89 Decadas Castrortega 99. en Valencia
89 DECADEBACK CASTRORTEGA 99. IN VALENCIA
Published by Ana Serratosa Luján. This book was published to celebrate 10 years of Castrortega’s work being collected in Valencia. 400 copies were produced, with a special edition of 100 numbered copies signed by the artist from 1/100 to 100/100. Vires alit. Collage aesthetics in Pedro Castrortega’s paintings. An appropriate start is an emblem in which the stream of petrol from a pump is being stopped by a hand reaching out of a cloud, a sign usually used to signify God in Christian imagery. The hand, which in hieroglyphics signifies man as a lover of buildings, in biblical terms is an essential source of energy and also marks the moment when the commandments were given to Moses, impedes the watery liquid, the material of dreams, from becoming, given its rising pressure, disproportionate, it places a limit on the element that we associate with the fleeing nature of identity and with the purity that unites it, paradoxically, with fire. When we look at the works of Castrortega that Ana Serratosa has compiled with her different collectors, what is uppermost in my mind is the vision of touching formlessness and the clash with something that rises and a bodily reality that returns this event to gravity and to the sense of reality, which is truly poetic. The painting is full of such encounters between liquid and viscous, and a surface that might be a wall or floor, taut skin, a far corner where marks are left to settle. Freud spoke of paranoid construction as an attempt to save the subject from the collapse of the symbolic universe by means of this substitute formation. The obsessive task of painting has features of both sublimation (raised map, primitive trace that tames the look or window that marks out the world) and resistance against going out onto the stage of sensorial turbulence, from the awareness that the hand that holds back the water on earth is incapable of establishing a “rational” order of what falls, perhaps germinally, onto the earth. Despite the “traumatic” terms used, passion for art mainly conveys a situation or promise of joy. I would like to recall the distinction that Richter made between abstract and figurative painting, his concern being that the image should have an impact or, rather, that it should be capable of creating an emotional climate, a situation that goes from nostalgia to hope: “Nostalgia of a lost quality, which would be the opposite of misery and the lack of perspectives. We could also speak of redemption. Or of hope, of the hope that the painting may, despite everything, have an impact. When we look at a work such as Reflejos impropios – Para la caricia (Inappropriate Reflections – For the caress) (1993) there are a number of elements that are characteristic of Castrortega’s painting: the background is treated with an “aquatic” expression, the “figures” that fluctuate between the monochrome surface and the linear drawing, presenting forms that are reminiscent of a hoof. It could be deduced that the fascinum (Medusa’s evil spell) and the phantasmagoria of the mutilated body appear in the composition, although it is also possible to see that one of the problems that he tries to solve here is that of articulating experiences, the joining of vision and corporality, skin and the supporting structure, which we need to achieve that emotion I allude to above. On seeing Castrortega’s works exhibited in such a great white space in Valencia, I once again felt the hidden harmony of his aesthetics, his incredible ability to resolve complex expressive situations with unusual extravagance and, of course, to keep away from decorative lyricism and explicit symbolism. Among the forms I contemplated in the pieces there was a materic circle or what appeared to me to be traces of the labyrinth, quasi-architectural structures, networks drawn with a firm hand: a plurality of ramifications in which he establishes subtle contrasts between whiteness and black marks. “Castrortega presents us with a shadow that breaks the monotony, autonomous forms of life and that configures its own movements to develop an existence of dreams lost in an imaginary forest where water is a vital and purifying source of sustenance”. Sometimes the duplication or, in other words, the underlining, is produced by the varnish, close to geometrical forms, such as the triangle, or to strokes that define the nucleus. It might be true that in painting, what is occasional or accidental is the starting point for an order that is what the artist aspires to resolve in structural terms, but in a type of structure that ultimately refers to the structural appearance of the original disorder as a manifestation of freedom which should be referred to as the becoming of the work. One of the tasks of art, says Adorno, is to create what is unarticulated and incipient, what is absurd and arbitrary from the point of view of what is articulated and formed, without rationalising: to reinvent what is amorphous, to deform or break down, even if the appearance of uniqueness is maintained. Nostalgia sometimes needs to resort to hermeticism, to that concealment or veiling of consciousness that is accepted in a state of exception “in which we no longer work on the basis of uncovering what is veiled or the end of a new harmony”. What could be considered stable in Castrortega’s paintings is emphasised or rather dynamised by peripheral aspects, such as what look like tongues of fire, minimal flashes which are sometimes contrasted against bluish extravagances, and somewhat phallic forms. “Pedro Castrortega seems to be determined to articulate his discourse by breaking up forms and images, converting them into vague silhouettes, outlines that are filled with a vacuum, pure evocation. Condensation of reality”. Fingerprints that are equivalent to topographical lines, coloured angles, birds hanging upside down, heirs of Max Ernst’s oneirism (linked to misappropriation of the personality, to terrible fate or, in psychoanalytical terms, to symbolic castration) or sensual feminine hips, things shaken by the wind, duplicated figures, and a forceful presence. Abodes are containers, pictorial nuclei that, for Castrortega, are palpitation, soul or desire. In Castrortega’s paintings there is a kind of optical aberration, a reflection of elements, an enigmatic sketch of shadows, which turns the elements into apparitions that require calm contemplation, in keeping with a way of drawing in which chance expression has been overcome. Since the incredible