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RAFAEL CANOGAR. AYER HOY
The fire of modern world, pp. 13-25; A subjective truth, pp. 37-52. Secret royalty of pain, 61-75. Commemorating the visible, pp. 121-130
Fuenlabrada-Madrid, 2017: CEART, Centro de Arte Tomás y Valiente.
The Fire of Modern World
ALFONSO DE LA TORRE
Two paintings open the exhibition. They represent fragments of places, and next to them, nature: a house and its garden (vegetation). The house is protected: in one case, the paths are hidden by the shadows under the summer foliage; in the other, winter light eaten away by trees and a surrounding wall.
Here, gardens, immemorial and mysterious zones, are closed spaces. These paintings are shrouded in shadows; they could be here or there, they seem to speak about the painter (not so much about the place), the creator and his special way of seeing the world. The first one, dated 1949 [cat. 1], shows the garden of his master, Daniel Vázquez Díaz (1882-1969)1, in a street of Madrid called María de Molina. A place invaded by brush and vegetation in the outskirts of the city, next to an abandoned plot: a building is hardly perceived in the shadows2. “Cosa salvaje”3, wild is the garden where Canogar watched Vázquez Díaz painting a picture, on a snowy day, a stain capable of revealing suddenly (by appearing shakingly) an image4.
In addition to what is represented, the picture reminds of the first lessons told by the old painter, who attempted to transmit Cubism to our artist, a very young man then5, an enthusiasm that the master would describe as “fire”. It was, in the words of the Toledo-born painter, an “early vocation” that helped him learn for five years something essential: “some basic rules and structural support for my work, in its already long and complex evolution, that keeps me with the same tension of the first day”6.
The other painting, four years afterwards, is a view of Paisaje de Toledo (1953) [cat. 2], his place of birth and for summer stays during his education, and a space painted by the artist, as backdrop, since his beginnings7. The picture suggests, both chronologically and stylistically, the arrival of the end of his learning period with Vázquez Díaz (new Cubism), and the leap into a universe now dictated by lessons from Klee and Miró. In that last view of Toledo, the building of an old studio, addressed at Paseo del Tránsito, is displayed in a dim light, under cold air and with leafless trees, specific lines, planes and diagonals seem to refer to the encounter of our painter with the fire of modern world8,a transition driven by the lessons of his lonesome master: “I feel and I think to the rhythm of my time. The fire of modern art makes me live passionately. That which I can no longer do should be continued now by my disciples, transmitting that fire, that passion that made me shudder so much”9. Looking at these first landscapes by Canogar, they reminded me of Carlo Carrá or Ottone Rosai, members of that school of painting called “metaphysical”, that is, thinking and painting. A poet, Adriano del Valle, the first writer on Canogar’s painting, mentioned other names as well: Gino Severini, Braque or Picasso, among others, while seeing the rigorous density of his planes10.
I will mention later on in this publication, his “other” Toledo (1960), a picture made ten years afterwards, and an example of his new way of looking at the world, already from an informalist perspective. This canvas is located at the Spanish Museum of Abstract Art in Cuenca, after having been exhibited in New York MoMA’s The New Spanish Painting in the summer of 196011.
As a knight of solitude12, Canogar addressed those landscape paintings vindicating that theory of “minumum resources, full power”, praising spaces and silent architectures, a shaking immortal world, the representation of special arrière-pays13. Landscapes that remind of Cesare Pavese’s description: “Nothing happens here anymore. There is a little bit of land and a horizon. You can live here forever (…) immortal is that who accepts the instant. Who no longer knows if there will be a tomorrow. But, if you like the word, just say it! Did you really get that far?”14
Images conveying the symbols, but also the singular choice of his look and the start of the narration through a continuous line: the “Yesterday today”, the title of our exhibition, without censure, the career of an artist with similar tensions15. More than sixty years have passed, but the garden of his master and the view of Toledo match well with the latest compositions that the artist concluded this last winter. These recent ones, like those old paintings, display an allover touch, they are polyphonic and have unlimited surfaces, invaded by extolled painting where pigments meet and Canogar exercises free wisdom among shaking atmospheres and glints of color. Recent paintings evoking walls, falls and summers, pictorial extensions, atlases or seas, lands and glaciers. Again, a world saturated by various impressions and different levels of vision. Moving between the sketch and the large format, Canogar expands now the painting by adding layers of color that, extended over the surface and pressed by his hand, evoke a three-dimensional world, but also his painting seems to recall how deep is depth or the shadows of that garden. Pictorial space that looks like reality in flames, night without stars, made up of earth or stellar sky. The fire that his old master taught him.
Canogar creates these new 2016-2017 paintings sometimes as a polyptych system, by joining two or three supports that follow a certain order, and alludes to an allover geometry. Geometry formed by the rhythms and the different symbols in the surfaces. In this case, the artist seems to remind that his painting always tempted the three-dimensions, the relief, and the elevation or, else, suggested elevation.
And I’m reading the words by Adriano del Valle on Canogar, when the latter was barely 20 years old, in 1954. His reflections on color could help to describe the latest paintings: “murmuring, optical, savoring colors, sensitized by a visual shudder; tactile colors.” Also, through sinuous strokes in those first pictures that the poet mentioned, lines that waited in the support, moving nervously, tensed16, as if expecting a discovery. Representations that evoke certain inebriation in the landscape, full of ineffable and unlimited energy, as expressed by Rosenblum17. Between yesterday and today, more than six decades separate these paintings, which allow to see the coherence of a career where, in addition to the investigation on visual issues and the mysteries of representation and the images, there was a strong evolution in his way of being and thinking as artist, following the words of another poet, Frank O’Hara18. Light or darkness, the encounter between shadow and glint will be one of the rules in his job, reminding at this point the nice words by Françoise Choay when looking at the works that Canogar exhibited in 1959 in Paris: “D’une touche large, il la fait jaillir brutalement du heurt de l’ombre et de la lumière”19.
KLEE. A painter of milky ways, said Manolo Millares of Canogar20; in 1953, our artist started a set of paintings that seem to refer to a phosphorescent Kleeian world. They are the starting point (leaving behind the old and useful lessons of his master Vázquez Díaz) in his journey to the informalist world, materialized in barely those fifteen Kleeian pictures.
From the intensity (in the words of Millares) of the large space in the barren plateau21, this is a series of atmosphere-based paintings, canvases that reveal how our artist admired Paul Klee, and also Joan Miró22, who was obsessed by Normandy’s sky. These two painters were highly appreciated by the young Spanish painters of that time (exemplified in the group “Dau al Set”, the legitimate inheritors of the Kleeian premonition, using a term coined by Cirlot23). At his point, it is important to remember the early tribute that “Dau al Set” paid to Klee (1950), on the tenth anniversary of his death24. As Sebastià Gasch wrote, all the painters of that time would end up remembering Klee25, who represented a fierce place of settlement for subsequent take-offs. This was also perceived by our young Kleeian artist in those paintings from the mid-50s: signs, stars or forms floating in the space, glints, constellation-like texts that helped him evoke the sign-based world tempted by Miró or Klee, his poetic, ancestral and inscrutable ritual. All of which seemed to be necessary, another new fire, for leading him to informal art, revealing the way that the Kleeian root could grow26. Showing the journey from the Kleeian pictures, the subsequent matter-based ones, to the immediate informal world. This was summarized by the artist as follows: “My first stage corresponds to 1954 and part of 1955 (Canogar wrote to Cirlot in 1959), and it is clearly influenced by Miró’s magical world, as you will see in the pictures attached. The technique used was casein tempera mixed with pigments, lithographic ink and, in specific parts, glazing on the tempera. The colors are usually dark, and certain parts painted in a very bright color stand over them. Of this time was my exhibition in Paris (catalogue attached) and also the painting published in ‘Cimaise’ magazine in 1955”27.
