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Essay by María Escribano for Vicente Pascual "Speculum Animae" catalogue exhibition. Museo de Huesca, Spain, 2003

“Your contemplation is reality not a metaphor.
It must prevail, it is not simply possible”. (1)

To recover symbolic reading of reality requires an exercise in mental archaeology. It is some time since analogical interpretation exhausted language, some time since images and words prevail over the void of saturation. It is true that some states of melancholy can create a situation which favours unexpected communion with the environment. Then, from this place, contemplation is sometimes sufficient for objects and words to reveal themselves, dereify and recover their concrete role. Poetic vision sometimes supplies this grace, but its longevity depends on sustained effort, real spiritual learning which includes stripping, cleansing all the visual and mental recipes which intoxicate our perception. All this has been known since ancient times, which makes one think the inanity which presides over our times is also very old.

Since I contemplated these pictures, shown to me one night by Vicente Pascual during a brief encounter in Madrid, I can remember having the sensation that what the painter put before my eyes were descriptions of a hidden, but familiar place, which he had managed to reach by a route which didn’t seem to be the one
normally used for a similar adventure. Initially, the images allowed a first interpretation which could situate them on a line close to approaching primitive forms. In search of pure universal sensations, following a break from metaphor, a complete investigation into the painting of this century had reached this point. However, more deliberate contemplation then suggests that what could be seen arose after a distinctive peregrination, and that the findings from it had also been different. The first difference which could be observed was the clear desire for order and harmony, which emanated from those paintings as if they had sprouted, as if they had been the final revelation of a long period of meditation and asceticism, rather than some impulsive intuition. Time seemed to be a fundamental presence in their gestation and transcended, not only in the purely formal aspect which formed them, in the devotional care with which the layers of pigment seemed to have flowed from the hand, but also in the singular density which had been achieved by accumulating those forms.

Some of them were simply designated with the name of “Circles”, others with that of “Imago Mundi”. I wouldn’t believe in the symbolic power of images if I didn’t believe in the symbolic power of words, so the terms return once and again while I contemplate these deceptively simple forms. I don’t forget them because contemplation of them continues to provoke a sensation of revelation, of recognition of a territory hidden away but prodigiously near. However, I have been able to live for some time with one of them whose name I do not know. Like the others, the small painting is built up with basic forms, forms which can be found recurrently in the representational repertoire of almost all the cultures in the world, the circle and the square. The use of colour is apparently sober, intended to concentrate one’s attention on the contrast or harmony between light and shadows. Despite that, despite stripping and the extreme reduction of picturesque elements, the intensity accumulated in those backgrounds reach our eyes, even our minds, in a surprisingly efficient way. Thus, little by little, the observer discovers a mysterious graph, whose rough tracks had been slowly deciphered like a subtle description of occult territory, which would have been reached, perhaps after unveiling the seventy veils of which ancient knowledge speaks. One’s gaze concentrates on circular forms, and is almost abducted by them, as if it were about powerful wholes of condensed energy, of light or darkness. Everything empties itself now to be filled once more. I remember the story. “The diameter would be two or three centimetres but the cosmic space was there without reduction in size.”

Which path had Vicente Pascual taken to glimpse and show that place capable of activating some mysterious resort in our interior which provoked immediate recognition? And what was more surprising, how did he manage to make us not only recognise it, but inhabit it? Proximity to the painting confirmed more and more that beyond reference to the place, beyond analogy, the painting itself is like a prototype, like a mandala, like a mirror receiving the vocation of the knowledge of our heart, like a passage towards the contemplation of a secret and indescribable place. Anyone who has had contact with antique maps will perhaps have been able to experience how following a purely descriptive visual understanding of the territories, another metonymic, magical understanding can filter through. This succeeds in provoking the prodigy to force the map to become the place, as if the map were the territory, as if the map were the treasure. In times when all kinds of knowledge flowed together, we can imagine ancient astronomers in Babylonia, in Alexandria or in Tenochtitlan, slowly tracing the lines resulting from the accumulation of many lives of astral observation, of careful annotations of long voyages in search of an opening into the unknown. These would later be passed down from hand to carefully chosen hand, or robbed by intruders convinced that with them, they possessed the door to another world. One can imagine the energy which had been accumulating over the centuries in those sketches referring to imagined and inaccessible places, its almost religious vocation of truth, of totality. Perhaps some of them dreamt that the divine laws of geometry and adequate purification of the soul could lead them to capture all existing correlations in time and in space, to the vision of all times and all things which have existed and will exist.

