“I know that I have lost so many things that I could not count them and that those losses are now what is mine”
Of the artists that start out, there are those who try to hide their references and those who openly reveal them, immediately showing and assuming their moment of search without fear or difficulty. I like to confess my preference for the latter, for those who allow their trajectory to deploy its own time, those who are capable of caressing their devotions to subsequently undo them and set off in another direction. Except for truly exceptional cases, the former run the risk of drowning in their own vomit of forced originality, falling into the trap of their own deceit. The latter prefer to ask questions and study how the artists who went before them in time have had to deal with them and try to solve them. After assuming the condition of the painting, which is no longer a technique, but rather a tradition, or in other words, after assuming that beyond the act of painting itself, painting is an idea and a way of thinking about painting itself, a kind of self-reference, these artists try out formulas that have already been exposed to overload them into a hybrid present that is capable of giving an overall meaning to all those successes. Of course, that is the case of Alain Urrutia, an artist who has naturally assumed the position that implies that the artist has to be continuously (re)considering his place and asking himself not only why he should continue to paint, but also what for and how to carry on doing it.
That is probably it, yes. To continue adding to things. Thus, the title: Wunscht, which can be literally translated as “longing” in German. For those who know Alain personally, albeit briefly, as is my case, it will be easy to recognise that vehement desire and anxiety enjoyed by anyone in pursuit of anything. And that anything in this case is the image. An image that is composed and decomposed almost instantly, as if it were an attempt to solve a tribute to something that is not clear. Because for Alain, that advance, that looking forward in the guise of impatient desire, holds a double paradoxical meaning, something like the idea of construction by elimination proclaimed by the sculptures of Giacometti, half desire, half nostalgia; a kind of crossroads that needs to be ordered and closed, albeit by adding a veil, as if the idea were to hide certain fragments that allow the image to remain, as if in that mirror of Lewis Carroll: “It disappeared very slowly... finishing off with a smile, which remained for a time after the rest of the animal had disappeared”.
Like that description of time as a sculptor written by Marguerite Yourcenar, pointing out that the day on which a statue is finished, its life begins, to a certain extent, the images of Alain Urrutia are something like a road towards death. Yourcenar describes how, from the first stage of the sculpture as a block to the human form, the concept moves onto a second stage of conservation or wear and tear. Because every image remains in time, like those fragments of memory in the form of a photograph used by Alain Urrutia to compose this series. The image is converted into a body eaten by time and its beauty lies in its condition of fragment, in its semi-decapitated memory. One of Yourcenar’s phrases is significant in this way: “Our parents restored the statues; we remove their noses and their prostheses; our descendants will probably do something else”. In painting, since Gerhard Richter, the fight has been to represent what cannot be represented through a lack of clarity and definition. Alain is one of the many artists who have taken up that legacy, through Luc Tuymans, in an attempt to cover the image with a veil. Both Richter and Tuymans walked towards the dissolution of the image, hindering and impeding our vision as simple spectators before an out-of-focus frame. The individual and collective memory and their apprehension difficulties justify that reduction of the range and the visibility. Meanwhile, the spectator must require an effort to interpret what is being told (content that hides meaning), to imagine beyond that veil, hanging like a curtain-facade.
I think about Caspar David Friedrich and how, when presented with his famous work The Monk by the Sea (1809), the public complained that they could not see anything. The lack of elements (the mist, the sea and a dune on which the monk thinks) made the image sublime. The figure, unprotected and alone, floats in the immensity like the figures of Alain Urrutia, imposing himself on the depth, on a background with no vanishing points, like the fog that opened up Friedrich’s imagination. Again, it is as if the image had disappeared. With Friedrich, the fog is a difficulty that acts like an opaque curtain; with Urrutia, the lack of clarity and definition will be a resource capable of making things express themselves with greater strength through their absence. Thus, the works with these characteristics maintain that air of atemporality and indefinition. Because their aim is not to say everything, but to reveal an enigma.
That condensation and will to do or soften the edges, as I pointed out earlier, seems to point to a special way of seeing and representing that led many contemporary artists to a crude form of illustration using photographic and filmic sources. The painter and theorist Jordan Kantor explains this, with a certain amount of irony, in a text published in Artforum at the end of 2004 in reference to three interesting painters (Wilhelm Sasnal, Eberhard Havekost and Magnus von Plessen) under the title of “The Tuymans effect”. What is important for Kantor is not a mere formal strategy inherited from the universe left behind by Tuymans, but rather the intensity with which they manage to accept and deny painting at the same time. “By introducing the thematic exhibition with series that claim to focus ‘on’ African colonialism or xenophobia, Tuymans opened the doors to a myriad of painting projects that are justified, according to the words of one of their main supporters, Ulrich Loock, by a discourse of ‘extra-painting’”.
Indeed, to understand the work by Luc Tuymans, we must begin with a paradoxical premise: the permanence of the static image in memory is stronger than that of the moving image. The impossibility of recovering that image, its finiteness and disappearance accumulated meanings that develop their mental equivalent, which will remain, and increasingly so in movement. And this is one of the key factors that leads Alain to paint in this way, like the decline of the static image that gives rise to an accumulation of information that makes it dense; the distortion becomes invisibility and invisibility becomes essence. Many artists after Tuymans assume that the material nature of the static image is always greater and that the impact it leaves behind is much stronger, except in special cases, such as that of the image of the aircraft crashing again and again into the Twin Towers, undoubtedly the image of our era.
In that way, there is no doubt that Alain Urrutia takes up the baton left behind by Tuymans, who, in turn, had taken it from a Gerhard Richter who understands painting conceptually as a decision process and who formally drinks directly from the relationship between painting and photography. Of course, Richter took all that much further than Tuymans in his Atlas. However, Tuymans also takes up that freedom to paint what he sees on a postcard to go beyond the mere exaltation of space, the composition or colour as a constructive and priority logic of painting.
