• Motioning Toward Metaphor

    Date posted: July 8, 2009 Author: jolanta
    Of Basque ancestry, José Manuel Ciria was born in Manchester, England in 1960, but moved to Spain as a child, where he grew up. In 2005, he moved from Madrid to New York, where is currently based. Today he is an internationally renowned painter, celebrated for both his lyrical abstractions and figurative works. Dubbed “a protagonist in the rebirth of Spanish painting,” his works are featured in some of Spain’s most important art museum collections, including the Museo de Arte Reina Sofía and the Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno. He started out as a Neo-Expressionist figurative painter, but by the 1980s, he turned towards synthetic abstraction. Despite these labels, personally, he sees no difference between figuration and abstraction. 

    Simone Cappa on José Manuel Ciria.

    José Manuel Ciria’s work will be on display at Museo de Arte Moderno (MAMMOK), Medellín (Colombia) in January, 2010.

     


    Of Basque ancestry, José Manuel Ciria was born in Manchester, England in 1960, but moved to Spain as a child, where he grew up. In 2005, he moved from Madrid to New York, where is currently based. Today he is an internationally renowned painter, celebrated for both his lyrical abstractions and figurative works. Dubbed “a protagonist in the rebirth of Spanish painting,” his works are featured in some of Spain’s most important art museum collections, including the Museo de Arte Reina Sofía and the Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno.

    He started out as a Neo-Expressionist figurative painter, but by the 1980s, he turned towards synthetic abstraction. Despite these labels, personally, he sees no difference between figuration and abstraction. In the 1990s, his painterly experiments led to a new body of work influenced by both Spanish traditions in painting and the avant-garde. Today his paintings offer a unique, individual style that explores both art history and the materiality of paint.

    Influenced by Malevich, Ciria’s work often explores the expressionist disruption of geometric compositions. His canvases tend to come in a square format, which, with their minimal palette of sandy beiges, blood crimsons, blacks, whites, and greys, depict violent explosions of paint transgressing rigid linear and geometric boundaries. Interested in the processes of the gaze, he exposes the surface tensions evoked through light and shadow that often deceive the naked eye. Though many works are purely abstract, others, such as Cabeza con elementos supremáticos (2006) and Personaje de medio cuerpo con colores de Malevich (2006), also reference the figure within an abstract frame. In fact, it is the juxtaposition of the figure within abstract elements that reminds the viewer that in the end, all painting—even representational painting —is ultimately a form of Abstraction. Like dancers moving across a stage, his abstract figures bound, leap, and plummet to and fro across his canvases, instilling a sense of liveliness and contained energy that is simultaneously stimulating and cerebral.

    Most significant, however is his inimitable understanding of color. Advocating a reductionist palette, he warns against using too much color.  “Relying on color is a very easy trap into which one is very easy to fall and it is very difficult to escape,” he explains. While many have claimed that painting is dead, Ciria has proven that painting is an “inexhaustible” art form that has reemerged with “full force.” Like fireworks, his paint explodes on his canvases, metaphysically challenging the surface itself.

    Other works such as Opera (2007) and Cataract (2007) evoke a spiritual Zen quality in their restrained yet bold expressionist brush strokes. Removing all that is unnecessary, we are left with only the essential elements of painting: line, shape, and color. There is a sense of sprezzatura in his brushwork that is studied, and yet spontaneous, lending a sense of inner freedom within the structure provided by his allusions to the grid. His recent La Guardia Place series (2008) continues his exploration of the minimalist palette with controlled areas of splatter painting.

    Renowned art critic Donald Kuspit has hailed him “a great painter” who “has complete command of his medium and means: paint and the modernist vocabulary of abstraction [which is] as gestural as geometrical,” and MAM curator, Carlos Delgado has recently described his work as returning to “the field of conceptual thinking as a focus of creating art.”

    Ultimately, Ciria’s work continues to be relevant and to challenge current contemporary painting. As an artist unconcerned with “trends,” he is a purist through and through – constantly experimenting with and expanding on his vision, never ceasing to reinvent himself and discover new modalities of expression.

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