Paisaje Masip, Pedro Villora.
Masip paints landscapes. This short statement –often used about the artist – contains no fewer than two mistakes; indeed, they come close to being outright falsehoods. Masip does not paint —or rather he does not only paint— and what he produces are not landscapes, although on many occasions they might appear to be. It would be more accurate to speak in the past tense: Masip has painted landscapes; he has painted on occasions. Nonetheless, it would be wrong to leave it at that, without discussing his development as an artist. Among other aspects, Masip has had the virtue of extending his technique, varying his references and modifying his point of view without having to distance himself from his expressive world as a result. Ángel Masip has been concerned with the same things for a long time, yet he does not play at repeating the question, nor does he make do with identical answers.
“Landscapes, he paints landscapes”; answered Rafael Doctor when a mutual friend of Masip’s asked what Masip painted. In 2006, that was still an accurate assessment, but soon afterwards, Doctor qualified it in his text for the exhibition catalogue Thomas & Wiebke, saying that “effectively they were landscapes; further, there were only landscapes and in the landscapes there was nobody depicted. Some started out from that point and others from entirely opposite places, green and leafy. It was like a laboratory of landscapes. I could see from the photos scattered around that many of his works were originally taken from his own shots. At the same time, however, I could see that many of them were constructions in which the views taken by the camera had been mixed with others or were simply invented. I didn’t like to ask because I didn’t really think it was all that important. Each of the pictures seemed to give off a sense of his own reality that made me feel that the studio was full of elements that were anything but inert. Each finished picture —even the works in progress— seemed to bring its own feeling, lending it an already foreign life. Yes, it felt a bit like standing before something magic. Ángel explained that those landscapes were part of his lived places, the places he had visited or walked in. They lived on in his memory, and he had tried to reconstruct them through painting”.
That “something magic” was an excellent way of explaining works in which certain features of nature —not necessarily the most beautiful and certainly not the most exotic— were ennobled by a pictorial treatment that brought out an unreal beauty in them; the beauty of the dream world and the imagination, seen in the manner of Pirandello and Arrabal, like the art of combining memories. However, seeing the pictures in a studio, piled on top of each other, perhaps not even finished, has the advantage that it allows one to see them in their environment of creation, alongside the reality —and the materiality— of waste, of refuse, of accumulation and disorder. It is an experience that is all the more oneiric because it evades the linearity, cleanliness and clarity one finds in almost any exhibition. Visitors to Masip’s studio could immerse themselves in the lagoon of the creator’s memory, or to put it another way, blaze their own trail through a foreign forest. Visitors to the exhibition, on the other hand, had an interpretation imposed on them that induced or conditioned the imagination, sometimes in a single, exclusive direction.
Der Waldgang (prosesuan dagoen lana), 2010
Der Waldgang (trabajo en proceso), 2010
It is hardly surprising that he did something to avoid being considered an eternal landscape painter. And the first thing he did was to demonstrate that he did not paint; rather he created installations where painting was a central but not unique element. Perhaps my theatrical instinct led me to think of Masip as a set designer; in theatrical terms, what he builds are visual spaces where the classic plane representation is augmented by a three-dimensionality, the support, side and rear view, the incorporated electrical lighting, and so on, together with the variety of properly plastic media which, to quote an unpublished piece by Masip, “encompasses everything from silk-screen prints to the use of building materials as a pictorial material, by way of drawing and digital images as a visual complement”. His pieces, then, emerge from the wall, break through the supposed limits of a non-existent frame, and, recalling the Baroque argument between painters and sculptors as to which of them held the primacy in representing form, action and time, they go from painting to sculpture until finally revealing themselves as stage sets.
In an instructive text entitled “Ángel Masip. El paisaje, en construcción” (“Ángel Masip. Landscape under construction”, one of a series of Miradas Críticas lectures at the MUSAC in 2008, Javier Hontoria wrote: “His work involves much of a reflection on the place and role of painting today; he makes constant reference to the surrounding space, he transgresses the modernist perception of art as a luxury item, he builds bridges between painting and design, he flirts with publicity strategies and also, along the way, with the ideal of classical painting. This is where Masip’s richness lies, somewhere between the roots of classical painting and the virtuality of the contemporary world”. Indeed, Masip knows how to paint (the same cannot be said of many contemporary painters) but rather than conforming with showing off his skill, he questions what deserves to be depicted today. Art for art’s sake is not enough. He has enough skill to produce work with the frenzy that is so common these days, but he doesn’t. A regular attender of fairs and exhibitions, a habitual reader of essays on aesthetics and philosophy, he keeps up to date with the latest movements and fashions, but he does not follow them. His is a long race, where time is measured not by urgency but by responsibility. I do not believe he is capable of turning his back on tradition in his work, but neither can he create without an awareness of his historical moment.
