RESISTANT JOSÉ DÁMASO

RESISTANT JOSÉ DÁMASO

Text published in the exhibition catalog of
PEPE DÁMASO-RETROSPECTIVA
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 2017: CAAM-Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno

 

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Yves Klein en su exposición vacía (“Sensibilité Picturale Immatérielle”), “Yves Klein: Monochrome und Feuer”, Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, 1961

 

 

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José Dámaso y la pared vacía con ocasión de su exposición en el Ateneo de Madrid. 5/IV/1963
Fuente: AAVV, “Exposición sin cuadros”, “Informaciones”, Madrid, 6 Abril 1963
(Fotografía de San Antonio)

 

Drifting from this side of the world
Across to the other,
Meditating among pasted spoils.
Amour et mort
⌠relentless⌡
Sex and pain
… Ah! Life!
Obscurely rises the idea
⌠the vague certainty we are today⌡[1].

[1] Alfonso de la Torre. Translation of an acrostic poem dedicated and read to José Dámaso on the day of the opening of his retrospective exhibition, José Dámaso. Obras desde 1951, at Caja Canarias. Santa Cruz de Tenerife, 30/06/2009. Unpublished.

 

Creating is an act of resistance.

This has often been the case for artists down through the ages and even more so in the complex twentieth century in which José-versus-Pepe-Dámaso (Agaete, 1933) produced the greater part of his artistic output.

I am brought to mind of certain notes that define his creative work, which is to say, who Pepe Dámaso really is. Casting a look backwards, we can discern the endurance of a triad of key facts: firstly, his meeting with Manrique in fifties Madrid and the moniker the latter gave him that day: “the strange visitor”, and I am also reminded of that moment, when Dámaso was anxious to meet Igor Stravinsky, a visitor himself to those same fifties Madrid. Dámaso was left waiting for Igor[1], a wait that has punctuated his life as an artist.

Indeed, Dámaso was truly a strange visitor —and still is today in my mind, with his aura of a displaced artist─ and someone who, not without a certain puzzlement, César Manrique saw emerging from nowhere; “he appeared all of a sudden” he wrote, in his abstract exhibition at Galería Clan in Madrid back in 1954.[2] And so, now, in hindsight I see his role in these stories like an uninvited character, somewhere between Ionesco and Beckett. When asked about his signs of identity ─or “letter of credentials” as Manrique would have it— the young creator from Gran Canaria retorted “he was from the Canaries and an artist.”[3] This was a time that he seemed to commemorate, in one of the highly abstraction lyrique sign-based drawings now on view at CAAM: Madrid (1954), a work of pure (and early, at least for European painting) abstraction by what was then already a genuine[4] painter and, in the words of Westerdahl, an advanced one.[5] With its echoes of tachisme this drawing conjures up other worlds not far removed from those of Tobey, Wols and Michaux.

The other image of the aforementioned surviving triad can also be traced back to this city ─of which more anon─ would give rise to much ink being put to paper and would take place barely a decade later: the exhibition without paintings that Dámaso showed at the Ateneo de Madrid. In among the advertisements in the press for the traditional torrijas for Holy Week ─in Madrid, still stiff and grey in those harsh times around 1963[6]─ Dámaso was in full consonance with the powers of the void as proclaimed by, among others, Yves Klein in Paris.[7] I want to be a vagabond, on the beach and walking, sang Los Flaps at the time in a party organised for Dámaso by Manrique, following the event.[8]

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César Manrique, José Dámaso (“Moi”) y Manolo Millares.
Brindis junto a la pared vacía, 5/IV/1963
Ateneo de Madrid. Sala de Prado, Exposición sin cuadros (La Rama), Madrid, 5-18 Abril 1963

 

A whole series of other Damasian images come to me now like the fascinating lights of a kaleidoscope, bringing to mind the third facet of his complex being: his peculiar cinephilia, as evinced by his omnivorous devouring of film, especially on his trips abroad, is symbolised somewhat in the conception of his fundamental trilogy of two films.[1] Like when he donned the mantle of filmmaker, scriptwriter and actor, and filmed himself, as I remember, walking backwards with a skull behind his back in La Umbría. And then there is his love of Africa, further coupled with his frequent trips to mainland Spain and to Europe, visiting the turbulent Venice biennales of 1966 and 1970.[2] Then there is the artist who spoke years ago of the drama of boats taking to the sea, driven by want and by hope. The creator received a mandate from Manrique to remain on the island, again a call to wait, as the freedom of New York beaconed for the master from Arrecife. The skeletonist Dámaso, in words of Westerdahl,[3] a lover of Pessoa’s way of writing, a fervent admirer of Visconti, able to combine this attitude to the world with the almost ancestral sense of his origins in the Canaries.

A traveller who set out in search of his affinities, where all things modern took hold, Dámaso was the transmission belt for modernism towards the Canaries in the second half of the twentieth century, taking over the baton from Westerdahl, an erstwhile frequenter of the Bauhaus: Dámaso is now the traveller who returns from the international stage and informs Canaries of his findings, what was setting the world on fire. And so, on his return from one of his trips to the Venice Biennale[4] ─back in the cold seventies— he announced the arrival of a time of new geometers, like Soto and Le Parc.[5] Dámaso was also a multidisciplinary artist able to intervene in various spaces, in large formats and monumental projects, the author of notable stage designs,[6] while at once sometimes engaging with quasi-performative pieces.[7] A utopian Dámaso.

