About simplicity and slight alterations of feeling / Jesús Cámara
Óscar Villalón is a distinctive realist painter who is exceptional because of the sobriety and elegance of his ideas. The texture, strokes and colour he uses in his work create a harmonious set in which the strong link between light, shape and space show the artist’s desire to invent and discover new things about what is known, to explore afresh what has already been examined, bringing to light things that went previously unseen by others. This way of painting also gives new life to the actual practice of painting and far from taking a maximalist or gloomy stand, it proclaims that realist painting and especially Spanish realism is very much alive and kicking.
This artist exemplifies the type of personal awareness that possesses many of the painters of this tendency. They know that their works of art cease to excite emotion when they succumb to an excessively academic representation of the world. Villalón gives in to a wealth of detail, to a world where to all appearances everything has its place, to a known order with no surprises. It is precisely to try to do away with this excess of detail and to refuse to move unthinkingly within the confines of the established order that his work has struggled for so many years. This has led to his attaining undeniable heights at different points throughout his career. For me, these heights can be summarised precisely by the genres presented in this exhibition: still lifes, portraits, paintings of Italy – especially Tuscany – and his latest Venetian series.
It has been above all a movement towards simplicity, towards expression, letting the work breathe, suggest or include, and towards the poetry of silence and emptiness. The portraits of Kasia, Divagación, Dueto or El cronista Raúl Alonso come to mind and I cannot but find in them certain characteristic tics of his way of painting; details that are almost Zurbarán-like scattered throughout. A wealth of different feelings floods the space. In particular, in El cronista Raúl Alonso, he creates a certain floating sensation for the full-length figure, invoking the game of memory, and gives a certain feeling of a presence that dominates the space, that of a man totally absorbed by his reading. In short he is dealing here with living space, which is one of his dominant themes. In Libertango, he returns us to images of lost love or to a love that loses itself, images that are lost in the silence of the emptiness surrounding them, but in this case they are less anecdotal or narrative. They are little more than feelings recorded without words, whispered softly but repeatedly. These portraits make up an extraordinary exhibition about silence, emptiness and simplicity, about slight alterations of feeling, and about the intensity of what remains unsaid and what is always imminent.
The still lifes give an idea of the artist’s intention by the way he takes a theme and explores it and simplifies it in pursuit of a world of silence and abstract essence. In spite of being almost an academic exercise, they are attractive works of art full of nuances, with an acute, intimate sensibility, and are a pleasure to look at. He turns our attention to shelves and mantelpieces with the most diverse objects: bottles, telephones, earthenware jugs, ashtrays, accordions, etc. He deals with the known and the unknown. Things are left on shelves, forgotten, abandoned, they are left there to be picked up later, to be stored or protected or kept out of reach. It is as if all the horizontal surfaces needed to be broken down to be able to define themselves. Once the elements have been determined, the artist places them in the subtlety of a simple structure, on windowsills, tables or shelves, and always in order and in relation to angles, vertical positions and empty spaces. He shows us that art is an order of artifice, whatever the supposed naturalism of the scene, and that our world, or his world at least, needs effective, simple structures to allow the light and colour to affect the eye in different ways, in this way turning them into vehicles for sharpened perception. In this way, the tiny flashes of colour in the shapes and the light of the spaces direct us towards the world of poetic analogy. There are certain parallelisms of sensibility.
When contemplating the objects of Villalón’s world, it is easy to think of Rainer María Rilke’s poetry of things, or better still of the description Jean-Paul Sartre gave of the poetry of Francis Ponge when he called them a lyrical phenomenology. In one of Ponge’s essays, he writes that objects give me great pleasure […] Their presence, their concrete evidence, their solidity, their three dimensions, the tangible appearance of beings that cannot be doubted. They are my only raison d’être, or more precisely, my excuse; and the variety of things is what I am in reality made up of. This is exactly what I mean: I am made up of their variety. Our artist’s still lifes seem to show exactly this need for uncertain or ambiguous interrelations, which we can participate in as observers, more than the confidence shown by any individual object, it is this need that affirms the object’s autonomy, excluding us or keeping us at bay.
The artist has used his love of travel as an excellent excuse to learn and to consolidate and prove his solid training. In addition to Spain and Holland, his cyclical trips to Italy, travelling around Rome, Florence, Milan, Naples, Venice and Tuscany, impregnating himself with the art of the Italian masters, have produced extraordinary results that have not been long coming. The streets, buildings and façades, quiet spots and gardens are a master class in exquisite realism. He is no stranger – and this is no contradiction – to a clever use of abstract resources for many parts of his paintings (Ostia Antica, Bar y Via della Pace, the Chinchón series, Termini, Palatino, Piazza Navona, etc). Capturing on canvas the fields of domestic and public urban architecture allows the artist to make use of the observer’s mental recycling abilities, provoking evocation and meditation in him on numerous occasions. His paintings of exteriors as public places are psycho-semiotic spaces where signs and demands for meaning, desires, fictions and projections of meaning take place. These watercolours are related to a collective appropriation of the space and to the emergence of a way of seeing. In a way, Villalón fulfils completely the Baudelairean definition of the artist, which comprises all those who take on the task of making this radical consciousness of the present a way of life.
It must be remembered that Óscar Villalón pays extra special attention to preparatory drawings and studies, one of the basic elements of his art and possibly the one that is the most noticeable to the general public. The power of light is so important that it allows multiple interpretations of the same work. In this way, variations in intensity and fluidity give shape to the particular character of each and every one of his singular paintings. The roots of his creations can be found in naturalism and realism, and with these and together with the other features that define his work - such as the process of creation based on methodology and rapprochement - he manages to create his own language that marks him out as being very different from other figurative artists.
To conclude, it can be said that the work of Óscar Villalón is a metaphor that causes the observer to dream and to become immersed in the work. He himself describes his paintings as similar to travelling, whereby we are physically drawn in and traverse the surface of the work. And, even at the risk of repeating myself, it is fitting to remember here what I already said a few lines ago about his painting: an extraordinary exhibition about silence, emptiness and simplicity, about slight alterations of feeling.
I invite you to observe.
Spanish Association of Art Critics (Asociación Española de Críticos de Arte - AECA)