To talk about the work of Rómulo Celdrán (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 1973) is to talk about someone who has the skill, intelligence and sensitivity that differ considerably from what one perceives to a considerable extent in the production of young artists, which tends to be exhibitionist, crude, arbitrary and avid. With the same simplicity that he lives his life, Rómulo Celdrán is enormously successful in his profession and has created a personal proposal that contributes to an in-depth reflection on the nature of art and its illusion.
Rómulo Celdrán works with discipline and diligence, but his production is, despite the number of years he has been working, scant. He dedicates many months of work to many of his pieces¹, although he is probably working on several at the same time. This is, for him, the only way to work. To date, he has employed a number of different technical procedures: painting, drawing, lithography (to a lesser extent) and sculpture. Rómulo Celdrán’s early activities centred on painting, where he has achieved results of extraordinary naturalism in still life subjects that are today very rarely seen in cities, such as plucked dead hares and rabbits, hung in preparation for their use as food. These works, painted between 1997 and 1998, display virtuoso execution but little else, a fact that may justify his assertion that he does not identify with them.
In drawing, Rómulo Celdrán focuses on a kind of suburban documentalism, the contrast and clarity of which remind the viewer (even before the artist was familiar with this referent) of black and white photographs redolent of, for example, the influential German husband and wife team Bernd and Hilla Becher, in terms of their architectonic typologies of contemporary industrial landscape. Even close-up, the viewer who knows that he is looking at graphite drawings on paper or wood rather than a photo, cannot but doubt that this is so. We have observed this to be the case, even, amongst artist friends, who have always been taken in. In this sense, as an example, we have included a sample of this series of works (Inside I.2005, pencil on wood, 125 x 85 cm).
But it is perhaps in sculpture that Rómulo Celdrán has produced his most impressive work. His experience and command as an artist have enabled him to successfully use colour in his sculptures, while the extraordinary extent to which he leaves the admiring viewer of his drawings in doubt is also present in his three-dimensional work. Rómulo Celdrán’s sculptures are sculpted from one sole block of either wood or stone. They are made up of two parts: a support that acts, in most cases, as a pedestal and clearly reveals the nature of the material used (a block of stone, a log, etc.) and, secondly, objects from day-to-day life that are presented with millimetrical exactitude and to real-life scale. All these pieces of work are named Objects, followed by a figure that catalogues the chronological order in which they were created. The surprising effect is that they manage to confuse the viewer, who thinks he is looking at works that appropriate real objects (as can be seen in the shop-window techniques of Jeff Koons or Haim Steinbach), when in fact they are presentations, the almost intolerable repetition of which, rather than amazement, produces an understanding, enthusiastic and sometimes ironic admiration² . The reader can see examples of this in the range of images that accompany these words, such as the rusty tins of engine oil (Objects IV. 2000, multicoloured sandstone, 61 x 47 x 68 cm), the coffee or tea bags that are typical of big-city establishments nowadays (Objects XXV. 2004, multicoloured apricot wood, 22 x 21 x 24 cm), or orange peel (Objects XXVII, multicoloured olive wood, 32 x 32 x 31 cm), a sculpture whose creation, between 4th April and 23rd May 2005, has been documented in a video of the same name recorded by his brother, Agustín.
Rómulo Celdrán rejects dogmatisms and is quite sure of his conviction that what really calls him to be an artist is the search for the capacity to provoke surprise in those who contemplate his work. Not content with mere virtuosity and or the search for new expressive techniques (he is currently trying out drawing with white pencils on black gessoon wood), Rómulo Celdrán has acquired a degree of mastery that appeared to be buried under the rubble among which this creator successfully finds tools to shape his affirmations.
Julio César Abad Vidal
¹ A thorough photographic catalogue of his work to date can be found in a very recent publication on the occasion of his retrospective exhibition Rómulo Celdrán. Realidad y Magia.[Reality and Magic] Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Fundación Mapfre Guanarteme, 2007. The bibliography on this artist is scant. The only publication prior to the above-mentioned one was published by the gallery that represents him; Rómulo Celdrán. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Galería Manuel Ojeda, 2003.
² His most representative work in this sense is possibly Presión I [Pressure I] (2005, multicoloured sandstone, 27 x 40 x 35 cm), also reproduced in this text. At first sight it appears to be a white shoebox that has been crushed by a stone parallelepiped. In fact, the box and stone have been sculpted from the same block. Despite the fact that the box is crushed in this representation and that the fleeting or lasting illusion of the viewer (that gives rise to the irony of the work), the box would not actually have been able to support the weight of the stone if it had really been made of cardboard.
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