For some years now I have had the good fortune to be close to this artist —at times happily buried in mischief of his own making— especially during the preparation for the complex survey show José Dámaso. Obras desde 1951 (2009), which overviewed the constants of an extraordinarily complex practice, able to throw light on shadows in multiple directions simultaneously (sicum Palazuelo) and whose connection with the international art scene has not been satisfactorily analysed to date[8]. That approximation provided sufficient evidence to claim that we are dealing with one of the most intense creators engendered by the arts in the Canary Islands in our times. This would explain why the critical text was prefaced by a wonderful sentence by Italo Calvino, which fits like a glove for the far-reaching remit of Damasism: “Each life is an encyclopedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly shuffled and reordered in every way conceivable.”[9] And from an earlier essay I have chosen this memory from one of the first times I met the artist:

From the meeting with Dámaso, the learning and many conversations, there survives, like a colophon of those recollections, a sentence he pronounced a while ago, in one of the those frequent trance states which I ended up calling “Damasism”. Deranged (…) like Rimbaud’s “Je est un autre”, with an almost supernatural clairvoyance and, in any case, extraordinarily sound (…), his sentence, caught on the fly, said more or less as follows: “I am this and that; a man of personalities: adorable and impertinent; of here and there; someone you love and hate; demanding and solitary; a man of a thousand faces, sincere and sullen. I know myself and I love myself, I don’t know who I am and I repel myself. I am the one who speaks and I am the one I would like to silence. I am seductive and I am unsociable. Monster and demon or seraphic angel… I acknowledge my multiplicity in all sides of the polyhedron that composes the personality of Dámaso”. And if it were not for the fact that the quotation that follows is by Pessoa, and not by Dámaso, we would be tempted to say that he remained on the island, exhaling his disquiet: “In order to create, I destroyed myself; I have externalised so much of my inner life that even inside I now exist only externally. I am the living stage across which various actors pass acting out different plays.”[10]

 

1963: THE EVENT

 

All known all white

Samuel Beckett, Bing, 1966[11].

 

Je ne vis ni dans le passé, ni dans l’avenir. Je suis dans le présent.

J’ignore de quoi demain sera fait.

Je ne peux avoir conscience que de ma vérité d’aujourd’hui.

C’est elle que je suis appelé à servir et je la sers en toute lucidité.

Igor Stravinsky, Chroniques de ma vie, 1935[12].

 

We started out by recalling Dámaso’s unexpected appearance in front of Manrique in Madrid, which ought to be understood as a desire for salvation by our artist, longing for modernism in the greyness of a city of thistle and ash (to borrow Saura’s words[13]) or, in the words of the Canarian artist: “our salvation was modernism. It is the only thing that could redeem him from the ghosts of the islands. A modernism reminiscent of that proposed by the editors of gaceta de arte when supporting the surrealist movement in the thirties, for instance. Thanks to the isolation we suffer from, we were able to take surrealism on board. It is a longing, a need to go beyond the shore. The concept of the island is like a belt that must be broken. In the era when we accepted modernism —the sixties and seventies— it was the cause of utmost marginalisation. The Canarian’s concept of modernism has been intimately bound to cosmopolitism because of the circumstances surrounding us (…)”[14].

A few years later, in May 1962, Dámaso announced to the press in the Canaries what was (not) coming, his future exhibition at the Ateneo de Madrid in 1963.[15] This exhibition hall was the venue where young painters of the time were consecrated. Since 1958, the vanguard artists of the time had exhibited there,[16] including the artists from the El Paso group or Manrique himself, and managing to get an exhibition there was a sure sign of success in terms of public, critics and the general press. And, without any paintings —empty, that is except for the hooks to hang paintings and the spotlights illuminating empty walls— the exhibition would be opened, as Dámaso explained to the press. The national newspapers dedicated many articles to the affair, some on such significant dates as the Sunday prior to Holy Week: “I have presented myself to my friends without paintings, with my hands clean (…) Go ahead then: my exhibition is opened! (…)”[17]. As an artist, he would once again give a demonstration of resistance, in 1963, a resistance symbolised in the photos published by the press at the time: Dámaso looking at an empty corner of the exhibition hall, wondering, scratching his chin. Exhibiting nothing![18] And another image symbolized the affair: Elvireta Escobio touching the paintingless emptiness of another of the bare walls. Moreover, Millares, Manrique and Dámaso are photographed in a restrained joking air in front of the bare wall, while the public thumbed through the catalogue published for the occasion, in the empty hall. The glasses they hold in their hands are raising a toast to nothing. It was, without paintings, the consecration of the painter in the void.[19]

As we pointed out, this decision to present the empty exhibition, the exhibition without paintings at Ateneo de Madrid on Friday 5 April 1963, recalled the proposals by Yves Klein on the exhibition void. So for instance, in 1958 Klein had shown[20] his empty exhibition, with the title: “La Spécialisation de la sensibilité à l’état matière première en sensibilité picturale stabilisée”. With the collusion of Iris Clert and Pierre Restany, the artist would paint the exhibition hall white with the intention of creating “une ambiance, un climat pictural sensible et à cause de cela même invisible”.

