THE MINIMUM FOLD WITH MAXIMUM VOLUME PARADOX IN THE LATEST PAINTINGS BY FRANCISCO SOTO MESA
Óscar Alonso Molina
The "problem" seems to be whether painting is what is designed by the celebrated and rustic definition from Maurice Denis -" A flat surface, covered with colours in a definite pattern" or is it a kind of appearances mould , "an appearance which says that she is the one which causes appearance" , as Lacan suggests.
Ángel González García (1)
From the beginning of the nineties Francisco Soto Mesa's work has been concentrated around different variations of a rather delimited set, which is stable and recognizable both with plastic and conceptual interests, which have been plausible to be understood as an outline of his production ever since, even further away from the different facets the result is presented with, after the logical evolution undergone in its development and combinations every certain number of years, ending up by offering a slightly different image, as if it were slightly twisted, inside the mentioned investigation programme, so coherent in the end, therefore, as it is versatile.
At the same time, this very departure point for our analysis, which is focused specifically upon the mature production of his work - reached, I must insist, approximately during the last seventeen years (2)- to a better understanding of his most recent work, agrees in a good deal with the one often handled by his fortunate critique ever since (3), prone to underline a supposed circular movement carried out by his paintings upon themselves, and this would connect many of his primitive interests, as if in-between the artists had been slipping over a Moebius Strip to arrive in a different space which happens to be, in a certain way, the same one.
May it be as it is, the unquestionable fact is that the "Madrid-Ventanas" (Madrid-Windows) series, shown in nineteen eighty-six at the Centro Cultural de la Villa de Madrid (4) together with others less talked about at later dates, such as "Mesa y Silla" (Table and Chair), "Dos botellas, copa y lámpara: Relaciones de su proyección en el plano" (Two bottles, a stem glass and a lamp: Their plane projection relations), "Cuatro letras: Operaciones 1 a 32" (Four letters: Operations 1 to 32), and "Fragmentos de estructura elemental" (Elementary Structure Fragments), are prior to a work which is new in character often paradoxical in its development, and definitely completely singularized in what relates to character and the internal world of observations, where what cohabits is a mayor degree of abstraction -referential independence- with calls to the natural organic orders, the latest nearly inapprehensible in what relates to concrete identification, true, but with an unquestionable certain presence. It is therefore, with the appearance of this "monster assets", when normative handles are left behind, operations with a remarkable structuralist wisdom, his past trust in order or rule -both derived from mathematics or ciphers- and, Soto Mesa ventures suddenly during this inedited and widened stage in an unedited modulation, a lot softer, elastic and unexpected; here numeric determination is given enormous privileges, but those are never evident, since it is withdrawn from the immediate sight. Yes, indeed, from a definite point, the calculations, the constructive precision which had completely taken over the process, from beginning to end, delegate the greatest part of their strict handling, concretely those which affect the final aspect of pieces -that air of modular and minimalist aesthetics- on behalf or other purely pictorial sensibility where there is place for hues and subtleties which already affect the eye before the idea itself.
It is widely known that the artist always departs from a most personal drawing method (it has been accurately been named as "engine" or "starting system") (5) prone to admit textual strategies so incompatible apparently as hazard, geometry and mathematics, with automatic graphic impulse, the expressionist tension or the most submissive acceptability of the expert eye to the picture's perfect, harmonic, ruled composition. For all that, to put it in a nutshell, firstly, and all over a graph piece of paper which repeats the chosen format proportions to be finally performed over the canvas, Soto Mesa sets fifteen exact points, perfectly fixed, randomly which from that very moment become especially significant for the morphosyntactic structure which he is beginning to build. Next he joins them in triads, in a spontaneous manner by means of lines, allegedly without a previous intention of controlling the resulting composition (6). The next step already implies an elaboration of all that preparatory drawing "tinned hazard" -just to use the Duchampian expression- which will aim, in a process either analytic or intuitive, to get crystallized around some of those shapes, which are complex and articulated enough to obtain the approval of this artist who is seeking inside them the maximum concentration of paradoxes, an interesting fold: a posture, an image posing. Indeed, everyone of the resulting points, even if they have ended up to their position by means of the analytic will or hazard whim, turn into well delimited coordinates which will have to go beyond the canvas plane, and which will be respected nearly without exception by the painting. Nevertheless, there is still a missing last moment in all this surprising system of imposition/composition: it is when Soto Mesa assumes his last liberty to restitute and refute his own methodology, this way achieving the faculty to work with the best idea the drawing may offer him, his departing point, depending on what he has achieved by means of the described steps. It is then when, by means of tippex strokes, he restores lines, mends paths, orients the whole set, rectifies the fabric, by submitting the previous photocopy: by obliging it to say -more and better- what his experience foresees.
