1974, would be around 40 and recently married to a Labour MP. He is, therefore, a good 8 or 10 years younger than those other two revolutionaries on the British art scene: Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. His anonymity is arguably the key to his success. But there's a big question raised by this exhibition, already asked and unanswered since his 2009 Bristol show. Will Banksy move from being the guy who painted on inner-city street walls in provincial UK cities, to being a painter of canvasses that hang in grand European museums or in galleries frequented by the likes of Tom Cruise, Cristina Aguilera and Angelina Jolie, all willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for them? Arcoris Andipa, a curator of the exhibition and the Greek gallery owner settled in London who has sold more of Banksy's work than anyone else, claims: "His success lies in the intelligence of the messages in his work."

 

 BANKSY4306 


Perhaps before Banksy there was little possibility of graffiti being accepted as art. Even so, in today's world, the limitation lines are blurred. One could wonder at the dearth of books on the subject of Urban Art compared with the proliferation of images, usually without any accompanying text, posted on artists' websites and social media. For this reason, let's look briefly at the two tendencies in Street Art: graffiti and post-graffiti. Graffiti, first seen in Philadelphia in 1959, is a popular tradition throughout the Western world whereby street gangs mark out their territory and achieve fame by spraying or writing their names or other slogans on walls or any available surface throughout the city with aerosol paints and felt-tip pens. In 1970's New York, this extended to railway carriages in the subway. Keith Haring describes it thus: "I arrived in New York at a time when the most beautiful paintings on display in the city were on train wheels. Paintings that travelled to you rather than the other way round."
Postgraffiti, on the other hand, to which artists from Basquiat to Banksy belonged and started in New York in the 1980's, is graffic and very rarely textual. They are images that seek to engage passers-by in a dialogue between artist and spectator, a sort of intimate connection in a public space. They invite us to participate, to marvel on every street corner or wall at the message left, the critique drawn, the authorship signed. They want us to recognise their style and become fans of it. They want to leave their footprint. Postgraffiti emerged from the confluence of academic art, principally pop, and various forms of urban culture, namely graffiti proper, punk rock and skate. It could be defined as a self-promotion campaign with no financial gain to be had and in which the artist has total freedom. Graffiti artists fit a very narrow profile: always young, always men, the majority of them design or fine art students who substitute stencils, stickers or free-hand painting for aerosol sprays. Their uniform is the 'hoodie' - to hide their identities - and trainers, to get away quickly. They all grew up in the internet age and this is their means and method of injecting their art into the veins of the world.

 

 IMG 4310 

 

Every piece of art looks strangely out of place if we remove it from the place it was originally destined for. We are in the city of Caravaggio and contemplating his "Calling Of St Matthew" which does not look the same, up close in the gentle light of the Contarelli Chapel, as it would on a cold museum wall. And it's notable that this effect is multiplied exponentially with Banksy. In the Cipolla Palace, his pictures and lithographs lack the force that a portion of wall "borrowed" from the street would afford them. They have little in common with the emotional response to the little girl trying to fly out of the Gaza Strip on a fistful of balloons or the late Steve Jobs painted as a Syrian immigrant in Calais. Part of the charm of urban art is its transitory nature, the feeling that its lifespan is dictated by vandals or the police. So here, neatly ordered and reproduced in series, the magic of its fragility, its creation in the night-time, in the light of a streetlamp and the instability of a stroll are all but lost. This was the internal debate Banksy pushed us to. Graffiti is a form of guerrilla warfare. It's a way of stealing power, territory and glory from a more heavily-armed enemy. Banksy once called it "a form of revenge". All of this is lost beneath the protective domes of a palace in Rome.
It is estimated that there are more than 140 places around the world where Banksy carried out his work. This exhibition allows us a unique journey: to unravel some of the enigma of Banksy without having to trek all the way from Israel to New Orleans.

 

War, Capitalism And Liberty

Terzo Pilastro Foundation, Cipolla Palace, Vía del Corso 320, Rome 
Curators: Stefano Antonelli, Francesca Mezzano and Arcoris Andipa Until 4 September 2016

 

See also:

 

 

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

- Banksy: From the Backstreets to a Roman Palace -                                                            - Alejandra de Argos - 

 

 

A Question Of Dimension. Contemporary Drawing


 William Kentridge Tango For Page Turning 2012-2013 hr

 William Kentridge: Tango For Page Turning, 2012-2013. Single Chanel HD video. Picture courtesy of Galleria Lia Rumma Milan/Naples.

 

Whenever  we come across a line, what we see might well be some kind of barrier or boundary dividing one space from one or more others. However, if we think beyond it as that enough to breach it, a whole world of possibilities opens up  before us. When we walk the line, the boundaries disappear and another unexplored, unexpected path opens up.