In the visitors book Albert Camus wrote “Full powers in emptiness.”[21] Klein’s actions on the presentation of “vide”, the “void”, would continue in the early sixties: he would repeat the action in 1961, at the Haus Lange Museum in Krefeld, in what was to be his only museum exhibition in his lifetime. A few years after he died, on 6 June 1962, he would exhibit his final “void” when his works were taken down from the walls of a hall at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, in the Salon ‘Comparaisons’. The overall set of actions would make him into a precursor of research into the meaning of the void as artistic gestures. His words during the opening at Clert were meaningful: “J’ai justement tenu à réduire aux limites les plus extrêmes mon action picturale pour cette exposition. Ces quelques paroles que j’ai prononcées, ça a déjà été trop. Je n’aurais pas dû venir du tout et même mon nom n’aurait pas dû figurer au catalogue”. The issue of empty exhibitions would run through our time.[22]

And many of the echoes and the visual representations we know of in the press of Klein’s action in Paris, are extraordinarily similar to that received by Dámaso in Madrid. The artist examining bare walls or the stories referring to Klein about selling “emptiness”; particularly the headline of the article written by Pierre Descargues: “L’homme qui a vendu du vide”[23]. The emptiness that Dámaso sold in Madrid had its emblem: the portrait by Antonio San Antonio published in the newspaper Informaciones[24] which showed our artist looking at an empty corner of the Prado hall at Ateneo. “He was not daunted”, read the forthright caption underneath, plus the striking and categorical headline: “An exhibition without paintings”. A photo similar to the one shown by Torremocha in Pueblo[25] and which may have been delivered to Dámaso in the retrospective exhibition at “Exposiciones Vacías”: Vides-Une retrospective-Art & Language held in 2009 at Centre Pompidou[26].

A suspended event, an exhibition that co-opts the act of waiting, Dámaso’s “action” contained something of his much-admired Beckett and the latter’s “Text for Nothing XIII”, a kind of proposal to reduce the being of the artist to “nothing” and only leaving behind, among the embers, an epiphany. An epiphany that seems to evoke the paintings by Robert Ryman, that raises new interrogations and poses questions about art, the artist, painting, limits and authorship. Or, as Jacques Rivière said about Stravinsky, doors that open and close one after another: “his strength lies in all that he gets rid of.”[27] Like the monk on the horizon in Friedrich’s painting, on the seashore, Dámaso is in the corner wondering, asking himself questions, concentrating on what is essential, his exhibition without paintings is the form, and the form is also content: after the accumulation of syllables which paintings are supposed to create, silence has returned, like a state of grace, like a miracle, an inner light, a dense silence that takes over the empty halls of the Ateneo de Madrid. His artist’s being has been transformed.

In praise of creative freedom, the subject of countless conversations between Manrique and Dámaso, here is a letter from the former:

Could it be true? Could everything that we imagine in this wonderful experiment called life really be possible? (…) Could it be a dream of something unknown?

Therein lies the key. We always want to lay bare what lies behind the truth. We want to dive into it. We get lost, but I believe that what was really important is to play the game of life with utmost freedom. To make it the most beautiful and freest experiment. Let’s rid ourselves of all kinds of recipes, of all phobias, of all FEARS, especially FEAR. We should accept our fate with the courage of a great hero. And then, could you imagine what we are capable of? The power to choose is in our hands, what we really want to do. Life can be, and is, wonderful. Everything depends on yourself. Very few people have this awareness, and I’m not sure whether it is humanity’s legacy of thousands of years of experience full of suffering and frustration caused by hidden fears. Now I believe that it is the time of the new generation to make the big break, to cry out (…) Now I wait for future events, but what is important is to fill each minute of our life with experiments that are worth the effort, concentrating in order to know profoundly each instant with all the grand mystery of the unknown. What is important is to take life like an experiment, taking from it everything it offers us in a positive way, and being able to choose its profound poetry and song (…).[28]

The question was by no means trivial, or random or off the cuff: not so much a question that the paintings did not arrive to Madrid but rather that Dámaso was able to transform the situation, the absence of his paintings, into the actual leitmotif of the exhibition. Asking all sorts of questions, many of them of extraordinary depth, and some others that resonate in the questions about the consequences of the insular condition.

The opening, initially planned for 2 April and then postponed, eventually took place, in all seriousness and without paintings, on Friday 5 April 1963. Dámaso described it as follows: “despite the fact that the exhibition was officially organised by the Ateneo, my paintings were inordinately delayed by the Spanish customs. We sent out two invitations for the opening. And then a third one with a cocktail reception offered by them in which we had to open without paintings. They arrived two days later (…) the television cameras wandered around the empty hall, but only managed to record people wondering what was going on.”[29] The exhibition space at the Ateneo functioned like a liberator of energies.[30] An ecstatic and communicable action, mimicking his forerunner Klein[31], it was also underwritten by a certain serious ludus that Dámaso has often explored in his practice.

Dámaso was able to transform an administrative problem, related with the transport of a dozen works about La Rama, a festival in the village of Agaete, into a true artistic “action” that also reflects on the very limits of art. The press went to town on the controversy that rose up around the incident. This included a long article in Pueblo written by Antonio González, the following Sunday, with a significant headline: “For the first time: an exhibition without paintings”[32] and this other: “José Dámaso has pushed back the originality of all the abstractions of the world”. For Isabel Cajide it was, from the viewpoint of an art critic, ‘The Event’ of the art world in 1963: “the news of the season was the exhibition without paintings by Dámaso”[33]. And the news from Madrid, especially the double page article in Pueblo, published on Sunday, soon spread to the Canaries.

