Arts visuals / Art World

José María Sicilia: “My work is a rhizome without a center”

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He searches the ephemeral to capture that intangible that later becomes eternity in his canvases. A conversation in the air, the trills of a bird, a fleeting flash, an aroma that comes our way and even the sound of disaster. Light in gesture and poetry in matter can emerge from a song, from a beautiful text and even from the plane of an intricate technological circuit. And although the starting points of the works with which José María Sicilia (Madrid, 1954) continues to expand the field of painting are so diverse, there is a surprising and intimate connection between all these stimuli and it is none other than the solid conception of art as a double vehicle of knowledge and visual enjoyment.

His is a project with a strong conceptual and intellectual anchorage that has the sensitive appearance of great painting, and where reason and emotion, or the visual and the tactile or sensitive, play an equidistant role. And if before it was the artist’s own hand the resource that carried out the “translation”, among others, of the emotions arising from the reading of mystical poetry, more recently technology is the invisible resource responsible for the compositions of some of his pieces. In addition, and in order not to leave aside the fertile territory of handicraft, and together with those pieces created by a computer program, Sicilia develops series of drawings embroidered by hand by laborious seamstresses. This is how, his work achieves the exceptional and extreme encounter of the mechanical and the marvelously tactile.

José María Sicilia. “Luz en la luz” (14), 2021. 190×113. Brodat damunt seda

Juan Manuel Bonet coined the term “the painted years” in a series of exhibitions on that generation of artists who connected with international expressionist trends and introduced the fresh and rapturous air of gesture and color in Spanish painting in the eighties. Among them, and together with Miquel Barceló, José Manuel Broto, Miguel Ángel Campano or Ferran García Sevilla, with whom he coincided during his stay in Paris, José María Sicilia stood out very early on with his personal vision of an expressionist poetics that transmitted a tense serenity. Several decades have passed since his first exhibitions in France and New York -where he triumphed with his paintings with large flowers on warm white wax backgrounds-, and from those historic exhibitions at the Reina Sofía (1987 and 1998) or, among others, that of 2000 at the Monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos, a hymn to the spirituality of matter.

Vista obres sèrie “La luz que se apaga”. “L’horabaixa”, exposició de José María Sicilia al Museu Reina Sofía, 1997

For a long time, the theme of flowers and the poetry of San Juan de la Cruz were central references in his work. But in 2002 José María Sicilia presented an exhibition at the Son Carrió Center (Mallorca), “An awakening without image”, in which for the first time the flowers disappeared and were replaced by fabrics brought back from his trip to India that splashed the wax surfaces with their bright colors.

José María Sicilia davant d’una obra inclosa a la seva exposició “Un despertar sense imatge”. Centre Ca’n Apolònia de Son Carrió, Mallorca, 2002

Later, he would develop works resulting from the recordings of the Fukushima disaster, under the title “Fukushima, winter flowers”, beautiful “watery” compositions that now appear as a reference of his series of “The madness of seeing”. For the execution of those works, the artist used the sound recordings obtained by the Polytechnic University of Barcelona. The introduction of human sounds, mixed with the roar of the tsunami, which were the starkest testimony of the terrible accident and the pain of the survivors, gave the artist’s works a dramatic dimension only mitigated by the beauty of the images.

Vista de “Fukushima – Flores de invierno”. José María Sicilia, Matadero Madrid, 2013

For his return to the Mallorcan scene by the hand of Baró Galería with the project “La locura del ver y lo abierto”, José María Sicilia brought together a group of paintings that, as Enrique Juncosa explained in his text, explored the language of signs, translating into images circuit plans, popular music and even the songs of the beautiful turpial, taken directly in nature. In this exceptional exhibition the artist’s paintings coincided with “cut-out” motifs that randomly invaded the visual field of the rectangle creating the visual effect of a collage, together with vibrant combinations of multicolored geometries and naturalistic fabrics, without forgetting the three pieces of meticulous execution obtained through the patient task of converting the simple stitching into a hypnotic visual filigree.

José María Sicilia. “Luz en la luz” (11), 2021. 142×202. Seda

We transcribe here below the conversation we had with the artist during his stay in Mallorca.

PR.- First of all, José María, my sincere congratulations for your exhibition on “The madness of seeing and the open”. I was very pleasantly surprised by your collection of such diverse works. I would like you to talk about the link that unifies this group.

JMS: The link of all these works is translation. They are all translations of a sound or image. Before we had the language -language- one that corresponded to a form of silence. A glance was enough to understand each other, we were dispensed from language, now we live in the confusion of languages. To translate is to be on the other shore, which is unknown, a shipwreck, translations are bad, always bad. These works are translations of Young’s experiment or, among others, of the song of the turpial.

