TRICKING THE VIEWER

I

20th century art, with its vanguard tendencies documented around the successive ideas that have been gradually taken on board about modernity by different generations of artists, has tended to use its aesthetic principles in a precise discursive sense: the meaning of the implicit contents of images were scorned, creating new and hitherto unsuspected associations. Over time, these works have undergone a process of adaptation and, as a consequence, have lost part of their original nature as they have been modelled according to conventionalisms imposed on the vision of a society undergoing new processes of reinterpretation of reality. In a society of rapid changes and violent encounters such as today’s, the technique of dramatic confrontation practised by the “Modern movements” of the 20th century no longer have the same raison d’Ítre; something has changed. If, up until the 1970s more or less, the essential premise for artists was the need to invent different strategies to attract attention, by means of which to make non-perceptive elements visible; now, in a world that is totally modelled on the basis of the information we have about it, it is more a case of re-establishing increased global control. Today’s artists cannot place themselves outside this context. They themselves participate in this flow of information regarding which they are obliged to conceive of filters that allow them to metabolise said flows. It is no longer enough to select a point of view of one’s own that reveals a small portion of hitherto ignored truth: it is necessary to build a network of relations to learn to get one’s bearings in the globality of the message. Today’s artists have to create a circuit of linguistic connections wide enough to cope with their aspirations; to establish relative and absolute correspondence with objects taken as means of aesthetic research. Confrontation, viewed in this way, enables them to make all the various interpretative variants converge on the artistic object, thereby shaping pure dialogue.

In this type of current artistic landscape, the realist model often plays an interesting role, now that much of the reticence poured onto it by the most orthodox and radically “pro-modern” sector of critics, not just because of its iconic values but also because of its capacity to concentrate synthetically multiple information thanks to the very illusionism of its language, has been overcome. The realistic aesthetic method, as its nature, its technical conformation, demands, is installed, in principle, in the realm of objectivity. It is a vision that interprets creation as if it were a diaphragm that, on opening up, allows the spectacle of reality to be projected on the canvas, paper, metal, wood, stone…. This is why, thanks to its instrumental character, it acts in an area that belongs to the world of the familiar; the area in which things appear like phenomena of a graduation of Light and their relations with shadow and textures, captured on the previously chosen material. However, obviously, these artists tend to work on the objective part of this medium, applying their own rules of artistic expression, their sensitivity and perception, the intensity of their poetic motives, their setting up of harmonious balances…

But, we shouldn’t hide and indeed have already mentioned the fact that the realist model has been severely rejected, considered unfit to solve the aesthetic problems posed by modernity. As Pedro A. Cruz Sánchez says: “It is a completely unquestionable fact that, at the very heart of the discredit suffered by figuration nowadays, lies the behaviour of a wide sector of critics, the most influential and dogmatic of whom, of course –impregnated with post-structural theses and with their energetic challenging of any kind of representative strategy. Representation, insofar as it is a taken to be a mechanism that anchors, fixes meaning, is, in itself, a suspicious manoeuvre, that should be isolated and converted into a marginal procedure, only to be practised in the humid stale catacombs of modernity (…) The problem of figuration, which prevents it from being accepted by poststructuralist critics, lies in two points of major importance: on the one hand, its unavoidable basic principle of representation, interpreted by the critics as an obvious symptom of its conception of reality as a monolithic, objective and transcendental phenomenon with which the only possible relationship is one of identification; and, on the other hand, the fact that it belongs to the domain of the material, of the stabilisation and fixing of meaning, which prevents it from being included in the framework of reflection generated by post-minimalism”. (Cruz Sánchez, Pedro A. “La figura descentrada. Notas sobre la postfiguración. Catálogo Galería Marlborough. FIGURAS. Visiones del arte contemporáneo” [“The decentred figure. Notes on post-figuration. Marlborough Gallery catalogue. FIGURES. Vision of contemporary art”]).

II

Debates on modern culture have long been been structured around the oppositions between high and low, elitist and popular, modern or of the masses. They have become second nature to us, regardless of whether we want to maintain old hierarchies, criticise them or subvert them in some say. However, it is not unusual in art history for facts and situations created some time ago by aesthetic practice to find a theoretical explanation and appropriate classification only some considerable time later. Reflection, often incapable of accepting other norms than its own, tends to lag behind the development of artistic creation, always more attentive to the problems of the profession.