According to the press at the time, the paintings were held up at the customs office in Alicante for twelve days. On the difficulties caused by living on the islands, Dámaso would bitterly declare: “I was a victim of a fact that should be resolved once and for all. If the Spaniards in the Canary Islands want to present paintings on mainland Spain, why do we have to go through customs? This incident has not only happened to me. Pancho Cossío, Millares…, among many others, have also suffered from the same problems, although not only with such definitive consequences.”[34] The artist explained himself in similar terms in the aforementioned article in Pueblo: “I arrived to Madrid without the slightest incident, thanks be to God, but not my work (…) There was no way of getting around the hundreds of drawbacks from the customs office, and as I was left with no other choice, I made my presentation before my friends without paintings, with my hands empty (…) So there was nothing else to do: my exhibition was opened! (…)”[35].

The issues caused by the peculiarity of living on the islands still persisted in February 1971 when the artist was working on two simultaneous exhibitions, one at Galería Skira and the other in the halls of what was then the Museo Español de Arte Contemporáneo, at the National Library. The paintings for the show in the museum were, once again, held up at customs, forcing the opening of the show to be postponed until May that year.[36] The exhibition without paintings at the Ateneo could then be considered an early precedent of the conceptual ideas that would take root in Spain from the mid-sixties under the leadership of the ZAJ group.[37]

Earlier on we mentioned an eloquent photo in Informaciones and another image that shows Elvireta Escobio touching a wall in the empty hall, as if bewitched by the mystery. And Millares and Manrique together with “Moi” (Dámaso) portrayed against the black backdrop of the walls at the Ateneo behind them, with the look of a police mugshot. All that can be seen on the walls, and this is important, are the metal bars of the strip lighting for the paintings. And they have been divested of their object and lie exhausted against the walls.

 

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Elvireta Escobio y la pared vacía, 5/IV/1963.
Ateneo de Madrid. Sala de Prado, Exposición sin cuadros (La Rama), Madrid, 5-18 Abril 1963

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Ateneo de Madrid. Sala de Prado, Exposición sin cuadros (La Rama), Madrid, 5 Abril 1963

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Exposición vacía de Yves Klein, Galerie Iris Clert, Paris, 3 Rue des Beaux Arts (28 Abril-12 Mayo 1958). Con el título: “La Spécialisation de la sensibilité à l’état matière première en sensibilité picturale stabilisée”.

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Yves Klein, exposición “Raum der Leere”, KunstMuseum, Krefeld, 1961

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Exposición de Robert Irwin, “Experimental Situation”, 1970, Ace Gallery, Los Angeles-Courtesy Robert Irwin y Ace Gallery

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Michael Asher y Benjamín Buchloh. Exposición en Claire Copley Gallery Inc., Los Angeles (21 Septiembre-12 Octubre 1974)

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Exposición de Robert Irwin en el Museum of Contemporay Art, Chicago (Noviembre 1975-Enero 1976)

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Laurie Parsons. Exposición en Lorence-Monk Gallery, Nueva York, 1990
Courtesy Laurie Parsons

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María Eichhorn, “Money at the Kunsthalle Bern”, Kunsthalle, Berna, 2001
Courtesy María Eichhorn y Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin

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Raúl Valverde, “Empty Art Galleries, New York”, 2010-2017.
Cortesía Raúl Valverde

The public browsed through the exhibition catalogue of the missing works in the empty hall. Restless, the visitors wondered to themselves, “impatiently”, what was going on, as the press reported.[1] “Une salle apparemment vide, sans tableau ni sculpture. Rien que des murs repeints en blanc, un plafond blanc et, sur le sol, la moquette gris-noir (…)”[2].

Contradictorily, the paintings which depicted La Rama, a popular packed event, were hung a few days later in what had been until that moment the silent hall of the Ateneo. “It would have been a pity” wrote Isabel Cajide at the time, “for them to have been left in warehouses at the port of Alicante, or if they had been lost, as happened with another painter from the Canaries, Millares, in 1952”[3]. Art critics in Madrid who had barely considered his work before, wrote their respective reviews. This was the case of Carlos Antonio Areán, editor of the visual arts section in the Ateneo at the time of Dámaso’s (no)exhibition. To which we could add José de Castro Arines, the abovementioned Cajide, José Hierro and Manuel Sánchez Camargo, among others.

Areán spoke of the importance of his “inner dynamism”, underlining that his painterly research is of “profound originality”[4]. José Hierro called his painting “informal with slight allusions to reality; symbolic painting, where something which is not, originally, painting is obscurely represented.”[5] Sánchez Camargo wrote about his ability to “make a painting to which he heterodoxly adds the same earth of this geography.”[6]

As a kind of redress, a few days later, on the evening of 30 April, César Manrique arranged a party “with furious rhythm” (as described by the press of the time), at his home in Madrid at Calle Covarrubias. The invitation said: “Homage to the painter José Dámaso”[7]. For César Manrique, the party was also “the great event”[8].

 

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Exposición retrospectiva, José Dámaso. Obras desde 1951, en Caja Canarias. Santa Cruz de Tenerife, 30/VI/2009. Recreación de la exposición sin cuadros (1963)
Dámaso’s proposal joined others which in those years analysed what we could call creative silence. Mimicking Oteiza, the essence of existence is the absence, “man is defined by what he lacks.”[1] Therefore it is a silenced language, a clamour for the need for empty, “receptive, sacralised, spaces of protection”[2]. We continue to grow thanks to failure after failure.

