PABLO PALAZUELO: EL MILAGRO DE LA COSA UNA

PABLO PALAZUELO: EL MILAGRO DE LA COSA UNA

Text published in the catalog

PABLO PALAZUELO. ENSOÑACIÓN DE LA MATERIA.

Haro: Bodegas CVNE, 2022

Traducción: Lambe & Nieto

 

PABLO PALAZUELO: THE MIRACLE OF THE ONE THING

Alfonso de la Torre

Every act of true creation involves transgression. To create is to transgress, to go to the other side, to reconcile above and below, so that, in consonance with the Tabula Smaradigna, the miracle of the one thing can happen.

[…] I felt sculpture within myself.

Pablo Palazuelo, 1977[1]

 

All the big birds from the blue come to remain trapped in your dreams.

Claude Esteban (on Pablo Palazuelo), 1980[2]

When man imagines, he is completely imagination. When he imagines, he is not even imagining, he is undergoing imagination, in the effort and tension to imagine.

Maurice Blanchot, 1949[3]

 

Pablo Palazuelo, La Peraleda, Galapagar, 1953-1954
Maquette for Ascendente
17 x 11 x 13 cm.
Clay
Destroyed
Photo: Courtesy of Fundación Pablo Palazuelo archives

 

 

There is a poem by Paul Celan called “Solve” which is followed by another called “Coagula”, two terms that would appear to be taken from alchemy. The opening lines: “Also your / wound, Rosa”. There are two sculptures by Pablo Palazuelo (Madrid, 1915-2007), made barely three years apart. The first a strange flower, made in 1951, the second a cubist dice. After the flower wilted, the dice would adumbrate Palazuelo’s sculptural future in Ascendente, 1954, the work’s definitive title, equally denotative of an ambition that would remain throughout his whole sculptural practice: the dream of flight, what rises up from the roots to reach the solar plane, like a wish come true. A sculpture shaped by hands with kaolin, “a sculpture from the earth”[4] later transferred to bronze, which would also fulfil another Palazuelian precept: a reflection on forms that, following meticulous examination, would be later transferred to the final sculpture, something he would also do with his metal sculptures, previously conceived in a smaller format in cut sheets or often in pieces of wood screwed together, before finally being taken to the workshop. The artist’s sculptural concept consisted in the development of planes and volumes laid out in space: what was once expressed in the two dimensions of paper or canvas is now deployed in forms expanded in the totality of dimensional space. Ascendente was not a case isolated from the rest of his output but was rather a sculpture that dovetailed with his painting from the time, not at all removed from his pictures and drawings with facets of planes from the decade of the fifties,[5] and even close to some of his late suites of paintings, as exemplified by some of the work on exhibit, for instance Élan I, 2000, or De somnis (III), 2004, while at once creating a distance, as the sculptural output took to flight, to employ Palazuelian parlance, and at the moment of their true materialization there took place “a kind of continuous metamorphosis set up around them, leading to a play of forms in constant movement,”[6] allowing one to contend that when engaging with Palazuelo’s works, the contemplator is brought up short with the utmost estrangement, the silenced real, almost as if the forms had shaken off the chains of language.

The genesis of that first flower might well have blossomed from Palazuelo’s discovery in 1951 of Eduardo Chillida’s work in Villaines-sous-bois, in his studio which went by the name of Pompei, in which the Basque sculptor started to abandon traditional sculpture in order to explore a new formal world that questioned reality and appearances, while at once creating an inchoate set of forms that would lead to a permanent interrogation of our complex machinery of seeing. Asking questions about the visible, a reflection on the difficulty in constructing the gaze, Pompei was in itself a strange world ruled almost by a kind of freezing of forms, which looked like they were partial movements that broke up fragments of the body and which, in this way, when presented to our vision, appear to be suspended, also holding space and time on pause. At this juncture we would do well to recall Pablo’s and Eduardo’s frequent visits to the Louvre in the fifties, hell-bent on the arduous task of learning to unlearn, finding themselves nonplussed by the faceless-faces of the Cyclades and unsettling ancient Greek sculptures, seemingly driven to silence. Both of them perhaps overwhelmed, propelled toward the future, by other equally intense encounters from that same year of 1951 with a visit to Constantin Brancusi’s atelier in Impasse Ronsin in Montparnasse, the very place where they were also to meet Gaston Bachelard. And, if we were to add his admiration for Duchamp-Villon’s Head of a Horse,[7] 1914, we would have gleaned a large part of the references that underpinned Palazuelo’s early sculptural production. And we could also wonder whether that bicycle wheel, hanging on one of the walls of Pompei, was not in fact a silent homage to Marcel and his enduring influence on our histories.[8]

