16 Sep Matías Quetglas – La pintura desnuda
San Pedro de Alcantara belonged to the barefoot Franciscans, and it is said that, in 1555, he travelled to Rome barefoot, following the vote of poverty he had embraced. This is the Saint who gave its name to the street in Ciutadella where we find Matías Quetglas’ home, the painter of men and women, naked from top to toe, essential and spellbound. Jackson Pollock used to say that every great artist paints what he is himself. Matías Quetglas, tall, stocky, serene, curious, ironic and fortunately, still a boy, lives in each one of his figures. Juana Mordó, the art gallery director that first set her eyes on him before he had even finished his Fine Arts studies, repeated time and time again: “Un artista es un 50% su obra y un 50% sí mismo” [“An artist is made up 50% by his work of art and 50% of himself”]. This coherence is what enables us to speak of Quetglasian painting, a stylistic corpus, a pictorial universe, which we celebrate today, fifty-one years after his first public exhibition in the Nou Casino in Ciutadella, with a new retrospective exhibition: “La pintura nua” [“Nude painting”], with works from 2006 to 2016.
In 1965, the Nou Casino in Ciutadella showcased for the first time the works of a young man from Ciutadella who had already discovered his vocation: live to paint/paint to live. Eighteen surrealist-themed oil paintings with an odd expressionist brushstroke here and there were put on show. They attracted good criticism and contributed towards him winning the first drawing medal of the IV Saló de Primavera of the Ateneu de Maó with the oil painting Dos veleros [“Two sailing boats”]. Soon enough, Matías went to Madrid, where he completed the military service as a volunteer with the clear intention of returning to the Escuela de Bellas Artes [Fine Arts School]. Matías Quetglas, as opposed to the men and women in the pictorial space portrayed up to the very limits of the canvas without feeling claustrophobic, was unable to get used to the Island of Minorca: his curly hair and his hands and feet surpassed the island’s perimeter and floated around in Minorcan waters. With Minorca inside his heart and the Mediterranean Sea in his skin, he moved to Madrid, where he still paints with a Minorcan soul.
His successful career, which began around the Madrid realist school as a result of his relation with Antonio López, professor of the preparatory colour subject in Fine Arts, has been present in several art exhibitions in Minorca over the years. While the island has not been an enthusiast of his work, rather, fonder of impressionism and landscaping, the Retxa gallery, with exhibitions in 1980, 1992, 2000 and 2001, permitted following his evolution and keeping his ties with the island. However, three retrospective exhibitions were organised by the Minorca Island Council and Ciutadella City Council in 1985, 1995 and 2005, with the collaboration of the Obra Social y Cultural de Sa Nostra; three great occasions to follow the trajectory of this internationally renowned artist from Minorca.
The “Matías Quetglas” exhibition of 1985 contained the works of the previous ten years and his early years with the Juana Mordó gallery. Matías Quetglas participated in a realist painting, focusing on representing the appearance of an object with a rigorous technique that permitted using oil, acrylic and water-based paints, as well as charcoal, indistinctly. This realism, attached to the so-called hyperrealism, centred all emphasis on the banal and perishable aspects of reality. Hence, the eeriness of his cauliflowers and fruit. He painted based on a model and sometimes a photograph, but he already insinuated freedom, irreverence, -as Pau Faner would later highlight- that prevented him from completing the painting in full, betraying the creation process. The use of plywood began to become quite popular. His firmness enabled loading the support with paint without running the risk of any cracks or deterioration with the passing of time. The already growing aversion to gloss took him to extend oil-based paint on paper that absorbed part of the oil, either linseed, walnut or poppy seed oils, and thus, the glossiness. He also used tempera paint in pursuit of brightness and sobriety, which, as from the 80s and more so in this sample, is reminiscent of the Roman Pompeii models, where, with an abridged procedure, the figure becomes a volume susceptible of experimenting the effects of light (Adan y Eva, 2014) [Adam & Eve, 2014] with the use of only a few colours and attires, and conceptual clarity.
