© José Carlos Naranjo
Last updated:

Black trunk of the Pharaoh, Alan Sastre and José Carlos Naranjo by Benjamin Cockett. July 2017

The approach to painting of both Jose Carlos Naranjo and Alan Sastre suggests a deep point of questioning. How does the painterly; the natural flow of paint across a surface, become conditioned by a need to de-mystify? Painterly means an engagement with the surface, towards a full understanding of the materiality of paint. If paint moves then a painterly artist will move with it,declaring the surface to be fluid, alive. That the surface is in fact paint is an open declaration, assignificant as the fact that paintings can also be windows into another space, whether based ontraditional ideas about perspective, or the space created by looking into a monochrome colour.

The full bodied, painterly surfaces of Jose Carlos Naranjo’s paintings navigate from the purely abstract to representation of photographic images; with a mid drift towards his inherited history of paintings, as an artist yearning for an art in the grand manner. Previous works have included imagesby Velazquez, Goya, and El Greco, stripped of their religion, reworked in a stark monochrome. Images appear bleakly from his mobile phone to be re-worked vigorously on canvas, alongsidepurely abstract works; dark studies of regularity and repetition, ascending in heavy black impasto

“It feels good painting dark scenes, but I am looking always for another point of view. It is a technical process. Sometimes I make a connection with art history; sometimes I need time to make the real decision of what the painting is. I try to stay concentrated. Sometimes I step away and I am very surprised, maybe I will finish my life crazy, but now I am OK.”

In After the Waterseller (2017), Naranjo explores modern painterly sensibilities, the legacy ofabstract colour field painting in relation to one of the first paintings he ever saw, The Waterseller OfSeville, 1618 – 1622 by Diego Velazquez. Interpreting the painting only by memory, the blurredoutlines and warm earthy palette suggest an inner landscape of recall, a point at which his stream of consciousness resonates with a desire for the epic of their shared landscape. The warmly lit, burntsienna smock of the water seller becomes a bold sweep of warm Naples Yellow, reminiscent of Clifford Still’s existential struggle between man and nature, pushed into a dynamic abstraction.

The dichotomy of references in Naranjo’s work hit the canvas with a rare fluency, carried along by the oily weight of history. In Matter Of Faith II, (2017), we catch a figure turning obliquely away, caught by a flash of white light, illuminating a colour field of deep blue magenta greys. The brooding surround encloses her beneath heavily laden clouds; framed in black, doomed to her own randomsemiology. Fluid white brushstrokes hazily highlight her back in glinting X-ray on leather, a skeletal frame, ready to depart the great dance floor of life.

Naranjo’s pathological analysis conditions his subject to ideas of a mortal end, a void that he is compelled to represent. Re-united in the artist’s mind are six paintings by Goya, made for the Duke of Osuna on the theme of witchcraft and magic. The originals are scattered in various museums and two of the paintings have been lost. In one, a seer of visions stands objectified in a cloud of grey impasto. Another, the artist attacks with a pallet knife the image of Don Juan, the libertine womaniser, struck by a vision of white vandalised streaks. Elsewhere, two ape like figures, their faces echoing the skulls on the floor beneath them, work busily on a grey modern monolith beneat the skylight of an artist’s atelier. Their experiment seems doomed, naive, as though nothing cankeep them from death. Hooded figures gather on a hillside, before a mouth of flame, rising in Prussian blue clouds, echoing their dark thoughts; a black stone is levitated and the Medusa witch staggers, her head engulfed in a knot of absurdly, swelling serpentine coils. The scenes are imbued with new emotion and detail as Naranjo cajoles and manipulates the surfaces; a tender interpreter of historical space as well as a rational applier of paint as matter.

Naranjo ritualises a place in history as a sceptic haunted by the past, the weight of which is echoed in the grand levitation of Black Stone (2017). The stark composition surrounded by a flurry of shifting grey and black brushstrokes casually negotiates a legacy of abstract painting, halted and focused intothe cut out black stone rising from the centre of the painting. Shades of Malevich’s Black Square,1915, loom in its quest for a deep centre, dashed together from fragments of the past. Goya’s dark vision is now relived and revitalised, casting the spell of a new original painting.

At first sight the paintings of Alan Sastre suggest a weighty physical approach. Broad swipes of dripping paint elegantly define well proportioned canvases, highlights defining the texture of the marks. However on closer inspection we see that the painting surfaces are flat, crafted by an artist who has studied the implications of the gestural and the accidental, then shifted them into the realmof illusion in an unbroken stream of consciousness.

“Even when I am planning something, it doesn’t work. It is like a negative process. I am trying to do something; an image that I have in mind that never ever happens, however the process has its ownlife. I think about paint all the time, the history of abstraction,but at the same time I feel very concerned with digital life. I am taking everything very seriously; I don’t care if things are opposites.There is gestural abstraction, that side of things and then there is hard edged geometric abstraction. Iwant to take both sides. My balance is somewhere between Reinhardt and Pollock.”

A group of ten smaller paintings form part of Blind Paintings, 2017. Their iconography bristles with akind of primitivism as well as having the rigour of beautifully crafted signs. Sastre inherits a dynamic,earthy approach from fellow Catalonian, Antoni Tàpies. Intuitive mark making, improvised in astream of consciousness, resonate existentially, marking a point in time and space. Sastre’s mudcolours, illuminated by electric white light, move through a geology of layering. Rigid horizontal railsgive way to streaks of native orange. A Prussian blue nocturne fades against a flame of yellow light, splitting lush greens. An uncertain natural world flows and crackles with a heightened sense of signalling.

Sastre’s process, aligned with Pollock’s need to paint with nature, conjures up an expanse ofheroic,war torn space in Yo más luz no quiero (I do not want more light) (2017) The conflict is alsothat of methodology. Wild splashes of white and yellow paint fade into brown, harmony and hyperbole colliding at a fixed point of detail. The illusion of drips is incidental, the intuitiveconstruction of a wandering mind. He displays no desire to either comment upon his inheritedlanguage as an abstract painter, or create any distance from his intuitive interpretation of nature.The illusion does however suggest a history of action, gestures playfully de-constructed in the artist’smind. In Nuevo Día (New Day) (2017) blue horizontal drips, coolly impart a time when the paintingmight have been on its side; but they are an illusion, a jocular reminder of the painter’s finer art. A swirl of vivid rock pool aquamarine, illuminated by a glassy white light, evokes memories of a lost sublime,

“While the relationship of the sublime and the beautiful is one of mutual exclusivity, either one can produce pleasure. The sublime may inspire horror, but one receives pleasure in knowing that the perception is a fiction.” 1

The ambiguity of Sastre’s position, his modernist yearning for a painting after nature alongside his need to objectify the painting process itself, is amplified in Untitled (MP. Paynes Gray) (2017) finely balanced between a search for outright neutrality and its physical counterpart in the natural world; a silvery light breaks on its grey misty wash, defining the weight and movement of a grand painted gesture.

Notes1. (Beardsley, Monroe C. "History of Aesthetics". Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vol. 1, p. 27, Macmillan, 1973)