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From the memory of affection and imagery of nostalgia / Jesús Cámara

When we talk of Venice, our mind subconsciously conjures up connotations of decadence and decay. Although it is true that it ceased to be a great economic power, nowadays tourism, thanks to the artistic legacy left behind by its bourgeois merchants, has made it a city reborn that has risen from the ashes like a phoenix. Western culture owes much to Venice. Despite the passage of time, it has not ceased to be one of the best reference points for the culture of elegance.

Many are the artists who for centuries have captured the city on canvas. We have only to think of Canaletto, Guardi, and the closest to us, Alberto Orrego Luco (Valparaíso, 1854 - Santiago de Chile, 1931). They have not ceased to pay homage to what is surely the most beautiful and evocative city in the world. Villalón’s origins, with such close blood ties to Spain and western culture, more than to other Chilean painters, make it easier for him to deal with the silent beauty of the landscapes in a physically and conceptually more relaxed way.

In this exhibition, it is not simply the landscapes that interest Villalón, but rather the space and its role as a setting for human fables. A placid framework where human passion is brought to the surface. The architecture appears as a counterpoint to the stories locked inside its walls. When we observe his palaces, it is as if at any moment they could come back to life, as if the historic characters that lived in them long ago might come out of the paintings. Óscar Villalón describes what he sees, what he has before his eyes, but he tries at the same time to represent the invisible. Inside are lavish damasked polychrome, golden or upholstered rooms. However, outside, nature does not remain impassive. It goes through its regular cycles and unleashes its force against the walls of the city, with its vigour and slow damage. Here in Venice, nature dominates man and overwhelms him. It seems unaffected by human pleasure or drama. The paintings are riddled with theoretical connotations and cross references, offering the viewer endless interpretations, where the unknown and the mysterious prevail. Villalón wants to make viewers take a reflective stand with regard to their perception of their surroundings, of the space surrounding them. He shows the way in which it is this that reflects and determines the way an individual has of being in the world.

These paintings are not spectacular, and they are like this because the artist wanted it to be so. He prefers to execute with rigour and analysis. Gentle representations that cease to be so when a sensuality I would dare to classify as disturbing appears. The artist shows peerless skill in his mastery of the pigments. Villalón’s skies are very evidently boldly colourful, acting as a counterpoint. In general terms, he feels a fascination for daring representations of light and colour. In this way, his use of different styles can be discerned: sometimes he presents unexpected foregrounds in which he makes the most of the abstract potential (Puerta, Ventana, Espejos, Puente); other times the sunlight floods a wall, almost seeming to make it dissolve into immateriality with his use of translucent glazing and with radiant light where the shapes dissolve (Gondoleros), or he produces a contrast of colours with the cold white light of Cúpulas, La Piazzetta, and Campanario, or everything seems to explode in a riot of dynamic incandescent colour, giving off a light submerged in mysterious surroundings (Gran Canal and Góndolas). It is precisely in these last two, with their flooded atmosphere, where the delicate details of the brushstrokes are clearest.

It is painting that is in search of harmony in the space revealed. The viewer notes an energy that continues to expand both at a spiritual and sensory level, an ultra-sensitive perception within the visible world. Appearances invade the surface of reality. What was solid turns to dust, shadows become matter, memory does not turn to stone but rather takes on the metamorphic appearance of dreams.  Dream-like panoramas under the at times vaporous and iridescent skies that remind us of the English painter William Turner (Covent Garden, London, 1775 - Chelsea, London, 1851). The fragile architecture in the painting of Villalón remains in this precarious state, acquiring an almost totemic character. Magnificent buildings accompanied by the tolling of bells that mark the inexorable passing of time to the rhythm of the constant beat of Tempus Fugit.

It is playful painting, or playful in strategy, which when all is said and done attempts a more faithful approach to the real sense of art and to the insight of the person perceiving and questioning it. It is painting that is related to the paralysed viewpoint of photography, which is no more than an attempt to stop time, by capturing an ephemeral instant in eternity, in order to give it symbolic transcendence, which is the moment our contemplation comes into play. Villalón’s creations are an allegory about the limited time humans have compared to the perpetuity of immaterial things. These Venice scenes/spaces prioritise them by converting them for our retinas into a memory of affection and an imagery of nostalgia.

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Jesús Cámara
De la Asociación Española de Críticos de Arte (AECA)