Mar. 12, 2011 / May. 21, 2011

Pedro Morales Elipe / La piel


Opening: 12th March 2011
Exhibition: From 12th March to 21st May 2011

The skin, the stones, the water

The mythological subject is, perhaps, a place in which painting has reinvented itself. A space of extreme freedom, where everything seems subjugated to a ceremony of confusion of opposites. Where all encounters are possible. Bodies fighting in Nature: David and Goliath, Apollo and Marsyas, Actaeon and the dogs, Narcissus pursuing his own shadow… An event in a landscape in which gods, men and Nature are woven together and get mixed up, and in which time is suspended, arrested, abolished, and the air whips things up in all possible directions.

Experts in Poussin’s painting techniques explain that the layers of paint that he applied were so thin that his figures, with time, seem to be on the verge of disappearing, or getting mixed up and merging with the landscape – which is more or less the same. It indeed seems that, in this way (the skin of painting devoured by time), myth finds its real meaning and the heat of the quarrel reaches a break in absolute transparency, fusing together with the landscape, becoming flesh with it. Crystal bodies, very thin skins hang from the trees, lost in dense thicket, dissolved in water. Shreds in the wind. Bones scorched by the sun.

The landscape in which the comings and goings of gods and men is, on the other hand, pure invention, a bedstead for events and, as such, it is shaped to fit them, as an illusory construction that echoes the bodies, that prolongs or provides their anatomies with a scale, that intensifies or lessens their efforts, their busy toils, their desires. Landscape, therefore, does not exist as such, since it does not depict a place, but founds it, sustains its meaning and constitutes its plot.

The landscape turns also transparent, transparent with sheer visibility. The thin and deceiving surface of painting is the illusory space in which this battle is fought. Things waging war in painting, waiting for conciliation. Thin skin of painting, in which the visible is shaped from its outside, from its limit, from its outer-ness. Surface of friction with the world.

We know that where Rothko truly found what he had sought for years, the dramatic space that he wanted for his paintings, was in the trip he made through Italy during the summer of 1959 (Naples, Pompeii, Ercolano, Paestum…). It was the vibrant surface of the fresco paintings in the Villa of the Mysteries that confirmed him in the eloquence of the path chosen. “I’ve been painting Greek temples all my life, without knowing it,” he admitted to his travel companions. Worried as he had always been for the mythic world, that parallel space of meaning in which things wage war, find each other again and discover a break under a grapevine, through underground paths, Rothko found a deep affinity between the lacquered red of the fresco paintings and the wide extensions of sombre colour that filled his paintings. He could see that, in effect, such timeless space had bones, had flesh and had skin. His trip to the stones was in fact a trip that took him back to the walls of his New York workshop, after resting, as we see him in a photograph, having a lunch of bread, cheese and wine with his friends in the shade of the columns, under the vault of the Temple of Hera, in Paestum. In an interview, Rothko makes these comments on his painting from 1935 Group of People at a Subway Station: “Very thin and tall figures, like vertical bars. It reminds us of Giacometti… Hats, eyes, women’s purses, etc. are simple dots of paint. The figures have a ghostly, languid, ephemeral existence…”

Another, some younger, North American painter, Cy Twombly, finally finds water under the Roman paving, too, like a dowser, and after his trip to Italy, in August 1952 (in company of his friend Robert Rauschenberg), he finally stays and settles his workshop in Rome.

The Skin is a storyline and is also an obviousness, in the paintings making up this exhibition. Body and landscape are the two elements that chart the tour in which the references to the mythological world are not there in any explicit, recounted way, but rather like a family air that jumps from some paintings to others, like surfaces that were interchangeable, that changed their appearances and sought spaces of nearness beyond their limits. The paintings seek one another in order to broaden their conversation. A conversation already started.

The Skin, which is both surface and casing, like painting, silently awaits that look that will bring it to life and bring meaning back.

In a painting created by Poussin in August 1648 and entitled Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake, also called The Effects of Terror, we first of all see on the far left a woman or a man lying on the ground, hugged by an enormous snake that devours him and drags him towards the bottom of the water, over which his arms, his head and his hair are already hanging. Poussin, fascinated by snakes, would allude to “those who are born by spontaneous generation from the dorsal spine of a dead man” and might have drawn inspiration from a text from Ovid’s Metamorphoses that tells the story of a monstrous snake (possibly a dragon) that asphyxiates one of Cadmo’s mates.

Everything gets mixed up among the shadows of the rocks and vegetation: the quivering tunic, the reptile in the arms, the trunk and the legs. Everything precipitates towards the water, and the gloomy water is also devoured and drank by the earth. In the background, a group of travellers rest peacefully by the banks of a lake, beside some fishing boats, near the grove that partly covers the distance.

Everything turns transparent. Everything flows.

PME. February 2011