Canogar was a precocious abstract artist, along with those at Dau al Set group in Catalonia, or at Pórtico group in Zaragoza, also Palazuelo and Chillida who were then in Paris, and Oteiza, settled in Madrid in that time28. In 1955, these paintings formed part of his first exhibition in Paris, in Arnaud Gallery, at Rue du Four. About this influence, limited to this period 1954-1955 (shown as an example in the picture Sin título (1955) [cat. 3] exhibited at CEART), Canogar explained: “Klee was a fantastic artist, with a huge creative and, above all, deep capacity, with magic and mystery. But his work was excessive to me: too many proposals, too many already used techniques. I realized that I had to limit my work in a formal manner. And I found the necessary support in Miró; the third leg needed to hold the platform of my required aesthetic support. Both were surrealist in their origins and took me beyond the contributions of Cubism and the aesthetic certainties of the abstract art of that time. Klee and Miró gave me the support needed to penetrate the world of expressionist abstraction. Where did I first hear of Klee and Miró? I honestly do not remember. It is clear that I already knew them in my first journey to Paris in 1954, but before that, in Madrid, I am sure that I already saw works by them in books. We had little information but managed to find something about them. I used to go to Buchholz bookstore and gallery and also to Clan gallery, where you could always find very interesting books, which were food for my hunger of knowledge and curiosity”29. Canogar’s impression has been similar to that stated by many informalist artists: Klee and Miró as the duet that led them to the abstract world. When the presence of Klee’s influence in the new artists or movements that arose in Spain in the 50s is analyzed, one of the conclusions is the omnipresence of his teachings. There was an early admiration, mainly derived from the artistic community, which took different directions, with the essential one being Eduardo Westerdahl and his encounter with Baumeister-Faber-Goeritz, who guided the early activities of postwar modernity and knew very well and spread the work of Klee. The recovery of this figure was not exclusive of our country, it was an international issue in that time, after his death in 1940, and had a turning point in the special hall that the 24 Biennale di Venecia (1948) dedicated to him, as well as the exhibition held in Paris on that same year, which was the Kleeian year globally, when considering its impact on informal art and, also, on American abstract expressionism, as pointed out by Greenberg30. “In Europe, they are attempting to establish a new state of mind”, said Westerdahl when talking about Klee’s exhibition in Bern (1935)31. And reflecting on why Rafael Canogar also favored that model, it should be mentioned that the work and thoughts of the Bern-born painter proposed a singular and silent challenge to the visual rhetoric of that time, as expressed by Justi or Westerdahl: “this way, he is getting close to the state of mind shown by emotional men after the horrors of the war and subsequent years: scared, excitable, escaping from the seriousness of destiny”32. Escaping from the seriousness of a destiny, very difficult in the Spain of that time33, Canogar shared the desideratum of the Kleeian work: the possibility of creating different forms versus the overused proposals based on the representation or the worn out influence of cubism, an omnipresent issue in that time, stressed in our country by the notoriety of Picasso, which in this case also reached Canogar through the school of his master at María de Molina Street. Klee was the artist “without dust”, a living being, not a corpse34, the creator who proposed hidden regions and splendors (terms frequently evoked when referring to Klee), and a model capable of putting an end to artistic monotony35. An artist who “would throw the arrows of the future”36, a work that would mean “a low blow to the established universal boredom”37. It was extraordinary that from “the highest towers of silence”38 a contained and anti-rhetorical painter influenced so much the work of young artists, and his books filled the shelves in bookstores, as predicted in writing by Douglas Cooper in 1949: his art would be a source of influence for the next one hundred years39. It is also important the relationship that Canogar establishes between Klee’s paintings and music, something that is noticed in certain pictures of this period (circa 1955-1956) that display “musical rhythm”: “Paul Klee loved music and was a virtuoso who used frequently musical rhythms, translated into colors, to take his painting to a specific lyricism. Miró reduced gradually his environment to symbolic elements, like man, woman, sex, stairs, moon, sun, etc. Very schematic and symbolic elements, typical of his own universe, that despite their abstraction, are still recognizable. Abstract expressionism or informalism was the trend that marked a new frontier as it attempted (though never managed to break with reality) to do a completely new abstraction. In any case, informalism broke with all aesthetic compositions of the previous abstract geometrism. It required larger fantasies, believing in other possible worlds, those absolutely explosive pictorial expressions, full of rupture, unknown, incredible experiences, shouts…It is obvious that during my learning phase I was influenced by Paul Klee or Miró… My introduction to abstract art made my painting become specifically mine with abstract expressionism, that is, with informalism”40.
1 Rafael Canogar made a gloss on Daniel Vázquez Díaz, a man he always considered to be an artist. CANOGAR, Rafael. In memory of Daniel Vázquez Díaz. Madrid: Reina Sofía Art Center National Museum (2004). In that gloss, he remembered the young painters who used to go to the studio, like Cristino de Vera or Agustín Ibarrola, or artists such as José Caballero, Javier Clavo, Díaz Caneja, or art critics like José Hierro and Moreno Galván, in Ibid. And more recently: Moncloa Cultural Center, Vázquez Díaz and his Disciples, Madrid, February 16 – March 31, 2016. This included works by: Rafael Botí, José Caballero, Rafael Canogar, Luis Caruncho, Javier Clavo, Juan Manuel Díaz Caneja, Agustín Ibarrola Juan Antonio Morales and Pablo Zelaya.
2 “I posed in an inside room of the ground floor of his studio, which faced an abandoned plot with trees and brush, which could have been a beautiful garden away from the growing noise of María de Molina Street.” LAFUENTE FERRARI, Enrique. Memory of Daniel Vázquez Díaz in his Centenary. Madrid: Fine Arts Royal Academy of San Fernando, Boletín y Anales, no. 57, 1983, p. 10. See the description made by Canogar of this studio, as well as influences, visits and garden in: BEOTAS, Enrique and SEMPERE, Pedro. Los pasos de Canogar. Madrid: Quindici Editores, 2006, pp. 209-210.
3 So describes Canogar the “horribly neglected garden (….) Vázquez Díaz said that it was because he liked wild things. Then I knew that he did not like taking care of the garden, he never touched it, so everything grew on its own.”, in Ibid., p. 144.
4 “(…) the master no longer used to paint that much, new works only appeared occasionally; one of them came up, before my eyes, one cold and snowy morning. Daniel was telling us how beautiful the garden was, and could not resist the temptation of making an oil stain on cardboard in that same place: a revelation of his mastery and sensitivity executed in few minutes.” CANOGAR, Rafael. In memory of Daniel Vázquez Díaz. Op. cit.
5 Let’s not forget that Canogar was 14 years old and his master around 70.
6 CANOGAR, Rafael. Apuntes sobre el marco y la realidad (Notes on the Frame and Reality). Madrid: Fine Arts Royal Academy of San Fernando, speech, 31/V/1998, p. 14.
7 Toledo will live on in the work of Canogar. So was pointed out by the artist: “I have always been in touch with my hometown, in one way or another. I have never been far from specific activities performed there. They called me, they consulted me… and it is a city I simply love. Every time I go to Toledo, indeed, I reencounter my past, my history and my roots. I left Toledo being a child, but through my mother and family, I could always experience the singular circumstances of a city with that huge, important historic heritage, which can also be a burden. I always tried to escape from that burden, but at the same time, I think that it also helped to conform my way of being and understanding art. Toledo deserves all my recognition. It has always been a backdrop in my life and my work. I have dedicated many of my paintings to Toledo. One of them, essential in my informalist period, is exhibited in the Museum of Abstract Art in Cuenca, with the title of “Toledo”. At the Toledo Royal Foundation there is another one, also titled “Toledo”. Gregorio Marañón, in his country house of Toledo, also has another painting titled “Toledo”. There is also a three-meter long picture, which is very important to me, in the collection of Plácido Arango, and is also dedicated to Toledo. This specific painting was inspired by the giant Saint Christopher figure at the Cathedral. It is like two huge testicles. This is a picture with an especial interest to me. At the end of my informalist period, I dedicated lots of paintings to that Baroque art found in specific areas of Toledo’s Cathedral, with such titles as “El Transparente”… So, it has always been present, in a cultural and pictorial manner, as backdrop, in my work.” BEOTAS, Enrique and SEMPERE, Pedro. Los pasos de Canogar. Op. cit., pp. 209-210.
8 Paisaje de Galicia (1950) or Las barcas (1953). Canogar mentioned that it was in Vázquez Díaz’s studio when he first heard of painters like Braque, Picasso or Miró. The painter showed this picture in: Canogar Exhibition. Altamira Gallery, Madrid, February 6-20, 1954.
9 CANOGAR, Rafael. In memory of Daniel Vázquez Díaz. Op. cit.
10 “The portraits, landscapes and still lives that Canogar exhibits, interfere with and interchange their own linear volumes, the rigorous density of his planes not in a dissimilar manner, but rather similarly related to this vegetable family, whose most incredible arabesque includes Cubist repercussions. Hence, Pablo Ruiz Picasso’s guitar, Severini’s mandolin and the violin of Raúl Dufy and Matisse. That is, climate and atmosphere of the cube, the cone and the cylinder, geometrical elements that lie, as the prophet Daniel, among the lions, among the “beasts”. Air and wind over Toledo, which is glimpsed from the country houses next to the riverbanks of the Tagus. Those paintings by the young painter Canogar are like open windows that remind of El Greco, Picasso and Vázquez Díaz, the air and light of the best paintings (sic.) ever made.” DEL VALLE, Adriano. Rafael Canogar. Madrid: Altamira Galery, 1954 (Exhibition on February 6-20, 1954). Canogar also said about this particular: “(…) names mentioned by my master or, at the studio, by other painters or visitors that I first heard of. Names like Picasso, Miró, or Juan Gris, of whom he told us lots of anecdotes and, at the same time, he showed us a small picture where he had painted a humble room with a packing cardboard case where apparently slept Juan Gris to shelter from the cold in that small space, which was at the same time home, studio and bedroom.” CANOGAR, Rafael. In memory of Daniel Vázquez Díaz. Op. cit.
11 Indeed, Toledo (1960), as will be explainer later on, was one of the paintings included in the exhibition held at The Museum of Modern Art, in New York. It was placed right at the entrance of the exhibition: New Spanish Painting and Sculpture, New York, July 20-September 25, 1960. Itinerant exhibition in The Corcoran Gallery, Washington, October 31 – November 28, 1960; Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Columbus, Ohio, January 3-31, 1961; Washington University, Steinburg Hall, St. Louis, Missouri, February 16-March 16, 1961; Joe & Emily Lowe Art Gallery, Coral Gables, Florida, April 1-29, 1961; Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute, San Antonio, Texas, May 15-June 12, 1961; Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, July 19-August 27, 1961; Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, New Orleans, Louisiana, September 18-October 16, 1961; Art Gallery of Toronto, Toronto, November 1-29, 1961; Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire, December 15, 1961-January 12, 1962.