Like a voice in the mountain. Palazuelo’s sculpture was on the way, which is why it would not be strange that, after Chillida left France, Palazuelo wrote to him telling him all about the three-dimensional discovery of that strange flower and that, at the beginning of the new year of 1952, Chillida was to predict the future of Palazuelo, envisaging a sculptural future of his own, and that he would make “very sculptural” sculptures which would not be strictly distillations of his painting: “you will make extraordinary sculptures which have nothing to do with your painting, as they will be very sculptural, and, like your paintings, they will say what you want them to say and what you will end up saying.”[9] This is the premonition that would lead to the small Ascendente, made like the “orthogonal elevation of a drawing”, and that makes us call to mind his architectural past in Oxford[10] in those happy years before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Like Adam waiting to be breathed upon, that work was enough to, in his own words, feel sculpture within myself, almost like “an embryonic solution”[11] that would allow him to be able to represent “the dynamism of what is apparently static, the transits, those that constitute formation. The stillness of all this movement evokes sensations similar to those could be evoked by the slow flow of calm water.”[12] From the flower or from the earth, the solar plane, the rise up to the heavens and, from there, the return down to the waters and nature. This would enable us to evoke his rêve de vol, his dream of flight, as he was to call one of his later sculptures as a mature artist, a poetic imagining of what could be elevated in space, thus finding a sculptural work that, as Bachelard said, would be “aerial”, a bearer of the “illusion of flight” given that, as he put it, “the dynamic imagination is given, by the slender static form, an impulse that arouses its innate dream and induces it to elevate itself.”[13] It would therefore come as no surprise that one of the sculptures in homage to this philosopher—Élan formé, 1977—would also bear the word élan, impetus or aspiration. Birds from out of the blue trapped in his dreams as Claude Esteban would call a chapter dedicated to the sculpture El vueloin his seminal monograph, driven by that ascending impetus that could already be discerned in much of his painted output, as if “forms suddenly took off from the undefined extension of the plane and unfold in the countless settings of the air, that real space where the massiveness of the world expands under light in motion, with the surrounding shadow that moulds and corrodes things.”[14]

Working with metal throughout his creative practice, Palazuelo was constantly reminded of Juan-Eduardo Cirlot’s reflection in his Diccionario de símbolos, when he said that stone was no more than a solidification of creative rhythm and that metals were the solidification of cosmic energy.[15] It is impossible to separate nature from its creation. Furthermore, Palazuelo’s encounter with sculpture had been complex, following the unknown “strange flower” and the isolated case of Ascendente, the only witness of those incursions into space,[16] a sculpture rejected by his gallery which would not be exhibited in Maeght in Barcelona until 1977, the year when Palazuelo disclosed the gallery director’s blunder.[17] The cantankerous[18] artistic director of Galerie Maeght in Paris, did not want sculptures made by painters, with the ultimate consequence that it was not until the end of the seventies when, as Claude Esteban claimed, justice was done with the “second birth” of Palazuelo.[19] Back in 1962 he had already made three maquettes for sculptures for the interior of the headquarters of Hisa, a construction company owned by Juan Huarte, a renowned patron of the arts, continuing that earlier isolated experience from the fifties. The maquettes, reminiscent of hieratic columns, were generically called Projet pour une architecture, 1960-1962,[20] and, in the words of the artist himself, could be related with later experiences by Barnett Newman.[21] A wooden coffered ceiling in the home of the aforementioned patron would give him an opportunity to reflect, yet again, on a no man’s land, suspending a sculpture from on high in what Fullaondo classified as a new transfiguration of space.[22]

And after these magnificent adventures, caesuras of sorts, the sculptural impulse would start to blossom in 1967, the year when he made a group of new maquettes that, ten years later, would be turned into sculptures. Fleurir is the symbolic title of the first one, the one in the photograph where Palazuelo seems to take his new metal flower sailing through the air, as if it were exhaled from the paintings which are seen stacked in the scene. Primer brote (the first bud again harking back to botany) or Rêve de vol are others conceived with equally symbolic titles that same year. Impulsion suspendue, Se eleva or Miroir de formeswould be the names of new sculptures in 1977 which, like the case of Alada from 1993, would carry implicit in their titles the Palazuelian declaration of intent we have been talking about. Silently taking to flight.