It is true that, reconsidering it, all that implies inside the aesthetic relevance decision taking a clear delegation, constantly amended, upon other mechanisms which have been adapted to the drawing format, from which the sheer void in the face of emptiness is faced; mythical "the fear before the blank, white canvas" , before the creative emptiness… Afterwards, after that kind or oracle -the mystery which takes a man's voice shape- the task is concentrated in interpretation: This way, Soto Mesa, as the musician, the reader, or the actor, like the hermeneutic man, seems to demand an exciting -excitable?- and primitive text which semantic structure regards the limits of origin inside his scrutiny theology. Among the pauper character of each meaning, always incomplete, and the endless wealth which opens up every significant unit, which needs in every occasion an external complement to itself, the dynamics that leads Soto Mesa to speculate possible worlds is moving.
Francisco Rivas , regular commentator of his work, when our protagonist first began using this so personal method of drawing, already recognized there "a kind of sensitive, organic, geometry" (7). Who can doubt it. The very titles are coming now to prove him right: born out of another "fixed" lottery which plays with the alphabet in its own terms, Soto Mesa has given in to them for the first time to discover the evocative dimension of hazard in the written language, with names that open unexpected facets to all those ways he has been undertaking, after a birth delivery of discipline and wit: Bebeq, Terse, Esva, Kematae, Mamet, Nuul, Aoses... The title, therefore, where a kind of biography is imposed to the anonymous birth of all these pieces of work, born in the middle of a plot, the fruit of an anonymous plotting, means at last the whole acceptation of this challenge which Barthes always saw in them.
But, further away from these names which we never heard before, the crucial difference which is operating in the recent work by Soto Mesa, concretely those twenty-four pictures painted during the last two years -2005/2007- which are catalogued here, lies in the differentiated use of colour and in a more precise shape synthesis; both features which during his previous individual exhibition at this very gallery were vigorously enough underlined, in a bet that is now reaffirmed, refined, cleansed, and concreted. As a matter of fact, it is not only his painting which betrays an already completed control over the complexities which are handled inside, very different from that expressionist relishing where we have seen him walking at ease until recently (8), but at this moment, in addition, the artist seems to be enthralled in simplifying all his syntactic repertoire to carry it along to a territory with the same roughness, ending a harsh lyricism. It is all about, in what regards formality, a well delimited, greater plane concretion which appear already deprived from that previous skin, optically or materialistically texturized, so visible and present in any case, as a result of stirring the paint according to its unctuosity degree, consistency, adherence… The brush stroke is now disappearing because it is the most reliable method to outline the plane and the area it occupies, whereas in parallel, all the pictorial system gets inclined by apparent and only apparent low intensity problematic in what respects to psychological projection (9).
Because the complexities upon the surfaces in the recent paintings by Soto Mesa, which are going to be discovered in all their dimensions only by a paused contemplation, is the result of the difficulty to reach a yet less obvious state: in the first place, as we have already seen, due to such peculiar origins of the drawings, contrapposto, twisted, nearly tortured; and in the second place, because the slowness and shock-absorbing of the most evident expressive levels which he experiences at present mean that the artist undergoes the urge to control in a maximum way that which happened before with greater quotas of improvisation and liberty. This way, it is enough to think of the predominant palette in this series, so much personal and so little conventional, so "difficult" -with hues and shade patterns which we can only think could be related to those by Gordillo in the sixties-. The hues of all those tertiary colours are calibrated to a perfect fitting, but its presence on the canvas (flat colours, thick layer of acrylic material, edge of area which is defined but never turned into a sharp line, etcetera) does not allow one to suspect how arduous its preparation and usage is, relishing in lightness and softness effects; even of grazia and facilitá to use some of the barely held categories of tradition.
But further away from drawing and colour on their own, we have the so rare and so decisive unity in which both are amalgamated, in these pictures ridden with visual paradoxes which the former is in charge to weave for the spectator's eye or conscience, and the latter covers up both until it makes them tenebrously effective, that is: to make them work to perfection. It seems that one of the main interests, the result of this union is the fact that the resulting figure , as an articulated entity which is presented upon (and completing it and helping it with!) the background, is that it provokes a contradictory understanding in its graphic-spatial logic; but not in the way of all these impossible figures, which born out of the hands of Escher or Yturralde can be contemplated in a passive or vicious way, endlessly, proliferously, in this occasion it stimulates an intellectual path for whose complete enjoyment the spectator must be conscious of the fundamental role played by the aspects which are sensitive there, both in what respects to the precision of the trap which has been laid -its resorts, the plausibility of its masking- and the joy its mere existence and the fact to have been discovered provokes upon our senses. As a matter of fact, once they have been detected, I can nearly assure you that one of the most sheer pleasures derived from this painting, if not the top one, the reason why it asks and deserves to be looked at once and again, is because of its endless mutability and the refined intelligence of the tricks which, in his painting, Soto Mesa makes. Great tricks, in the end!
