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Essay by Jim Mahoney for Vicente Pascual / Imago Mundi exhibition catalogue.
Embassy of Spain Art Space, Washington DC, 2001

Abstract art has almost always justified its disconnection from representation by claiming either to be the carrier of an idea, (as representation doesn't need to claim to do) or to be the vehicle for the expression of an artist's inner state, inexpressible in any other visual language. But the visual language of abstraction can be experienced without reference to specific ideas or psychological states. Its meaning can be wholly embodied in your experience of it, which can well be wordless, open, and without the certification of an interpretation. Vicente Pascual's art relies on just such a proposition, no matter how primally symbolic his paintings may appear to be.

What can be said about the syntax of his language is first, that it speaks in wholenesses, in centralized arrangements of extremely simple geometric forms on generally monochromatic grounds. Past that, there is the duality of a visual dialogue of lightness and darkness. What is dynamic about these paintings is not that they may symbolize the rhythms of the sun and moon, or the interplay of male and female forces, or the interfusion of divinity and humanity. What is active and alive in the paintings Vicente Pascual makes is that they are so theologically silent. This work neither confirms nor denies any projected meanings that may, in effect, wash up upon the shores of an inquiring mind.

His images are almost readable symbols. They have a clarity of design like that of a national flag, and the interactions of geometric designs offer a lucid visual drama: two yellow circles partially conjoin, and the space occupied by both circles has a higher-keyed brightness, for example. The ground is rich, in these paintings, with the watery markings and textures of its application, and never seems static. As objects, Pascual's paintings are humanized by bearing the marks of their making - they are art objects, though, and so they are designed to elude us, somewhat.

What Vicente Pascual is able to tell a viewer directly and unambiguously is that simple forms can have complex visual nuances. Investigating those nuances, like examining the surface of a crystal carefully, will yield further investigations. In effect, these paintings are far more mysterious than they seem, not because they have a subtext (which most postmodern abstraction offered) but because they don't. Using what Chris Gilbert has called, in Pascual's work, "cognitive fundamentals," the artist has crafted a visual language that is so immediately readable that a viewer is coaxed into looking farther into it, since it is specialized by an aesthetic intent.

Looking farther into Vicente Pascual's art becomes - incidentally - what George Steiner has termed a "wager on transcendence." In other words, these pieces are probably impossible to observe at without asking yourself what they mean. As singular forms, they seem imbued with meaningfulness. What we are seeing, though, are speculations - wagers - about this basic meaningfulness, that a circle may truly signify something beyond its geometry, something which transcends its visual facts. Only in the finite decisions about each painting's design is Pascual being conclusive, however, and what opens forward, in each of them, is finally a beautiful mystery.

Octavio Paz said, in a lecture on poetry given in 1971 at Harvard University, "Modern [artists] looked for the principle of change; [artists] of the dawning age look for the unalterable principle that is the root of change." Would Vicente Pascual claim to have discovered such a principle? Not at all. But in his work you can see the results of his quest.

J.W. Mahoney
Washington DC, 2001


J.W. Mahoney is a writer and curator based in Virginia. A graduate of Harvard University, he has exhibited his work in the United States for over 25 years. He is currently the Washington Corresponding Editor for Art in America and a contributing editor for the New Art Examiner and he is a professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Maryland. He has curated shows at 57 N, the Millenium Arts Center , Govinda Gallery, the University of Maryland and many other galleries and art spaces in the District and around the country.




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