February 20, 2009
Santiago Picatoste - Naturalness and Painting
28 febrero / 30 abril 2009
BY ELENA FORIN - The first time I saw the work by Santiago Picatoste I thought I could also see in it an aspect of our times which, both in this painting and in everything that underlies it, might be considered to have been resolved. The question was, according to me, about the relationship between presence and absence and how one inevitably moves towards (but also against) the other in a contest in search of a solution and supremacy, and ends up by leaving open many possibilities on both sides.
Words are perhaps the best example for expressing this relationship because, insofar as they are a sign, they are a presence, and, as regards meaning, they have evocative and narrative power, almost as though they were another image of what abstraction is for painting: contact with reality and its projection in another form.
This was what his interests seemed to be to me at first sight: a kind of story, a narrative consisting of strong, intense, and highly descriptive words whose contest within the works questioned the heavy concreteness of the painting and the more impalpable and ephemeral sign of our times, overturning the rules of usual fictionalising until arriving at a balance. This balance is neither absolute nor too definite. It is, rather, something that has a presentiment of the intelligence of the times, of the totalitarian democracy of superimposed space, and of the substance of a chorus in which the individual voices express themselves by revealing themselves completely and yet allowing the overall sense to emerge by the avoidance of detailed listening in preference to an total experience. In this way we arrive at the ecstatic and enthusiastic beauty of a journey into colour, marks, forms, and gestures and in which our thoughts are fed on painting in order to allude to its content, and vice versa.
Each thing in some way undergoes a deep re-reading; it is transformed and is experienced to the point of being transfigured, just as pigment becomes concrete and marks become stains: a natural message, a shared feeling, the immediacy of reason, and the force of sentiment. This is how I have considered Petrol from the start: like a spreading body made of many things which find their own balance and expand, enlarge, and thicken; that recount, narrate and then hide, cover and, at the end, once again reveal.
In this research pollution does not seem to be simply a theme but also a genuine way of working in order to account for the depth of contamination of our times, in which history, environment, gesture, and action are inevitably united in order to create what Picatoste considers a new ethic.
Like Petrol, the other series (New Pollution, for example) are important for their environmental theme; yet we are not dealing with a simple ecological defence but, rather, with something more refined, something which hints at pollution as an evil afflicting our world and yet also considers it a generative fact about city life: it separates itself from this specific aspect in order to become a proliferating and productive seed.
This is why synthetic paints and enamels generate a hallucinated and luxuriant aspect, because the stain that spreads so widely is no longer an easily identified symbol of (specifically marine) degradation, but is also a metaphor of sensational, metropolitan filth, just as it is of the unstoppably confusing and productive voracity of the urban masses. In some way it seems the sign of presence, of affirmation, of extreme and violent communication, almost as though to stress the idea of the natural and social identity that continually succumbs to the ghost of nothingness, of levelling out, of the anonymity of the spectral negation of the non-place. So nature then grows where nothing else can: it proclaims its importance and evidence, and it does so by insisting on its own contrariety and negation, its synthetic genesis, its hallucinated architecture, the swollen and torn conformation of bleeding colour which taints and dirties with its own wound. This process in painting is painful; it is difficult and needs time, and yet is also has a vibrant sense of combat which manages to sense the resistance of the message and the force of the transmission of what is believed to be inevitably immobile. A wall, in this sense, becomes a white sheet of paper, the best support for conveying stories, fears, proclamations, and languages, but also for once again establishing a relationship with space. In this sense gestures become a declaration of identity, a performing act in which graffiti, cartoons, writing, tale-telling, and symbols undergo the expressionist filter of aggression and unease, they submit to the comforting and obsessive tendency of colour fields to enlarge and extend, and even to the invasion of the Pop art of Keith Haring and Basquiat. Space then becomes urgency, relief, an act of conquest in the face of rhythm and time, a violent appropriation caused by the urban logic of prevarication and hurry. This is a question of a race in order not to be discovered, the impetuosity of a message, the force of a symbol or of a fantasy that is embodied in a story as told in a cartoon; and this accumulation is highly productive because, by way of this superimposition, space is liberated from all constraints and frees time in a continuous narrative flow. That all this is not a question of elusiveness is also evident as much in the videos (Petrol – like the series of paintings - and Soundgarden in which the idea of nature once again returns as the emblem of a magnificent new authenticity based on the paradox of its opposite); we are, rather, dealing with the generous hurry of our existence in which stimuli are mixed, images are reproduced, and memory is an uninterrupted flashing of images, sounds, hints, ideas, and hypotheses which alternate and create a totality of micro-worlds, and in which each element encloses contradictions that are reconciled in the amalgamation, the content, and the abstraction of the marks. There has to be a balance in the work, a balance that Picatoste senses among the absolute and inevitable components of an aesthetic message which allows the emergence of painterly coherence with all its necessary naturalness: for this reason he does not use just a single language; and this is also why his flowers are not simply a new synthetic garden deriving from an ecological analysis, because what interests him is the most intimate sense of the image, so much so as to become the body that clothes his world and that motivates its actions, whether we are dealing with videos, paintings, drawings, or sculptures.
In this sense the installation created for the gallery represents at a symbolic level both a synthesis and a re-appropriation of an absent and detached space that expresses itself through the concreteness of the objects (skateboarders’ helmets) and the action of participation and performance of the image in an aggressively symbolic intervention.
Here gestures find their own balance in the relationship between the urgent, angry, and immediate spontaneity of the flow, and the meditated filter of a narrative and political message expressed by a stamp1 that limits and proscribes the action of individuals, an action that is historicised, made formal, and returned to that form of order that Picatoste admires in the metropolitan abstraction by Banksy.
However, large-scale and interfering graffito makes its return, only it is the opposite to the “Same Old Shit” with which Basquiat signed his works and which has even left its mark on Picatoste in the immediacy and simplicity of his gestures; here, instead, it becomes the certainty, the slogan, and the place of an idea. Almost as though by mixing that resurgence with a pre-established form caused the explosion of a solemn and deconstructed monumentality in which to mark out and project the new compactness of colour, the continual possibilities for the eye and vision, the alternation of a grandly metropolitan and environmental architecture, the explication of a magniloquent language, and the genesis of a hyperbolic world that is so relevant to the real one.
This is Santiago Picatoste’s universe: an extremely personal identity that feeds on history, images,individuality, and social criticism, and that considers this mixture of elements as the basis for a dialogue with the viewer who can only experience them almost as found objects, things to experience together with the artist and that, slowly, go to construct that dirty and polluted concept that is the natural manner of our times.
1 Picatoste comes close to a recent trend in the urban graffiti world, that of using a silhouette, a stencil, for acting on the wall space as though using a rubber stamp.