Art and Craft / Raúl Alonso
Among all the trades, being a painter is undoubtedly the most outstanding, because it offers the possibility of creating a different reality, a different world, existing only inside the woman or man who develops this skill. I consciously pause at the word ‘craft’ because a long time ago many artists moved away from this concept, something that is neither imperative nor trivial. Where is the 21st century painting heading to? Has intuition displaced skill? I invite you to delve into the work of Oscar Villalón, to try to respond, through the canvases of this artist, to some of these issues.
I met Oscar Villalón many years ago, when we crossed paths in the heart of Madrid, land of vineyards and olive trees, stones and wood, dreams and utopias. Very soon I fell in love with the painting of this –back then- young artist, recently arrived from Santiago de Chile, who tirelessly showed me his works, accompanied by enthusiasm, but also reflection, theoretical basis and deep knowledge of pictorial techniques. From that stage, eminently ‘rural’, I am left with his notes, the still lifes and fundamentally with the series of portraits that he made to all of those who in some way came across his life. The series that he made of the young Kassia was particularly brilliant, from those sessions emerged Libertango, Tacones or Contrastes, works that revolved around the powerful effigy of the model.
But without any doubt, it was with El Cronista, that he achieved his maximum achievements. The opportunity that Villalón gave me to participate in that work, lending my humble image, made me delve into the creative process of the artist and his conscientious way of working; thorough study of the composition, long series of photographic documentation, endless posed sessions and subsequent natural details. At times he managed to transport me back several centuries, to the study of any of the great masters through which many characters passed by to pose before the artist's brushes. A painter's craft and a classic essence, but at the same time, resounding and undoubted contemporaneity. The result was brilliant, a fabulous canvas, complemented by a series, equally outstanding studies, sketches and notes for the final work. But Villalón's work did not end there, during the following years, the artist, perhaps as the result of his own pentimenti, went back to the canvas to touch up or modify small details, just a couple of strokes that served to reconcile the object and the subject.
Villalón has never been an artist who had hidden his references. His imaginary museum has always been notorious. Which deities appear in his Olympus? Who does he turn to in moments of doubt and uncertainty? What monographs or literary sources he has at hand? In that sense, in 2003 he went to Borges and using this prominent figure from Buenos Aires as a pretext, he tackled a complex work, of great dimensions, full of nuances and details, a piece that reflects a moment and a specific space, it is Las dos caras de Aleph. This great canvas reflects like no other, the world of certainties and uncertainties that surrounds the creative process of an artist. The work shares an imaginary with El Cronista, that appears at the bottom of the canvas. There were long days of straight posing, a conscientious and thorough study of details, lights, environments and perspectives. Finally, destiny puts the artwork aside, perhaps destroyed or forgotten, like a notch in the calendar, an open wound in the diary..
Over a decade later, Villalón returns to the work, resumes the concept, but nothing will ever be the same. The Borgesian pretext was left behind and the context will be different, but the reflection will be the same. The canvas metamorphoses itself and reappears as Las Magdalenas. Formally, it has loads of brilliance, transmits strength and energy. Details rebel and new icons appear that coexist with old referents. A cigar, crowning a long mouthpiece, emits a thin thread of smoke that envelops the environment, creating a thick and charged air. The two women who hold the composition challenge the viewer with more impudence, they question you, question your position. The work forces you to take a stand, the half measures are no longer valid, ‘you are with me or against me’, the protagonists seem to indicate. A small pocket watch, tied to the index finger of one of the women, reminds us of the passage of time, perhaps it becomes the foundation of the work, the time that marks and conditions everything. At the same time, it is no coincidence that this small item is made of gold, the material that is associated with materialism, vanity and arrogance, but also permanence and faithfulness. As Francisco de Goya affirmed, ‘time also paints’ and never better than in this canvas, that axiom is present, time has painted, the circle has closed itself and questions have been answered.
It would not be fair to pause exclusively in two works within the prolific production of Oscar Villalón. I am interested in delving into his imagination and his particular geography. From his years in the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Chile, to his most recent works, the trajectory of Villalón has been marked by key moments that have been reflected in his canvases. Some constants appear recurrently throughout his trajectory, the use of the object is particularly emphasized as a plot axis in the works; the present and absent object, the humanized and dehumanized object, the assaulted and aggressor object.
The still lives he paints when he arrives in Spain are directly related to those recently completed. I choose those both moments, En el olvido and Objetos II. Again time, or rather the passage of time, takes over the two compositions. These are works seen as a conscious or unconscious whole, which Villalón realizes as a kind of links in the same chain. The mobile phone, the LP records, the tablet, the slide player or the old transistor. All are obsolete and at the same time current. The meticulous analysis that the artist makes of each object allows us to examine them carefully. It should be noted the detailed study of the metal lamp in Objetos II, giving us a view of the interior of the room in which the scene takes place, a resource that refers us to the Flemish masters such as Jan Van Eyck with his Arnolfini Marriage, the mirror games of Las Meninas by Velázquez or, more recently, the metallic reflections of Richard Estes.
The urban landscape will be another recurring genre within the work of Villalón. Fantastic night views of Amsterdam and Rome, with an artificial and contrived light that is perhaps reminiscent of the sunsets of the masters of the 19th century. Cities with personality, selected corners, hidden gardens - the subject does matter. The canals of Venice, the light of Aranjuez, a sunset in Chinchón. It is very interesting the contrast presented between urban and rural, it seems that stone and nature are reluctant to disappear from the works. I choose the notes in Toscana, bright and vital.
The urban interiors, loaded with characters in attitudes of clear staging, will be the most complex compositions that Villalón will tackle. Intoxicating are the canvases set in subway platforms, stations and suburban cars. These are works full of nuances and details. There is a special fondness for chrome surfaces, bright and shiny, with a neon light that enhances the pictorial qualities of the materials. In Inicio, Part II, he adds a new element, the movement, through the incorporation of a moving element, the fast-moving train, as a frozen moment that brings us back to one of the obsessions we have already noticed in the work of Villalón: the recurrent passage of time. The composition, culminated with a self-portrait that is located at the vanishing point of the canvas, is skillful and loaded with insolence. The classical reminiscences are evident, marked by rhythm, symmetry and a Cartesian logic that balances all the elements.
I've always been interested in secondary roads, those mental shortcuts that force us to travel unsuspected itineraries. I am afraid that without these crossroads, Oscar Villalón's production would have remained without that seasoning that adds richness and emotion to his works. In the canvases of Villalón we can see the cold sigh of the Andean mountain range, the arid landscape of the fields of Chinchón, the brilliant light of Tuscany, the heavy breathing of Rome, Madrid or Amsterdam and fundamentally the introspective atmosphere of his workshop, his home and his intimates.
All of us who have had the opportunity to participate in any of the works of Oscar Villalón are privileged; first of all, for having been able to experience in the first person the concerns, doubts and certainties of this man, but essentially for having appreciated the veracity of the work of a contemporary artist, with practices taken from another time, perhaps a rara avis, in this world of bewilderment and immediacy.
I do not believe that intuition has displaced skill, I am convinced that both must coexist, and they must do it in a harmonious way. I could not agree more with the reflection made by the Master Piet Mondrian: ‘The intellect confuses intuition’, but I think that reason, together with training, contribute to the development of creativity. This is how I see it in the canvases of the painter Oscar Villalón, an artist who has made out his craft an Art and his brushes a pleasure.
Come and see.
Raúl Alonso Sáez
Historiador del Arte
Coordinador de Exposiciones
Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte