1987 : A few notes from the works derived from Las Meninas
My involvement with Spanish painting dated back to my first visit to Spain in 1951, but it was not until 1955-6, when I was living there on a Spanish government scholarship, that I was completely overwhelmed by Goya’s black paintings, especially those with the long horizontal format. This influenced my early figure paintings in the 60’s, my landscape-related works of the 70’s and 80’s and several of my current paintings of interiors relating to Las Meninas.
This particular series grew by chance. I noticed that a door/window had appeared in two paintings of interiors I had just completed: Interior Triptych and Metadero Municipal. This suddenly reminded me of that section of Las Meninas where the there is a figure of a man in an open doorway. I had of course seen Velazquez’s painting in the Prado, incidentally reflected in a mirror, and was fascinated to read essays by Leo Steinberg and John Searle. What most excited me was the liberation of being able to explore a different and extended vocabulary of visual forms and space that my work with landscape would not allow, and the further dimension of the potential psychological symbolism that the different characters suggested. Finally there was the possibility of re-discovering some of the ideas of my earlier figurative phase and integrating them with my present concerns (ie stronger contrast of light and dark, more aggressive forms, etc).
The works in this series do not necessarily contain all the characters, their rightful relationships or positions, some only being fragments and reflections. The open door and mirror play a large part in most works, as to ideas of different realities, depicted in different ways and at different speeds – of illusion and deception. I imagine the brain must juggle with such possible realities before visual understanding occurs and I hope the use of these moments of pre-recognition will also slow down the experiencing of the work.
Some elements crop up in several works, such as the black and white parallel stripes. These derived in the first instant from Kent boarding, which uses strips of white wood on the outside of houses which I use in many of my landscapes partly as a cubist device to angle the space and to try to break with the recent orthodoxy of the frontal picture plane. These striations are used similarly in the series from Las Meninas to angle the interior spaces and to sere as a visual invention, attempting to depict an equivalent to light – a sort of optical vibrato. At times I am reminded of the way a poor black and white television image tries to appear. The visual playful elements mentioned earlier occurs also in relation to subject matter. At times the spectator is right inside the painting (Las Meninas) right up to the mirror, standing behind Velazquez painting the King and Queen, holding up his palette; another has Velazquez dressed anachronistically in Picasso’s clothes.
I would like each work to have a different subject matter and content – I do not see them simply as transcriptions nor as analyses – more a voyage of discovery a journey as it were through Las Meninas. Thus the exhibition includes a few works that initiated the series – the variations – and then some works that grew as a result of the experience.