12 DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Pablo Palazuelo: el caballero de la soledad (The Knight of Solitude). Madrid: Fernández-Braso Gallery (2016). The term corresponds to: FAVRE, Louis-Paul. Palazuelo. Chevalier de la solitude. Paris: Combat-Le journal de Paris, no. 3327, 14/III/1955, p. 7.
13 BONNEFOY, Yves. L’Arrière-pays. Paris: Mercure de France, 2001.
14 PAVESE, Cesare. Diálogos con Leucó. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Siglo Veinte, 1968, p. 127.
15 CANOGAR, Rafael. Apuntes sobre el marco y la realidad (Notes on the Frame and Reality). Op. cit. p. 14.
16 “As many of you know, I had an early vocation; with 14 years old I was knocking on painter Daniel Vázquez Díaz’s door. I was rightly recommended to go and meet him, and ask him if I could study with him. With Vázquez Díaz I learned some basic rules and structural support for my work, in its already long and complex evolution, that keeps me with the same tension of the first day”. CANOGAR, Rafael. Apuntes sobre el marco y la realidad (Notes on the Frame and Reality). Speech read by his Excellency, the elected academician, Mr. Rafael Canogar on May 31, 1998 by virtue of his reception and response from his Excellency, the academician Mr. Antonio Fernández Alba. Madrid: Fine Arts Royal Academy of San Fernando, 1998.
17 Robert Rosenblum (1927-2006) alluded to him in “The Abstract Sublime” (ARTnews59, no. 10, New York, II/1961, pp. 38-41), establishing the contemporary critic the known thesis that related the birth of pictorial abstraction to the landscape spirit, specially the 19th century landscape and the US and northern European romantic tradition. A journey, as proposed by Rosenblum, that would start from the Friedrich’s ice and would end with Gottlieb’s moon painting or Rothko’s imposing color fields. To Rosenblum, the sublime, as inaccurate and irrational as the feelings he was trying to describe, could be applied to both art and nature: in fact, one of its capital expressions would be painting, the representation of sublime landscapes. This issue between abstraction and landscape was alluded in: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. La ilimitada energía del paisaje (The Unlimited Energy of Landscape). San Juan de la Peña Monastery: Regional Government of Aragón, 2007, pp. 19-31.
18 “(…) the freedom of figurative reference in Canogar’s powerful action-paintings which proceeds from the subconscious rather than the visual, these are all individual re-interpretations of recognized modern plastic procedures. (…) plunge ahead into areas of expression”. O’HARA, Frank. New Spanish Painting. New York: MoMA, Museum of Modern Art, 1960, cat. exp. This exhibition will be analyzed later on.
19 CHOAY, Françoise. “L’école espagnole”. Paris: L’Oeil, no. 51, March 1959, p. 15. By reason of the exhibition at: Musée des Arts Décoratifs, La jeune peinture espagnole-13 Peintres espagnols actuels, Paris, May 20-June 30, 1959. The catalogue, whose cover is a sign-based drawing by Julián Santamaría, was prologued by José Miguel Ruiz Morales (General Director for Cultural Relationships) and Jacques Guerin (Conservateur en Chef du Musée des Arts Décoratifs). The alluded Françoise Choay, curator at Musée des Arts Décoratifs, was, along with François Mathey, in charge of the Organization Committee of the exhibition. The following artists took part: Rafael Canogar, Modesto Cuixart, Luis Feito, Alfonso Mier, Manolo Millares, Lucio Muñoz, Pablo Palazuelo, Manuel Rivera, Antonio Saura, Antonio Suárez, Juan José Tharrats, Vicente Vela and Manuel Viola.
20 “That is why, Canogar, who was already known as a painter of heights, of milky ways, offers now paintings of farmlands, crossed by deep furrows in search of a fruit that will never be born. And exactly as he previously painted the intensity of uncultivated plateaus, he paints now all cardinal points to teach us that root equals stone, flower equals mud and time equals dust.” SANCHO NEGRO [MILLARES, Manolo]. Canogar. Madrid: “Punta Europa”, in Nueva Galería Punta Europa, no. 30, June 1958, p. 147.
22 “Joan Miró was (I always said so) the spiritual master of my generation, the bridge or link that helped me stay in the avant-garde, even in the darkest periods of our recent history. A long time has passed since the 50s, but Miró is still in my mind because his example and lessons are still valid. The radicalness, audacity and, at the same time, the lyricism of his work transmit the same usual surprise. His pictures are magic worlds and spaces, a modern ‘Garden of Delights’, full of strange beings, constellations, exotic animals, impossible objects, and thousand fantasies. A constant invitation to participate in his inexhaustible universe of feelings, ideas and beauty.” Rafael Canogar to Miguel Muñoz: MUÑOZ, Miguel Ángel. Espejismo y realidad. Divergencias críticas. Madrid: Editorial Síntesis, 2011, p. 61.
23 CIRLOT, Juan-Eduardo. Magicismo plástico, en Diccionario de los Ismos. Barcelona: Argos, 1949, p. 215. As so mentioned in the first exhibition at Barcelona French Institute (1950).
24 Hommage à Paul Klee. Barcelona: Dau al Set, 15/VI/1950. Text in French by Joan-Josep Tharrats, illustrated with eight drawings, colored by hand; 8 pages. In addition the luxury edition incorporated three original watercolors by Tharrats, mounted on black poster board. Issue celebrating the tenth anniversary of Paul Klee’s death. A four-page supplement containing a facsimile with a drawing by Klee was handed over: Fabourg de Beride, and opinions about the painter: Josep Maria de Sucre, Mathias Goeritz, Juan Antonio Gaya Nuño, Ángel Marsá and Juan-Eduardo Cirlot. The latter will be the translator of the first books edited on Klee in the Spanish postwar period written by Joseph-Emile Muller, and edited by Gustavo Gili: Klee, Cuadrados mágicos and Klee, Figuras y máscaras (Barcelona, 1957 y 1961). Also, the numerous occasions in which Club 49 and Hot Club illustrated their activities with copies of works by Klee, among others: Review of the film Die Nibelungen by Fritz Lang (25/XI/1953); Projection of five great French awarded documentary films (16/XII/1953); Cycle of three full auditions of Bela Bartok’s cord quartets, with comments by Joaquin Homs and recordings from Pere Casadevall (I/II/1954).
25 GASCH, Sebastià. “La pujante personalidad de Juan Ponç”. Barcelona: Destino, no. 772, 24/V/1952, p. 22.
26 Words of Miró, brought by Tàpies. TÀPIES, Antoni. Memoria personal. Fragmento para una autobiografía. Barcelona: Seix Barral, 2003, p. 217. “Miró said: More than the picture itself, what really matters is the seed it sows. Art can die, a picture can be destroyed. The important thing is the seed, from which other things can grow.”
27 CIRLOT, Lourdes-CIRLOT, Juan-Eduardo. De la crítica a la filosofía del arte. Barcelona: Quaderns Crema, 1997, pp. 34-36. Letter from 28/10/1959.
28 This issue was deeply covered in: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. “Oteiza. Del arte oficial al silencio”. In La sombra de Oteiza en el arte español de los cincuenta. Alzuza-Zaragoza: Oteiza-Ibercaja Museum, 2007.
29 Conversation between Rafael Canogar and this author (2012).
30 Clement Greenberg, Joan Miró. New York: Quadrangle Press, 1948. Cf. Also, on the influence in the School of Paris: DORIVAL, Bernard, Los pintores célebres. Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 1963. “Miró, Paul Klee, above all, seem to be the ancestors that those painters can invoke”, Ibid., p. 24.
31 AAVV, “Index of Exhibitions.” Santa Cruz de Tenerife: gaceta de arte, no. 35, III/1935, p. 4.
32 WESTERDAHL, Eduardo. “Paul klee: fugas de lo real, en dramatismo y concreción en la plástica contemporánea”. Santa Cruz de Tenerife: gaceta de arte, no. 15, V/1933, p. 1.
33 From Antonio Saura, mentioned by: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. “Tiempo de cardo y ceniza”. In Abstracción. Del grupo Pórtico al Centro de Cálculo. 1948-1968. Madrid: Guillermo de Osma Gallery, 2015.
34 “We do not honor the dead, we just pay tribute to the remaining life of the moving corpses whose presence disturbs us.” J. V. Manuel [VIOLA]. Paul Klee. Paris: La Main à plume, V/1941, p. 11.
35 Ibid. “(…) we oppose Klee’s poetic plastic to any excremential painting, from Academicism to imitative Modernism, and all types of figuration desensitizing painters (…)”.
36 J. V. Manuel [VIOLA], Paul Klee. Op. cit.
37 CHAMORRO, Paloma. Conversación con Cuixart. Madrid: Ediciones Rayuela, 1975, p. 41.
38 J. V. Manuel [VIOLA], Paul Klee. Op. cit.
39 COOPER, Douglas. Paul Klee. Middlesex: The Penguin Modern Painters, 1949, p. 14: “Klee’s work, and especially his writings (…) will be a rich source for discovering many qualities that must go to form the new artistic synthesis, the art of the next hundred years (…)”. A good example of this would be the Tribute to Paul Klee, that promoted Goeritz in that time with the help of Ferrant at Palma Gallery in Madrid, “for revering” Paul Klee, during 1948. Artistas Nuevos (New Artists) Collection. Madrid: Palma Gallery (Clan Bookstore), printed in Gráficas Reunidas, November 1948. Made with the collaboration of Paul Klee-Gesellschaft and H. Meyer-Benteli.
