by Laili Nasr for Vicente Pascual 1992-2002 exhibition catalogue
Casal Solleric, Palma de Mallorca, 2002
great truth, or the absolute truth, makes itself visible to our
mind through the invisible." (
"This world is in image of That, and
vice versa." ( 2 )
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.
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.
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 )
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 )
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
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
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 )
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 )
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
Washington, DC. January, 2002.
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.
Pascual/Una Geometría Existencial." Exhibtion
catalogue, ed. Ibercaja Zaragoza, 1997.
5 From an interview with the author on 12 December, 2001.
Pascual/Nómadas." Exhibition catalogue, ed. Galería
Edurne, Madrid, 1995.
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.
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.