PR.- My first impression when I saw your exhibition was that you had managed to take your work to a distant point, but that you had done so while maintaining your principles and the essence of your work. What do you say about that?

JMS: I have neither principles nor essences to preserve. If I observe my work from the beginning I see that it is a rhizome in which the organization of the elements does not follow lines of hierarchical subordination, – with a base or root giving rise to multiple branches (see Porfirio’s tree), but any element can affect or influence any other. My work like the rhizome and my life lacks a centre, I realize this now.

PR.- After four decades, your work continues to exemplify that poetic and at the same time speculative spirit that you already had when you plastically interpreted the mysticism of St. John of the Cross, although now you find it in the prosaic complexity of a circuit. That is to say that you continue to travel with the same passion that made you embark on the adventure of creation. The question is, how have the passing years changed you?

JMS.- I try to be attentive for the sake of living, attentive that something or someone knocks on my door and says “I am the adventure”.

PR.- Your works often arise from sound stimuli, some terrible like an earthquake and others as delicate as the songs of birds, which brings us to a fundamental question of your work, which is the duality of the terrible and the beautiful, as well as life and death or the intangible entity of emotions.

JMS.- The sinister or ugly can have a much deeper reading than the beautiful and the sublime because of its condition and secret essence. The sinister in the classic studies of aesthetics is present, although unnoticed, because it is not recognized as a main category like beauty, but as a necessary category that is read under other nomenclatures such as “the ugly” or “the monstrous”. The ugly has as its central theme suffering, suffering and pain, that is, what no one or few want to see. However, the ugly or sinister is part of Beauty, together with the beautiful or sublime.

PR.- Beauty, understood as a message of knowledge, is and has always been a constant in your work. This reminds me of Stefano Zecchi, an Italian philosopher who associates beauty with the truth of philosophy. Do you feel identified with that statement?

JMS.- On truth and beauty I send you a text from a zarzuela in which he reflects on it:

“My mother has been diagnosed with stage IV lung Adenocarcinoma and bone metastasis. The oncologist told us that without treatment he would give her a maximum of 6 months, but that he wanted to treat her to try to stop it and see if a treatment of Chemo, every three weeks + Tarceva, would work. I would like to know if there are any alternative treatments, I have heard of Ocoxin + Viosid and Renoven. Doctor, I need to know if there is hope for a cure, or about how long we can have her with us”.

PR.- Finally, I would like to know what your priorities are now at an artistic level. 

JMS.- To be attentive.

José María Sicilia. “Luz en la luz” (12), 2021. 200×138. Seda

Awarded with the National Plastic Arts at the age of 35, José María Sicilia is a curious and inquisitive discoverer of images, a singular personality, an international art referent who creates visual calligrams with the same meticulousness with which a Buddhist monk weaves his mantras. In his work converge life and nature, science and spirituality, observations and inventions, streams that flow from the same river that has been his work for more than forty years. And sometimes his paintings are like torrents and at others they are backwaters, clear waters and swollen courses, always sensitive translations of that experience or discovery that permeates the difference in the same. It is the reality of life, its bustle, its unforeseen twists and turns, the beauty created and that terrible thing that destroys it, the feelings, the ecstasy and fear or the driving force of the imagination the secrets that shelter the fascinating works of this artist whose work is and has been a constant journey of exploration that surrenders to the poetic and fleeting entity of matter, providing it with that duration that becomes possible in his painting.

Pilar Ribal Simó
Llicenciada en Història de l’Art (1993) i Màster en Gestió Cultural (1995). Exerceix la crítica d’art des-de 1995, amb col·laboracions a premsa escrita i revistes especialitzades (Lápiz, El Cultural, Art.es, Arco Noticias, Art Investor, Lluc, etc.). Fou docent de la Universitat de les Illes Balears (Història de la Fotografia i Patrimoni Cultural), Responsable Artística d’Es Baluard, Directora-Gerent de la Fundació Palma Espai d’Art i, entre d’altres, Directora de Artactiva, s.l. Autora de centenars de texts i assajos crítics, ha comissariat nombrosos projectes expositius per a institucions públiques i privades a nivell internacional. L’àmbit experimental del Dibuix Ampliat és una de les seves línies d’investigació artística. Associada d’ACCA i membre de la Junta Directiva d’ACCAIB, actualment és Responsable de Cultura i Pràctica Artística Contemporània de la Fundació ITINEREM.

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