Palazuelo’s move from painting to sculpture would come about as the result of a true need, a demand to transfer his reflections from the painterly plane to three dimensions, which he would explain by recurring to a vocabulary inherited from alchemy: “the very forms of painting, having been taken to the point of coagulation, of saturation, of solidification, have taken the leap into real space.”[23] Palazuelo’s sculptures dwell in the air, in such a way that they, both painting and sculpture, would share “the element and temperament we call air. As I said before, the upward diagonal shift towards the upper part of the picture dominates in my paintings, and it is very difficult for my sculptures to dissimulate the fact that they dwell in the air, there where, in agreement with Bachelard, ‘movement has primacy over substance’.”[24] An abyss of forms in infinite space, which we can never know, because of their “boundless formalizing capacity. Forms are born, always and forever, from the transformation of other unnameable forms. We can never know them, because they are not legion but fathomless, yet we can, through affect and reason, bear witness to the order or orders that they reflect. The human form, born from the earth, is a transfiguration of the earth, and its ultimate end, at once, is to transfigure that which brought it into being.”[25]

An unfolding of forms from the painterly plane to real space, perhaps that title of dream of flight would be particularly symbolic of this movement by the artist in which the opening to the spatial dimension takes place. At the end of the day, as Palazuelo would say: “the perception of immobile movement is a constitutive part of the profound perception of a sculpture.”[26] In his own words, coagulation that returns us to that alchemical gaze, the solve et coagula of flat forms. The encounter between paintings and sculptures, as happens now at CVNE, should come as no surprise, where it takes on special meaning, as if those painted forms, with their conspicuous corporeal yearning, had been concentrated in a kind of Threedimensionaland[27] or, on the contrary, as if forms and volumes in space could be laid down in an expression of their flatness in the paintings or drawings, in which case Flatland would then be their homeland. An unlimited transgression (remember “to create is to transgress”) and, transgressing-transcending, the imagining impulse bestows the power to expand the limitations of vision. Yes, indeed, a great leaning toward the prefix “trans”, to go beyond familiar forms cutting through the delusions of vision, the same adjunct that allows us to qualify the Palazuelian quest as “transgeometry”. And so, between the notification of the unfolding of forms and what one might call their growth, like a fixation of vectors or angles of development, the artist’s sculpture would increase in concentration, as happens in Voyage immobile, 1977, as if conserving the inertia it once had, but now crystalized in the forms that will embrace the trembling light of day.[28] Doorways[29] and thresholds are another two motifs of his sculpture, and accordingly the series Umbral, made in 1983-1989, or Umbrales from 1985, evoke the presence of arches or elements that go beyond the immaterialness of air and symbolize the existence of space, the creation of a place. As is also the case of those that enfold an empty space, like a box: to take some examples we have the active energetic spaces of Arca, 1980, or Tecton, 2005. Or erstwhile mysterious folds that double over themselves like books that promise an impending unfolding, metallic lecterns in potential, awaiting the process of their revelation, as in the case of the series Albula, 1982-1990, disclosed as a sculpture rising from an impulse coming “from there within”, from that inner Kandinskian need, an urgency difficult to explain, he claims, even to himself.[30] Sculpture elevates a form in space, but what truly matters takes place elsewhere: inside it and around it: “the space which surrounds a sculpture and space considered as an active vacuum inside that sculpture is always matter, energy, a matrix of infinite potential forms (…) in three-dimensional work the inner space is tension and matter.”[31] There Palazuelo found a homeland in sculpture as the true emotional realm because “for me the presence of emotion is stronger, more intense in a three-dimensional space in which it appears as if energy had found a more fitting field to express and exalt itself (…) the energy that moves through them or in them.[32]

We can contemplate these sculptures found in the quicksilver of his paintings, like a path leading to a you, to a you-are, that perceives, yet recalling that nobody can penetrate the Palazuelian realm without first having become a celebrant, a contemplator and even a vassal of a strange conjunction between the realm of the real and the realm of dream. A trip into that vast territory which, as he wrote,[33] Palazuelo felt was opening up before him. With art displacing us to our innermost narrows and, then, from there, freeing us.[34]

 

Pablo Palazuelo, 13 Rue Saint-Jacques, painting Persan Jaune (1962)

Photo: Fundación Pablo Palazuelo archives

 

__________________

NOTES

[1] AMÓN, Santiago. “Conversación con Pablo Palazuelo: ‘Crear es transgredir’.” Madrid: El País, “Arte y pensamiento”, 4 December 1977, p. 6.

[2] ESTEBAN, Claude-PALAZUELO, Pablo. Palazuelo. Paris: Éditions Maeght, 1980.

[3] BLANCHOT, Maurice. The Work of Fire (1949), trans. Charlotte Mandell. Meridian Crossing Aesthetics (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995), p. 138.

[4] ESTEBAN, Claude-PALAZUELO, Pablo. Palazuelo. Op. cit. p. 179.

[5] I am thinking of paintings like Composition or Composition abstraite, both 1950, or Variations, 1951.

[6] PALAZUELO, Pablo-POWER, Kevin. Geometría y visión. Granada: Diputación de Granada, 1995, p. 151.

[7] “I believe that if he had lived he would have been a great sculptor, because his Head of Horse, 1914, is one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century sculpture. He is one of the Duchamp brothers that most interests and intrigues me.” BONELL, Carmen. La geometría y la vida. Antología de Palazuelo, Murcia: Cendeac, Colección Ad Hoc-Monografías no. 10, 2006, p. 61. Palazuelo paid a tribute to him in a sculpture from 1980.

[8] We know that Palazuelo’s library included the writings of Marcel Duchamp, and also a catalogue of the work of his sculptor brother, Raymond. DUCHAMP, Marcel (Sanouillet, Michel (Ed.)). Marchand du Sel. Écrits de Marcel Duchamp. Paris: Éditions Le Terrain Vague, 1958 and DUCHAMP-VILLON, Raymond-FRIGERIO, Simone. Sculptures de Duchamp-Villon. Paris: Galerie Louis Carré, 1963. Courtesy of Gonzalo Sotelo and Fundación Pablo Palazuelo. Recalled in: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Calma, silencio, trabajo en paz. Pablo Palazuelo y Eduardo Chillida en Villaines-sous-bois, 1951. Madrid: Ediciones del Umbral, Colección Invisible no. 4, 2019.

[9] The letter and this affair are addressed in: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. “Pablo Palazuelo: Madrid-Paris-Madrid.” In Pablo Palazuelo: Paris, 13 rue Saint-Jacques (1948-1968). Madrid-Alzuza: Fundación Juan March-Fundación Museo Jorge Oteiza, 2010, p. 204.

[10] After studying in Madrid, he lived in Oxford between 1933 and 1936, where he attended the School of Arts and Crafts, taking classes in the Department of Architecture Design, where he passed most of the subjects in the Intermediate Examination at The Royal Institute of British Architects, with John H. Brookes as one of his most important teachers. This proved to be a highly fertile and unforgettable time for Paul Palazuelo.

[11] AMÓN, Santiago. Conversación con Pablo Palazuelo: ‘Crear es transgredir’. Op. cit.

[12] CALVO SERRALLER, Francisco. “Cuando trabajo, me parece que estoy escuchando…”. Madrid: “El País”, “Artes”, year IV, no. 121, 6 March 1982, cit. p. 3.

[13] Cited by: CALVO SERRALLER, Francisco. Ascensión luminosa: reflexiones sobre la escultura de Pablo Palazuelo. Madrid: Galería Soledad Lorenzo, p. 13.

[14] ESTEBAN, Claude-PALAZUELO, Pablo. Palazuelo. Op. cit. p. 177.