 

Walk The Line: drawing through in contemporary art is a stroll through a collection of artworks dedicated to the delineation of a segment, its texture and its trail. If a line indeed symbolizes the most primitive of artistic expressions, the suite of works exhibited here takes up that original remit: drawing as the essential principal of artwork.  This principle is neither its only means nor its end, though; the artists here employing various supplementary media such as video, collage, photography and photogravure.

 

Namely: Irma Blank, Tatiana Blass, Tacita Dean, William Kentridge, Idris Khan, Matt Mullican, Óscar Muñoz, Hans Op de Beeck, Nancy Spero and José Antonio Suárez Londoño are a select group who made a visit to the always interesting exhibition calendar at the Bernal Espacio gallery in Madrid unmissable in February 2016.

 

The line is the basis of all the pieces included in this exhibition and, as the inhabitants of Flatland, A Romance of Many Dimensions (Edwin Abbott Abbott's 1884 novella) seem, at first glance, to exist simply on one single line apparently trapped within one single plane. However, if we use our senses as differentiation tools, the lines can be seen to create shapes that take on unsuspected dimensions. And, if we hone them further, we can even notice how those shapes expand to reveal and relate ever more complex universes. 

 

  Irma Blank Ur-schrift ovvero Avant-testo C 15-4-98 1998 ballpoint pen on paper

  Irma Blank. Radical Writings, Vademecum VI, 1994. Ballpoint pen on paper. Courtesy of: Gregor Podnar, Berlin / P420, Bolonia. 

 

This intermediate state between the exact and the diffuse, between the real and the utopic, is perhaps best appreciated in the large format drawings of the Belgian artist Hans Op de Beck. Composed especially for this exhibition and, as is habitual in his work, Op de Beck references routines, the places, the scenes and the scenery that exist, only to transport us to a different dimension in which time and space are altered and rendered absurd.
 
A drawing is understood to be the most intimate of artforms and a perfect technique both to express the deepest of feelings and to allow deep introspection. Both of these can be seen in the constant reflection and writing down of each and every detail  in  José Antonio Suárez Londoño's diary under the heading "Not one day without a line"; or Nancy Spero focusing on injustice and vindicating the role of woman in her intimate but still intense works.

 

  Alejandra de argos

 José Antonio Suárez Londoño. Untitled (1), 2015. Mixed media on paper. Courtesy of Bernal Espacio Gallery, Madrid.

 

This intimate aspect to drawing is combined with the force of video in William Kentridge's flipbook film “Tango for page turning”. The  piece came about from a series of conversations about the history of how time has been controlled throughout the world, relativity, black holes and string theory that, with a fluid stroke, are drawn into an essay on the pages of time with accompanying images that  jump from the page in an ungrammatical language that opens up way beyond the meaning of words.
 
Then there is Irma Blank's non-verbal graphicism that defies human codification and her exploration of the relationship between written and visual languages, a theme also examined by Tatiana Blass, while Matt Mullican and Idris Khan's pencils trace the language of emotion. 

 

 IK171 Disappearing Line 2015

Idris Khan. Disappearing Line. 2015. Digital bromide mounted on aluminium. Courtesy of  Thomas Schulte, Berlin. 

 

 
The gesture of writing as a way of life is reflected also in British artist Tacita Dean's “More or less”, a title referencing Cy Twombly who, in response to a question about whether painting made him happy, replied with those same three words. Time, lines and existence lace through the work of Óscar Muñoz who depicts for us the passage of time and the ephemerality of human existence.
 
The work of the featured artists can be seen here thanks to a collaboration between Bernal Espacio and 10 international galleries. This partnering within the gallery sector emphasizes and reinforces the success of the whole artworld network in introducing lesser-know or little-known artists to Spain's exhibition scene and thereby to collectors and the general public alike.
 
However, the beauty of this exhibition is not just down to the calibre of the nine artists involved. It is also due to delicacy and astute skill in selecting the exhibition pieces, each one of which demonstrates the complexity of a technique and its possibilities. As the author says in his essay compilation “Berger On Drawing”, Walk The Line is a reflection on the difficulties entailed in the mastery of drawing, where the nod towards art becomes entangled with one's own  lived experiences. I would highly recommend that you, too, take a walk on the line.

 

 

 

Galeria Bernal Espacio. 10 -  29 de February 2016.

