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Art gallery, Valencia (Spain)


Javier Riera
Febrero 2016

Alfonso de la Torre


Javier Riera (Avilés, 1964) has been called Palazuelino (referring to Pablo Palazuelo), a tempter of light and shade, embarking upon –as always- an extremely complex search, following such an extraordinary path (and expressing great sincerity along the way) to investigate the mysterious relations between nature and geometry. Seemingly rejecting the shapes he conceives, they emerge from an unknown place rising towards the surface of the paper. He struggles with these shapes until they become more convincing or more expressive on some occasions, and on others they reveal that inaccurate but no less imperious air of something that seems to have recently emerged.

There is frequently an aspect of liquid or tides in Riera’s cyanotypes. The blue is a reference to water and sky in nature, a hidden mystery –in the search for the album quae vehit aurum[i], as the acrostic of an old book on alchemy stated-, and it is not easy to escape such symbology. At the same time as the cyanotypes offer a truth that is seemingly timidly revealed, insofar as the colours are not uniform but presented hazily, seeming to resemble diverse densities: more clarity in some areas and more depth with bright blues in others.   Mysteries that are the shapes, the earth burns in the dark water while the air shines all around, wrote Palazuelo[ii], while the artist is a culprit it seems, condemned to a tireless search. But let’s go back to the text written by Russell, “The architecture of dreams”[iii], a text I occasionally like to quote, which refers to the vision as an unextinguishable flame. Well, the images that appear in the consciousness of Riera seem to be preexistent, and this carries an obligation for them to be recast, bestowing them with life, movement and voice.   “A creature within me”, underlined Russell, and a similar task is undertaken by our creator, -a task or rather condemnation- such an unrepentant prisoner heading towards the journey, is to embark upon the search “for all treasures”, that “world of gold that surrounds us”[iv], a world frequently found amongst the lights and sounds of the night. It has already been said that there is something imperious in his work that appears with an artist’s burning need to relate, and whose vocation seems to be contemplation. The bluish cyanotypes seemingly relate consumption, time that stands still, dispossession, the mistaken truth, his truth, which seems on occasions to burst into multiple directions.

The cyanotype, a nineteenth-century technique used primarily for investigating the mysteries of nature, consequently links Riera to those ancient tempters of shade. Wandering shades that roam a space, cyanotypes that bring to mind the rayographs by the enigmatic Man Ray[v] and of certain surrealists that seemed to suggest a submission to chance and the presence of shapes or elements sensitive to light and photographic emulsion. Far from the tremor or fate of the camera obscura and its search that leads to encountering a certain collage of light. Also because, like the creator of Les champs délideux, the meeting of two colours in Riera’s work has an aspect of a negative inverted image; an uncomfortable image of its customary space, such a phantasmic image in a state previous to its real existence.   Subjective halos[vi] that frequent these seemingly immemorial cyanotypes, -as Michaux would point out when admiring the work of Klee-, a summa of images that seem to have matured to the point of reaching a certain age, like a slow organic life that is born to the world through a dark emanation[vii].   After all, it brings to mind shapes that emerge from the dark, bearers of a special luminescent energy struggling within the darkness. I have pointed out to the artist himself how a twilight air becomes apparent in his cyanotypes, and therefore we can quote Baudelaire, such interior cartographies subjected to the test of tempting shapes, the first reality that positions us face to face with the other reality[viii]. Conceived almost as a whole (a system of shapes that is better understood when several are encountered together), there is something of a ledger about them, a chronicle of unexpected findings, archive and print, a nocturnal tremor. In this encounter there is an air of an attempt to bring together the marvellous with reality, the visible or the impalpable, until creating what Yourcenar called the feeling of the immense invisible and incomprehensible that surrounds us.

Nevertheless, as well as showing us shapes, Riera seems to question the visible appearances of the world by following one of the most perplexing and mysterious guidelines remembered by alchemy: the coincidentia oppositorum, that is the encounter of contraries.   This artist suggests there are moments when things can dazzle but also remain in the dark, recalling the words of Goethe, how “the transparent (…) is the first degree of the turbid”[ix].

