Fernando Leal Audirac
Thy Ferful Symmetry
The permanence of an image, or the concept it implies, is a current preoccupation both in informatics and in the arts, the boundaries of which are from day-to-day merging within a worldwide online network. Thinking now about visual arts necessarily drives us to immaterial supports, architecture or design. An image has become a piece of information compressible to a numeral, and its inalterability depends on the cultural, panhuman permanence of a cipher; though its translation to visual perception still depends on highly technological supports that become outdated and perishable in a paradoxically short space of time... Physical, material and touchable are among the key words of the twentyfirst century.
In fact, the inalterability, or the perdurable qualities, of an artwork have always been major preoccupations, as the spiritual, political or quotidian content of images has the power to retransmit, from generation to generation, the habits and subtleties of any particular historical period. In todayís world, art has been completely liberated from its "obligation" to enhance or even to preserve the power of what once might have been considered sacred or significant. Many examples seem to insist on proving the opposite: art should be ephemeral, as life itself appears likewise to be, in its constant metamorphosis.In expressing our mood we are compelled to obliterate any memories durable longer than SMS or a Facebook "poke". We have entrusted our memories and our dreams to an internet community in such a way as to almost completely flatten, in many-mirrored reflections, the sphericity of the infinite facets of humanity in a stereotyped global model.
Fernando Leal-Audirac traces a bridge between the most solid art tradition - within an almost 40-year-long career of visual experimentation - and a surprisingly challenging view of contemporary life and art, that we might call an encaustic view point.
His research spans across painting, etching and drawing to sculpture and design, trespassing the boundaries which divide poetry from philosophical effort. Effectively, due to a deeplyrooted understanding of the bond - visual image=physical support - which allows him to call into question the "inalterability" of a numerical transposition into the visible, Leal-Audiracís profound and comprehensive embracing of Art History permits him a distinct mobility, rejecting any banal attempt of "erudition", in order to avoid any confusion with a new Humanism. This attitude, or action, fears no limitation or imposition, except one of rigorous methodology, thereby allowing the artist a totally really free means of signifying the world around him: freedom as result of intellectual rigour. Since the encaustic revival of Delacroix in the nineteenth century and Jasper Johns in the twentieth, Leal-Audirac can be considered a major transformer of this medium because he may well be the only artist intent on looking for the specific "voice" of the encaustic technique and its matter, notwithstanding its resemblance to high impasto in oils.
Leal has tried to explain his encaustic view in an essay entitled "The Origins of the Future: an encaustic perspective", published in the Technoetics Arts journal when LA participated in the conferences organised by the European Tribunal for the Environment.I was immediately transfixed when reading a visual artist who knew how to go beyond, and keep at the same time away from, fashionable quotations, and to encompass a wide range of cultural and trans-cultural references, entrapping the reader into - and onto - the longcaressed dreams of old-fashioned epistemologists: metalanguages.
My first approach was confirmed when gazing at the amazingly vast and complex body of work Leal-Audirac had produced prior to this exhibition. Apparently, I was confronting myself with a virtuoso, keen to show us all the references he was willing to enact or elude.But I realise he was fully aware that originality is not based on avoiding, but rather, in confronting: Leal-Audirac is not afraid of quoting, as he knows he is becoming suitable for others to quote him. Serious art is a flow of thought which we could call nowadays a fractal of quanta, as an imprecise though perceptible borderline. What Leal has told us, without enunciating it in a literary manner, is the consequence of an intermingled system of planetary, non-global, thinking.
Encaustic thought would be, to the artist, a magma into which the tracks of permanency become a constantly mutable and malleable "flux". Following Locke, Pope, Spencer and Blake, after whom Leal has named his exhibition, Thy Fearful Symmetry, Leal proposes a Landscape of the End of the World, inspired by a painted landscape inserted into a natural one at Schwetzingen, the-play-within-the-play, which suggests the concluding Romantic paradox: Immanence and/or Transcendence; ergo: Mutability and/or Eternity...
The alarming indifference of Cosmos seems to have stimulated the artist, like in a silent movie, to express the eternal through the ephemeral as concepts irrelevant to the endurance of the image...
Let us try to trace a clear map of the situation; Leal-Audiracís alarming awareness is not only related to the "ontological solitude", but to far more concrete circumstances: writing and drawing are "linear". Leonardo would have said: " ...all the arts which pass through the hands of the writers - by using calligraphy - are referring to drawing which is a constitutive part of painting...", whereas, when thinking about Leal, the problem of linear image as an independent result of active drawing has long been resolved by modern masters, such as Gorky or Picasso. Leal-Audiracís art immerses us in the flow of painting; in a way, following a hidden personal interpretation of Leonardo, we belong to a "painterly", or multi-linear, melt of illusion, my confines end in the midst of yours... he seems to say as we participate as witnesses of The Supper... taking part in the scene thanks to the "grace" of painting, which abolishes distances between Matter/Spirit, or Image / Observer.In fact, for the artist, illusion is no more a confine with reality in the same way that the shore is not the limit of the ocean. Linear has always implied a surface, susceptible to be also considered as painterly. An art theory becomes a path to understand the world through art perception, or immersion in reality.
