SOTO MESA'S METAPHYSICAL ABSTRACTION

 

Quico Rivas

 

In the eighties Soto Mesa evolved a personal adventure which led him to the farthest regions of objective and geometric art. Like so many other artists of this century he seemed to be in search of a style of painting where subjectivity, the imprint of the artist's hand, could be left to one side in favour of an investigation of strictly plastic topics. A style based on a rationalist method and on operations of a mathematical character.


Soto Mesa reached this point after a long and thoughtful process of formal purification. During the latter half of the seventies his work was expounded within the realms of naturalistic realism which became more and more focussed on the ordering factors in landscapes. At the beginning of the eighties he realised an original piece using elements taken from the urban surroundings. Gradually he began to dispense with perspective, with atmosphere, centering himself on modular structures, on the planimetrical interpretation of architecture. Along this path he reached a point of maximum inflexion in the series Madrid Ventanas (Madrid Windows), shown in the Centro Cultural de la Villa at the beginning of 1986. In the exhibition catalogue the painter introduced, by way of explanation, a short quote by René Thorn, the famous mathematician responsible for the continental drift theory: “To understand is to geometrise. Integilligibility is linked to the possibility of visualising a geometric plan”.


From this moment on, Soto Mesa's painting abandons every type of support found in exterior reality, moving towards an absolute abstraction. Each work exists as an independent unit and, at the same time, as the fragment of an infinite and reticulated universe. However, the painter seems aware at all times of the point at which the rules of the game, including those that he freely sets himself, turn sterile when they are followed like dogmas of Faith. Amongst the possibilities within his grasp he always reaches for those that are nearest to "the asymmetry, lightness and inconclusiveness of forms... ”One of the most successful series during this phase his entitled "Cuatro Letras" (Four Letters). Four letters projected onto a plan which gives rise to a number of formal variations. Perhaps, in order to understand the underlying spirit or mood behind the choice of letters, it's worth knowing that they were not simply chosen at random, but that they form a name, a woman's name.


In my opinion, all Soto Mesa's plastic experiences in the eighties have been leading towards the search for a work method rather than a formal system. A simple and efficient method which would allow him to combine rationality, subjectivity and chance. His current work is the logical result of his achievements in this terrain. Chance and subjective decisions come into play indiscriminately in what he refers to as the "encounter with form". His method is, in short, an aleatory method, similar to a certain extent with that of serial music, I am thinking, for instance, about the importance of the I Ching for a composer like John Cage. When he was asked how he had written the score of Variations V he replied: "Well, I tossed a coin, having set a limit of 64 observations. I think I got to number 35... I don 't remember... Then I tossed a coin all over again to see how many words each observation should contain. I came up with five. Then I confronted the problem of writing five words about Variations V which could be of help to whoever wished to play i1. So then I was faced with what could be described as a poetic problem ...” (1).


One can say that Soto Mesa is currently working along very similar lines. He sets the limits and fixes the rules. In his case those rules are concerned with marking out a series of equal numbers of points over a surface. To achieve this he uses numbers picked by chance from a bag, Then he unites these points in an automatic manner into sequences of the same number of points, Thus he obtains a series of lines. From these, among a wide spectrum of possibilities, he defines some forms that are the result of this process and, at the same time, the base for strictly pictorial work, More than a scientific method one could refer to it as a pretext to set in motion certain mechanisms.


Following this method Soto Mesa has achieved some truly interesting results. Geometric puritanism has been replaced by a kind of sensitive, organic geometry, where not even straight lines exist. Sinous forms, insinuating, undetermined, with a strange inner pulse and a poetic quality which is by no means alien to his suggestive and refined use of color. Everything in these paintings exudes like an unexaggerated Iyricism, a warm and enveloping music, a sense of delight and plenitude, a desire for purity. To define them, and not pigeon hole them, I would use the term metaphysical abstraction. For, as Arp said at the beggining of the century, in order to avoid the accusation of coldness which the great majority believed inherent in abstract painting of geometrical origin: “A painting of a sculpture which hasn't used an object as a model is as concrete and sensual as a leaf or a stone. Art is a fruit which sprouts up before man, like a fruit on a tree or a baby in his mother's womb”. (2).

 

February 1992

 

Notes.

(1) Richard Kostelanetz: "Entrevista a John Cage", Cuadernos Anagrama,1973

(2) Jean Arp: Reply to an inquiry about abstraet art, Cahiers d'Art, n°.718, 1931

 

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