Laili Nasr Essay on Vicente Pascual _home ||paintings | vitae | essays | bibliography | contacts | español


Essay by Laili Nasr for Vicente Pascual 1992-2002 exhibition catalogue
Casal Solleric, Palma de Mallorca, 2002

"The great truth, or the absolute truth, makes itself visible to our mind through the invisible." ( 1 )
"This world is in image of That, and vice versa." ( 2 )

Abstract painting is often misunderstood by the majority of the viewing public. It is at times considered meaningless and void of content. Yet, around 1910, when there was a deliberate move from representational art toward abstraction, artists abandoned creation based upon direct observation of nature in favor of symbolic content in order to draw upon deeper and more universal sources. In the first decade of the twentieth century, painters in Europe and the United States began to create completely abstract works of art and an astonishingly large proportion of visual artists since then have chosen the minimal language of abstraction for the exploration and expression of profound spiritual, utopian and metaphysical ideals that cannot be expressed in traditional pictorial modes.

Vicente Pascual's (b. 1955, Spain) most recent paintings partake in that vein of abstraction concerned with higher meaning and the search for the absolute, an elevated view of art as manifestation of universal laws rather than an individual artistic expression. The Imago Mundi and Circles/Cycles series, consist of highly refined centralized arrangements of simple geometric forms against one or more monochromatic fields. At first glance, these elegant and restrained "visions" of geometry are typical post-war paintings, especially akin to works by a number of Abstract Expressionist, Post-Painterly Abstraction or Minimal artists. However, the physical and psychological dualities energizing Pascual's paintings and their symbolic identity sets them far apart from the above mentioned examples, as it imbues them with a certain "magical" quality achieved in a perfect balance of opposing elements --lightness vs. darkness, action vs. repose, masculine vs. feminine, as well as traditional vs. modern and East vs. West. The primary protagonists in this visual drama are the most basic geometric forms, the straight line and the circle. The former represents reason, stability and the assertive masculine element, while the latter stands for the poetic, the active and the feminine element. The circle situated literally at the center of these works, is a powerful universal archetype dating back to the Antiquity. Throughout the ages, this timeless symbol has represented infinity and totality, as well as perpetual movement towards and around an often invisible core, a symbolic journey to the essence. The circular arrangement of rocks at the Stonehenge, the dance of the Whirling Dervishes or a Native American ritual dance around a fire, all attest to the universal significance associated with the circle as the most potent geometric form. Empowered with a variety of formal, cultural, and spiritual associations, Pascual's Imago Mundi and Circles/Cycles series operate equally well in ancient and modern realms, as their main concern lies in timeless and universal values surpassing the individual and the finite.

Pascual's delicate melange of the contemporary and pre-modern dates back to the earliest works in this exhibition, two landscapes from 1991. Here, the dynamic brushstrokes fully enveloped by a warm golden hue, create a flat decorative surface pattern that delicately conceals the solid geometric structure beneath. The "Emersonian Transcendental" light illuminating the surface imbues these paintings with an other-worldly aura, much like a Medieval icon, an illuminated manuscript or a Japanese screen painting. ( 3 ) Pascual's paintings of mid 1990's, including the highly evocative Fragments of 1996, were the natural outcome of the his perpetual search for geometrical essence of forms in nature that first manifested itself in his earlier landscapes. In the catalogue essay entitled "An Existential Geometry," Juan Domínguez Lasierra describes the Fragments as follows: "…These geometries or geometric fragments that Pascual proposes to us, are but the continuation of his landscapes that years before seduced us with their harmony full of internal tension. Given that those landscapes were geometries that came from natural forms, these new geometries are essentialized expressions of nature. The landscape expressed as geometry; then geometry expressed as landscape." ( 4 ) This reciprocal relationship between geometry in nature and the geometric essence of the cosmos is best explained in Pascual's own words, "I don't look at the triangle as a symbol of the mountain, but as a symbol of what mountain symbolizes." ( 5 )

Towards the end of the decade, Pascual's paintings moved even further into the realm of pure geometry. These paintings are stripped of all superfluous associations in favor of the essence of existence and matter, a direction that later leads Pascual to the semi-void pictorial space of the Imago Mundi and Circles/Cycles series. These abstract geometrical compositions with their sharply delineated forms outlined by equally prominent lines, have a great deal in common with art of Native Americans, particularly Navajo sandpainting and weaving, as well as a variety of non-Western artistic modes, i.e. Turkeman rugs and kelims and Mayan Mexican artifacts.