40 Canogar in: BEOTAS, Enrique and SEMPERE, Pedro. Los pasos de Canogar. Op. cit., pp. 47-48.
A Subjective Truth
ALFONSO DE LA TORRE
Remnants of symbols, old writings and crystallized signs, evoking the memory of the walls to which Brassaï paid attention, or also reminding of Les Murs by Dubuffet, or certain “Tracks” or wakes found in the universe of the latter. The recognized signs seem to mix and also, at times, move apart, leaving a polarized space. The memory of a recent past from an inveterate Kleeian, this way of painting, this search for light, is shown in one of the paintings that illustrate this text, specifically, Untitled (1957) [cat. 4], which belongs to the collection of the director of the National Museum of Contemporary Art, José Luis Fernández del Amo1, one of the first and symbolic supports to the new painters in that languishing and hopeful Madrid in the mid-50s. Searching for light in paintings that have an atmosphere similar to those of Joan Mitchell, which was one of the ineffable objectives expressed by Rafael Canogar as task for this current time. And to explain this, the artist used a 1959 text, a beautiful metaphor: the inquiry around the capture of “steel-like light”2 that, prevailing over the form, would cooperate in the emergence from the dark void, from the images3. A blindness from the glints of white or brown arising from blackness, like a frozen, fossilized track4. Images raised in the inapprehensible mystery of their entity. New Images? Maybe one of the most categorical statements that should be underlined about the decades of work by this artist is his capacity to create images.
I choose this reflection, the tireless search for light generating visual forms, his concern about this, a distressing and titanic task, a nervous attitude specific to the great creators because, when looking at his recent works after more than sixty years of creative activity, one concludes that his unceasing exploration performed under different attitudes and expression methods has accompanied him during his work as artist5. In my opinion, in his recent works returns the dialog that made me stop and look, a long time ago, the ineffable Toledo (1960) [p. 17], hung in the Spanish Museum of Abstract Art in Cuenca, which is the mirror of the mystic depth of our landscape, in front of the gorge by River Huécar: a painting capable of distilling expression without disdaining contention, thick strokes and details of bright colors compatible with a special restraint. With regard to the compatibility between gesture and measurement, Canogar has offered in his work a distinguished position, characterized precisely by expressive delicateness, elegant action and praise of quietude, a reflection capable of also lauding (in an unapologetic manner) the paralyzed painting. Objective randomness in the style of Breton, pictorial inebriation, we mentioned in our previous text of this publication that Canogar has always proposed a delicate transfiguration of the expression, tempting the forms immersed in the depth of space. And, surprisingly, this artist will not be just a Tachist painter, a clashing and sectarian defender of art autre, an immoderate example of the “Veta Brava-style”, but rather he will join a certain attitude of painters dazzled at the mysteries of the surrounding world, creators who have explored the disturbing sense of nature, the darkness of the organic world and its interrogations that so much admired the surrealist artists; without allying with those who remained faithful to perform other type of gestures on the canvas: more knowledge than excess. Art that rejects the shout. In this sense, it was very appropriate the encounter of his work in the wall with those by Riopelle and Appel at the exhibition Otro arte (1957), in Madrid’s gallery Sala Negra, illustrated in these pages6. Or the proximity to paintings by Pollock, Wols, Fautrier, Mathieu or Paul Jenkins. His color extensions are a kingdom of reality, but also of the oneiric (the form lost faith in this stupefying art)7, Canogar’s creations evoked some years before, as explained, the Kleeian gleam, coming from nowhere, making me remember at this point that sentence by Michaux about the world’s enigmas, whose response may also be, why not, a big silence8: as art is essentially a mysterious dialog with Universe, it deserves the enigma as response. Representing the terrestrial, that which is here and palpable, but without disdaining the air (flying): that seems to be the purpose of our artist in his work with color stains rhythmically applied (see here his Serie Negra nº 2 (1959) [cat. 6], exhibited now at CEART), raised by Canogar in a secular manner on the void of the canvas. Extension of color without renouncing to explore the depth of space, proposing the deployment around the space beyond, which is both intense and distant. This is the case in the exhibited Painting number 24 (1958) [cat. 5], an interrogation of the forms focused on their own existence and, eventually, evocation of images that come and go, as the universe, water or atmosphere, seas and skies, like that desire by a painter from Bern to evoke regions ruled by other laws for which new symbols should be found, hunting for that unknown cosmic space. Or what would be the same: the desire to apprehend the infiniteness, a transfiguration finding that infiniteness through dancing forms.
On his journey to the informal world, Canogar wrote to Cirlot: “Shortly after this time, I started to become interested in backgrounds with compact and dry matter (gypsum), with monochrome and mostly dark coloring. My previous forms were replaced with simple lines, with “musical rhythm”, sometimes drawn over the matter others superposed, as the only way to provide a specific meaning, to prevent matter from adopting a general meaning. In some of these paintings, their single line, drawn over the matter, crosses vertically the surface of the canvas. The technique used for creating the first matter was a mixture of oil and sand and, sometimes, also cement, in order to achieve large reliefs. In this case, my way of working was with the painting placed horizontally, on which I poured the casein solution, mixed with pigment, which, as a result of its liquid state, entered the incisions and ridges of the matter. The first exhibited painting of this time was in Barcelona Latin American Biennial and at art gallery “Número” in Florence (catalogue attached). The period of these paintings goes approximately from mid-1955 to March 1956. After my journey to Italy, that is, May 1956, I started the works published in the small catalogue of the “Ateneo” The technique of those paintings is still casein and, in some parts, a bit of oil (just in two or three of them I added a piece of sackcloth). In this particular time, I only painted about fifteen pictures. In fact, it was a experience that I soon abandoned, as in this same year, and almost at the same time, I was working on another line (I think that I already sent you some pictures of these first paintings), but they were not exhibited until 1957, in the exhibition Arte Otro (Other Art) that took place (February) in Madrid. The painting published in the cover of the catalogue for the “Ateneo” was made in January 1957 specifically for the catalogue, as I was interested in including specific works even though they could look a bit isolated9.” Later, Cirlot will refer to the appearances of a crackling, dense, mysterious and sharp form, stressing that it is: “a sort of orogeny temblor”10. That allusion to the mystery, to the flickering orogeny, could be evoked in the beautiful Negros (1961) [cat. 7], present in the exhibition.
The creative origin of this artist must be linked to a revisited specific Spanish tradition of still lights (heritage from our 50s that would deserve a deep reflection, almost a reinterpretation, on a history accustomed to categorizing rather than thinking), in this case embodied by one of the beacons of that time, Daniel Vázquez Díaz, and also by the Kleeian heritage, which was the international key that helped understand the appearance of the new postwar painters, both those linked to US abstract expressionism and Klee’s antirethorical painting or, in Spain, in the most modest but varied works of the Madrid-based bookseller Karl Buchholz11. In that sense, the Kleeian horizon was in Canogar an additional symptom of his intense search, of the sincere desire to find depth in a time of so much overreaction.
That starting point, so singular and anti-rethorical, helped Canogar build that first constellation-like world already described, essential pictorial forms that, sheltered by a new surrealist light, a specific surrealism revisited by young painters, joined some poetic verses recited in a low voice, as if coming from a distant place. This Kleeian world around 1954-1955, proposed by Canogar, was a constellation by itself, full of twinkling blue and black spaces, of “increased details”, using a term coined by Cirlot12, a man that had light and freedom in his look (inseparable elements of his personality), and which seemed to be essential issues in that early period. These are signs, no so much as mere irritable arrangement of forms, without any sense, as “expression of an active vital energy (…), using his own words, to create structures that complement each other, in search of a rhythm (…) expansive tension created by structures of signs that compress the world and at the same time extend their limits infinitely”13. Referring to his work of the end of the 50s, evoking the “bare and ungrateful cromia”, alluded by Crispolti14, Canogar’s painting turned extraordinarily complex, capable of linking the tonal sobriety (that “bareness” alluded by Enrico) to a radiant profusion, reminding of an exploration around organic matter through areas of striking color, passing (with unusual mastery) from the desolation of gray tones (his origins in the Spanish plateau) to the violent burning of colors, following the quote by Françoise Choay referred to previously. Canogar seemed to propose himself here as a painter capable of using color (that singular lunacy of light, as Blanchot said), as distinguishing mark from his beginnings. More complexity involves more richness, a free look on the figurative reference by poet and MoMA curator, Frank O’Hara, in 1960, who glimpsed the future career of an artist who, after that time, became an implacable pursuer of new images: “the freedom of figurative reference in Canogar’s powerful action-paintings which proceeds from the subconscious rather than the visual, these are all individual re-interpretations of recognized modern plastic procedures”15.
Canogar’s freedom, which sometimes became palpable anxiety for the creation of new worlds of images, was analyzed by his companion of “El Paso” group, Manolo Millares, as deeply connected to his origins in the Spanish plateau, from which the almost terrestrial depth of his pictorial works seem to emerge, a flâneur painter walking on a mud and glass road16: “In a plateau where land and sky often blend together, Rafael Canogar’s art is fully justified. Without delimitation, without a milestone marking that which starts and ends, in confused boundaries, without horizons, where only an absurd line raises the soft voice of a distant bird; this landscape, in the middle of Spain, with desolate sky, penetrates the soul of the Castilian painter, providing him with sullen vocabulary and expressive theme. Rafael Canogar, a painter rooted in the middle of Spain in its dramatic dimension, knew and wanted to see things that others did not; that which the earth hides in its strata, the soft hilltops, like paunches of animals; the lost Tertiary deposits, the first sediments of cretaceous formation and that eternal blending between land and sky”17.
