Sonidos de Agua José María Parreño

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Solid texts have been written about the work of Rufo Criado, analysing its distinguishing characteristics, stages and motivations, defi ning the boundaries that separate his creative output from that of others, situating it where it rightly belongs. I have carefully read them all, whilst an increasingly strange sensation came over me. Even accepting the usual conventions that stipulate that exhibition works are not just presented unadorned, and require some pages of writing to prepare us for what we are about to see, I couldn’t get away from this gnawing discomfort which grew the more I read. And it didn’t arise from disagreement with what was said, from feeling that these were wrong interpretations or arbitrary inventions. On the contrary, they are all of relevance, as can be verifi ed in the selection of criticism included in this catalogue. Without any more ado I shall get to the point: what I found more and more intolerable was this wide resort to the word, to narrative, to naturalism and description in relation with work that has doggedly struggled to stay at a remove from all that. It seemed like a Mannerist operation, a distressing return to what these very works wished to leave behind. As I saw it, faced with creations that had done the impossible to distance the general from the particular, avoid the anecdotal, cease falling back on mimesis and show what breathes beneath the surface, the written approaches adopted the opposite route. It was like creating a comic to recount the history of iconoclasm; giving a talk about the poetry of silence; declaring that someone who says he is lying is lying.

Having reached this point, I was left with two options: either forgo writing any more pages, restricting myself, say, to simply underlining in bold or repeating the titles of the works; or develop a text just as abstract as Rufo Criado’s creations. But I don’t consider myself to have the authority or capability for either of these things. So I will betray myself, and go for a courteous didactic solution, consistent with the work and considerate towards the reader. I won’t try to describe or discover the present works. Rather, I am going to look at them from afar and refer to them by interposition. Ideally –although that’s not what I did20 in the end-, I fancied not devoting a single line to them, but instead would provide clues for viewers to be able to tack together their own reading of these productions.


In the beginning was abstraction: notches on a bone, a zigzag of blood on the wall. After came fabrics of vegetable or animal fi bres, with interwoven colours: thence emerged baskets, blankets and their thousand variants. Their wefts were also printed, directly, onto the fresh clay of pots and later paintings would be repeated on them. Friezes on stone plinths. Illuminated fabrics on parchments. Along with all this, plausible imitative painting and sculpture prospered, which in Western Europe was to relegate geometric abstraction to a merely decorative status. And on and on to the fi rst vanguards, until we reach the crisis of classicism in the 19th century, which caused abstract form to fl ower in the fullness of its power.

The fi rst abstractions appeared in the Upper Paleolithic, and soon shared living space with magical-religious fi guration. They would later attain relevance in the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. In the fi nal period of the Roman Empire, the increasing importance of the provinces reinforced its presence against the classical fi guration that characterised the metropolis. After the fall of Rome this inheritance fused with Byzantine art, lingering on in the schematisation of Romanic and Gothic art. Abstraction was then pushed into the background, due to the way medieval art itself developed and to the archaeological recovery of classical art carried out by the Renaissance. Yet modern art would, almost from its origins, set out on a journey in the opposite direction. As if evolving spirally, it once again addressed the schematism of primitive cultures such as the Aurignacian, of Scandinavian and Irish art, and African or Oceanic sculpture. Another facet of the abstract arose in the different responses to the problem of iconoclasm. I have already mentioned Byzantine art. In very close geographical proximity is the art that emerged from the prohibition of images in Islam. Traceries, with linear or starshaped motifs, and vegetal arabesques, are complex developments of elemental modules, true metaphors for the weave of the living. That is the ultimate meaning of primitive ornamentation: the recreation of the rhythms and sinuosities of an essential energy, which breathes beneath the forms.

The thesis expounded by Worringer in his germinal book Abstraction and Nature (1906) is well-known for its interpretation of abstract art: while in geographical areas where nature was more benign man dared to deal with nature through representation (imitative art), in the most hostile environments humans sought refuge in the stability of the crystalline (abstract art), attempting to fi nd a resting place in the fl ight of phenomena. “The happiness they sought from art [consisted] in the possibility of taking the individual thing of the external world out of its arbitrariness and seeming fortuitousness, of eternalising it by approximation21 to abstract forms… to wrest the object of the external world… out of its natural context, out of the unending fl ux of being, to approximate it to its absolute value”. And when they managed to do so they felt the satisfaction produced in others by the beauty of the naturalist organic form captured through resemblance. A few years afterwards Kandinsky agreed with him: “The more frightening the world becomes, the more art becomes abstract, while a happier world brings forth a more realistic art”.


We say that modern art was characterised by an autonomy that enabled it to become free of the shackles of subject and devote itself to exploring its own language. But this aim that guided impressionism and fauvism in the area of colour, and futurism and cubism in the sphere of composition, never ceased to attend to the original brief of painting, as it had been understood from its very beginnings: that it refl ect reality. The referent of the real world, however concealed beneath the cubist analysis of forms or distorted by the subjective chromatism of the Fauves it might be, was still there, as origin and end. The great break, the path of no return, is situated within the territory of abstraction, although not all abstractions are of this kind. No, the radical change of direction happened when a series of artists stopped looking at things and created works that no longer and in no way dealt with things, or with anything other than the works themselves. It is the case of Malevich and of El Lissitsky, of the Suprematist sect and the Constructivist conspiracy. So, standing against those who understand abstraction as the spiritual search for a transcendental experience, are others who wish to emphasise the material presence of the object as a concrete reality and not an illusion.