 

 

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

 - A Question Of Dimension. Contemporary Drawing -             - Homepage: Alejandra de Argos - 

Zurbarán, a Painter Of Subtlety

Author: Marina Valcárcel
Art Historian
 Marina

 

 

 

 

  IMG 2210 

Detail of St Cassilda's robe. Francisco de Zurbarán (c. 1630-1635) 

 

 

A conversation with Guillermo Solana

 

The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum's gallery walls are freshly painted a golden shade of ochre to inaugurate its new exhibition, Zurbarán: A New Perspective (Madrid 9 June - 13 Sept 2015). "Seville's walls, circa 1630, were often of that colour. And, what's more, I think it goes well with the artist's golds and blacks." explains Guillermo Solana, the museum's director and our guide for this tour. A 19th century German philosopher once said that every work of art is "essentially a question, an appeal to the heart that answers it back."and so what we'd like a response to first is: What do Francisco de Zurbarán's paintings mean? What's behind them, those Dominican friars in their white habits, the saints, the martyrs and the vases of flowers? "Zurbarán is, above all else, a painter of the tactile world of volumes and textures." explains Solana..

 

 

  IMG 2212  

St Apollonia. Francisco de Zurbarán (1636)

 

St Apollonia. Francisco de Zurbarán (1636)

The entrance to the exhibition is hung with a large map of Seville during the first half of the XVII century. Zurbarán was born in 1598, the same year as the death of Philip II of Spain, and lived until 1664, one year before the death of Philip IV. It's numerical magic. Two great kings who each in their own right made decisive acquisitions and contributions to the royal collections.

Seville, at the onset of the 1600's, was a city of wealth and prosperity, full of convents, parishes, hospitals, an immense cathedral nearing completion ... but also overwhelmed by the heavy burden of the Counter-Reformation, Trento and the havoc wreaked by the plague. "Zurbarán was the painter who best understood the male monastic remit. This kind of painting was too severe and harsh for the taste of female congregations." Zurbarán was the son of a cloth merchant and he replicated those cloths in paint in each of his pictures: their heaviness, the thick folds of the woollen habits, the coarse threads of tablecloths, the stiffly woven Hessian in the Franciscans' sackcloth habits, the green and strawberry-red silk of St Apollonia's gown or the sumptuous brocades worn by other saints, in imitation of the fantastical costumes and ideas being worn on theatre stages or arriving from Venice.

But why then, if this is the case, does Zurbarán's oeuvre focus almost exclusively on painting austere monks and becoming the painter of "monastic life"? Was it for purely commercial reasons? What part did the Counter-Reformation and Trento play in his choices? Solana answers: "Zurbarán understands the key to clarity and post-Tridentate legibility. Trento's instructions were that the language of painting had to be clear, didactic and as far removed from the complications of mannerism as possible. And Zurbarán is indeed 'legible', even in the way he paints chiaroscuro, silhouetting his figures against the light. He is utterly convincing in his expressionism which suits the language of the Counter-Reformation perfectly."

 

 IMG 2224 

Saint Francis contemplating a skull. Francisco de Zurbarán (1633-1635)

 

The exhibition comprises 63 of Zurbarán's works, mainly large format, divided over seven rooms. We stop in front of Saint Ambrose, a fine example of what's at the very heart of Zurbarán's painting. Here, the statuesque figure of the Bishop of Milan is outlined by a light coming from the darkness on the left and striking his cape of red and gold damasks and also highlighting a studded mitre of ochre felt. These are the elements that really confer strength onto the picture, far beyond any facial expression, which would have been a novelty at the time. If we think that for El Greco, it was the eyes, the hands and the swirls of angels who conveyed expression and meaning, for Zurbarán it was the "inanimate agents" who speak to us. Solana explains in more detail: "One of the things about Zurbarán that must have fascinated modern artists, such as Manet in Paris for instance, is this egalitarianism in the treatment of figures and objects, in itself one long chapter in 19th century art criticism. One of the things that critics held against Manet and his contemporaries was that they treated the human figure like a thing and things like humans. Traditional academic hierarchical norms were broken down."

 

 IMG 2216 

Saint Ambrose. Francisco de Zurbarán (1626-1627)

 

Seville and the power of painting


17th century Seville was, in addition, an important artistic hub with the newly-arrived influence of Caravaggio and Dürer along with German and Dutch engravers serving as the inspiration for many of Zurbarán's scenes and iconographies. And then, above all else, there was Velázquez. In Seville, both painters knew each other well and out of their friendship came Zurbarán's move to Madrid to contribute his Ten Labours of Hercules series to the Hall Of Realms of King Philip IV's Buen Retiro Palace.

We now turn to discussion of the marked differences between Velázquez and Zurbarán and the different languages used by Spain's, arguably, top two Golden Age painters to communicate with their audience. Art Historian Jonathan Brown describes how, while Velázquez viewed his époque through a microscope and portrayed it this way in his paintings, Zurbarán reproduced his world, in his time, as a mirror. In his Portrait of Innocent X, everything is pure expression; the pope's eyes speak, as do Velázquez' brushstrokes. By way of contrast, Zurbarán's Saint Bruno and Pope Urban II are radically different.

