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Art gallery, Valencia (Spain)

Javier Riera
Noviembre 2004

Fernando Castro Flórez



Beyond the funeral speeches (we might almost say notarial speeches) or, literally, reactionary speeches (anchored in the “originarity” of a particular artistic practice), it would be appropriate to recall John Berger’s idea that painting is an affirmation of the visible things that surround us and that are continually appearing and disappearing: “possibly, without disappearance the incitement to paint would not exist, since what is visible would have the security (permanence), which painting strives to find. Painting is, more directly than any other art, an affirmation of what exists, of the physical world into which humanity has been thrown”. The corporeality of painting has an expressive potential that is difficult to match. We can believe that painting has the quality of a stage for the expression of personality and individuality, provided, as I have said, by its deeply-rooted corporeal nature. In the final analysis, painting can behave like a metaphor, even as the equivalent of sexual activity and, of course, it is the setting of a tremendously energetic psychic projection. Additionally, the territoriality of painting suffered a considerable transformation in modern times or, in other words, a change of scale (not just in size or technique) at the same time as the tradition of representation started to slide towards the issues of the event. Since Pollock considered the problem of how to assume the transformation of paint into puddles in the painting and of how to stay within the boundaries of shapelessness, where the register of the stroke and of the indication are the fundamental events: the aggression that marks. Javier Riera’s painting has had, for more than a decade, the character of a blow or a chromatic beating over a fundamentally blue surface with misty landscapes and flat surfaces in which great intensity is deposited. With a purely watery painting, he has defended the painting as an approximation and an imbalance, that is, he has preferred to give free reign to mistakes and to show the effrontery to undertake artificial stabilisation. We know that one of the tasks of art is to articulate and to be incipient, absurdity and arbitrariness from the perspective of what is articulated and formed; sometimes it is necessary to resort to hermeticism, to hiding the sense that is accepted in a state of exception, which is not based on the manifestation of what has been veiled, on a ending in a new harmony. Let us bear in mind that expression is the imaginary signifier of modern art. “Modern painting”, states Mary Kelly, “in particular abstract expressionism, underlines this production of the signifier, but it would be illegitimate, therefore, to suppose that this practice implies the deconstruction, violation or transgression of the pictorial space”. The expressions of Riera’s painting contain elements of fits of rage, sudden decisions, dripping colours, violent stains that mark different stages in the preparation of the work and, finally, an oscillation between background and surface. What touches the painting, or in other words, what it approaches is the imagination of absence or, in other words, one of the decisive moments in the painter’s search is the demarcation of the place. “The painter”, states John Berger, “in his solitude, knows that far from being able to control the painting from the outside, he has to inhabit it, to allow it to shelter him. He works by feeling his way”. It is important to take into account Claude Lévi-Strauss’s idea that the genius of the painter consists of uniting internal and external knowledge (always halfway between philosophy and anecdote), “a being”, he writes in The Savage Mind, “and an evolution; a production, with a brush, an object that does not exist as an object and that, nevertheless, the artist is able to create on his canvas: the perfectly balanced synthesis of one or several artificial and natural structures and of one or several natural and social events. Aesthetic emotion originates from this union, which is instituted in the heart of a thing created by man, and, therefore, also virtually by the viewer, who discovers its possibility through the work of art, between the order of the structure and the order of the event.” Indeed, thing and event, materiality of the painting and tinned randomness, territorial sedimentation and accidental marks, constitute the tense spatiality of Javier Riera’s art, which seems to be committed to achieving a communion with nature. In some statements made in 2000, Javier Riera declared that “if in the Renaissance painting had been conceived as windows, then in my current work I would say that the glass of the windows is dirty, it has stains that superimpose the background landscape and that are integrated with it to a greater or lesser degree. I paint landscapes that really affect or perturb me on an emotional level and them I continue the painting by adding stains or strokes to them”. Rather than penetrating transparency and the eschatological obstacle, this painter aims to penetrate further into emotions by means of his “colour meteorology”, which José María Parreño will discuss. If Javier Riera’s painting is related to the sublime abstract tradition, that is, to one of the heroic moments of the aesthetic search for absolution, then this does not prevent it from being an affirmation of earthly elements that reclaim a haptic vision and a cordial feel of the material. For him abstraction is related to profound existential solitude, but this does mean that it has to tend towards the rhetoric of transcendentalism, to sublimation that is incapable of complying with anything “concrete”. “Until now”, he said in an important conversation with Elena Vozmediano, “I have been very close to nature, to romantic painting related to landscapes. Maybe I am starting to distance myself from this. I am very interested in the process employed by Uslé: he moved from painting that was completely centred on landscapes to artificial urban painting”. Certainly, the sublime can be very heavy and grandiloquent, although it is also evident that within the imagination of this magnificent creator there is a permanent return to water, clouds, fugitivity, and at the same, to eternity. “I am”, says Riera, “obsessed with the image of storm clouds, dark storm clouds, when it is just about to rain. Just before the downpour, full of contained energy, the clouds that appear in the Friedrich painting The Monk by the Sea: they are indeed threatening. I often think about Max Ernst’s painting Europe after the Rain. What fall from the black sky are monsters and demons”. From finis terrae to the apocalyptic visions, from the last beach where the sky melds with the ground inhabited by this enigmatic figure to the landscapes after the battle. Let us remember that Ernst’s painting is one of the greatest examples of the irritated look, of the convulsed beauty that arose from, among other things, frottage, from oneiric ontics. In a similar fashion that, as Leonardo might