"Soto Mesa has spent many a year painting from a silence where the echoes of landscape sound, in the wider meaning of this term", Aurora Garcia observed (10), just in the moment when the artist's production was agitated by an internal itching more acute and intense that it is now, when it seems to reach a kind of happy balance, quieter and without any fuss, nearly a classicism between the concept and its staging. Nevertheless, the truth is that even in the bosom of these pictures of today's some of those "landscape echoes", in the broader sense of the term. How else, could we interpret the evidence that in these pictures the eye is always outside, outside the picture itself, and that it is kept external to it, chasing along the scenes which are offered resting points to put rhythm into a natural world -animal, mineral, or vegetal?- But the referential universe outlined in this painting ever since quite some time now is not only ambiguous in what respects to the generic adscription of its reasons, but because it is additionally kept both inside the figurative credibility, no matter what the object commented in the image is, as in the obsessive pensiveness we are used to in the modernist phase of abstract painting.
There is something in the work by Soto Mesa since approximately four years ago which closes down the order of representation in favour of ornament; both as this is perceived in spite of the plane of the picture itself and its plastics antecedents to the external world. In the middle of this continuous see-saw among the classical poles of attraction - the tale, the ornament, the means themselves- , is kept thanks to the dynamic equilibrium of his latest work, which shares so much with the effects of collage and papier collé , even without owning them anything at all in what respects to formative procedures. Because as a last resort, the compact, flat character which is beginning to characterize it more and more every day, must be understood as the result of a concept of painting in relation with a folding and flattening which is constant, cared for and very measured in its plastic elements -that is: elastic. From the brush stroke to the composition, influence and gravitation among every one of the different parts- and not as much as that plate tectonics which implies in its origin cuts, breakings, displacements, clashes and superposition.
In the end, in between this precisely stepped on painting, folded to the maximum and which reaches an extreme point of his already wide career, (undoubtedly the one which is most synthetic in its making, the one which is most compact in its diction, the one which is the shortest in the formal means off-showing) the most appealing to the eye paradox reveals itself: it is just there, in the narrow space which remains in between the folds, which are created by the drawing zigzagging and the pleating of the layer - licking once and again in an unctuous manner-, when it nests, coiled, what is one of the mayor secrets of painting which has come to obsess more than one from the ancient times: "Inorganic body-picture […] Without an external part because its surface does not tolerate interiorities". (11) So be it.
1 Ángel González García, "Niagara Falls: Quick considerations upon a kind of realism", text from the catalogue Otras Figuraciones, Obra Cultural de la Caja de Pensiones, Madrid, December 1981-January 1982, p. 10.
2 Here I will energetically join Javier Rubio Nomblot's cautious perspective when the time has come to set the peak of his path: "… in 1991, the painter arrived to what I will cautiously call a first pictorial maturity". "Under the skin of painting (subjective skinning in Soto Mesa's work)", text from the catalogue Soto Mesa 2005, gallery Tercer Espacio, Madrid, October-December 2005, p5.
3 An interpretation that he himself has not doubted to feed, as when we find in some of his curricula which have been published in a catalogue the appendix "Evolutive process", where we can read: "In 1990 he returns to "watching" and drawing nature fragments during a short period of time, and this exercise places him on the path along which his works now wanders, which has been called metaphysic abstraction by various authors, which keeps from the previous stage the usage of hazard in the finding of shape; "natural law" which also serves his present interests. This work is full of organic reverberation which remind us, in its essence, of the spirit of his work during the sixties and seventies. "Cf. curriculum, Soto Mesa Catalogue, Fundación María Zambrano, Palacio de Beniel, Vélez-Málaga (Málaga), December 1997, p.36.
4 Work, by the way, which would truly delight the latest Roland Fischer (Saarbrücken, Germany,1958), the one with the ultra-formalist reticules impeccably and rigorously geometrical, obtained after cleaning digitally photographs from different modern architecture front walls.
5 Javier Rubio Nomblot, op. cit., p.11 .
6 The artist himself confesses with the symbolic origins nearly forgotten, practical or procedural of many aspects of this ritual, for example the justification of the number of fifteen throws which happen initially during the game - in previous series the number of elements prone to be submitted to combination were four: the letters in his wife's name-, or the rule to limit exactly to three the five consequent unions, etcetera.
7 Francisco Rivas, "La abstracción metafísica de Soto Mesa" (Soto Mesa's metaphysical abstraction), text from the Soto Mesa catalogue. Work, 1991, Galería Edurne, Madrid, Mach-April 1992, s/p.
8 With that constant fragmentation of details in the close-up which have lead his painting especially at the end of the nineties, nervously handled at texture and brush stroke level, and after which we were supposed to find not an anxious look, but an anguished one, upon completely unrecognizable bodies.
9 Rubio Nomblot treated them as "enlighted pieces of work" at the time. op. cit., p.5.
10 Aurora García, "Energy communication Soto Mesa's painting", text from Soto Mesa's Catalogue. Work 00-01, gallery Tercer Espacio, Madrid, October-December, 2001, p.7. There we can keep on reading: "His interest to deciphering the prints of nature through the objects from all times which he has found in her is linked to the search for an internal landscape, which is more and more present as a metaphor, with the exploration of an invisible and extremely near media, always full of incognitas.", ibid, pp.7-8.
11 Carlos Alcolea, Aprender a nadar (Learning How to Swim), Libros de la Aventura, Madrid, 1980, p.32