Thus, on the road to the destruction of the image, Alain seems to be clear: “More than ever, today, although saying it is paradoxical in a hypervisible world, it can be said that we have ‘eyes so as not to see’. Thus, the references I use are based on the fact that many of the things around us and the situations that could, in principle, go by unnoticed have an aesthetic character and reading that is formalised with their representation”. In this series, Alain Urrutia begins with fragments of images that are fragments of the images of his own life, as if he decided to paint in a kind of Moebius band where we do not know when we are in or out of the image itself. In this sense, the situation is very Derridian, in that it reflects on how the footprint, ruin or ashes are inseparable from the semantic field of memory. Like Derrida, for Alain M. Urrutia, that process of anamnesis involves a double paradoxical desire: “that of the ashes, total destruction, the deletion of the deletion of the footprint itself, disappearance without trace and, on the other hand, the unavoidable need for keeping something in the memory, for keeping everything and losing nothing, keeping a copy, a file, the unthinkable”. Derrida wondered how to love anything other than the possibility of ruin, something other than impossible totality. He did it in Mémoires d’aveugle, a text written for an exhibition of drawings on blind people in the Louvre Museum. And there is nothing better than blindness to understand the meaning of the characters in the paintings by Alain Urrutia, even those that look directly at us, as if they had no life inside. Derrida taught us that it is experience in itself: not even the abandoned but still monumental fragment of a totality, as Benjamin thought, a subject of baroque culture. “Indeed, it is not a theme, it ruins the theme, the position, the presentation or the representation of anything”, Derrida points out. For this, ruin is an open memory like an eye or the hole of a bony eye socket that lets us see but shows us nothing.
Thus, Alain Urrutia paints to keep. Like infinite memory. Like a remnant (the longing of Alain) which, in keeping with Derrida, would be that which may disappear radically like substance. Meanwhile, we could mention other artists that follow the strategy of proceeding on the basis of images that are prior to the painting. Gert Rappenecker comes to mind, with his ‘photocopy’ paintings, working his landscapes from the mid-1990s based on tourist leaflets. Or the suspended images of Johannes Kahrs, which are born of cinematographic fiction. They all work with already existing images, stolen, bathed in a melancholic halo that is the product of their longing to capture the image that reflects reality, that is never the image of reality, but rather the transversal look at it, the instance of a present that floats in the memory. This explains its density and the work carried out on the defect of the image. Because his journey is that of encounter. Or rather, that of encounter with light. This gives rise to suggestion, intensity, the subtlety that is born of shadow, lack of clarity and definition or the reflection of the image. However, from all of them, I would highlight Wilhemlm Sasnal, who might best respond to that ‘Tuymans effect’ introduced by Kantor. Formally, the similarity with Tuymans’s painting is unquestionable: the use of a monochromatic palette, the size, the scale and the protagonist of the ink. Thematically, there is also a relationship in the common recurrence to military themes. Finally, the coincidence of a process that is born of photography and is solved or executed very quickly. All this means that his technique appears to be clumsy, but, of course, that does not mean that he is a bad painter. Indeed, it is quite the opposite; it is the deliberate use of the ‘technical failure’ aesthetics as a way of thematising the situation of painting today that makes his respective paintings so attractive.
Among all of them, the painting of Alain Urrutia emerges and is done on a daily basis, aware that, after Richter, the canvas is no longer previously empty and painting is not used to produce the image, but rather the image is used to produce painting. Thus, with Alain Urrutia, the image, or its dislocation, is what generates another new image. Richter is clear in notes dated in 1964 and 1965. “When I paint from a photograph, conscious thought is suppressed. I do not know what I am doing. My work is more similar to informality than any type of ‘realism’. The photograph has its own abstraction and it is not easy to penetrate”. For Richter, the photograph is a way of gaining distance when penetrating into reality and it assumes a religious function at the time when everyone constructs their own memories based on it.
Aimar Arriola talks of how, with Alain Urrutia, what is familiar gives way to what is strange, of how difficult it can be to change something that is recognisable into something else. Indeed, the image is transformed, but it is more than that, it is distilled, it is declined and rebuilt. This is the understanding of his worn painting, that opposite of Tarkovski. Or that road towards abstraction that is so well described by Danto: “At times, I think that the history of modern painting can be read like the history of traditional painting in reverse, like a film that is run backwards: a regressive and systematic dismantling of the mechanisms that have been invented over the centuries to add conviction to the pictorial representations of the painful triumph of Christianity and the stories of national glory”. However, with Urrutia, that retrospective projection is also prospective. In Richter’s words, it would be something like the freedom “of no longer having to invent, of being able to forget what painting means - colour, composition, space - and everything one knew and had thought”. Like Richter decades earlier, Urrutia assumes one premise: if, in photography, reality is turned into an image, when it reaches painting, the image becomes reality.
We speak of lack of clarity and definition, of out-of-focus, of fragments, of hiding the ability to paint well, of overlapping, of cutting, of interruptions, of reductions in tone... All thanks to the simple concept of manually processing the ‘image’ of the photograph in search of its density. Thus, that latent state of violence, of violation of anatomy and time as an unsolvable enigma. In the first of his texts, the sculptor Medardo Rosso said, “in art, it is important to make the subject be forgotten”. But Francis Bacon also, when he spoke of ‘moving sequences’ or ‘orders of sensations’. With bacon, the figure breaks away from what is figurative. “I have wanted to paint the scream before the horror”, he stated. And as with Bacon, with Alain Urrutia there is an area of indiscernibility, where everything tends to escape. A kind of lost paradise of the flesh of painting.