So that allusion to the freedom of figurative references guessed by O’Hara in 1960, was a premonition of Canogar’s future work. The artist made the following reflection in those same years: “The style of our epoch can be surprising for its chaotic look. And yet I would like to come down to earth, come in contact with reality, create organic, living forms, because art can no longer (today less than ever) become dehumanized. I think that the separation between abstraction and figuration must be overcome, and reality should be focused from a different perspective, by finding it within its subjective and intimate truth18.” And also in plasticity as the 60s progressed, where corporeal forms, earthly figures coated with mineral anonymity, petrified forms (in the words of Amón)19, like a body battered by time, became relevant. This can be already noted in Personaje nº 8 (1961) [cat. 8], present in our exhibition, the movement occurs, almost silently, with the appearance of two early paintings: Cuatro imágenes de un astronauta (1964) [cat. 9] and La parturienta (1965) [cat. 10]. His reflection was framed in a universal context, rather than limited to the historic circumstances of our country. Cosmic pain and sorrow very much in line with the introspection that Cirlot transcribed as “(…) the call by a multitude without name, whose destination is void, shadow and ashes (…)”20.
Objectified body, as if raised from the ashes of vacuum, innumerable body longing for painting, materialized body. Canogar defended a type of work bordering with other trends, crossing different creative periods, and maintaining that constant reflection on space and color.
Epiphany of the abyss, represented by forms, those energies capable of tempting invisibility.
1 Architect José Luis Fernández del Amo (1914-1995) was the director between 1952 and 1958 of the National Museum of Contemporary Art. He prologued the catalog of his 1957 exhibition at Madrid Athenaeum with these words: Canogar. To the viewer: “The artist is presenting to you some surfaces with matter, forms, color that provide you, through their own real texture, with a special (plastic) delight for your spirit. We should leave you alone now. There should be no guides for an act of love. From this moment, the rest is up to you. So open your eyes and look. The show starts. Forget about the brochure, throw away the catalogue! Do not see the numbers. Do not put your memory to work: the artist did not practice faithfulness. It is just that a piece of unsuspected world has been created for you.” In Ibid.
2 CANOGAR, Rafael. Tener los pies en la tierra (Down to Earth). Madrid-Palma de Mallorca: Papeles de Son Armadans (Son Armadans Papers) (dedicated to “El Paso” Group), year IV, volume XIII, no. 37, IV/1959, pp. 70-72.
3 “In my paintings, light prevails over forms, bathing their most projecting parts and creating images that arise from darkness. A steel-like light touches my paintings, forming nightmare landscapes under a thick and black sky. The painting, once finished, and maybe because of the effort (even physical) involved in the creation, must be respected, set free, and forgotten as it already has a life of its own.” CANOGAR, Rafael. In Ibid.
4 “The implicit ambiguity of the “informal” language allowed me to express, through a thick writing, the symbolic representation of the “Earth-Water” or “Solid-Liquid” elements, which also reflected my way of working. A surface where the gesture directly made with the hand has been marked, like a frozen, fossilized track: grooves on the canvas surface, like the Castilian farmer ploughing the land. Grooves that emerged on placing the oil over the canvas, creating a tissue of revealing signs of metaphoric realities and personal obsessions, sometimes erotic, when that organic tissue is built with erogenous allusions, but also with monstrous appearances, as he thought that what in life can be ugly, in painting can be lively and expressive and, therefore, beautiful: this is the great lesson learned from Goya’s black paintings. This was a time of hard work and intense vitality. Consequently, with that vitality I did not want to domesticate those forces. Informalism allowed me to create works of great intensity; lots of them, but a heartrending scream cannot be repeated eternally without becoming rhetorical or outdated when the context changes. Informalism: the aesthetic trend that had dominated almost entirely the landscape of the 60s was sinking fast. Many abstract, informalist artists like me felt the need for change. What we thought to be absolute freedom ended up being like a prison cell, insufficient to communicate and express the tension of reality, of the new social and political conscience that was emerging in the world.” CANOGAR, Rafael. Apuntes sobre el marco y la realidad (Notes on the frame and reality). Madrid: Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Discurso, 31/V/1998, p. 15.
5 “Painting is still (after so long) a vital, irresistible need, a form of self-actualization; a driving tool or force for all my emotions and obsessions, a communication instrument and a way of being and living. Much has been talked about my changes, and I have certainly changed. How I have changed and how the world and my environment have changed. The Scottish philosopher Hume said that we do not have an unchanging heart in our personality, and the idea of “self” is only “lots of different opinions that succeed subsequently at an incredible pace, and which are constantly changing and moving.” My painting also changes, but I think that there still remain, as constants of my work, clearly identifiable identity signs, such as the faithfulness to the radical attitude of informalism or the ethical dimension of my realist period. Art is now, more than ever, the laboratory of a troubling present. We cannot turn our back to these realities. Vitality and force cannot consist in maintaining the same coordinates at all times. By coherence with myself and by remaining faithful to the spirit of rupture that encouraged my first encounter with the avant-garde trend in the 50s. I cannot remain in known territories too long, in a modern academicism, in works already done. But the passing of time also gave me new landscapes, allowed me to look more and more inside me, in my own self. A further reflection in terms of form and matter and their capacity to express and communicate; on the evocation of memory, or on the connection with the reality of thinking, the mental image. The structure is formed by superposing fragments, pieces of paper pulp (the action of “destroying” or dismantling large paper pulp plates) that create, in their “constructive” action, the “irregular” form of the work, breaking the “virtual” concept of the pictorial space. The resulting object of this action is, in addition to form and matter, the surface for basic geometric forms that, as signs and icons, release a complex system of self-defining symbols. A synthesis process seeking the revelation of the aesthetic pleasure, the contemplative pleasure. It is an analysis of essences, of sets and pairs, of current marks and forgotten archeologies. Opposing forces and struggle of opposites as structural part of my work; “Construction-Deconstruction” as creative engine, as reality of a man lost in his own contradictions. CANOGAR, Rafael. “Pintar, una imperiosa necesidad vital”. Madrid: Revista Guadalimar, nº 133, VI-IX/1996
6 We refer to the exhibition in Madrid, which was also previously held at Barcelona: Sala Negra, “Otro arte”, Madrid, April 24 – May 15, 1957. The work of Rafael Canogar was “Painting” (1957, MNCARS Collection, Madrid) placed on the same wall next to Appel and Riopelle. It is illustrated in this publication.
7 This is a work by Michel Tapié. Mentioned in the catalogue of the exhibition “Otro arte“ (Other Art), s/p.
8 In the version checked: MICHAUX, Henri. Escritos sobre pintura (Texts on Painting). Murcia: Colegio de Arquitectos, 2007, p. 101. It comes from Aventura de líneas (Lines Adventure) (1954).
9 CIRLOT, Lourdes & CIRLOT, Juan-Eduardo. De la crítica a la filosofía del arte. Barcelona: Quaderns Crema, 1997, pp. 34-36. Letter from 28/10/1959.
10 (…) That composition-based background of Canogar has been adopting different modalities and facets in his evolution from 1954, the year in which he accessed abstraction from the Cubist premises of his beginnings. He goes from empirical experimentalism to a growing reflective and inventive informalist conception, whose expressions surprise for the powerful conjugation of the unknown and the subjective, and of that which we deem appropriate from a long Spanish tradition, not only for the limited range of colors or the more general nature of the works, but also for the “appearances” of a crackling, dense, mysterious and sharp form. Paintings like “Requiem” (1959) belong to the school of Goya’s followers without any shade of doubt. Let’s describe briefly the stages of his evolution. In 1955, when he exhibited in Paris, Canogar started using earthy matters for their aptitude to “substantiate” the pictorial image, pulling it out of the representative and abstract art. But he distributes linear nets with geometrical reminiscences on the filler, which is treated as background. The filler soon gets structured by the changing contrasts of areas with different textures. The technique used is casein tempera mixed with pigments, lithographic ink and glazing on the tempera. The color is used with variable intensity, though always subject to the reds and earthy tones of the sets. In 1956, the matter-space of the backgrounds devours all linear juxtapositions and the design is achieved through the direct treatment of the filler in relief, through Grattage, which tends to unify the textural quality.” CIRLOT, Juan-Eduardo. “La obra de Rafael Canogar”. Barcelona: Cuadernos de Arquitectura, nº 44, 1961, pp. 43-45.
11 Karl Buchholz (1901-1992) founded in 1921 his first gallery in Berlin, at Kurfuerstendamm Street, and in 1930, the large library at Leipziger Strasse. In 1934, he associated with Curt Valentin in the USA, founding in 1937 the Buchholz Gallery of New York. In 1938, he opened a gallery in Bucharest and in 1943, in Lisbon. In 1945, while returning from a journey to Lisbon, and not being able to go to Germany because of the World War, he had to stay in Spain. On December of that year, Buchholz opened his gallery-bookstore in Madrid, at Paseo de Recoletos 3. Among the most relevant exhibitions for abstraction, you can find those of the group “Pórtico” (1948) or the group “El Paso” (1957). Although the gallery remained open in Madrid, with continuous activity until 1959, Buchholz moved to Bogota in 1950, where he opened a new gallery.