This “post/trans/modern” era has been, among other things, characterised by an attempt to open up art and culture to more practitioners and different audiences. But, in the end, what has been achieved? The democratization of art and culture or their annexation by a world dominated by imposture and mere spectacle? Obviously, as more people were able to do so, more people made art. The market was inundated with art… real, important artists have had to compete to attract attention with all the newcomers with a canvas and an interesting artistic position. The category of artist has become too elastic, and art a term that is used to an abusive extent. In this sense, what meaning can lie today, in the midst of the “post/trans/modern era” in an artist choosing as a suitable field for demonstrating his aesthetic qualities the demand for a strictly realistic reproduction of objects, which consequently leads to an extreme refining of sculpting, pictorial and drawing technique? Insofar as these realist artists study their object, observing it with complete exactitude, they also develop a degree of sensitivity for choosing the most suitable aesthetic ways of reproducing it. And Rómulo Celdrán is a notable example of this.

III

Rómulo Celdrán accepts and uses a specific pictorial language. A language that is over five hundred years old and whose first masters were the primitive Flemish artists. This language assumes that the truth has to be sought in appearances and that, therefore, appearances deserve to be preserved through their representation. This language also assumes a continuity in time and space. It is a language that treats objects in the most natural way possible. In the case of Rómulo Celdrán, his motives belong to the sphere of the ordinary, the commonplace interpreted as being susceptible to artistic appraisal: empty glass bottles, rusty petrol cans, old car wheels, beach shoes, washing hanging out to dry, tips full of waste… these models show, on the author’s part, a singular selective perception as a way of understanding the work process itself. With this artist, we have to be prepared to accept that from a technical and aesthetic point of view, it doesn’t matter what object is painted, be it trivial or sublime, as the artistic merit is the same in both cases.

It is a language that is appropriate for expressing the sensitive appearance of daily life, but always in a specific scenario and, for this reason always confined to a certain aesthetic materiality. This value of materiality is expressed by Celdrán by means of the illusion of tangibility. His artistic codes form part of what the knowledgeable in the context of western culture continue to expect from visual arts: verosimilitude, the representation of appearances, detailed description … everything is clearly legible, even in his early work where, obviously, his technique fell short of the level that he currently deploys.

There is one aspect that attracts our attention once we know Celdrán’s working methods. I refer to the concentrated passion with which he works and which is reflected in the extremely arduous process of creation with which he executes his works of art and which, at the same time, reveals an intelligent, virtuouso use of the aesthetic materials with which he operates. In this sense, his technical ability, his expressive capacity is balanced both in his painting, drawing and sculpture, be it in wood or in stone. In his production, the research into reality, the strict domain of his experiences, proceeds resolutely to the search for those visual expressions that best and most punctiliously represent a symbolic sense of existence; that, beyond the mere representation of phenomena, introduces a disturbing element of breaking off with the naturalist cliché in order, thereby, to underline another dimension. In Rómulo we find ourselves faced with a passionate intensity rather than physical vehemence, although this is a facet that he also possesses. His work appears to be the consequence of an emotional creed that acts as a catalyst for his language, which he directs and characterises: from the beginning he presents resources in which effects of illusion are used to the ultimate consequences and maximum radicalness.

These illusions stand out as an aesthetic principle of his art and inspire the false interpretation of sensorial impressions, generating a confusion of reality with its two-dimensional artistic imitation, and representing a systematic study of the laws of traditional representation. Hence the flavour, in his painting and sculpture, of the rhetorical exaltation of colour, underlining the dislocation between nature and the images or objects offered. In both cases we could talk of games that distort the vision, of a conscious articulation of trickery: the first impression his works produce is, what are we really seeing? An orange, a small parcel, a box of screws, a roll of film, water tanks … or a literal reproduction of all this?…As far as his surprising drawing ability is concerned, the process varies: in relation to his production as a whole, his drawings take on an elevated and sophisticated degree of stylization, as he rejects a polychromatic composition in favour of a monochrome structure, made up of an opportune palette of shades of grey, generating at the same time, a genuine deceit that leads the viewer to doubt whether it is really a drawing or a photo.

What arouses our interest in these works is the obsessive study of objects and their material quality, reproduced most often with excessive meticulousness. The artist’s obsession is particularly concentrated in the influence of the laws of physics, of reality, on colour, lights, shadows and different textures of things that change in nature depending on how they are viewed. Temporality, variability, coincidence are, then, the experiences that make up these pieces.