Ultimately, those years of the sixties inherited the existential panic following the great world wars, a time for the proclamation of words but also for the other extreme: silence. These times of panic would also be, and perhaps as a consequence, times for defending silence as a possible weapon for creativity. Silences, silences… The silence of Klein painying in white almost at the same time as Oteiza fell dumb. Until a little before his early death, Yves equipped himself with a roller and a hat made with newspaper. Dressed up with this unsettling look, like a noble naïf uniform, nonchalantly, he would declare open the exhibitions of emptiness that would lead Albert Camus to sign the gallery’s visitors book, riffing on Roberto Juarroz’s maxim: it is well known that at the centre of emptiness there is another big party. A verbal paralysis close to the well-known doubt audaciously posed by Theodor Adorno on the need for poetry,[3] on its (im)possibility, and which would have its emulators in various other silenced voices that, like Dámaso, arose during the second half of the twentieth century.

The exhibitions in praise of nothingness and, ever since, the exhibitions of emptiness, would populate the history of contemporary art (I am reminded now of the work of Raúl Valverde and his Empty Series) and Klein would sardonically defend his attachment to the tangible world by rejecting any belonging to abstract entities: “I am an artist of the void, not an abstract artist. I am a figurative artist, a realist artist.”[4] Full powers to the void. Emptiness.

Silence.

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Juana Mordó y, al fondo, Pepe Dámaso. Still de escena de “Del amor y otras soledades”, de Basilio Martín Patino (1969)

 

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[1] Manrique went to the concert by Igor Stravinsky at Teatro Monumental in Madrid, accompanied by Dámaso, who did not manage to gain access. On 25 March 1955 Juan Gyenes portrayed Stravinsky conducting the Spanish National Orchestra.

[2] “At the time I was living in Madrid, caught up in vanguard circles; the meeting took place precisely when I was about to open my first abstract exhibition at Galería Clan; it was the year of 1954. Among the throng that crowded into the gallery on the day of the opening, a strange visitor appeared all of a sudden, who showed boundless enthusiasm and an accentuated interest in the painting, causing me great surprise. His letter of credentials was that he was from the Canaries and he was an artist. The impression caused by his capacity for wonderment, his spirit of observation and his enormous interest in art, was the initial reason for the beginning of a friendship that has remained unaltered until today”. MANRIQUE, César. Introducción. Text in the book “Dámaso”. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: Edirca, 1989, pp. 11-29.

[3] In 1951 Dámaso had had his first two solo shows in Gran Canaria; the first at Agaete and the second at Galería Wiot in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. This gallery, a pioneer for contemporary art, was directed by the painter Juan Ismael at that time (between 1947 and 1957). By the time Dámaso met Manrique he had had shown again individually at Wiot (1952 and 1953). Casino de la Luz, Exposición de pinturas José Dámaso Trujillo, Agaete, 4-6 August 1951; Galería Wiot, José Dámaso Trujillo-De Agaete-Óleos, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 15-30 November 1951; Galería Wiot, Óleos-José Dámaso Trujillo, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 6-24 July 1952; Galería Wiot, Bodegones, Paisajes, Marinas, Acuarelas (Poema guanche), Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 5-21 October 1953.

[4] “This self-taught artist surprises us with his superb vision and practice, a polished mix of colour and strength in term, wise perspective and plays of light and shadow; with his impressive sense of landscape dovetailing with the pictorial sensibility of our times. His works speak of exceptional aptitudes, affording glimpses of character in someone who no longer addresses painting under the shadow and advice of academies and masters.” DORESTE SILVA, Luis. José Dámaso, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: “Falange”, 10/08/1951.

[5] WESTERDAHL, Eduardo. Dámaso. Santa Cruz de Tenerife: “La Tarde”, 14/05/1956: “The group I am speaking of comprises, in sculpture, Eduardo Gregorio, Plácido Fleitas and Martín Chirino, a youth of 30 years. Among the painters are the advanced Manolo Millares, Felo Monzón, Elvireta Escobio, Fredy Szmull, Juan Ismael, Pino Ojeda, César Manrique and José Dámaso, another youth full of concerns.”

[6] These were politically troubled times, with the preparations for the official celebration of the so-called “twenty-five years of peace”, and upheavals in social life. See in this regard: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Manolo Millares. Del Pozo del Tío Raimundo a Rambla de Cataluña. In: “Manolo Millares: Building Bridges, Not Walls”. Barcelona: Galería Mayoral, 2017. In the press, news about Dámaso’s exhibition without paintings appeared alongside ads for “Torrijas de Semana Santa”.as one can see in the article: GONZÁLEZ, Antonio. Por primera vez: una exposición sin cuadros. Madrid: “Pueblo”, 7/04/1963.

[7] We will return to this issue later, though it is generally accepted that his decision to stage an exhibition without paintings recalled Yves Klein proposal from 1958 which envisaged an exhibition void (Galerie Iris Clert, La Spécialisation de la sensibilité à l’état matière première en sensibilité picturale stabilisée, Paris, 28 April -12 May 1958).

