Published in Salamanca. DA2-Domus Artium 2002. Exhibition I am the Cosmos, 2018
FÉLIX CURTO. DEFAMILIARISATION AND CONSCIENCE
ALFONSO DE LA TORRE
TRANSLATION COURTESY FROM: TERESA MARTÍN
Moving to and fro. To and fro.
Conceiving a fantastic space whose reading seems to remain always open, Félix Curto (Salamanca, 1967) — a pursuer of territories, places, situations, objects, landscapes or things outdoors and indoors — moves from one place to another multiplying and expanding his records from all around the world. As a result, the viewer goes from encountering a distant point in the world to facing a gathering of elements that seem to refer to an endless place, feeling the overwhelming sensation that everything, even those things that are in full view, remains to be seen. As Walter Benjamin said, the key to experience is a somewhat distracted perception and Curto seems to transfer this distracted perception to the images, whose value and persistence he declares while at the same time presenting them in a trance-like atmosphere. As if a revelation was part of the plot, we feel that unique stars reign in his eyes (to evoke one of the titles of his series) and so, together with a kind of dormant state, his works convey a certain impression of defamiliarisation, an ostranenie that our artist displays as an emblem of his contemporaneity, as a mood, as a level of consciousness.
He interweaves the stories of the world with the fabric of his own life. A peaceful epic filled with soul, sometimes traversed by memories and music, readings or visions, glances into his life, open hearts: such a multidirectional display has sometimes reminded me — now that I am revisiting his exciting “Hoods” — of Robert Rauschenberg’s depiction of his life’s road and the expanded energy of his Monogram (a goat with a rubber tyre on top of a painting). Curto looks closely but often explores distant places, other parallel worlds or lives beyond, creating a laboratory of images through a concentration of multiple meanings where he experiments with personal passions. Practising a kind of travelling shot, with wide images gliding towards short glances at the near and apparently minor things, his is an art of metaphors, of rituality, of hieroglyphics rather than of logos, an art populated by similarities and displacements that seems to drift apart by means of the aforementioned ostranenie, by means of this showing from close what is distant, as in a dream.
I described him years ago as postdadá, and I saw then something mystical in his work that now, some time later, I confirm, and that quiet air perhaps connects him with some of the objects of his aesthetic or personal admiration. I sometimes see his images as reflecting uninhabited universes, spaces belonging to a world whose inhabitants had disappeared. And I think that there have been times when Curto has been withdrawn into himself, but strengthened and joyful, turning his back on the world of art conventions, meticulously building a story that is now fundamental, because it has ended up becoming his work.
We need a language for our ignorance, stated the diarist Witold Gombrowicz, and Curto, whose artistic trajectory I also see as a kind of diary, builds his language by developing his narrative in a circular way, maybe with hopeful melodies, in the style of Neil Young. Beautiful pages from Félix’s journal are, for instance, the recovery of certain objects, such as the creation of the wonderful crystal glass Dad (2007), in reminiscence of Duchamp’s Paris Air. Curto’s is rather an “Air from Beyond”, the emotion of the memory of his father and his eternal legacy, the beautiful and symmetrical word that remained in the air of the mysterious glass, trembling. Or a serpentine handwriting, a silver wire that draws in the air, marking out a space of nothingness: pain unites the world. On the desert sand, animal bones write the word Love (2007), which also unites the world. He raises an altar — dear Mexico — where the candle flames will flicker over the faded photographs of boxers of another time (Brown Sugar Ray Robinson, 2005). Or he does portraits, one of which I remember was done with the incarnation of the ancestors in mind. And other images present a car shown in a still part of the world, since for Curto the car is also a symbol of the laboratory — a “ship”, in his own words, which reminds us of interstellar space — from where he contemplated the world while travelling. And images of the mysterious landscape of the real, or the roads that lead to infinity, like an autobiography written in the third person. A music.
Art of the border of an artist of the borders, Curto’s is the work of a creator who is resolutely immersed in complexity, whose work contains keys — often musical references —, which are the form in which his lyricism crystallises and offer the viewers a possible entrance to his work. He is a complex artist, as I mentioned, a traveller between photography and installation, from the found object to the concept and, from there, back to painting and to a new path towards a poetry of the letter, something that connects him with the Letterist International, derivative of that chapter that in the history of contemporary art has been known as “Art & Language”. An artist tempted by a journey in multiple directions into the shadows, his work raises a host of questions that makes him resistant to categorization. We have paintings in which we find letters dancing in the pictorial space — something, on the other hand, which has been common in the art of our time: Picabia or Picasso, the sailing lyricism in Kurt Schwitters’s scraps of papers or Cy Twombly’s burning words, and many others such as Jack Goldstein, Grilo, Jonic, Lebel, Nöel, Millares or Wols. Or he dreams of loose verses, in Mallarmé’s style. It is the epic of the wall, which has been so important in the 20th century. Décollages, the abduction of the posters, the beautiful scars on the torn walls: François Dufrêne, Mimmo Rotella, Raymond Hains and Jacques Villeglé, Gil J. Wolman, or many others, also Alberto Greco. Curto is a descendant of Brassaï, capable of extracting beauty from the least noble places to build fragments of resonant letters. Sometimes even his neon words shine, words that can ride in the air or embrace an object, transforming it in a quivering jewel. He is a seeker of the different beauty of a face, of indescribable landscapes — and its limitless energy — or of a view of an urban corner, a lover of the young god of the seemingly lesser, of what is considered insignificant. Curto is an impure artist with the inexpressible air of a solitary star whom it is hard to fit into the routine taxonomy of the art of our time.
Except for his beautiful series on the Mennonites, Curto generally looks at the world as if he were a visitor arriving only one day after the catastrophe, or as an early spectator of the day that dawns, and this tenacious collector of fragments of times and places looks at the space around him in attentive, intense listening. Often immersed in the beautiful harmony of sequences, of the variation of images, in his series, some of which I consider ineffable — such as “Carros” (1996), “Desert Recordings” (2005-2006) or “Heart of Gold” (2008) — the artist shows his insistence on classifying subjects. Albums of his personal passions, the images are subjected to variation knowing that this is one of the main themes in nowadays art, as if trying to conclude series that at the time caught his attention. Space. Time. I am the Cosmos, says one of his works, which gives its title to this exhibition. Curto talks about the world but he also talks about himself, about how he contemplated, how he was, lived, dreamed and got to know the vast world. And in that mission, in that self-giving act, he seeks to become submerged, to become diluted, to make us dilute ourselves in the immensity that his eyes saw.
These days I was casually browsing through Tàpies’s Memoria personal [Personal Memory], which opens with a quote from Lie Tsen: “Hou K’ieou-tsen said: what is the ultimate goal of the traveller? The ultimate goal of the traveller is to ignore where he is going.” Of course, whenever I think of Mister Soul-Curto, he becomes the image of the romantic artist, capable of sitting at the table of time with Kerouac or certain beat artists, and I see how his auratic work (hey, Walter) is interspersed with the praise of the visions one has while on the road: music, books, objects, places, memories, people or emotions. His work is the journal of someone who has crossed spaces and times, someone who has seen the world and is giving it back to us. Let me dream. Let me dream. And, as the journal of a creator, his work shows us the essence of his life — often in territories of strangeness — while, generously, revealing the testimony of that existence in the spirit. And after that — with a subtle beauty that does not insist in being only in splendour —, he presents himself light and empty, like one who stops light-heartedly at a bend in the road. His images will go on shining: poetic narratives that declare that the artist of our time will be he or she who has become a singular, unique being, he who has encountered the trembling space of the world.
In this place, Curto seems to concur, I found beauty, I found rest.