Solana concedes but elaborates: "I agree. But perhaps that makes Zurbarán a more modern painter. The Manet or post-Manet schools are less psychological, less interested in expression. Manet's best portraits do not capture or reveal the soul of the sitter. His portraits are, rather, still lifes. Cézanne required his models to pose as if they were apples being painted. The importance of psychological penetration so evident in Velázquez is not present at all in Zurbarán. He was interested in something else entirely."

 

 IMG 2207 

Still life with pottery and cup. Francisco de Zurbarán (c.1650-1655)

 

 

From Zurbarán and Caravaggio to Cézanne and De Chirico.

 

Zurbarán models with light: his silent monks come out of the dark and dazzle in white. St Serapion is, perhaps, the jewel in the crown of the exhibition. The Mercedarian friar hangs from the ropes that bind his wrists in a quasi-crucified pose. We are familiar with his story of martyrdom, the Jesuits' fourth vote or 'Blood Oath', the acceptance of death, the torment, the ecstasy. Zurbarán hides any traces of the saint's excruciating torture and evisceration under an unblemished habit and there is not the least sign of his violent death to be seen here.

Solana then points out what it is we should be noticing: take, for instance, the Mercedarian scarlet cross emblem against the white chasuble, in the dead centre of the painting. We look around, only to see that same emblem, like a blood stain, in the exact same spot in every other Mercedarian painting in the room.
So we consider for a moment Zurbarán's mode of expression - so subdued, so muted and so inconspicuous. And the difference between his and an Italian contemporary's mode of expression. With Caravaggio, there is a frenzy of gestures, of open arms that seem to reach out of the frame, of hands floating mid-air, of human levitations, of oblique lines and daring composition. There is commotion, action and incident in his The Supper at Emmaus or The Entombment of Christ.

Zurbarán is much more static. Again we consult our expert of the day and Solana indulges us with another master class: "Caravaggio, as a painter, is full of violence, sometimes very intense, sometimes contained but always there, latent. He, as a painter, is full of the instantaneous. There is an explosiveness. In The Calling of St Matthew this is patent. It is replete with what Italians called "Il motto", namely, expression: the body language, a fleeting look on the subject's face ... all givens in early Italian Baroque. Zurbarán's sensitivity is different, calmer, more mystic and less tragic. For this reason, it connects so well with a certain type of 20th century art that avoids excessive gesticulation. That type of art Bernard Berenson dubbed "ineloquent", deliberately and stubbornly silent, Italian metaphysical art. De Chirico, for instance. You mentioned Morandi, too, and rightly so. And then there were all those inter-war painters and their Magic Realism or New Objectivity. To my mind, the ones who connect most closely with Zurbarán are those artists who also suspend their expression for the duration of the silence. From Derain to certain German artists, Christian Schad, Gutiérrez Solana even."

Our next request is for an explanation as to the colour black: that deepest, darkest and most Spanish of blacks. And to understand, also, the way Zurbarán painted shadow. Solana sums it up with: "I believe painters can be divided into those who paint shadows in black and those who don't. From as far back as Delacroix, and then later with Impressionism, we've been told that shadows must be in colour. The great tradition of the colourists was to create shadows that were luminous, transparent, of varying hues. And then there were the painters who said: "Absolutely not. Black shadows, black paint." which probably does produce less sensory charm but also, at times, much more expressive forcefulness. And all of this has a definite link to Zurbarán".
And with this contradiction of black versus white, we leave Zurbarán who, for us, will forever be the painter of the white spectrum. He of the rough peel on quinces and the smoothness of stone, he of the heavy cassocks, of bleak Extremadura landscapes, of what is concrete, of solid volumes, of quiet times and quiet things, of an insurmountable silence that can often lead to a feeling of uneasiness. An exceptional dimension to painting but also one that Cézanne's early still-lifes can boast, or those of Juan Gris and, later still, those of Morandi. But that is another story for another day.

Ignacio Zuloaga, on purchasing one of his paintings, once defined Zurbarán in a letter to an artist friend as: "The Spanish painter. Whereas Velázquez is cosmopolitan and universal, Zurbarán could only ever be Spanish."

 

 IMG 2218 

St Serapion. Francisco de Zurbarán (1628)

 

 

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

 

   - Zurbarán, a Painter Of Subtlety -                                        - Home: Alejandra de Argos -

 

 

Art-Exhibitions

  • Ai Weiwei: Biography, works, exhibitions
  • Peter Doig: Biography, works, exhibitions
  • Marlene Dumas: Biography, works, exhibitions
  • John Currin: Biography, works, exhibitions
  • Cindy Sherman: Biography, works, exhibitions
  • Anselm Kiefer: Biography, works, exhibitions
  • Miguel Barceló: Biography, Works & Exhibitions