But, why choose one shape and not another? Why choose from amongst the perplexing panoply of those seen or sensed in the world around us? The strange voice of shapes, which seems to arise in works like moments of a story in slumber.   Simulation in infinite space: each of the intriguing spaces inhabited by shapes. Unsettled silence.   Half-light.   An encounter of shapes within the universe but not inert matter, rather the inscrutable ardor of tranquility that precedes the pulsation of what has not been seen before, as if serenely, our artist recalled a previous mysterious encounter. Such a supernatural finding is compatible with the search of what has been, up until now, unknown.   I see something of Nigredo in Riera, seemingly overwhelmed by an alchemic search: processes originating in nature[x]: salts, paper and shapes. An internal journey that place his compositions in a total air of Saturnian light that bathes, monochromes, his papers, memory where it burned, a perplexed land inhabited by the appearance of shapes.

And what is this mystery that sets out to explain the mystery with mystery?

I quote Didi-Huberman, a hunter hunted by images. And it responds with another, it was the butterfly leaving: enough of that nothing[xi].   Inebriation of the symbolic that is not far removed from the nocturnal Baudelaire in “Correspondances”: in Nature man passes through forests of symbols, distant echoes that, from afar, are confused and observe us with familiar eyes[xii].     To look, to create, is to raise questions and, in these cyanotypes and projections, the geometrical shapes –such inscrutable emblems- come together with images of nature that are seen crystal-clear, as if for the first time: animals or plant remains, frequently pine needles. The Golden Ratio and skies, seemingly aqueous surfaces, ocean-like expanses in which the shapes appear. Horizons and air, upon which he seems to attempt a redefinition. Signs or metaphors that foster self-knowledge rather than the reflection of certainties, it is the representation of a gesture anchored in the depths of a disconcerting recollection that, having risen from a specific point of what is real, seems to extend to what is universal. Walk, rest, preserve: Riera seems to have been making a seismography of wisdom, the untiring expanse of shapes that destroy what is real, questioning themselves in that strange invisible centre where the number and energy are incandescent.   An allegory that lets light be heard, what seems to be a genesiacal light that, clearly, also seems isolated. Fluttering under the signs, a flame of illumination but also of consumption. Not only are purely geometric shapes called to mind, but also the aforementioned images of the world of nature and plants. Shapes fluctuating between water and atmosphere, hesitating between what is compact and what is fluid.

If blue was associated with understanding and reason for Goethe, I choose to quote Klee on the indescribable mystery in art: “certain things can happen beneath our feet, there are regions where other laws prevail, for which new symbols would have to be found (…) the intermediate kingdom of the atmosphere where its heaviest brother, water, holds out his hand and intermingles so that we can reach, immediately after, the great outer space”[xiii] But blue was also the beginning of darkness for Goethe: the appearance of objects or things, seen through a blue glass, would be melancholic and Riera seems to endorse that space where only the malinconia is enjoyed. Seemingly there are no cesuras between the clearness of certain shapes and the air of suspension that impregnates the blue of the cyanotype. His work is suspended like an ethereal-type of work that is, representing elements that have no apparent resistance, air or water[xiv].   Michauxniano turbulent infinity, the composition nervously unfolds upon the surface, lending to his compositions a clarity that enters the discussion on light and shade, the certain half-light that seems to lend a miraculous air to his compositions: to obtain consistency from immateriality.   Contemplation, as Palazuelo would say, which “is in this way transfigured into the image of the soul that transfigures it”[xv]. Writing in light, the germinal phos, but also an inscrutable account of shades. I think that, in the end, Riera’s cyanotypes suggest a cosmogony, a way of seeing reality not only as a sound discourse of established elements, but also with astonishment.

Such a transformation of open forces that the artist captures and, rather than representing, happily restores as symbols of the mystery of what is visible.

[1] The book by Barent Coenders van Helpen, “Tesoro de la filosofía de los antiguos en el que se conduce gradualmente al lector en el conocimiento de los metales” (known as L’Escalier des Sages), Cologne, 1693. Read in VAN LENNEP, J. Arte y alquimia. Estudio de la iconografía hermética y de sus influencias. Madrid: Editora Nacional, 1978.