exhibition Cielos de presa (Hunted Heavens) (1996), I have seen how the ideas of this creator have gradually become more radical. On that occasion, he called upon a fragment of A Season in Hell, as a reminder that life is a farce in which we all play a part and thus when we overcome failure we must take a look at our own deformities, which are the signs of the cruelty of the world or the mark of foolish movements to be hidden yet present at the same time. Arthur C. Danto has pointed out in his important book After the End of Art. Contemporary Art and the Pale of History, that the paradigm of contemporary work is collage, that aesthetic battle that has arisen in cubism, and undoubtedly the aesthetic nature of Pedro Castrortega’s work is a good example of this. In his current paintings, he includes digitalised photographs of sculptures that he has made out of wire and materials such as wool or foam, pieces of solder that have been bent and straightened again, on a detailed pictorial background, in which he seems to evoke the slow erosion of time. As a precedent to this wild surface on which diversity converges, I would like to mention the two paintings that he did on mattresses. This artist has achieved a hybridisation of procedures in what could be broadly called modern art, in which the criteria of purity have been definitively set aside as guarantors of a modern narrative. Throughout Castrortega’s work, there is an important sense of his mark; things are subtly marked by the look, like a stone dropped into the water that sends out ripples. The origin of any experience and that which determines the space for interpretation is displaced as mark. Whether it is an anthropomorphic outline, that is barely insinuated and upside down or forms that are similar to vessels painted on bands on which the vibration of the limits establishes a strange kind of sensuality, the painter is thinking about a shadow or place of premonitions. “In Iniciaciones (Initiations), the dialogue between a static, empty profile or silhouette, and an organic image and a foreign body made, as it were, from materials other than paint, is taken to its extreme in terms of complexity and also to the limit of representation criticism”. Castrortega writes in a poem: “Quiero iniciarme al tiempo sin regla / A la sombra que perfila / Su condición, ajena al instante, / O / Repetido sin límite” (I want to be initiated to time without rules, / To the shadow that outlines / Its condition, so far from the moment, / Oh, / Endlessly repeated). Elusive presences and black masses, the desire to set the boundaries of vision, the alternation of soft materials with metals that he draws with a trembling hand, the change of scale and volume of reality, initiation, more as seminal occurrence than as rituality, arise in Castrortega’s creative ideas, related as much with objects or sculptures as they are with paintings or drawings. In all honesty, we are getting into exceptional aesthetic territory. In this movement between what has volume and flat realities, Castrortega follows the motto of the emblem that we establish as the “threshold”: Vires alit, he revives the strength. Without doubt, an artist like this, at the height of his expressive resources and with rare creative honesty, abandons the comfort of what is already known and, without losing sight of his visions and obsessions, delves into new territories seeking other prey to hunt. The memory of the human figure and the landscape are always present as a horizon. This memory has settled on the painting not as a whole but in a fragmented way, with the awareness that what is incomplete can be a way of “representing and constructing the world”. If, on the one hand, as Tomás Paredes stressed, there is a strange Baroque desolation in Castrortega’s work, there is also a clear epic intention, the urgency of finding forms that are memorable and that capture our attention. The time it takes to understand can be as short as the glance itself, but that glance may include all the time needed to understand. The poetic substance of the painting must be seen in its reconstruction as an image, its penetration must occur on the reverse on which it is fixed: mould, trace, vestige or wake on the canvass and an event before the pupil that closes with the hardness of an extremely cohesive material. “Deciphering comes to mean as much as penetrating the shell of the image by following the thread of its possible metaphorical indications, advancing towards the nucleus where the shapes are condensed, without by so doing calling to its aid the scholastic realism of abstract concepts. What is hidden behind the images is actually reality itself in its genuine form, which claims all realism: the human form”. Here we have paintings from the index (print and mark) but also paintings that cannot be categorised, from situation in time and space in immediacy, in which the outline of things defines the auratic (hic et nunc, to be exact), embodying that sublimity which is delight: the pleasure of something happening, right now, and not just nothing… The history of art is the history of those looks that have rested on works. In the case of the paintings and drawings by Castrortega that I contemplated with Ana Serratosa, the life of forms is interwoven with the everyday life of those who have integrated them into their own private space. The collectors who have acquired these works could probably tell different stories about these paintings, which they and not just the painter have used to direct a passion that has no other means of expression. As part of this intimacy with the painting they have also had to rest their gaze, as the creator did before with his hand, on the evanescence or, in terms of the emblem, the liquid of the aesthetic experience. Ana’s cordiality, Pedro’s persistence and the complicity of the collectors make this selection a reencounter in which there are energetic relationships that each one, from his own position, has been able to encourage. Fernando Castro Flórez. Professor of Aesthetics at the Autonomous University of Madrid. Art critic and exhibition organiser. He has been an academic coordinator at the Institute of Aesthetics and Theory of Arts. Advisory committee member of the Extremadura and Latin American Museum of Contemporary Art. Editorial committee member of the magazines Cimal and La Ruta del Sentido. He has published the following books: Elogio de la pereza; Notas para una estética del cansancio; el texto íntimo, Kafka, Rilke y Pessoa y Nacho Criado; La voz que clama en el desierto.