Music in the air
It would probably not be easy to find a painter who openly admits to being somewhat removed from literature, and even less so from poetry, because all painters –to some extent- will say they are not friends of poets, but assiduous readers of verse, therefore taking it for granted that a personal and fruitful commerce exists. It would be very difficult, I believe, to find any exceptions to this.
Once the relationship between words and images that was based on the ancient ekphrasis had been revoked, the modern tradition -for want of a better name- began weaving a system of connections, to use a Baudelaire-type expression, or equivalences that could no longer rely on the compartmentalization of the old professions and their special rules, but on the contrary: that is to say, on the dissolution of frontiers in the magma of general abstraction —or “total” abstraction as Wagner called it— which coincides with what we call today “Art”, with no distinction of disciplines. Hence the deliquescence usually embraced by painters when having to consider poetry, by virtue of which, and without being more specific, they will immediately announce their affinity and kindred with poets. The opposite case of poets in relation to painting does not -in general- (in general being the key words, as we are fully aware there may be truly magnificent exceptions) go beyond a penchant for the illustrative value of images and what they represent, if they actually do represent anything, of course.
But it is quite different to find a painter who can accredit or prove in an almost forensic manner such a proximity with the art of words, of a more precise and effective way than that which is simply alluded to through the equally artistic condition of the two types of officiants. When I think of it, the most poetic of painters —more authentically a poet and closer to the truth of poetry— who comes to my mind is Alejandro Corujeira. Like Oliverio Girondo, Corujeira was born in the Flores district of Buenos Aires, and settled in Madrid in 1991 when his work formed part of an exhibition held at the Reina Sofía Museum. The exhibition, entitled The School of the South, summarised the wake left by Joaquín Torres-García in later art. In fact, even though Corujeira’s paintings have always had (and indeed still have) many very fine nuances, at that time they embraced a kind of lyrical geometry, which was almost evanescent, very similar to what had been left behind by other Americans, for example the impression made on him by the refined Argentinian painter Alfredo Hlito.
Since then, the Corujeira-space (to call it something) became a base for many other evocations, for many other echoes that enriched and made their density more complex, which paradoxically gradually became simpler. Recognising the genealogy of Klee or Matisse in those paintings is no great feat. But the question is that the space itself was gradually being emptied, vacated, as if the compositions, shall we say, of lines and areas had left room for something more similar to the rhythms of movement. It is that rhythmic consistency, that search for an order in patterns of shapes in space, that could be an indication of what sounds or voices will have in time. This is what concretizes the proximity of Alejandro Corujeira to poetry and foreshadows his condition as a painter-poet, much more so in my opinion than any other, because Corujeira is not only a great reader of poets (thanks to him I have discovered many, and have most gratefully made them my own). But this is not really the matter in hand, and neither is it the fact that the titles of his work could be called “poetic”. It really concerns the exploration of spaces in paintings, where the pattern of time peculiar to music or poetry is lightly inscribed or annotated.
In one of Corujeira’s favourite poems, Roberto Malatesta recalls the different tasks required to cultivate a medlar tree: and so “It is not a matter of carelessly ripping / it is a matter of caring for the medlar as the tree requires; / of respecting the understanding / amongst the elements that remain loyal to it / …” And so we can immediately recognise, especially in certain paintings from 2009 and 2010 such as Air of the Orient and A garden for Agnes (a tribute to Agnes Martin), the inflorescence or flowering or nervations typical of the natural rhythms that have marked the growth of plants with their own particular order.
Around the time of these works, Corujeira had already held exhibitions in museums in Spain and America, had worked with the Marlborough gallery and visited well-known international centres. And just then, when that peak we call professional was confirmed, it was as if the painter became attracted by a kind of silence, the silence of written signs. Series that were painted at a later date, which include works such as Joy or, more precisely, Journals of the wind, were in fact a kind of bare space in which curved lines gravitated like leaves in the air, like Matisse shall we say. But the air —the air that determines the respiratory order of music and poetry— would later become the protagonist. Air is the title, which is most apt, of one of the last paintings that make up this exhibition (other works are entitled Composing a landscape, Writings and Structure of the wind). And it is in these titles that this exploration of space as time comes to an end, as if it were a port of arrival, or what amounts to the same, this exploration of painting as poetry or music, once the writing (or in other words, the annotation of what is heard in the air) describes rhythms and patterns upon the canvas encouraging us to interpret them as sounds, like words that could last, one would say, forever. As if a melody carried on the wind would never end, as if the interpretation of a piece of music could never come to an end.