12 “Rafael Canogar (…) reaches his plastic configurations through matter-generating processes, with thick filler and mysterious reliefs, in which many landscapes from the internal and external plateau “resonate”. His paintings are not created from the intuition of a set, but rather through the growth of details, like sums of irradiations in conflagration, in which not only material factors are synthesized, but also psychological factors and, above all, the actual passing of time. As such, if Canogar has revealed the basis of his technique by considering it as a “expansive tension created by structures of signs that compress the world and, at the same time, extend their limits to an infinite”, he has also transmitted his greatest ambition by pointing out that his art emerges to “fossilize the instant”, that is, to comply with Goethe’s precept, but within a very different order, which does not refer to the aerial images with which phenomena pass over the planet’s surface, but to the actual bowels of the earth, to the fierceness that justifies all archaeologies, where the tooth of the wolf, the magical root, the disappeared hand, the brooch of corroded iron are merely the same thing: just paint. Paint in ochre, gray, black and milk white tones, like petrified rivers and shadows in ever-changing conjunctions.” CIRLOT, Juan-Eduardo. El Paso 8- “El Paso” Group from Madrid and its painters: Canogar, Millares, Feito, Saura [At Sala Gaspar, Consejo de Ciento, 323, Barcelona, January 10-23 1959. Exhibition of 4 painters from “El Paso” Group (presented by Club 49 of Barcelona). Madrid: December 1958-January 1959. Letter of EL PASO-9.
13 CANOGAR, Rafael. Cuatro pintores españoles (Four Spanish Painters). Madrid: “El Paso”, March 1958. Catalogue on the works of Manolo Millares, Rafael Canogar, Antonio Saura and Luis Feito.
14 CRISPOLTI, Enrico. “Rafael Canogar”. In Rafael Canogar. 25 años de pintura (25 Years of Painting). Ministry of Culture: Madrid, 1982, p. 13.
15 The Museum of Modern Art, New Spanish Painting and Sculpture, New York, July 20 – September 25, 1960. In this exhibition, Canogar included four essential works in his career, with the following titles (in English in the catalogue): “Saint Cristopher” (1960); “Painting Number 56” (1959); “Painting Number 57” (1960) y “Toledo” (1960). As mentioned in the text, the latter is a key painting of the collection of the Museum of Abstract Art in Cuenca.
16 Mentioned by Cirlot.
17 MILLARES, Manolo. “‘El Paso’: sobre el arte de hoy en España”. Valencia: Arte Vivo, I-II/1959.
18 CANOGAR, Rafael. Tener los pies en la tierra (Down to Earth). Op. cit
19 “Rafael Canogar managed to symbolize that evident chaos arisen from life and reflected in his conscience. And when chaos transcended the pure visual representation to invade areas detrimental to the dignity of men, he managed to assert his conscience further, clarify his voice and raise to universal language the denunciation of injustice and abuse. It is in this silent procession, in this nightmare of petrified men, turned plaster, pure vacuum, where the paradigm glows, that radiant mirror where man could find his marks, ennoble his forehead, renew his way, pursue his destiny…” AMÓN, Santiago. “Rafael Canogar (testimonio y compromiso)”. Madrid: Nueva Forma, 1/VII/1968.
20 CIRLOT, Juan-Eduardo. “Millares y la ‘muerte del hombre’”. Barcelona: La Vanguardia, 4/VII/1968.
Secret Royalty of Pain
ALFONSO DE LA TORRE
Questions about the body, and time, around beings left to their fate in space, still among the willful tissue of the world. So is the disturbing work that Canogar addressed after abandoning Informalism, in the mid-70s, what the artist called: “realism”. Painful collection of faces and bodies, torsos or corporeal fragments, planes with copies of beings, often forms of incinerated spectral appearance. Beings fallen, expectant or fleeing, hurt, gathered, afflicted, shouting, attacked, clustered together and remorseful, raising their fists, fearful behind the wire fence: paralysed figures that seem to be crossing the “collective drama” of living, existing. Whenever I could speak with Canogar, even a long time ago, about his representation, I pointed out how this world of polarities (antagonists, he would say) had moved me. By pushing aside, in that time, of the canvas tyranny, also by separating in his reflection from certain light zones of the pop world, Canogar tempted to access an incandescent real world, space and reality, creating corporeal forms often inspired in images from the media (as shown in the illustrations of these pages). Sculptures and bodies distilled from the print, which would become figures provided with a certain dream in black, a Goya-style transcendent nonconformity, a pain corresponding with the distressing world of other characters trampled by history, like those in works of Bacon or Millares, or Music’s piled up figures.
“This is the century of pain”, stated Paul Lafargue in the Surrealist Dictionary1. Canogar represents bodies, beings agitated, exasperated, grieving or relieved in their sorrow; bodies who shout from the solitude that transforms the figures, filled with loneliness in the world. “It is, as you guessed, about mortal solitude, about that desperate and stunning region where the artist operates”, said Genet 2, the man who discovers himself in the face of that who seats, quietly, in front of him in the train. Common and used act, sole reaction to the affliction that nobody is capable of transferring, the personal and inalienable vision of the body not so much as flabby matter substance as pure thought: the contortions of sorrow occur in the viewer as a new subject of pain, witnessing the affliction of the other. In Canogar, body or shadow seems to mix, bodies and shadows frozen between the darkness of the represented objects. Symmetry of a painful poem, his figures sometimes seem subject to a sad veil, a low sky of ashes, which does not prevent him from expressing the contained beauty of our grieving world. Soldiers, prisoners, families, turmoils, repressions, urban scenes, revolution dreams, attacks, tears or wounds3. Expression of a “lucid pain”, evoking the words of Breton 4, Canogar witnesses, in the representation of that time, the world’s affliction: where sorrow turns into a new and different contemporary beauty, like the “secret royalty” of pain, as also described by Genet5 . Represented as something between sacred and sacrificial, their wild rage growing6, the forms raised by Canogar seem to question not only about being and life, but also about their existence in space, imploring about the essence of their abandonment. Though coming from an extraordinarily complex reality, the painful commitment of our artist moved away from the so-called “social art” for addressing a representation closer to ethos (a need for truth, in the words of the artist), tempted to proclaim a singular “I accuse”7. As his representation is not linked to any specific time or situation (although this creative cycle started in that old Spain so full of fatuous rhetoric)8, but rather transcendent and atemporal: the claim for imperious justice, the duty to demand the necessary jux from innocents with respect to their undeserved encounter with history, which, from time immemorial, tramples and punishes them. I have written previously that the expression of the deep connection between extension and length of time, expansion of lines in space or time, is that new world that represents reality through sculptural elements, as if decomposing the movements making up our perception of reality, as Duchamp said. Frozen visions of beings immersed in history, partial movements that can divide an entire body, suspension in space, in luminous lines expanded ad infinitum. Like a chamber of mirrors, the space seems to move to the infinite illusion, establishing a fracture look, a disrupted look that more than “seeing”, becomes “darkness”. At this point, it is pertinent to allude to Derrida’s accuracy about “to see vs to blind”: “I’m not sure that space is essentially dominated by the look (…) space is not only the visible, but also something that even covers the invisible (…). The invisible, to me, is not simply the opposite of the visible (…) visual arts are also blindness arts”9. I love (I’ve mentioned this before) the quote of Hamlet, stupefied, “Do you see nothing there?”, and the firm response of the queen: “Nothing at all, yet all that is I see.”
Canogar’s art is about questions on the images, on their incandescent existence, displaying sometimes the anxiety of certain paintings of solitude by Fromanger; however, the forms of Canogar rise as ghostly black tones, creating constructions, but also decompositions and formal destructions, presences and absences, volumes or gaps, and vacuums, which will not prevent him from buildings agitated forms. I already mentioned the fragmentary elevation of the forms, incomplete torsos, heads, hands or feet: memories of identities with some disjecta membra or, also, volumes that are hidden with some kind of wrapping10. Fragments or veils, black confusion, is something that must be interpreted like a sort of resistance, an attempt to reveal the odyssey of desire (it is known that creation, desire and finiteness are the same), which seem to make us stand before some frozen presences, a certain ghostly reparation raised in space. Sculptures and reliefs focused in their being, frequently placed on the floor, invaded by the dream in black11 that joins Canogar with specific artists of our time who used black monochrome. Our artist did this in some paintings from the 70s, exhibited at CEART, specifically those titled: P-54-79 [cat. 28] and P-55-79 [cat. 29] (both from 1979) and, from 1971: P-1-81 [cat. 30]. Canogar is one of those painters that Bachelard would call “the great dreamers in black”12, one of those artists (he also mentioned Soulages and Nevelson) who attempted to penetrate the most intimate part of substances “by starting between the void and the denial of the night”13. Absolute night, black entity in the negritude: “négation substantielle de tout ce qui atteint la lumière, le noir dans la noirceur”, in the words of Bachelard14. And as Canogar would say: “The works, almost sculptural at times, maintained the projection of paintings where the color had been reduced to the limit of denial (black) in order to highlight their plastic value. Their vision and place are against the wall, but not as “two antagonistic and isolated worlds”, as Ortega said, nor as “imaginary floating islands”, thanks to a frame, but rather as an entity that occupies a place and a space, and which aims at creating a different reality, rather than competing with or reproducing the current reality”15.