Pascual's exposure to eastern art and philosophy during a trip to the Orient in 1977 and his subsequent exploration of non-western artistic traditions of diverse regions of the world, from the Middle East, to Polynesia and North Africa, changed the direction of his art. He explains this influence as follows: "the admiration which I have for the artistic expression of the 'primitive' peoples which has shaped my work for the last few years, has become obvious as my paintings have been stripped of the veil, the landscapes which covered them. In this sense it might be appropriate to say that what arouses my interest is not the peculiarity of any particular ethnic group, but the universal element which they have in common," ( 6 ) and he goes to say, "as Basho might have said: 'I do not follow the ancient nomads. I am looking for what they were searching for'." ( 7 ) The steady progression of Pascual's oeuvre of last decade towards a minimal abstract language yearning to unfold the essence of being and absolute truth, finds the artist at the center of a larger social phenomenon of spiritual awakening, as evidenced in the arts by a number of recent exhibitions on the subject around the globe. The following statement by David S. Rubin from the catalogue for the exhibition Concerning the Spiritual: The Eighties, describing this tendency in art, is an apt description of Pacual's Work: "There are artists who have demonstrated a true commitment, through their art, towards probing questions that have traditionally perplexed theologians and Philosophers. These quests center around the nature of existence, the relationship between humankind and the universe of which we are part, and the mysteries surrounding concepts of infinity. This type of art also is directed towards providing healing and inspiration during the troubled period we live in… Although each possesses an individual viewpoint, they share in their collective expression of concern for art's maintenance of a spiritual role in the contemporary world." ( 8 )

Going back to the opening quotation by Vantangerloo concerning the visibility of great truth through the invisible, Pascual's latest and most minimal paintings successfully capture the essence of absolute truth not only through the dominant presence of archetypal geometric forms, but also through the very absence of form and materiality in the spatial void of the background fields, in the tradition of Buddhist Tantras, Japanese Zen painting and Islamic art and architecture. As an example of the latter, Muslim architects and city planners' skilful incorporation of negative space into public and private settings, is based on the positive significance of the void in the Islamic religious tradition. As the void removes the constricting effect of the cosmic environment upon man and opens the path for spiritual intervention, "the void then plays a positive role in both Islamic art and architecture by making matter transparent and revealing its impermanent nature and at the same time by infusing even material forms with Divine Presence." ( 9 )

Pascual's highly austere, yet tender and poetic paintings of the last decade are products of an intense intellectual as well as intuitive approach to the act of painting. He views art and the practice of making it as a way of participation rather than as a means of communication. In a recent statement, he wrote: "I never think about communication as an end onto itself when I am engaged in the act of making. In fact, communication emerges naturally as a result of this act - it is there but it is not the objective. The relationship between myself and the source of my art work is a two-way relationship, in which the painting is a channel and a support to exteriorize an intuition, or knowledge, in order to fix it, interiorize it, and assimilate it, through a process of objectification." ( 10 ) In regards to the intellectual aspect of his work, Pascual places a great deal of emphasis on intuition, which he is able to blend harmoniously with reason and intellect. He considers reason only as a tool, though a very important one, at the service of intellect, intuition, imagination and memory, all of which play important roles in various stages of Vicente Pascual's creative process.

Laili Nasr
Washington, DC. January, 2002.

1 Georges Vantongerloo, "Réflexions," in De Stijl: Complete Reprint (Amsterdam, 1968), I:152.
2 Aitareya Brahmana, vii. 2.
3 The multi-panel format of many works from this period is also akin to painted Oriental screens.
4 "Vicente Pascual/Una Geometría Existencial." Exhibtion catalogue, ed. Ibercaja Zaragoza, 1997.
5 From an interview with the author on 12 December, 2001.
6 "Vicente Pascual/Nómadas." Exhibition catalogue, ed. Galería Edurne, Madrid, 1995.
7 Ibid.
8 David S. Rubin, Concerning the Spiritual: The Eighties. ed. San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA. 1985.
9 Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Art and Spirituality. ed. SUNY, Albany, New York, 1987, p. 190.
10 Vicente Pascual, January, 2002.

Laili Nasr is a Curator of Art at the Department of Special Projects in Modern Art at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, where she has been working on the catalogue raisonne of the Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko for the past 10 years. Prior to that, she held a variety of positions ranging from lecturing at museums to managing a number of art galleries in the DC area. Ms. Nasr received her bachelor's degree in art history and French literature from Tufts University in Massachusetts. Her graduate studies were in art history and museum management is an art historian at the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington DC.

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