What happens when the mystery is solved? What happens when the love is over? What keeps us together if not the feeling that things are not that easy? I mean, Alain’s painting cannot be easy, right? It is more than just a bunch of objects and a good representation of them. Because yes, Alain Urrutia is a great painter, but I think he is also a great artist. There must be more.
If we explain the painting it ends very quickly: it was made through a simple game in which Plǝt- and Alain exchanged (loosely related) images of objects until a constellation for the painting was formed. Though the game was simple, it is through this game where complex concepts of authorship and collaboration are posed. However, if we look at the painting without disclosing this game, we are confronted with a very strange and nonsensical still life. Its mystery is accented by being painted in black and white - perhaps connoting some sort of documentation; perhaps emphasizes something that, in Mise en Abyme, I feel is always disclosed but also discoverable.
When was it decided that accepting things were more fun than failing and discovering? When did we give up? I never did, and that is maybe why I approach Mise en Abyme as both a success and a failure, and construct my ideas from there. In painting, not everything can be addressed from inside the frame, which is something that Alain acknowledges by including the painting’s source material in the installation of the room. In doing so, the exhibition invites the viewer to be both a passive and active participant. Some objects, such as the music box, were more present or more active. Others, such as the cigarette or the tube of paint, where more hidden, a quality reflected in the painting as well. And it is in this game of background/foreground that Mise en Abyme gives us an entrance.
In general, Alain’s paintings are flat; they almost do not show the labour of the brushstrokes. They may give an idea of labour through time, but perfection masks effort, hand movements and the materiality of the paint, which is hidden even further by the final layer of varnish. Because of this Alain is not comparable to those painters that paint and paint, layers over layers to end up discovering what they are painting. Rather, when Alain sits (or stands) to paint, he knows what he is going to paint. Is Alain a painter then? I will argue that yes, he is a painter, but we have to understand that there are many kinds of painters in today’s painting landscape and that he decides to take on that label, even if his outcomes might be closer to photographs.
If painters particularly (and artists in general) have been traditionally labelled as creators of images, Alain's practice can be more connected to ideas of recollection and re-reading. While the images he usually chooses to represent in his paintings are other paintings, in the case of Mise en Abymehe has switched back to objects - albeit with half of them only existing in his studio as photographs. His take on creation, therefore, has a lot of recreation and reviewing and if other art pieces are created with a great load of meaning, with this painting we are faced with the opposite: a collection of objects whose meaning comes from a completely random selection.
This selection of objects, absurd objects, only hints at Alain's practice. If we look at previous exhibitions of his work we can see that the selection of images, objects or moments that Alain chooses to depict are chosen carefully, as for example in ‘20 minutos de Pensamiento Abstracto’ at Galeria Casado Santapau (Madrid), where all the paintings were connected through a meticulous mind map. As Alain often chooses these images from magazines or the Internet, we could maybe place his practice closer to a collage-artist than a painter, but I find it both interesting and necessary that he takes the second path.
'L'Internationale'. Oil on linen on board. London 2018.
Looking at the paintings that Alain has been producing for the past years, we could maybe end up framing him as a photographer also. These paintings, small and hyper-realistic, could be read as small slides of moments that Alain designs in his studio, like Jeff Wall or Thomas Demand. But it is his medium selection, and the fact that he only constructs the final image on the canvas, that again positions him surely as a painter: he needs to paint it to see it, while Wall and Demand only photograph it to capture it.
But back to Mise en Abyme. I will say that it is by being such a small object that we tend to pay it more attention. This is exaggerated by Alain’s decision to present only one painting. Carefully laying on the bed, we start to look at the painting and we try to understand it, as we do with Wall's pictures, but in Alain's case, it is far more condensed: all the objects and clues are on such a small canvas that it is only people who know Alain who might see this painting as a self-portrait: what connects all these objects? What connects all the anecdotes? Alain. But this is really far from the main ideas I am trying to outline.
One of the things I enjoyed the most about Mise en Abyme is how the painting and Alain’s practice are present in the space. There have been many writings about the idea of expanded painting, but this was definitely a different take on the concept: the material was not exiting the canvas, but the grey matter was, his thoughts, references and process: if Alain is interested in looking for new readings of objects and images, surely this happened to us during the length of the exhibition: Why is this tiger so important? Can we re-read Picasso today? Was the newspaper for him an image or a memory of Venice?
If we are aware that all these questions cannot be solved because of how they are presented, we can be sure that Alain has enough to say, even without necessarily aiming to say anything. To try to solve Mise en Abyme is to try to explain why you love someone: you can talk and talk about it, and at the very end of the discussion you might end up with not a single rational thought, but with a lot of content.