Der Waldgang, 2010. Instalazioko ikuspegia. Elcheko Kongresu gunea (Alicante)
Der Waldgang, 2010. Vista de la instalación. Centro de Congresos de Elche (Alicante)
What is classical about Masip, beyond his technique, is his conceptualisation The manifestation of the concepts is his contemporary approach, and there, like some gesture to the times, there is room for the classical form: modern and apparently imprecise presentation for a reflexive and pondered representation. This supposed contradiction can be seen in his latest pieces, where he works the natural landscape forms with such profoundly urban and anti-natural materials as cement. The elements of the theatrical set also hark back to some conflict, and the artist’s work is no longer the setting for a drama; rather the landscape is a drama in itself. It is perhaps here that the painter reveals himself for what he really is — a playwright. Yet he is a playwright who builds his play without words or characters, but rather with conflicts between shapes and textures, presences and absences, memories and ellipses.
Although he had already begun this new phase as early as 2003 with pieces such as Perder and Una larga espera, it can clearly be seen in his project Der Waldgang, presented in 2010 at the Conference Centre in Elche (Alicante). Interested in Ernst Jünger, the painter offers up this “walk in the forest” as the exile of the individual who is aware of his condition. But the exile is not only that of the artist, but of the visitor too. The painter does not simply observe a landscape; he reproduces and exhibits it. On the contrary, first he has got to know it, he has walked through it and he has even experienced it with the wonder of an exile who looks at his surroundings for the last time; then he has recreated it, he has fantasised it like an exile who tries to reproduce his past down to the last detail but without managing to remember some parts (with the result that some are perfectly finished and others are only roughly sketched out); and finally he offers it up to visitors, allowing them to walk around it, but never through it, for we are not only looking at the artist’s exile but our own, we who have replaced a natural paradise for a bleak, withered artifice.
Der Waldgang#2, 2009
Der Waldgang#2, 2009
With Der Waldgang, Ángel Masip reproduces the natural beauty of the forest with a series of urban elements which one might say are opposed to the forest itself These are elements, moreover, which are very laboriously applied and, yet are superimposed with a carefully crafted disorder. Each of the actors in this drama, then, is autonomous: the superimposed cement, the layers of torn paper, the frame, the fluorescent lights and above all, the images whose shape is that of a forest but whose texture is that of a wall. Thus the work is exiled from its own references, and spectators are impelled to question whether their relationship with the world and with art can continue to be that of neutral observers or whether they must recognise themselves as exiles and involve themselves in one of the processes that has been begun.
It is only one step from there to the anti-landscape of A New Order, the project he has created thanks to the Innovation Prize 2010 from the Fundación Pilar y Joan Miró. The award recognises experimentation in the field of series-based techniques. Masip made use of it to produce large-format works which contrast with the common devices for marketing this type of art work. Indeed, his whole “new order” is a confrontation. In the text of the catalogue, Octavio Zaya says that “his task as an artist is not to master and control the circumstances and vicissitudes of external reality but to challenge his time”, and that here there is “an experiment and a questioning in the way in which language orders and structures experience, exploring the potential of the text to disable or enable the experience of being a spectator”.
A New Order, 2010. Erakusketako ikuspegia. Espai Cubic.
Mallorcako Pilar eta Joan Miró-ren Fundazioa.
A New Order, 2010. Vista de la muestra. Espai Cubic.
Fundación Pilar y Joan Miró de Mallorca.
In some of these pieces, the manipulation involves adding texts to the image; simple but ambiguous expressions such as Anywhere or Somewhere Not Here. A short time later, he worked with the musician Aurélio Edler-Copes in the group exhibition Nomadismi (2011) at the Royal Academy of Spain in Rome. The word or, in his case, the music, is an additional element for a creator who is more than just a painter. In an interview with Tania Pardo for the catalogue of Der Waldgang he accepted that: “What interests me about painting are not the forms but the background; in other words, the attitude. I have realised that painting, as a medium of expression, interested me just as much or as little as sculpture or video or whatever. To be honest, I don’t know whether I have a painter’s view of things; I am sure of the analytical and reflective attitude, but as for my perception of them, I don’t really know what to say. I’m not really that concerned about the medium”. This last statement is paradoxical; clearly Masip is very concerned with scrupulously controlling the techniques even so far as to demonstrate his rejection of them. Yet at the same time he is not being the slightest bit ironic, since his concern for the medium is its possibility of artistic expression of an idea or, if you like, of a sensation that is not always easy to put into words. If that idea, feeling or attitude were to be better expressed using other media, or by combining several media, it could and indeed should be done like that. If one need to use landscape to show what one is rejecting about landscape, one does; if one needs to use a fluorescent tube to attack the complacent vision of paint on canvas, one does; and if one needs to use cement to show up the anti-naturalness of modern urban planning, one does. If words, music or any other medium can contribute to ridding our vision of preconceived images, Ángel Masip will not hesitate to tap their potential because it is the attitude of the artist that gives his work entity, not only its technical perfection, its inapprehensible beauty or its classic and radical contemporaneousness.
Rome, 15 June 2011