The strange magic that these images and objects appear to be endowed with, a product of their original revelation, i.e. the naturalistic representation united with illusions, finds its precise manifestation at the very moment that we observe closely the qualities that intervene in the act of creating them. At that very moment we grant them, as interested viewers and, as we have already stated, with a certain sense of reverie, of an image placed on a screen of representation on which it is difficult to establish the exact distance between what they really represent and the ways in which we understand reality, the way in which we Normally observe them. This is, then, the real basis of all his language: the intricate reproduction of objects, bearing in mind how they are viewed.

Thus a strange phenomenon is produced. These images by Rómulo Celdrán attain a completely different sense: they transform reality into artifice. That they move in the terrain of objectivity, of the real, is a mere illusion provoked by ideographic affinities. His strange mises-en-scène, manipulated both in terms of the use of colour and graphism and in his choice of point of view, act as precise examples of the ideographic character that I’m talking about: the analogies that can be drawn between them and natural reality.

An analysis of the particular attraction effect of these works reveals that it lies above all in the fact that in them rational elements of a search carried out in logical terms together with paradoxical elements originating in that capacity to create illusions that we have already mentioned co-exist and merge into one. This lends them an adaptability, a type of comprehension that we believe arises within the flowing of our perception and in consonance with the modification of aspects of reality, of art and, why not, of our very existence. The fascinating thing about these pieces lies in their effective ability to reproduce sensations and experiences derived from their capacity to suggest and evoke.

IV

Rómulo Celdrán possesses, of course, singular characteristics. Firstly, the fact that he is self-taught and has reached such a high level of technical skill in the naturalistic representation in any of the art forms to which he devotes his attention, represents an unusual facet. His qualifications stem from his efforts, together with his clear innate aptitude, and this provides him and nourishes him with an “extravagant” conceptual and formal context for conventional usage: his predilection for isolated scenarios, strange urban contexts, waste objects, simple things… characterised by an absolute absence of the representation of the human being, produces the idea that this artist keeps his distance from his art: he never finds himself in the situation he creates. One gets the impression that Celdrán analyses life and his art as a way of thinking over which he has total control. A way of thinking that comes to him by means of the constant exercise of creation, through the almost scientific observation of the models he works with.

However, at the same time, I believe that he is conscious of the fact that he cannot erase or undo his individuality as an artist and, consequently, he cannot limit himself to exhibit An iconography that already exists or that is commonly accepted in the different aesthetic schools of thought. No. He has to invent one of his own and in it, try to recognise himself. By accepting his art as the consequence of an order or way of thinking (his working methodology tells us this), he builds on this his organised visual approaches. In this sense, the expressive intention of Rómulo Celdrán becomes clear: rather than towards differentiating approaches it would be better to indicate that he moves consciously towards new approaches to the links that join reality to reality, image to image, thereby illustrating a method that, in its dialectic conformation, elevates the work of art to a higher level.

For example, in his sculptures and paintings, the use of colour adds extra value to the sensorial elements of his pieces of work, isolating some effects, underlining or subordinating fragments, expressing some characteristics of the reproductions, thereby enabling him to transcend the reductionist sphere to which our visual habits condemn us. This technique, used in this way, systematically destroys discourse’s linear singleness of meaning while, at the same time, providing the elements For the practice of a kind of mental gymnastics that flows with the leaps that can be deduced from the friction between the meaning given to things and their possible meanings in other dimensions of reading.

One result of this, therefore, is the gestation of an awareness of distances and of the differences between the object/model and the artist himself; between the reality of the image and the image of reality, united with the identification with that cognoscitive structure charged with total dialectical ambivalence. The recognition of “alterity”, of the specific nature of “something different from the obvious”, of the object taken as a mere pretext before which to establish strategies determined by his particular aesthetics, is Converted into a space for reflection that is taken on by the artist in his work as a basic precept.

With all these premises, in the work of Rómulo Celdrán the peculiar property of a discourse in which time and space are frozen in an “unreal ecstasy” that encourages unusual scrutiny can be detected. His direct perceptive experience of the real centres our attention on aspects of daily mythology, leaving the viewer the possibility to explore in the vitality of this encounter. At the same time, it is the very variety of perceivable suggestions that demonstrates to us that it is no longer possible to recuperate the sensorial atmosphere in its initial intact vigour, once the tactics with which the author aims to distort our vision have been deduced. Our approach to these works must necessarily coincide with the control that we have already mentioned, and that he proposes to us if we are to identify a synthesis of the structures of reality and these images.

Orlando Franco


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