Having started his career as figurative painter, LA has never ceased to apply a "figurative" methodology to build up his imagery resources. Now, he goes beyond the surface values or the line implicit in classical painting: to make us perceive - through three-dimensional colour layers - a sort of filter, a magma, in which transparency in its microscopic value is tangible as if we were in front of a watercolour at heavy impasto.The physical, optical, tactile consequences to the viewer transform him into an active and ludic part of the artwork, but in a very different manner from the one employed by Leonardo or VelŠzquez, or in the past century by Duchamp. The "interaction" is no longer a strong conceptual apparatus based on the narrative converging into the image, but a concrete transvergency in which the body, the stamina, the cells of the viewer are components of the work as, in this instance, we melt within the image, we are part of it and it changes according to our tactile or corporeal temperature. In At the Dawn of Naught, LA reaches a peak of complexity as he synthesises part of his research on anti-form, anti-colour by creating an image of an almost impossible reading in a static position. As we move we are confronted with the ghost of the image, which appears positive and linear or negative and massive... Furthermore, it disappears completely, leaving only space to its material non-formal quality. Solid and eternal, it is mutable only through our movement and it is as fragile as life itself, although wax, the main ingredient of encaustic, has an extremely low percentage of degradation.
A ciphered TIFF, as eternal as it is, is not the image itself, which is dependent on technological supports that are subject to constant updating. Most of the images, based on a material support, have an inner timer, a molecular structure determining their expiry date.Though this is not applicable to internet images or to TV, whose echoes remain in the space forever, the legibility of such an echo is still a question of advanced technology in constant flux. What Leal-Audirac demonstrates is that it is in any case the legibility of the image that matters and that any comparison between media is as absurd as stating that "an electric guitar is better than a pianoforte": he reminds us that visual languages, though mixable, remain specific and non-transferable. The photograph of a painting is not the painting; the specificity of communication depends on the direct contact between the viewer and the observed object, in a type of equation object=subject. In other words, as Magritte painted... Ceci níest pas une pipe...
In a frightened and threatened world the best way to maintain control is by reassuring people of the efficacy of teamwork as opposed to authoritarian individualism - two western world conflagrations seem to prove the issue - yet, teamwork, massive science, programmed art, etc., have imposed a flat model overwhelmed by the meaningless, massive non-expression of multimedia communication and informatics. LA is not afraid to propose a daring counter model, overturning the banality of conventional false morality and commonplace attachment to the currently old-fashioned Ďípolitically correct". He trusts in the intelligence of the public and in the prophetic perception artists have always had.
Ephemeral, mutable, eternal, numerical are all concepts to circumscribe the unknown. Since his very early work LA had fallen into the Void pond... In this exhibition he looks at us from the macula where the images are born: The Value of a Brushstroke, Parallel Pond or the enigmatic Gardens of Erbaluce are the result of a third-dimensional layer of light fleeing away from the artistís retina to enfold ours. An encaustic vision of the world in which all boundaries are fused together: science and art; no-longer-existing individual and community; nature and idea.
Leal Audiracís constant preoccupation, a crossroads concerning the dilemma image as such or the image materialised through painterly "incarnation", meets now with the new dilemma image as number or the image as the material result of the number, perceivable through technological supports. LA seems to have arrived at a personal answer to both dilemmas following his own path as painter and sculptor: like encaustic - which is the method of permanent malleability vs. frescoís limestone "immutability", conveying transcendent contents, equivalent to marble in sculpture where there is no scope for retouching - the art of bronze sculpture is based on wax modelling and lost wax die-cast, and it permits innumerable transformations.
To find his own solution to the challenge of merging the aforementioned types of image, Leal has created a sculptural conception of painting with encaustic, and a painterly conception of sculpture, first working with the direct wax method of modelling to achieve a tactile quality of light, like that of Medardo Rosso or Giacometti (in Lealís The Sculptor), both able to model intangible, almost alien, subjects to sculpture such as the wind, or the rain... But LA has not forgotten the fundamental contribution of Bernini, and later Boccioni, when conceiving his dynamic Crystal Thunder in Plexiglas and iron, probably recollecting Gabo and Pevsner as well, and his Muse of Boccioni renders homage to one of the first artists who tried to combine "scientific dynamism" with Symbolism and Renaissance. It is precisely at this level where Leal finds the meeting point between all the factors we have been considering, when, apparently going against his personal flow, he develops from a mathematical model Anubi, The Golden Sea and Touch Me, three sculptures completely based on the problem LA has posed himself: the transformation of the numerical into a tangible reality, submitted to the same physical laws as any other art object though born as "permanently mutable" - as encaustics or bronze sculpture - and "eternal" as a TIFF or any numerical expression. Nevertheless, Leal-Audiracís demonstration implies a new sort of Humanism in which pre-industrial art techniques are seen to be the only way for the individual to propose something to collectivity in a way independent, paradoxically, from that of technology, which negates any personal initiative, relegating it to a system condemned to a constant updating of its means.
Fernando Leal-Audirac reminds us, with his encaustic vision, that the impulses of our body reveal, as tangible as they are, the fragility of mankind in its binding carnality, showing the paradox axis of sexuality, power and pleasure... For as long as we are dwelling in flesh and bones, physicality cannot be overwhelmed: the eternal-ephemeral host of our dreams is still our body.
New York, 9.10.2010