After centuries used to a painting being a better or a worse copy of reality –the better the painting the better the copy- it was not easy to comprehend that painting offered something more important. No, that’s not what I mean to say. It is not more important, but what only that practice can provide us with is. For when painting manages visible realities (or inventions located within that sphere), it dwells on the known and acquires its merit due to supplanting the absent. It is, one might say, acceptable through lack of its original. Figurative painting has been a prolongation of our memory and of our imagination in the material. A sort of phantom that evokes what no longer has, or never had, carnal entity. Our sight was given what was denied to touch, smell and taste. Forms that only exist through the “work and grace” of pictorial language are something else altogether. But then the above takes as granted that what we call nature is the visible surface of things. Beneath, within and in them, as sustenance or essence –metaphysical nothingness-, lies energy. And in giving expression to its confi guration, abstraction has dedicated to it various explorations that, being as I say faithful to reality, a reality hidden from our eyes, appear to have been invented. That was the project of Kandinsky, a Homer of abstraction –for,22 like the latter, history consecrated him as the fi rst author of a way of painting that surely took place during those years in a number of workshops (Picabia’s, Hoelzel’s, for instance). It is in this connection, in reference to a material though invisible background, that Kandinsky speaks of the spiritual in art: as the possibility of encountering through non- representational painting a way of escaping from History and merging with the world. That is how music achieves it, for it is no accident that it is to be found at the origin of many explorations –and pretty extravagant ones too: from Louis Favre’s Phonochrome to Vladimir Baranov-Rossine’s Optophonic Piano or Russian composer Scarabin’s Illuminated (coloured) Keyboard- aimed at transferring invisible reality onto the canvas. Music offers the model, the perfect equivalence to Kandinsky’s quest for “painting without subject matter”. A proposition that would lie in the beginnings of expressionist abstraction.

But geometric abstraction, known as “objective art”, is not strictly musical. Cubism is its starting point, but it cannot be explained as a consequence of cubism. Malevich argued for art based on “pure plastic sensibility”; disassociated, that is, from any representational will. Mondrian, meanwhile, took his inspiration rather from the reticles of the architecture of his day (Lloyd Wright) and the decoration of late art nouveau, where the grid was offered in a whole variety of variants. It is in this sphere of objectivity and geometry where the possibility of creating a universal language through colour is most fully developed. It is painting as “pure art”. “What do artists expect from art?”, Franz Marc asks himself: “It is an attempt to make the world speak for itself instead of reporting the speech of mind exalted by their picture of the world”.


Malevich painted his fi rst black square in 1913. The bleak canvas was soon to become the watchword for a new way of understanding art and almost the personal emblem of its creator. Mention has often been made of the anomalous position it held in an exhibition that was equally abnormal in the way it was mounted (conferring it an outstanding position in the proto-history of installation as an artistic genre). To be sure, in “0.10 The last futurist exhibition” (Petrograd, 1915) the Square was placed diagonally against the angle formed by the wall and the ceiling, occupying the traditional place of an icon. More striking and less well-known is the fact that in the funeral procession for its author it was laid directly upon the hearse’s radiator. I think this is a fact that has not been suffi ciently underlined: Malevich’s proposition not only altered the conventions of representation in painting, but also those governing its actual condition as an object.

In this exhibition, which covers the work of Rufo Criado between 1994 and 2009, we are able to confi rm a suspicion we might have had. From the several genealogies of abstraction, Criado chooses… them all. As many refl ections on his work indicate, it allows a reading of abstraction as a synthesis but also as pure art. An interpretation of painting as sign and also23 as construction. And at the same time, while on the one hand Criado adheres to geometry (in the sense of regulating space), on the other there is an expressive intensity that is sometimes achieved by the brushstroke and on other occasions by the choice of colour. In the last works (the Ojos de Agua/Eyes of Water series from 2007) the trace of the organic is so explicit that it is revealed in branches of a photographic origin under the successive planes of colour. These circular compositions seem to be a fi nal confession, as if the painter wished to show us that this “back of the eye” was always contemplating the landscape. Painting landscapes. In such abstract paintings as N/T. (Agua) and Azul-Oro-Granate/Blue-Gold-Garnet , both from 1994, we can test out the assertion of another peculiar landscapist, Perejaume, that any painting is really, and literally, a still life. Refl ected in his sumptuous pictorial material is the complex behaviour of a material that repeats geological densities and shapings in miniature. Over the years Rufo Criado has insisted on referring to nature through mediums, paintings and resources that were situated at the opposite extreme, ranging from galvanised sheet and industrial painting to computers. The paradox cannot be accidental and commits the author to a kind of historical conceptual journey through the relation between the world and technique. The extreme point today is the use of lightboxes and urban furniture as a support for digital impressions. He also employs constructive elements (sheet metal or wooden grilles) that directly conjure up schematised forms of landscape, which are at one and the same time object and sign. Perhaps, as occurred with the vagrant Black picture, these are the most radical proposals, revealing themselves simultaneously as real object and signifi er. The result, as I said, is a voyage punctuated with the most interesting discoveries, making him an unparalleled fi gure within our present artistic panorama.


For many years now Rufo Criado has been particularly interested in water and its refl ection. Water is unquestionably the most abstract of nature’s elements, since it either has no form, or all forms. It adapts to that of its container, refl ects its surroundings and lets its depths be seen, fl eeing from state to state, sensitive to temperature conditions. It is, therefore, open to a thousand and one representations, let alone evocations and appearances, due to its presence in the composition of almost all matter on this planet. All painters, one way or another, paint liquid. Even when they seek to liquidate painting.

José María Parreño

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