[1] RUSSELL, George William. L’architecture du rêve (“The Architecture of Dream”). Read in Palazuelo. Paris: “Derrière le miroir” (“Behind the mirror”), No. 104, Maeght Éditeur, 1958. The text is entitled “Candle of vision”. The text is reproduced in: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Pablo Palazuelo, 13 rue Saint-Jacques (1948-1968). Madrid-Alzuza: Fundación Juan March-Fundación Museo Jorge Oteiza, 2010-2011, pp. 138-139.

[1] RUSSELL, George William. Ibid.

[1] “Il y a quelque chose, une créature en moi, qui va d’un tel train qu’à vouloir la suivre je m’essouffle, condamné á n’être toujours qu’un traînard derrière cette voyageuse qui peut, elle, remonter l’infini des temps et en revenir chargée de tous les trésors de ses périples entre deux battements de mon cœur”. Russell, Ibid.

[1] Here it is necessary to refer to the work of the pioneers of printing photosensitive paper: William Henry Fox Talbot, Anna Atkins, Amelia Bergner, Anne Dixon and John Herschel, amongst others. A large number of these searches were about representations of elements of nature. The technique was known by Man Ray, in the 1920s, through the teachings of Curtis Moffat. It was used by Christian Schad and can be linked to some of the work by László Moholy-Nagy.

[1] The term comes from: GOETHE, Johann Wolfgang. Teoría de los colores (Theory of Colours). Valencia: Consejo General de la Arquitectura Técnica de España, 2008, pp. 86-87.   Edition consulted.

[1] The quote, which is almost literal, is by Henri Michaux, (“Aventures de lignes”, included in “Passages”), in the preface to the book on Klee by Will Grohman, in the French version of 1954: GROHMANN, Will. Paul Klee. Translation Jean Descoullayes and Jean Philippon. Paris : Librairie Flinker/Trois Collines, 1954.   In his Complete Works. Paris: Gallimard, t. II, Pléiade, 2001, pp. 360-363. In Spanish we have consulted: Henri Michaux. Escritos sobre pintura. Murcia: Colección de Arquitectura, 2000-2007, pp. 101-106.

[1] “Simplifying, and poetically speaking, it could be said that we walk in darkness, we rest in light, and water is the life element of this planet, which must be preserved. But in physical life, we walk when there is light and we rest in the dark, so that there could be a parallelism of the positive-negative inversion created by photographic processes between physical life and inner life. There is also a parallelism for me between the inner life of a studio, where cyanotypes are processed, and the life that inhabits the exterior, in other words nature. While I process the cyanotypes in the interior I juggle memories and evocations of the experiences in nature, and in some way my psyche once more walks around natural spaces”. Conversation between Javier Riera and this author, 6/I/2016.

[1] GOETHE, Johann Wolfgang. Teoría de los colores (Theory of Colours). Op. cit. p. 97.

[1] Remembering the origin of the colour blue, in the history of painting, in lapis lazuli.

[1] DIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. La imagen mariposa (The Butterfly image). Barcelona: SD Edicions, 2007.

 [1] “La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers / Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles; / L’homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles / Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers. / Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent / Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité, / Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté, / Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent. / II est des parfums frais comme des chairs d’enfants, / Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies, / — Et d’autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants, / Ayant l’expansion des choses infinies, / Comme l’ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l’encens, / Qui chantent les transports de l’esprit et des sens”. BAUDELAIRE, Charles. Correspondances. In Fleurs du mal (1857-1868). Text translated by the author.

 [1] KLEE, Paul. Paul Klee, Cours du Bauhaus-Weimar 1921-1922. Contributions à la théorie de la forme picturale. Paris : Éditions des Musées de Strasbourg-Editions Hazan, 2004, “Cours V” 30/I/1922, note 64, in the quoted edition, on p. 96.

[1] DERRIDA, Jacques. Artes de lo visible (1979-2004). Pontevedra: Eliago Ediciones, 2013, p. 183.

[1] PALAZUELO, Pablo. Palazuelo. Paris: Éditions Maeght, 1980. pp. 146-150. Vid., about this subject: TORRE, Alfonso de la. Le partage des signes-La heredad de los signos. Paris: Université de La Sorbonne-Hermann Éditeurs, Paris, 2014.

Alfonso de la Torre