Maps, as Svetlana Alpers points out, had been the origin of Nordic landscape painting, in which the difference of the dual, or Italian, vocation never completely broke away from the symbolic link with reality. This allowed it to serve as a vehicle for new spirituality, even developing the most descriptive dimension of cartography to the full. In the case of Vicente Pascual, the landscape, intimately linked to his interest to re-elaborate relationships with nature from totally personal experience, had been at the centre of his work in recent years, but this investigation had turned the meeting of an ever starker, more essential language into the almost total suppression of the ruggedness, into the reduction of the natural forms into its geometrical stability. In a certain way it had been an inverse path which had ended up leading him from contemplative and metonymical perception of nature to those quietist Epiphanic visions, to that cosmology of spirit. It was there, starting from the retraced path, when his painting finally established significant confluences with aspirations to the comprehension of the absolute by means of the disposition of the soul to reflect it, only transmittable through symbols and detectable in ancient forms of knowledge, just as mystic literature collects and expresses itself above all by making use of words. But to find its reflection in art we should, however, carry out our search in other cultures, which tried out symbolic rather than analogical forms of representation.

Spanish painting could not use the landscapes which harnessed the new religiousness in Nordic countries, nor could it be transmitted outside the territory of imagery, all the clandestine spirituality which mysticism preserved. Rather, domesticated by official religion, it had to manage to represent its reflection in the bodies and the suffering expressions on the faces of the saints, in order to draw in the observer, anxious to contemplate the invisible through the sight of a vision. Beyond this recourse extensively used by the majority of Spanish artists of the time, the Museum of Valladolid’s “Santa Faz” by Zurbarán, where the face of Jesus Christ scarcely suggested by light ochre tones, appears as a circle within a square of luminous whiteness which the cloth forms, in turn juxtaposed against a dun background to constitute an image of great sobriety and spiritual intensity and perhaps an unconscious outline of another approximation. As Victor Stoichita points out, “Despite the ontological divide between the here of experience and the there of vision, communication between imaginary and artistic mysticism is constant.” (2)

It is true that at a given time, such as the present, the relationship with the most diverse cultural trends, both in time and in space, is sufficiently fluid to play down the importance of the influence of any specific tradition. The landscapes of Vicente Pascual were even closer to an oriental than a western concept of nature and his present paintings go beyond any purely historiographical valuation. The syntony which Vicente Pascual’s latest work suggests certain spiritual states glimpsed by Spanish mystic trends, which as it is known, surreptitiously survived Islamic and Hebraic trends, as well as Platonic trends through these. I said to myself, these could be the result of coincidence in searches and objectives, otherwise common to other cultures, or to anyone who undertakes an interior solitary journey, avoiding the most frequented itineraries. On the fringes of the Mediterranean, a whole school of thought believed in the science of the secrets of the heart, only attainable by way of an arduous path to turn it into a mirror reflecting the absolute, the supreme wisdom of divinity. (3)

But it is also certain that the search, sincerely undertaken, would take anyone to a similar or the same place. A place which some artists of the 20th century, a writer from Buenos Aires, some Spanish monks and previously a Murcian Sufi had reached by different routes. Ibn Arabi, better than anyone, would understand these specular images, arising form the personal interior journey of a painter together with the landscapes of Indiana. These seem to reflect the spirit of his words personal interior journey of a painter together with the landscapes of Indiana. These seem to reflect the spirit of his words pronounced various centuries ago so faithfully: “Everything was shown to me and I didn’t see anything. I saw the things without any vision”. (4)

María Escribano, Madrid, 2003


1. Ibn Arabi. “Las iluminaciones de la Meca”. Textos escogidos. Edición y traducción de Víctor Palleja de Bustinza. Ediciones Siruela, Madrid, 1996. Page 51.
2. Víctor I. Stoichita. El Ojo Místico. Alianza Forma. Madrid, 1996. Page 48.
3. Asín Palacios y Luce López Baralt han estudiado la influencia de la corriente sufí sobre la mística española. Luce López Baralt. “Moradas de los Corazones”, Trotta. Madrid, 1999.
4. Ibn Al Arabi. “Las contemplaciones de los misterios” Editora regional de Murcia. 1994.


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