The work of art as an inner journey
La Escena - Santiago Martinez
April, 2020

I met Juan José Aquerreta as a painting teacher at the Pamplona School of Art, his introverted and elusive character could have been incompatible with mine, however the understanding was absolute, his knowledge of art and extreme sensitivity caught me. His calm and peaceful nature has always been reflected in his pictorial work, landscapes and still lifes are a delight to the eye, but above all, an inner stimulus. The painting I show of the artist bears his unmistakable imprint, a faint oil, which softens the vividness and brightness of the pigment giving it a timeless presence of an ancient icon or Fayum portrait. Behind Aquerreta there is a long pictorial tradition that goes back to the Italian masters of the Trecento and Quattrocento, from Cimabue and Piero della Francesca to the metaphysical painting of Giorgio Morandi. This image takes us back to a specific moment in life, a time when everything was about to be done. A face detained in time that, beyond being a mirror, represents the perennial character of art, its survival in the face of the ephemeral nature of human existence. While in Oscar Wilde's The Portrait of Dorian Gray, the painting of the protagonist's face ages so that its carnal beauty does not fade away, in Aquerreta's painting the image documents our irremediable destiny.
Collecting art is a vocation loaded with mystery; the interest and the need to feel accompanied by a work of art become an emotional and intellectual attraction that feeds, are nutrients that come from the know-how and reflections of its creator. I have discovered in art that capacity for evasion, for distancing oneself from reality, which allows one to see the world from another perspective. And now, from this forced confinement, more than ever, I see the help that is for survival. "And I Flew Into" is a sequence from the film Mar Adentro by Alejandro Amenabar, shows how imagination can become more powerful than any limitation. A window open to the desire for freedom which, as a visual metaphor, unleashes a life-giving force in the viewer who contemplates it.
A fragile dividing line separates reality and unreality in the world of the arts, like a door open to new horizons. To cross its threshold is to give "free rein" to the imagination, to propitiate that desired journey and discovery of interior worlds that, only from the plastic arts, are possible. It is not strange that in this corner, together with the portrait of Juanjo Aquerreta, there is a work by Monica Dixon and another by Leo Wellmar, both representing, through a certain enchantment, places to get lost (or to find oneself). Monica Dixon's "Riverview" is a lonely house in some undefined place, a blue that has taken over the colour of the sky and, after a solid appearance of a necessary refuge, transmits a certain concern for its barren and imprecise location. To the technical virtuosity and formal rigour of the artist, based on laws of measurement, scale, symmetry and order, is added a special way of arranging a light that impregnates and harmonises everything and finds a clear parallel in the work of Leo Wellmar. "Close I", a small format painting that surprises with its spatiality, the richness of the artist's formal resources has been deriving towards a painting of the transcendent linked to oriental philosophy. An icy white landscape of perennial vegetation speaks of the order and cycles of nature. The choice of a very low point of view favours a stratigraphic landscape in which the line of the horizon moves away giving the maximum prominence to a snowy foreground, announcing fertility and regeneration. Wellmar moves between the idyllic recreation of a place in which to breathe deeply, and a certain nihilism and distancing from an impossible nature, placing us on the limits between the figurative and the abstract, between being and nothingness.
In the face of this type of work, the question arises as to whether art is a recreation of reality or is reality itself, a new and alternative reality arising from absolute freedom. The plastic creation is a repairing balm, a natural healing for the mind and the soul. These paintings are much more than an aesthetic proposal, they are an alternative to the harshness of life. Jezabel Rodriguez is another painter close to these assumptions, her "still lifes" contradict such qualification, because they are emanating from a vivifying light. The tablet I keep (image 4) delves into the essence of things, everyday objects that, in some way, are an extension of herself and that connect seamlessly with the observer. It takes us to a haven of peace, of a certain Carthusian austerity, a painting for contemplation and self-absorption, with the silence necessary for any journey of initiation. It is not strange that in the presentation catalogue of his exhibition in As Quintas, A Caridad, he resorted to the simplicity of the Japanese poet Masaoka Shiki: Spring in the Home/There is nothing/And yet there is everything.
Jezabel Rodríguez leads us through the appreciation of the simple things in life to understand how what is important is in the essence and, from that essentiality, from that inner resonance, art reinforces the need to give a spiritual sense to existence.
This capacity to transfigure reality into another dimension, into the dimension of the plastic arts, can be felt in Lisardo's paintings. "Farewell" is a silent image, a look that turns inwards, an absolute emptying of appearances and a process that stops at the moment when the pigment has been contained behind the glass. A work that does not come from the objective world, nor from pure subjectivity, but from the intimate relationship between the creator and his worlds. In the artist's most recent exhibition, Confined/ And Yet/ Now Tomorrow, we can see how one of his purposes is to make the invisible visible, to be able to see things that are only known from the mind, because the purpose of art is not to describe, it is to warn that the true value lies in the capacity to counteract negative thoughts and emotions, to create order in chaos and to bring solidity to a world of unpredictable changes but, above all, as Agnes Martin also said: "the value of painting is found in those who contemplate it because, when we discover its deep and transcendent values, we are really discovering ourselves".

Santiago Martinez is a professor of Art History