[8] DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. José Dámaso: el extraño visitante. Santa Cruz de Tenerife: Caja Canarias, 2009, p. 15. “Los Flaps, a group made up of aeronautic students, who were all the rage at the time, played Twist music at the party alongside Adilia Castillo, ‘La Voz de Venezuela’ and Reinaldo Sánchez. Did Los Flaps sing the song from their first LP ‘El vagabundo de la playa’…, that hymn to solitude, to melancholy, indulging in ‘un vagabundo quiero ser / por la playa quiero caminar’?…”.

[1] La Umbría (1975), on a theatrical poem by Alonso Quesada and set in Agaete in 1918. It is the first of what Dámaso called his trilogy, which he would follow up with Réquiem para un absurdo (1980) and La Rama (Collage) (1989). Having said that, he often claimed that the first two were in fact a stylistically cohesive cinematographic pair, with La Rama (Collage) being a separate entity. DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. El cine de Pepe Dámaso-La trilogía de dos películas. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: International Film Festival, 19/03/2010.

[2] Dámaso travelled to the Venice Biennale in 1966, where he met the official curator of the Spanish pavilion Luis González Robles, who invited him to the following Venice Biennale in 1970, where he presented a series of drawings, “Diez (dibujos) con un tema”, grouped together under the title “Bing” (1966), revolving around the short story of the same name by Samuel Beckett, who we will return to later. Dámaso explained Beckett’s obsessive, dense and intense story, inspired in what one could perhaps call a white universe, succinctly to the press in the Canaries: “one of various bodies in complete immobility, an atmosphere which alternates between hot and cold and between bright and dark; they do not seem alive, but one can hear whispers every now and again. An obsession with whiteness”. GONZÁLEZ-SOSA, Pedro. Pepe Dámaso representará a España en la próxima Bienal de Venecia. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: El Eco de Canarias, 6/05/1970. To a certain extent, his exhibition without paintings has some relationship with the world of Beckett.

[3] “This skeletonist tendency is timeless. Within this dynasty related with memento moris, with the passing of beauty and with the fragility of worldly things, past centuries saw artists like Grünewald, Deutsch, Baldung-Grien, Marcadante de Ravenna, Calcar, Durer, Della Bella, Valdés Leal, Daumier, Posada, Wiertz, and so on, until we arrive at more recent examples like Munch, Ensor, Redon… Dámaso has not chosen an easy path. Dámaso has confronted the transcendence of death, its triumph and its erotic permanence. He has placed all these characters in a ceremonial setting. With this work —to my way of thinking the most important in his entire practice— he pays tribute to three great artists of his homeland, Néstor, Tomás Morales and Alonso Quesada. It is, ultimately, a timeless museum work” WESTERDAHL, Eduardo. Dámaso, pintor ceremonial de la muerte. Tenerife: El Día, 8/02/1977, p. 4.

[4] Dámaso told the press in the Canaries what he believed to be the paradigm shift in art: “one can clearly see that the concept of this new style is very vanguard. It is a painting of the space era (…) it was like a big fair where the light, motion and colour visually announced the world of the future”. He called Le Parc “a young kinetic artist who is showing the vast potential of light and movement”. DÍAZ CUTILLAS, Fernando. José Dámaso regresó a Francia e Italia. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: “Diario de Las Palmas”, 4/07/1966.

[5] As mentioned in a previous note, he visited the 33rd Venice Biennale in 1966 where Fontana had an individual hall. This edition was dominated by Op and Kinetic art, with works by Julio Le Parc and Jesús Rafael Soto. Retrospective shows were held in Venice of the work of Humberto Boccioni and Giorgio Morandi.

[6] These included: Oí crecer las palomas (1955), by Manuel Padorno (1956); Después de la caída (After the Fall, 1964) by Arthur Miller, directed by Jesús Aristu at Teatro Pérez Galdós in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (1965); the sets and stage design for the West African Ballet at Teatro Pérez Galdós in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (part of the sets were based on photos taken by the artist himself in Dakar, acknowledging the influence of the renowned stage designer and collaborator with Brecht, Erwin Piscator (1893-1966), who died in 1966; sets and costumes for Verdi’s Othello, with Mario del Monaco, for the opera season in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (1972); stage design (lighting and costumes) for a number of works premiered at Teatro Pérez Galdós in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, on 27 and 28 June that year directed by Gelu Barbu (Sergei Prokofiev: The Love for Three Oranges; Bela Bartok: Prelude and Fugue; Gustav Mahler: Adagietto). It is particularly worth underscoring, for its significance, the stage design for Momente (1962-1969) by Karlheinz Stockhausen (1972); the stage and costume design for La estatua y el perro by Alberto Omar (1973), at Teatro Laboratorio (1974).

[7] Coinciding with his work at the crypt in Casa de Colón, in 1971, Dámaso filmed some images which he dedicated to Federico García Lorca. Lasting a little over six minutes, the film was shot on 16 mm, with Dámaso acting in front of the camera carrying out various surreal actions.

[8] The exhibition previously cited: José Dámaso. Obras desde 1951. Caja Canarias, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, 30 June-29 August 2009 (Santa Cruz de Tenerife) and at Centro de Arte Juan Ismael, Puerto del Rosario, Fuerteventura, 30 Septeember-15 November 2009.

[9] CALVINO, Italo. Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Vintage, London, 1996.