Matías Quetglas’s second retrospective took place in Minorca ten years down the line, in 1995, this time also organised by Obra Social y Cultural de Sa Nostra. The exhibition began with a key work of art in the artist’s career: Conversación amorosa (1985) [A conversation of Love (1985)]. A series of works of art stemmed from this one, where Quetglas went into further detail in the study of light, volume and space, which led him to manage without the model. The first of these works were Conversaciones en el taller (1986) [Conversations in the workshop] and Pintor de naufragios (1986) [Painter of shipwrecks]. Imagination and painting from memory bring to the forefront emotional content and the symbolic weight of the theme, so evident in the artist’s recent work. Several trips to Italy in that decade enabled him to learn more about Etruscan and Greek figures, the Quattrocento and Italian Noucentistas of the decade of the twenties, particularly, Achille Funi (Ferrara, 1890 – Appiano Gentile, 1972), with whom we find common aspects, as well as the metaphysic painting of Giorgio de Chirico (Greece, 1888 – Rome, 1978). The nude, female, became a constant line and contrasted with the fully dressed men that often act like an artist. María Antonia -his wife, muse and model- progressively gave way to the María Antonia that Matías Quetglas keeps in his memory, the place where feelings and emotions shape our reality.
The third retrospective took place in 2005. The achievement of a unique character and personality in his painting became patent, a personal vision of the world portrayed with courage, yet also with serenity and naturalness. These are years during which Matías was no longer interested in telling stories. Instead he suggested, inviting the spectator to imagine and build new worlds. The partial contouring of the figures and evidencing the procedure became an important resource for the intention of the artist. The painting created during these years is happy, full of colours and arabesques, a cult to the Mediterranean. The hands and feet of his men and women acquired enormous proportions, typical of unreal and supernatural beings. This artificiality and contortionism of the figures show a mannerism, which combined with the above, gives us the keys to Quetglasian painting.
In 2005 was also when Matías Quetglas began painting Mujer fumando en pipa y paloma (2005-2016). He dedicated eleven years to this painting. While this is an exception, the fact illustrates one of the artist’s characteristics: reflection. Matías is a reflexive artist, which led him to contemplate his work for hours on end before applying a colour, shading, perfecting a light, etc. The composition, the arrangement of the figures in the pictorial space, is at the best of times a slow and reflexive process, as the artist has the profound belief that a painting must be one way and not another. This is why he never abandons a painting until he finds the heartbeat that gives it life, even if eleven years have to pass in the process.
“La Pintura nua” celebrates ten years of Matías Quetglas’ creations, the most renowned painter in the modern history of Minorca. At his seventy years of age, the artist gifts us the culmination of a career in which, as the Saint that gives its name to his street in Ciutadella, he reached essentiality, barefoot and free from any artefacts, to feel the ground and from there, elevate the spirit revealing mysteries and symbols.
The exhibition is structured in chronological order, but there are two dominant themes: mythology and the human figure. They are both the pillars over which Matías Quetglas built his plastic world. The works on display dated between 2006 and 2009 take us back to ancestral times populated by fauns, beasts and centaurs. We have already seen myths in earlier works, especially those created at the end of the eighties and beginning of the nineties in paintings such as Centauro, mujer e hijo al galope (1993) [Centaur, women and child at full gallop] or the series of El toro trágico (1994) [The tragic bull]. The myth highlights the supernatural nature of his characters, men and women that go beyond the limits to get closer to the gods. As Carl Gustav Jung aptly put it (Kesswil, 1875 – Küsnacth, 1961), mythology forms part of certain cultural expressions and if forms part of collective unconsciousness in such a way that it ends up becoming part of our very selves. In fact, it gives meaning and value to our existence. The idea of an occurrence out of the ordinary contained in mythology also has a translation in the transcendent sense of our everyday life, and the artist has paid it special attention. Art is also intimately linked with the myth, as recalled by the philosopher, Ernst Cassirer (Breslau, 1874 – New York, 1945). Women, abducted or delivered to sexual desire with beast-like men, form plastically-rich scenes full of symbolism. In Amor fiero (2006), a merchant’s daughter falls in love with the beast, who ends up being a prince under the spell of a witch. In Fauno y mujer con perro (2006), a lecherous and voluptuous faun, who is also the good spirit among the shepherds, seduces a nymph with his so-called artistic skills.
In 2008 and 2009, the Ciutadella City Council commissioned Matías Quetglas a project for the big faces of the San Juan festivities. Although he did not end up completing it, the theme seduced him enormously and led him to create six works of art on the way. S’home d’es be (2008) and Sa flabiolera (2009) open the way to four paintings inhabited by centaur and centauroids. The six works of art, of a great dynamism, are painted with a monochrome palette based on whites and blacks, with an odd shade of blue here and there to endow depth to the scene and red to dress the horse with the typical San Juan attire. With his contained use of greys, he created a neutral light that slides down the painting softly and opens up a new territory in which Matías Quetglas has felt comfortable ever since: the pursuit of a metaphysic, abstract light that does not depend on colour.