Canogar reviews astonished the press articles of that time y their violent images, which he finds upsetting: the study of many of them produced some paintings of this time, as can be followed in the illustrations of this text. However, he is not a mere illustrator, an artist that represents the painful zones of the world, but rather his painting incorporates an air of mysterious contention. We can then feel the pain he sees around and notices in others: that is his pain. He temped (in that access to the three-dimensional world, to that representation of “reality”) the revealed sincerity of forms, their evasive truth that sometimes look like an almost terrestrial certainty. His pedestrian walks (1973) [cat. 18] carefully amid a disconcerting mystery, or we can witness the tearful prayer in his work of this same year, the face raised on the black rectangle. The unreality of pain clearly revealed, corroded, in La herida (1974) [cat. 20], but also the opposite, the certainty of unreality raised to space: the immobility of the scene, the suspended instant that, like in a cycle built with (frequently accumulated) fabrics, seems to promote the imagination of a different place, another territory for dreams, space of nostalgia and of that which is possible.
Thierry Guetta, artist of the street, of the rumor from a world turned to graffitti, painter that ranges between pop art and graffitti, has connected the work of Banksy and Canogar, establishing a certain influence of our artist in the former. Both coincided in other violent times, in worlds without future, so this connection is not strange to me when looking at some works exhibited now at CEART from the chapter called “Circa 1968”, which alludes obviously to the street uproar that took place in 1968. The canvases wrap the images, becoming strange objects with a certain monumental air, as one of his works of that time would title. From this textile jumble16, or that mysterious veil, the incarnation of a new entity arises, energetic territory of contained poetry where painting and sculpture will meet, again in a world of concentrated color, monochrome air that reminded me of the nocturnal air in Tinguely’s fires17, the crematorium and the garments of pain. Piles of garments, suffering symbolized by fabric, the textile jumble in the Picasso-style mother who weeps before her dead children biting the handkerchief. There is something imposing in these fabric constructions that Canogar made in the mid-70s, which sometimes refer to the liturgy of humility by the presence of gold leaf and rituals, and the stretcher composed as a cross, like a reredo, as in Composición nº 1 (1975) [cat. 23]. They also seem to refer to the trade of painting by showing the stretchers, as in the exhibited work Composición nº 3 (1975) [cat. 24]. They not only remind of textile jumble, but also (moving back in the history of painting to Klein’s anthropometries) of shrouds and veils, that permanent journey through the art of our time among showing, revealing and hiding.
1 BRETON, André and ÉLUARD, Paul. Dictionnaire abrégé du surréalisme. Paris: Galerie Beaux-Arts, 1938. Spanish version by: Madrid: Ediciones Siruela, 2003. “They say that this is the century of work, and, indeed, this is the century of pain, misery and corruption.” In Ibid. p. 100, in voice “Trabajo” (Work).
2 GENET, Jean. El objeto invisible. Escritos sobre arte, literatura y teatro-El funámbulo. Barcelona: Thassalia, 1997, p. 70.
3 The terms are titles of Canogar’s paintings of this time.
4 BRETON, André. Préface à la réimpression du manifeste-Manifestes du surréalisme. Paris: Gallimard, 1963, p. 8
5 GENET, Jean. El objeto invisible. Escritos sobre arte, literatura y teatro-El funámbulo, op. cit., p. 44.
6 BERNHARD, Thomas. In hora mortis/Bajo el hierro de la luna. Barcelona: DVD Poesía, 1998, p. 15.
7 “The painting La policía en acción (1969) belongs to my period known as “realism”, which was the configuration of a new iconography in my work, the testimony of a collective struggle as well as an avant-garde alternative to the worn out Informalism of the 60s. The incorporation of new materials allowed me to project in the reality, looking for improved image efficiency. The works develop in the physical space of the viewer, as an explicit and unavoidable reference, an attempt to make that cold and distant viewer part of the collective drama. Vicente Aguilera Cerni wrote with regard to these works: “The themes do not express opinions, they express facts, but facts are human dramas, objectified images where humans, objects and quantities acquire a symbolic hierarchy. Speeches against violence are not necessary: that which is violent, inhuman and dehumanized is inseparable from the materiality of the object. The man and his image appear absorbed and objectified, are symbols but work in a communicative manner because there is a social agreement on their meaning.” The color has been reduced essentially to the limit of denial. The protagonist black pretends to be coherent with the image, as testimony for mourning. But it also highlights its plastic values, which are never confused with reality; they are just another reality by themselves. It was the plastic sense of these denunciation works what allowed me to maintain them within the specific scope of art, refusing completely to the political pamphlet as aesthetic solution.” CANOGAR, Rafael. Una lucha colectiva. In: MUÑOZ, Miguel Ángel. Espejismo y realidad. Divergencias críticas. Madrid: Editorial Síntesis, 2011, p. 71. On the “need for truth”, another subsequent footnote insists on this.
8 Already mentioned at the beginning of the publication. From Antonio Saura, mentioned by: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Tiempo de cardo y ceniza. En Abstracción. Del grupo Pórtico al Centro de Cálculo. 1948-1968. Madrid: Guillermo de Osma Gallery, 2015.
9 DERRIDA, Jacques. Las artes del espacio. Entrevista de Peter Brunette y David Wills, 28/IV/1990. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 9-32.
10 This is something that reminded me of the beautiful veiled virgin by Strazza or the fantastic “Elizabeth II” by Camillo Torreggiani, at Prado National Museum.
11 “The black, in our culture, is the symbol of death and mourning, a transcendental connotation for the transition to another dimension: a mystery always present in the horizon of men. But the black color in art includes many other connotations and interpretations: an eminently contemporary concept that has been used as transition tool between painting and sculpture. The black color is a significant dimension, a mental conception revealing the essence of the forms. Black is that which is absolute and transcendental, the elegant exquisiteness, the denial of everything and the maximum representation. Black is feeling and emotion transmitted by the works of artists like Louise Nevelson or Soulages. To me, this topic has been a constant (substance and background) in my work in the different periods. The black color was, among others, signifier and signified in my informalist work: thread with the essence and root of the Spanish world; it was also a symbol of mourning for my human representations during my critical realist period, and a black curtain covered with a structural plan the entire pictorial space in my analytical abstract period.” CANOGAR, Rafael. El negro en el arte. In: “Le noir dans le scultural”. Brussels: Atelier 340, X/1993.
12 BACHELARD, Gaston. La terre et les rêveries du repos. Paris: Éditions Jose Corti, Paris, 1963, p. 27.
13 JOUVE, Pierre Jean. Noir retour à la vie. In “Hélène”, by “Matière Céleste”. Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1964.
15 CANOGAR, Rafael. Apuntes sobre el marco y la realidad. Madrid: Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Discurso, 31/V/1998, pp. 15-16. A long quote from his speech before the Academy can be used to introduce his process for creating paintings in this time: “The third dimension finally gave a solution to my new work, my second period: realism. The configuration of a new iconography appears as the testimony of a collective struggle. I abandoned Informalism, which attempted to claim pieces of freedom we did not own, to gather and transmit the conscience that, as citizen and also painter, had formed in me. But I realized that this communication must come from other languages, less hermetic than the informalist abstraction, which in addition had fallen into the trap of its own excesses. Realism gave me the chance to channel the different aesthetic searches and a moral support to my social and political curiosities. It was not about returning to figuration as if nothing had happened. Informalism, or abstract expressionism, which had been a revolution, marked the perception of my reality. My painting does not attempt to represent the human figure in an illusory manner. I reproduce images that appear in the media, and which memorized events and circumstances of men. The incorporation of new materials (then new) allowed me the third dimension, its projection in the reality of the viewer, as explicit and unavoidable reference, and to establish that communication so desired by an artist. The bulge started as an attempt to capture their attention, raise their awareness and make those distant viewers part of the collective drama. My need for truth led me to use real garments to dress my figures, frozen and hardened with fiberglass and polyester, sometimes mere carcasses without heads or limbs, to stress their objectified condition, or as metaphor for damaged sculpture remnants, like another Temple of Pergamo. The hands and other parts of the body, because of my need for truth, are also copies of the reality. Sometimes they attempted to connect this period to Pop Art, a trend that started in the USA in that same time, but in my opinion there is a large distance between both. The sources for this period were different and closer: the entire bas-relief tradition developed in Greece (so difficult to improve), our Berruguete, and the Baroque painters. 1975: on November 20, an important exhibition of my works started at Sonia Henie Foundation in Oslo. The director of the Foundation mentioned in his opening words the future and the change in a new Spain. My work also changed: it was my last exhibition on reality. My painting got rid of many things, but essentially, of the figure. Already in 1974 my work had evolved significantly. The garments used for my figures were given another identity when placed on the stretcher, sometimes by adding sculpture remnants as “collages” to them as objects without any narrative purpose. In a way, both informalism and realism were languages of a deeply felt rebellion in line with reality, with the environment. That reality changed dramatically over time and with historic circumstances, which forced an evolution in my work.”
16 A gathering of images, like in that beautiful jumble of wrinkled canvas: Untitled (1975), also exhibited.
17 Mengele-Totentanz (1986).
Commemorating the Visible
ALFONSO DE LA TORRE
Viewing Rafael Canogar’s latest paintings, they reminded me of Monet. It seemed to me an essential reference, though I reflected subsequently: maybe it is the result of my well-known visual hypertrophy, but then I found a text in which the artist said: “Claude Monet is very important. In fact, his excellent painting, Water Lilies, which is in New York’s MoMA, and is presented as introduction to all abstract art, is an essential, huge picture… Pollock, Rothko, Clyfford Still… they all started from this painting. Therefore, Monet started other channels and went very far away. It is closer to the contemporary vision and opened the doors to a new painting concept. A concept where there are no limits, where the painting seems to continue in all directions: right and left, up and down. It only seems to be a piece of reality, where no center exists in the composition and the rest is subject to that composition center. These are works where each bit, each element, each portion of the canvass surface is as important as the other. And that, for contemporary art, has been very revolutionary”1.