[10] “And this introduction to La Isleta remains, and what’s more it often assails me, also staking its claim to centrality in Pepe Dámaso’s body of work. A cultivated artist who nevertheless, in his self-recognised ability for premonitory dissociation to perceive worlds-not-of-this-world, is able to survive freely in the troubled waters of today, at the same time finding time for profound issues”. DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. José Dámaso: el extraño visitante. Op. cit. p. 10. The quote from Fernando Pessoa is, of course, from his “The Book of Disquiet”.

[11] BECKETT, Samuel. Bing. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1966.

[12] Dámaso used this quotation from the musician’s autobiography in the programme for “Ciclo de arte moderno”, which included the first reading of the work Oí crecer las palomas (1955), by Manuel Padorno on 21 October 1956. A declaration of intent by Dámaso that we still cite with certain frequency: STRAVINSKY, Igor. Chroniques de ma vie. Paris: Editions Denoël, 1935-1962, p. 190.

[13] “(…) En aquellos instantes de cardo y ceniza”. SAURA, Antonio. Viola y Oniro. Madrid: “Cuadernos Guadalimar”, no. 31, 1987, p. 6. A series of texts written in 1936 sent to Antoni García Lamolla.

[14] ALEMÁN, Ángeles. Dámaso: ‘Lo único que nos puede redimir de los fantasmas isleños es la modernidad’. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: “La Provincia”, 14/04/1988.

[15] DÍAZ CUTILLAS, Fernando. Pepe Dámaso expondrá el próximo año en Copenhague y en el Ateneo de Madrid. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: “Diario de Las Palmas”, May 1962, not dated in artist’s archive.

[16] Although the exhibitions started in 1954 with one dedicated to Vázquez Díaz. Among others, we would underscore those by: José Luis Sánchez (1955); José María de Labra (1955); Joaquín Vaquero Turcios (1955); Pablo Serrano (1957); Will Faber (1957); Manolo Millares (1957); Carmen Laffón (1957); Rafael Canogar (1957); Antonio López García (1957); Manuel Hernández Mompó (1958); Martín Chirino (1958); Fernando Mignoni (1958); José Vento (1958); José Caballero (1958); Gerardo Rueda (1958); César Manrique (1958); Lucio Muñoz (1958); Manuel Rivera (1959); Venancio Blanco (1959); Joaquín Vaquero (1959); Josep Guinovart (1959); Pancho Cossío (1959); Cristino de Vera (1959); Francisco Farreras (1959) or Juana Concepción Francés (1959).

[17] GONZÁLEZ, Antonio. Por primera vez: una exposición sin cuadros. Op. cit.

[18] A photo similar to the one shown by Torremocha in the aforementioned article in “Pueblo”. “The TV cameras, according to eye-witnesses from the press at the time, “wandered around the empty hall, but only managed to capture people anxiously wondering what was going on”. RODRÍGUEZ DEL PINO, Antonio. Un pintor canario consagrado: Dámaso. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: “Falange”, 23/07I/1963.

[19] RODRÍGUEZ DEL PINO, Antonio. Un pintor canario consagrado: Dámaso. Ibid.

[20] Between 28 April and 12 May 1958, Klein presented it at the Iris Clert gallery, at 3 Rue des Beaux Arts, Paris

[21] Quoted in the catalogue: Various. Vides. Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2009, p. 38

[22] For Klein they were unnecessary, and he also recalled Melville’s Bartleby: “I’d prefer not to” or the disinterest of Goncharov’s Oblomov. See also: “The Air Conditioning Show” (1966-1967) by Art & Language; Robert Barry (Galleria Sperone, Turin, 1970); Laurie Parsons (Lorence-Monk, New York, 1990); Bethan Huws (Haus Esters Piece, Museum Haus Esters, Krefeld, 1993); Roman Ondak, “More Silent than Ever” (GB Agency, Paris, 2006).

[23] DESCARGUES, Pierre. L’homme qui a vendu du vide. Lausanne: “Tribune de Lausanne”, 30/10/1960.

[24] Various. Exposición sin cuadros. Madrid: “Informaciones”, 6/04/1963. Photo by Antonio San Antonio.

[25] GONZÁLEZ, Antonio. Por primera vez: una exposición sin cuadros. Op. cit.

[26] Centre Pompidou, Vides-Une retrospective-Art & Language, Robert Barry, Stanley Brouwn, Maria Eichhorn, Bethan Huws, Robert Irwin, Yves Klein, Roman Ondák, Laurie Parsons, Paris, 25 February – 23 March 2009. It is also worth bearing in mind Ivo Mesquita’s empty proposal for the 28th Sao Paulo Biennial (2008).

[27] FRÉMON, Jean. A Samuel Beckett le aprietan los zapatos. Elba: Barcelona, 2017, p. 89.

[28] Letter from César Manrique to José Dámaso, 25/10/1971, in “M-S.BLENHEIM-Londres-Madeira (Noruega)”. Unpublished, courtesy of the artist’s archive.

[29] Two days later the paintings in the exhibition on the party in Agaeta by “La Rama” ended up arriving at Ateneo. RODRÍGUEZ DEL PINO, Antonio. Un pintor canario consagrado: Dámaso. Op.cit.

[30] On this issue, Mesquita had this to say: “We want the city to engage with the biennial. How can we present paintings in this context? We have to rethink the current exhibition format, to question its existence (…) it will operate as a place that liberates energies.” PULIDO, Natividad. “São Paulo, bienal sin obras de arte”. Madrid: ‘ABC de las Artes’, 27/10/2008.