The presence of a horse and its symbolism in the San Juan festivities drove Matías Quetglas towards the myth as common grounds of the spirit of man. The centaur, a creature with a human head, arms and torso, and a horse’s body and legs, as a symbol of the evolution from animal to human state. San Juan, the most heartfelt festivity of the imagery of this artist from Ciutadella, with the sound of the flageolet as a ritual melody and initiation rites, whereas myth and reality are combined in the artist’s palette, a celebration that can be seen in the video that accompanies the works.
From 2010 onwards, women seize full attention in Matías Quetglas’ works. The portrayed woman is not only the evocation of a model. Instead, she is an artist, a poetess or philosopher. She is everlasting and essential, somewhere between what is real and unreal. Women, as well as men, with their nudity, have become pure humanity. Nowadays, Matías Quetglas’ nude painting is charged with a humanism that travels freely between what is cultured and what is popular, through painting with less movement, calmer and more intimate than in earlier stages. In his recent works, they inhabit the pictorial space to the limit, emphasising their corporeal nature and volumes. They are at ease but by no means claustrophobic. The figures, captivated within their actions, seem to go beyond time and space.
To achieve this near matiérisme presence of the human figure, the artists foregoes any background landscape and highlights the contour of the forms, creating a bi-dimensional space where the figures contrast with the monochromatic backdrop and the shades and depth disappear. This tendency towards subjectivism takes us back to the beginning of modern times and, in particular, to the Perro semihundido by Francisco de Goya (Fuendetodos, 1746 – Bordeaux, 1828). The line, with its gestural impression, became an essential resource in Quetglas’ language. The artist drew, contoured and created volumes with charcoal, adaptable and versatile. It permitted working quickly to express passion, vitality or to soften the blacks with half tones encouraging reflection, calmness. And so, charcoal lines come and go, stressing the procedure and stimulating the gaze. The videos displayed throughout the exhibition illustrate the creation process of some of the works that highlight the interest Matías Quetglas had for the procedure itself during the last decade. A decade in which his brush-strokes have become more evolving, more careful, but always visible, so that the spectator can grasp how the artist has overcome the different areas of the painting and thus stimulate their contemplation. Colour also plays a role in this nudeness and essentialisation practised by Matías Quetglas in his painting nowadays. The pure colours of the previous decade, which led to a poised and happy painting, have given way to a more neutral range of tones, with which the artist seeks volume and density in the bodies. Colour has acquired a more mineral quality, and it is even closer to the murals found in Pompeii, bright and rocky. Light caresses the bodies creating a more metaphysical environment than physical.
El silenci del capvespre is a large painting packed with symbolism. It is a backlit image of an artist with a woman, some children and a dog that contemplate a silent landscape lit up by a waning sun. It is not the first time that the artist explores this idea. In 1995, in the framework of the retrospective exhibition presented in the El Roser Hall of Ciutadella, we were able to see Contraluz (1995), a work of art where a bull accompanies two figures. Despite the difficulty of painting a backlit image, where local colours disappear and loose naturalness, the artist manages to transmit an environment full of mysticism. Acrylic and charcoal share the same status and serve a single purpose: emphasise the brevity of an instant and its transience, at the same as the contemplative and static attitude of the characters show the time stopped. With a possible autobiographical background, the artist portrays himself accompanied by a woman with a braid (María Antonia’s braid!) and his children or grandchildren. The landscape takes us to the Castilian plain, where the artist retires in solitude to reflect and paint surrounded by the countryside, birds and silence.
La pietà, a painting conceived for an exhibition and to be contemplated from a state of medication, was a piece commissioned by the Palma City Council on occasion of the 12th Religious Music Week in 2011. The Virgin holding the corpse of Christ, her child, is the most touching image of human pain in Christian iconography. Pain that goes beyond its biblical origin and becomes an icon of the most dramatic expression of human fate, death. Matías Quetglas, using his interest in storytelling from earlier decades, stages this episode keeping the classic arrangement of San Juan and María Magdalena on both sides. He adds a woman dressing the injuries with ointments and a child, who de-dramatises the entire scene by touching the crown of thorns. He closes the composition helping to focus the attention on the Virgin Mary and her child, Jesus Christ. Complex yet stable when speaking about the composition. Matías Quetglas created a shocking work of art, where drama became compassion.
In this fourth retrospective exhibition, we find a Matías Quetglas for whom ethics and aesthetics appear to have come together in a nude painting, stripped from anecdotes and trivialities, reflexive and contemplative, where the yearning lies in explaining complex things in a simple manner. The woman, sculptural, monumental and Mediterranean, becomes the maximum expression of this humanism claimed by Quetglas.
Alaior, September 2016