say, we can find a war scene in the stains on a wall, from the floorboards there might arise a world that may be described a somewhere between magical and monstrous. The landscape is full of traces of damp, lichens and fossils, marks left behind by the fatal deluge. If we focus on this territory, which is what Javier Riera seems to do in his latest works, we find that this domain of the curse is, paradoxically, what establishes the deepest hope. After painting clouds and mist, the painter goes out into the night and takes pictures of ghostly spaces. His journey into the woods is also a desire to find enlightenment. There he finds the lightning (destructive and fascinating, mortal and energetic), the blow, the beating that form the origin of the work of art. Javier Riera summarises the idea of painting as diving deep enough to bring things to light. Throwing himself into the dark water to find what only lies outside it, seeking the flash in the epidermis of the painting, even when he knows that this means surrendering to the artificial device. “Passion for beauty”, Javier Riera lucidly points out, “is, in this sense, necrophilia. The possible beauty of the painting is a residual quality, it emerges from the internal activity of the work and just as it takes form, it dies, like lava when it cools. The life of the painting beats in another more indefinite place”. What interests him is painting as a form of dramatisation, vibrating and resounding, colouring things that otherwise would be indefinite, trying to approach absence. He defends self-engrossed painting, the work that he owes to himself. As is it were something real: “it dispenses with the personal vicissitudes of its artist in favour of its own laws. Its life does not seem to come from the painter, rather from itself, a life without communication with the outside world, but that we can see shining within, abysmal, inaccessible”. The broken or frayed character of oneiric things has a lot to do with the apparent unfinished look of Javier Riera’s expression painting, in which the interest is, undoubtedly, productive. In his 2003 paintings, we can see that the painter enters the spaces not by force but subtly, the poetry of violence has been left behind, now a strange fluidity dominates. These forms that seduce us to the point of hypnosis make us think of plant elements, of underwater plants or corals, of a materialisation of diving to find a revelation. The sea is a metaphor of the structure of the unconscious mind, as Jung might state with regard to “the immense spiritual legacy of the evolution of humanity”. The collective unconscious is not only something historical conditioned by the past, it is also the omnipresent source of creation, of the creative renewal of the concept of life”. Wandering and deviation are, let’s admit it, the greed for the world: what moves us to tread paths in all directions, Riera reaches an impressive pictorial serenity, he places his imagination in a horizon of aesthetic liberation of will, surrendering to aquatic things. Just as Bachelard might point out, it is a question of escaping from the idea of water associated with a vain destination, from a dream that is not consummated, in order to locate an essential experience, a random play of waves that unceasingly transforms the substance of the being. Untitled, 2004, oil on canvas, 200 × 200 cm. Immersion in the water signifies the return to pre-formality, in its double sense of death and dissolution, but also of rebirth and new circulation, a strengthening of life: as Freud stated, birth is normally expressed in dreams by means of water. It refers, by means of this element, to impermanence, but also to infinity: water is the transparent depth, something that communicates the surface with the abyss, which is why it might be said that water crosses images. These descriptive lines form strata, they are traces that do not appear to have been brought about by the artist’s hand, they appear to be organic. Javier Riera manages to masterfully combine the evocation of nature with the plant decoration that Worringer might talk of. There is a wave movement, a vibration of the forms that is marked in different places by the irruption of light. This painter does not hide his admiration for the lights and reflections of Velázquez and Vermeer. It is with regard to the paintings by the artist from Delft that Arthur C. Danto reminds us that light is a metaphor for truth, a concept that Martin Heideger analysed as an “awakening” or “opening”. Riera, allowing the image to spring from thought, crossing the veil and the compulsive expression, reaches a rhythm of sensual forms, located on this black background, which does not have anything to do with anything sinister, rather it could be defined as “visual silence”. A painting with an admirable acceptance in a world of screams and transbanality, defender of the caprice rather than exhibitionism of what is standardly obscene, visual presentation of something soft when all that is hegemonous is vomit. “Calm”, comments Abel H. Pozuelo with regard to Riera’s latest work, “with a delicacy that can be described as being “natural”, which gives a relaxed softness to the strokes, these compositions maintain a living contrast between the slowness that we notice in how they were created and the permanent vibration of iridescent textures, of these prefigurative lines with plantlike texture that seem to be trembling feathers”. It is curious that Javier Riera has progressed from haemorrhages and explosions of colour in his heroic landscapes to a look that produces details that rely on nuances, which rather than operatics seeks the pleasure of the tones that are on the edge of what can be heard, that is, on the verge of dissolving into obscurity. “I have placed myself”, says Riera, “in a place previous to painting, previous to my concept of painting, I would say that I have accessed the place from which my painting is conceived and I am dedicating myself to living in it.” He is talking about what is near, we could say what is auratic, of what combines calm and sumptuousness, artificial devices and nature. He wants to paint an experience of time and to sediment the succession by showing an unreal world that evokes something seen in an unknown place in which the same things are permanently differentiating themselves. Both in his paintings and in his drawings, Javier Riera rescues mysteries of light, he catches fundamental traces. The artist is something of a cryptophile, he has incorporated highly sombre sadness and the luxury or the flash of joy, that memory of a hidden treasure, that enclave that overflows the erosion of nihilism. “Now I can say it: the starting point of an artist”, writes Peter Handke, “is the great feeling we sometimes have of a enormous vacuum in nature, a vacuum that later, the artist, maybe, using this vacuum as a impetus, will fill with some works, but that later, time and time again – the sign of being an artist!- will always return, in a renewed manner, in the form of a great vacuum, of a vacuum that gives pleasures: like a vacuum on the boil”.

Fernando Castro Flórez