The world that our artist described as realist and was analyzed in the previous chapter drifted, naturally, to its own extinction or, rather, to its transformation. There is a progressive destruction of the representative images that would take place, symbolically, in its final encounter with monochrome. This monochrome paint was sometimes contained in geometric forms that eventually alluded to the vigorous pair construction-destruction, where perhaps (in order to close the loop) would be appropriate to add another “construction”2, and so allude to: construction-destruction-construction. I have often mentioned that the construction-destruction pair has been a classic encounter from the time of Informalism, and also quite fruitful in the art history of the 20th century, and should be interpreted, not so much like a nihilist proclamation as a sort of form-generating matrix. Our artist has been extremely demanding in his search, a restless explorer of the vision and obsessive demiurge of newly created images. Artist that at times has been driven by the need to explore new channels, now that the use of recognizable images seems to have come to an end (even to an extinction), something symbolized in the two heads that pay tribute to Julio González (from 1983 and 1984), present in the exhibition and dissolved progressively. The clothes still remain, the cloisonnés of fabrics, male garments (as if found by chance), textile bundles locked up between the geometric forms, like in Frontera (2003) [cat. 37] or In memoriam (2005) [cat. 38].
The artist, in his latest works, conceived as color panorama, moves the paint in the actual pictorial surface to place it at a pre-iconological level, where Canogar is tempted to paint that landscape he is facing or, perhaps, dreaming, rather than executing its faithful reflection. He traveled from the representation to the removal, facing pure visibility, seeking the truth, as if providing a certain non-visible image offered before the eyes, a suspended image that arises from the embers of a visible numinous world: an intensified vision. By commemorating the visible (not so much with the obstinate praise of the exquisite and truthful description of things) and mentioning the mystery of the secret, hardly perceptible ties that unite us, in that visible world that could be close to a possible immediate consumption. Canogar seems to praise in his paintings of the last decade, the enjoyment of a certain poetic secrecy: Alba [cat. 41], Celada [cat. 42], Dominio [cat. 39] or Inercia [cat. 40], are the eloquent titles of some square form paintings, which seem like samples of the singular state of the painter: still, focused, austere and reserved. He uses such short titles as longer ones could lead to distraction.
Paintings often invaded by spots and geometry in a sort of harmonic disruption. That which is unshaped and categorical is present in them; the encounter between the defined and the abstract; the containment of the forms with what seems to be their spillage, their careful extension in strips or, on the contrary, their emergence; hot and cold; compatible with rhythmical and arrhythmic strokes; what flows and what seems to be stopped; lines and poured paint (the Cirlot Orogeny is reminded again here). But also what is complex and what seems to be expressed simply, all of which is naturally revealed in the same pictorial plane. There is an inner need in that slow creation involved in Canogar’s paintings, which take pleasure in the slowness of what have been carefully conceived. I could appreciate the process complexity in the sketches, which I have been contemplating for months.
It looks like his wisdom as painter (already implacable with a joyfully subjective control, overwhelmed in a certain trance of the vision) would have moved him to that singular point, the abyss in the landscape of color extensions as symbol, perhaps, of his knowledge as artist and maker of specific, deep truths related to being. Canogar arrives at powerful and strange pictorial planes, with a declared emotional tension, in that sort of tense beatitude of being. Paintings that come from a cathartic process of analysis-concentration-extension, almost a search for a nirvana of extended colors that confront with the bareness of space, which means betraying the infiniteness of that space, revealing its truth. The miraculous aspect of the creation should be mentioned here, that desire to address the infinite or to loom over, abandoning colors in the pictorial surface, which is crossed with that sort of curtain without color, traveling from the skin of the painting to an unlimited depth, like a catharsis, until obtaining that pocket of silence: necessary extensions, as Rothko would say3 , to root and grow.
This exhibition and its title arise from the astonishment at finding constants that are present throughout his work, parallel worlds between his first paintings and the most recent ones. In this case, he reflects around nature and the paint applied with density by using the expression of the natural for finding inner certainty. We already mentioned at the beginning (that text on the fire of the modern world transmitted by his old master), how the latest paintings by Canogar had something which could relate them to his origins as painter, to that (other) world of closed and mysterious landscapes. The great work intensity of the artist, coupled now with an extraordinary physical effort, has produced excellent paintings that, in some cases, look like evocations of the summer, soils and skies, landscapes or geographies in general, as some of these are praised in et in Arcadia Ego, where staying in a desired cool place is kind of mentioned. If, after the serial “summer” titles, there is a certain refuge in a space, other paintings seem to refer to quenched thirst, the rumor of crystalline water: Pilón [cat. 59] or Cauce [cat. 54] are two other titles that seem to move us to a silent and well-being world.
Among others, Germinal [cat. 56], Lucerna [cat. 57], Naciente [cat. 58], Castilla [cat. 61] or Muro nº 1 [cat. 62] (again, the epiphany of the wall), the artist seems to be transmuting in a mercurial trance, address works that turn to expression in barely two tones, ranges of brown or gray, with some trembling, as if after contemplation the pressing need for an account would be needed. Those forms seemed to arise from darkness, like bearers of singular luminescent energy among the twilight shadows that wonder about the mysteries of the visible. In other pages, I wrote that the air extracted from the extension of the pictorial pigment meets with what Cirlot would define (in the 50’s) as a latent geometry. That is in relation to this case, the frequent presence of the union of two or more surfaces along with the presence of strips or vertical bars, composing mysterious new reredos, which he preserves intellectually, with a conceptual air, by working with that polyptych system, identifying in some of those paintings an air of extinguished embers (almost ashes), as Eliot would do. World of mysteries that remind me of the luminous epiphany in Mark Rothko’s pictures, that “cosmic pathos” (as David Silvester would say), that unknown god pursued (endlessly) by our artist, also an emblem of the struggle with the light. As his paintings seem to propose activated spaces, I thought about a quote by Clyfford Still, let’s turn off the light, “the paintings have their own fire”4.
He is an obstinate painter, capable of combining the random succession of forms with rhythmical air, like a score, in his compositions, which display an exalting dynamism in certain color zones as encounter of that which is transitory and permanent. His work is sometimes a praise of the cosmos vision, others, of the micro world hidden between what we see in the snows, under seas or in the intense and iridescent sparkle of the mineral gleam. This way, his painting seems to wonder about the cosmos, an interrogation to nature and the hidden mysteries, while he remains upright in his silence.
1 BEOTAS, Enrique and SEMPERE, Pedro. Los pasos de Canogar. Madrid: Quindici Editores, 2006, pp. 154-155.
2 “The pass of time also gave me new landscapes, to look more and more inside me, to reflect more in terms of form and matter, and their capacity for expression or communication. My work maybe is the mental image of a reality evoked by a memory that becomes object-based reality. My current paintings are the result of manipulating the matter. I use wood plates, which I first tear and dismantle and, then, I recompose again. The resulting object of this action is, in addition to form and matter, the surface for basic geometric images that, as signs and icons, release a complex system of self-defining symbols. It is an analysis of essences, of sets and pairs, of current marks and forgotten archeologies. My work reflects, from the beginning, those two basic and primary forces that always accompanied man: constructive forces and destructive forces, or construction-deconstruction. Opposing forces and struggle of opposites, as structural part of my work, as reality of the man that is lost in his own contradictions. These works present irregular edges as a result of being accidentally cut when dismantling the plates and superposing the different pieces that (like huge collages) show their bare structure. These are works with a real and tangible entity that, when viewed, are superposed to the wall reality without needing to ‘isolate the aesthetic body from the vital outline’. On the contrary, I seek to confront those realities. I want that unknown reality to become credible, to occupy our reality and projects in it. These are (…) pieces that lie in the border between painting and sculpture, as they were in the realist period; however, they are paintings and as such, hung in the walls not to be illusory spaces with the adornment of the frame, but rather as matter, as texture of unknown and unique realities”. CANOGAR, Rafael. Apuntes sobre el marco y la realidad. Madrid: Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Discurso, 31/V/1998, pp. 16-17.
3 “When I was young art was a lonely thing: no galleries, no collectors, no critics, and no money. Yet it was a golden time, for then we had nothing to lose and a vision to gain. Today it is not quite the same. It is a time of tons of verbiage, activity, and consumption. Which condition is better for the world at large I will not venture to discuss. But I do know that many who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where they can root and grow. We must all hope that they find them.”ROTHKO, Mark. “Acceptance Speech of the Honorary Doctorate by the University of Yale, 1969”. In: Mark Rothko. Writings on Art (1934-1969). Barcelona: Paidós Estética, 2007, p. 219 (To “Papeles de Bernard J. Reis, 1934.1979”. Washington D.C.: American Art Archives, Smithsonian Institution).
4 The quote about Still belongs to: AUPING, Michael. “Clyfford Still and New York: Buffalo Project”. In: Clyfford Still. Madrid: Museo Nacional Reina Sofía, 1992, p. 38.