[31] Yves Klein, Invitation to the Collette Allendy and Iris Clert galleries, Paris, May 1957

[32] GONZÁLEZ, Antonio. Por primera vez: una exposición sin cuadros. Madrid: “Pueblo”, 7/04/1963.

[33] CAJIDE, Isabel.”Dámaso”. Madrid: Teresa, 04/1963

[34] Pepe Dámaso in: DÍAZ CUTILLAS, Fernando. “José Dámaso expone en el Ateneo de Madrid”. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Diario de Las Palmas, 6/04/1963, p. 11.

[35] GONZÁLEZ, Antonio. “Por primera vez: una exposición sin cuadros”. Op. cit.

[36] On this particular issue Manuel Augusto García Viñolas wrote that: “And now, between brackets, I am told that the exhibition of drawings by Dámaso was to be matched with another show of large oil paintings at the Contemporary Art Museum. And that it was not possible because of red tape at the customs office has tied up his paintings until today. Customs procedures for the works of Spanish artists that arrive to mainland Spain from another part which is as Spanish as the Canary Islands! This is something that is very difficult to explain, yet true all the same”. GARCÍA-VIÑOLAS, Manuel Augusto. Dámaso-Paseo Por las Artes. Madrid: Pueblo, 21/II/1971.

[37] We ought to recall that four years later Juan Hidalgo would present one of his works within the context of Dámaso’s exhibition at Galería Seiquer, Dámaso. Homenaje a Juanita, Madrid (1-16 December 1967). On 13 December, Hidalgo presented his Viaje a Argel.

[1] According to eye-witness accounts of journalists at the time, TV cameras “wandered around the empty hall, only managing to record people wondering what was going on”. RODRÍGUEZ DEL PINO, Antonio. Un pintor canario consagrado: Dámaso. Op.cit.

[2] RIOUT, Dennys. Yves Klein-Exaspérations 1958. In the catalogue Vides. Op. cit. p. 38

[3] CAJIDE, Isabel. El ‘realismo’ de Dámaso. Madrid: “Artes”, 1/05/1963

[4] AREÁN, Carlos Antonio. Dámaso. Madrid: “La Estafeta Literaria”, 27/04/1963.

[5] HIERRO, José. Dámaso. Madrid: “El Alcázar”, 18/04/1963.

[6] SÁNCHEZ CAMARGO, Manuel. Dámaso. Madrid: “Hoja del Lunes”, 13/05/1963.

[7] “Dámaso posee un amplio archivo de nuestra correspondencia, por su obsesión de guardar cualquier acto señalable”. MANRIQUE, César. Introducción. Text in the book “Dámaso”. Op. cit.

[8] Letter from César Manrique to Elvira Trujillo, José Dámaso’s mother, dated 29/04/1963. In the artist’s archive. Los Flaps, a group of aeronautical students played twist music at the party which also featured performances by Adilia Castillo, “La Voz de Venezuela” and Reinaldo Sánchez (The history of Los Flaps is outlined in: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. José Dámaso: el extraño visitante. Op. cit.). Among those in attendance, the press of the time spoke about over three hundred people at a cocktail reception given by the renowned restaurant “José Luis”. Guests included: Ramón Areces, Claudio Bravo, José de Castro Arines, Manuel Conde, Pancho Cossío, María Droc, Luis Escobar, Elvireta Escobio, Luis Figuerola Ferretti, Manuel Mampaso, Agustín and Manolo Millares, Manuel H. Mompó, Lucio Muñoz, Luis de Pablo, José Paredes Jardiel, Pedro Perdomo, Cirilo Popovici, Alejandro Reino, Gerardo Rueda, José Luis Sánchez, Manuel Sánchez Camargo, Eusebio Sempere, Claudio de la Torre, Vicente Vela, Vicente Viudes and Nadia Werba. Various. “Homenaje al pintor José Dámaso en Madrid”. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: Diario de Las Palmas, 05/1963.

[1] The issue of the void and its energetic presence in the art of our time is addressed in: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Oteiza: del arte oficial al silencio. En La sombra de Oteiza en el arte español de los cincuenta. Alzuza-Zaragoza: Fundación Museo Jorge Oteiza e Ibercaja, 2009-2010. See: OTEIZA, Jorge. Quosque Tandem…! Ensayo de interpretación estética del alma vasca. San Sebastián: Auñamendi, Azkue collection, 1963. Reedited by Fundación Museo Oteiza Fundazio Museoa, Alzuza, 2007, p. 193. The pagination refers to the re-edition.

[2] PELAY OROZCO, Miguel. Oteiza. Su vida, su obra, su pensamiento. Bilbao: La Gran Enciclopedia Vasca, 1978, p. 583. The mention is almost textual.

[3] The well-known original quote, written according to Adorno in 1949, was published in the article “Cultural Criticism and Society” (Cambridge: “Prism”, MIT Press. Reprinted in London, 1967): “The critique of culture is confronted with the last stage in the dialectic of culture and barbarism: to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric, and that corrodes also the knowledge which expresses why it has become impossible to write poetry today.”

[4] WEITEMEIER, Hannah. Yves Klein, 1928-1962: International Klein blue. Colonia: Taschen Basic Art Series, 2001 p. 32.