ONE MAN SHOW. LONDON. November 2003.


102 Eaton Square - London SW1W 9AN. Tel. 020 7235 0353 (switchboard) - 020 7201 0754 (Cultural Activities)



By Guillermo Solana.

Every time I contemplate the paintings of Alberto Reguera, I am surprised anew by the efficacy of the old magic, the sorcery through which a piece of stained cloth, with its weight and texture, can suddenly change itself into space, into air. The canvas' surface dissapears then to reveal to a remote, unattainable horizon. The crust of pigment, becomes translucent, like a curtain filtering light . The gold, silver, and copper that Reguera frequently uses, tend to accentuate these effects: I look at the painting and it appears opaque, but upon a change of viewpoint, a gleam shines forth. All these suggestions of space and light are not added o superposed on the painting, but something that emanates from the very handling of paint. For twenty years, Reguera has investigated the sweepings and rubbings of paint, the veils of color and the pigment's rains, and out of these experiments, the illusion of a world has arisen. Other artists of their generation abandoned painting to take refuge in photography or installations; Reguera has obstinately continued practising the old alchemy, using it to recreate a world.

Many times we have been told that the intimacy between painting and nature became impossible after Impressionism, we have heard many times that the great audacity of modern art was assuming that inevitable schism and following a new path beyong visible reality. But it can be argued that there is no painting worthy of this name without an open or secret correspondence with nature. In his essay "On the Role of Nature in Modernist Painting", published in 1949 and reedited with some corrections in its anthology Art and Culture, Clement Greenberg made an assertion that could be seem surprising coming from a defender of abstract art, as he was. He argued there that the best modern painters, like Picasso, Braque, Léger and Klee, never abandoned nature as a source of inspiration. And he dared to claim that even abstract painters continued taking nature as a departure point for creation. The rigorous unity of the picture plane that the abstract painter aimed at, Greenberg said, was a reflection of the unity of our visual field. An abstract painting was an image of the space, "space like total object" .

In defining abstract painting in this way, Greenberg fundamentally coincided with the experience of the great landscapes painters. For the central intuition of the landscape painter, both in the East and the West, has been the ability of vision to apprehend space as a totality, to capture the cosmic unity. This discovery was perhaps first formulated in Europe by the Romantic generation. In his short essay "Something on Landscape Painting ("Etwas über Landschaftsmalerei"), published in 1808, the German philosopher Adam Müller interpreted the landscape painting from this principle: "Wherever man may go, its eye is made in such a way that it should encompass the celestial element and the terrestrial element in a single view" ("Überall nämlich, wo to der Mensch wandelt, ist sein Auge so gestellt, dass er das himmlische und irdische Element mit einem Blicke auffassen muss"). The things that are closest to me, my o hands, the chair on which I sit, the walls of this room, all are solid and tangible, essentially distinct from the air, that formless, subtle fluid. Nothing seems more certain to me than the difference between bodies and the space which contains them. But if I look out the window, if I lift my gaze to the distance (and landscape painting is always made of distant views), I will see the outlines of things softenings themselves and fading out, colors melting into one another, until that point where earth and sky, matter and ether, are confused. In all deep visions of nature, sky and earth interchange qualities with a strange familiarity. This interchange, says Müller, is verified mainly through two elements: clouds and water. In clouds, the air loses its transparency, becomes turbid and acquires and almost tangible mass; the sky then becomes terrestrial. On the other hand, the surface of the water, a lake or sea, in reflecting the sky, gives the inferior world some celestial levity.

That's the reason way clouds and water have always been the great subjects, the most constant obsessions in the tradition of landscape painting. Chinese painters of the Song era, in the 12th Century, already knew that clouds could become as heavy as mountains, and Ruisdael or Constable would teach us that lesson again in their immense skies. In his book Parables of Sunlight, Rudolf Arnheim observes that "it has been a boon the landscape painters that cumulus clouds looks so heavy. They have helped to add visual weight to the upper half of pictures that would badly unbalanced othervise." Water has been the other essential element of landscape, as in the work of Turner and Monet. In the last decades of his life, in the garden of Giverny, Monet created his large series of Nymphéas, in wich floating plants, the transparency of the depths, the reflections of the willows, and the blue of the sky interweave in such a way that we do not know how to distinguish between the solid of the etheral. Reguera recreates this sensation in "Floating pigment", whose vertical cascade of green pigment suggests the reflection of vegetation in a pond, while the incrustations of paint evoke the vibration of the water surface.

Some fog and a lake are enough to alter our habitual perception. Obermann, the character in the novel by Sénancour, has this unique revelation during one of his travels through the Alps, one afternoon when he is seated under the pines of the Jorat, contemplating the landscape: "Tout paraissait fixe, éclairé, immobile; et dans moment où je levai them yeux après les avoir tenu longtemps arrêtés sur la mousse qui me portait, j'eus une illusion imposante que mon état de rêverie prolongea. La pente rapide qui s'étendait jusqu'au lac se trouvait cachée pour moi sur le terre où j'étais assis; et la surface du lac très-inclinée semblait élever dans les airs sa rive opposée. Des vapeurs voilaient en partie les Alpes de Savoie confondues avec elles et revetues des mêmes teintes. La lumière du couchant et le vague de l'air dans les profondeurs du Valais élevèrent ces montagnes et les séparèrent de la terre, en rendant leurs extrémités indiscernables; et leur colosse sans forms, sans couleur, sombre et neigeux, éclairé et comme invisible, ne me parut qu'un amas de nuées orageuses suspendues dans l'espace: iI n'était plus d'autre terre que celle qui me soutenait sur le vide, seul, dans limmensité." Obermann's experience has come back to me upon contemplating some paintings by Reguera, where a form arising out of the fog can strike us as a dark cloud or as a fragment of a high mountain magically suspended in the air. The beholder feels as if he or she were weightless, floating. As the roles of sky and earth are exclanged, not only does disappear the border between elements, but that other, more basic border between nature and myself.

Sometimes, Reguera shows us sky and earth as two opposing mirrors mirrors. In "Clear Rothkian Skies", a big white cloud crosses the sky, and on the earth beneath it, a black shadow follows it. Sometimes, sky and earth can barely be distinguished, because they are made of the same chromatic substance, divided only by the horizon. Other times there is not even a horizon. As we contemplate another painting, what looked like a burning firmament transforms itself into a vast field of wheat or a deser of interminable dunes. "Dense yellow lights" can be a sky inundated by the sun or that same sunlight reflected on the water surface. Everything is unstable and changing, and each painting encompasses many posssible landscapes. Our only certainty is the cosmic totality communicated by paintings, and the oceanic sense of losing ourselves in this totality.

Guillermo Solana.

Guillermo Solana is Professor of Aesthetics at the University of Madrid (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid) and an art critic for the spanish newspaper "El Mundo".