[15] CIRLOT, Juan-Eduardo. Diccionario de símbolos (1958). Barcelona: Editorial Labor, 1988. Updated version of the author’s famous: Diccionario de símbolos tradicionales. Barcelona: Luis Miracle Editor, 1958. “Stone is the first solidification of creative rhythm, the sculpture of essential motion. Stone is the petrified music of creation”. In Ibid., p. 362. And also, “metals symbolize solidifications of cosmic energy.” In Ibid., p. 304.

[16] ESTEBAN, Claude-PALAZUELO, Pablo. Palazuelo. Op. cit. p. 177.

[17] Galería Maeght, Palazuelo. Obra recent: escultures, tapissos, gouaches, dibuixos, gravats, Barcelona, 13 October-30 November 1977.

[18] Louis Clayeux (1913-2007). The term “cantankerous” has to do with an incident he had with Pablo Palazuelo, on rejecting his sculpture: he did not want sculptures made by painters, is what he told the artist. Clayeux was mistaken. “I made a piece in cast bronze in Madrid in 1954. Then I took it to Paris and showed it to Maeght, whose answer was that he was not interested in sculptures by painters. I was rather annoyed at this. Later, the Maeght gallery brought out an edition of six bronze copies which were all sold. It was entitled Ascendente”. PALAZUELO, Pablo-POWER, Kevin. Geometría y visión. Op. cit., p. 150.

[19] ESTEBAN, Claude-PALAZUELO, Pablo. Palazuelo. Op. cit. p. 183.

[20] One was later produced for the “Primera exposición Forma Nueva. El Inmueble. Palazuelo, Millares, Oteiza, Chillida, Sáenz de Oiza, Fernández Alba, Fullaondo” exhibition held in Madrid in 1967.

[21] “In 1962 I made some more linear drawings. The result took the shape of a set of orthogonal, hieratic forms reminiscent of columns (not far removed from certain later experiences by Barnett Newman), which I wanted to incorporate into architecture. In the end they were not materialized in sculptures and remained in simple maquettes”. AMÓN, Santiago. Conversación con Pablo Palazuelo: ‘Crear es transgredir’. Op. cit. These sculptures, ultimately unmaterialized projects as such, were however, according to the artist himself, the starting point for his later sculptural work. In this light we ought to view works like Arca, 1980; Horizontal I, 1980; Atris, 1981; Horizontal II, 1982; Horizontes, 1982, or Columna, 1985, including final pieces in his sculptural output like Indret, 1996, made for MACBA.

[22] FULLAONDO, Juan Daniel. Las artes plásticas en el hogar del coleccionista Juan Huarte. Madrid: “Forma Nueva”, no. 9, Madrid, October 1966, pp. 61-65.

[23] AMÓN, Santiago. Conversación con Pablo Palazuelo: ‘Crear es transgredir’. Op. cit.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] PALAZUELO, Pablo. “Notas sobre la escultura.” In Pablo Palazuelo. Escritos y conversaciones. Murcia: Colegio Oficial de Aparejadores y Arquitectos Técnicos, 1998, p. 87.

[27] Play of words suggested by: ABBOTT, Edwin. Flatland. A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884).

[28] ESTEBAN, Claude-PALAZUELO, Pablo. Palazuelo. Op. cit. p. 182.

[29] Sculptures from the suite Les portes, 1978, and Puerta, 1982.

[30] The statements in this paragraph are taken from: FERNÁNDEZ-BRASO, Miguel. Pablo Palazuelo-En el taller, Madrid: Ediciones Rayuela, 1983, pp. 82-83

[31] PALAZUELO, Pablo-POWER, Kevin. Geometría y visión. Op. cit., p. 152.

[32] PALAZUELO, Pablo. Notas sobre la escultura. Op. cit. pp. 87 & 88. The italics are Palazuelo’s.

[33] Coupling tireless formal experimentation with his vast trove of knowledge and learning, Palazuelo thus described the discovery of what he believed was his creative path: “I felt as if the perspective of a vast territory was opening before me.” DE LA TORRE, Alfonso.Pablo Palazuelo: el abismo de las formas. Guadalajara: Museo Francisco Sobrino, 2020. Mentioned by Palazuelo in the interview with Pierre Dumayet.

[34] I am recalling Paul Celan in The Meridian (1960): “Enlarge art? No. To the contrary: go with art into your innermost narrows. And set yourself free.”