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Essay by Pamela Hoyle for Vicente Pascual Rodrigo Mundus Imaginalis" exhibition catalogue,
Global Fine Art at DFI International, Washington DC, 2002


"All creation or passage of non-being into being is poetry or making,
and the processes of all art are creative;
and the masters of Arts are all poets or makers." Plato, Symposium

Vicente Pascual’s imagery and the classical Latin titles he gives to his work acknowledge a contemporary sensibility that is thoroughly rooted in the ancients. While some may admire his paintings for their decorative value alone, a deeper look provides the viewer with insights that link the work in the present exhibition with the thoughts of Henri Corbin and his Neoplatonic predecessors. Pascual’s approach to his work combines intellect with spirit, and one cannot underestimate the importance of both literature and philosophy upon his painting.

Before discussing the nature of his current imagery, it is important to consider the artist’s background. At the age of 14, Pascual began his study of fine art at the Escuela de Artes in his home city of Zaragoza, Spain, and traveled to Barcelona to study at the Escuela de Bellas Artes. He was given his first solo show two years later at the Galeria Atenas in Zaragoza. From 1970 to 1988, he worked with Angel Pascual Rodrigo in the two-man collective, La Hermandad Pictorica. From 1970 to 1974, they worked on installations and paintings in a style close to Pop but ”with a social agenda.”

In 1974 and 1975, Pascual traveled to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. In Pushkar, Rajhastan, he studied the diverse arts and philosophies of India, which left an indelible mark on his view of all existence. After his return to Spain in 1975, he became acquainted with the writings of Frithjof Schuon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, and Seyyed Hussein Nasr. His mindset as an artist was changed irrevocably by his travels, both physical and mental, in the mid 70s, and his art, as a result, underwent a fundamental internal change: "Social-Art can have a place in art, but it should be noticed that Social-Art functions as applied-art, an application of art as peripheral as advertisement-art. What could be easier than to represent contemporary life, a life that tomorrow will not be contemporary anymore." (1)

Aware of the mainstreams of contemporary art, after 1975 Pascual championed a movement that advocated a return to an intellectually conceived, imaginary landscape filled with symbolism. The artists he studied during this period were the German Romantics, Japanese Ukiyo-e artists, and mid 20th century Western painters, such as Giorgio Morandi and Mark Rothko.

In 1980 Pascual moved his studio to Campanet, Mallorca, where he stayed until 1992, when he came to live in the United States. After settling in Bloomington, Indiana, his art underwent a radical external change; he reduced forms to a basic geometry moving toward the essentialist conception of Agnes Martin's contemplative, transcendent grids.

"Of course, our souls cannot be unaware of the society in which they exist, but the artist cannot reduce his intellectual horizon to the external plane of existence… Every movement, every act in life, is necessarily subjected to limits such as time or space. In the same way, Art is not an exception and has been always produced under restrictions; but those restrictions only limit the manifestation of creativity in those who are not artists. Canons, rules or meditative preparation, such as fasting, have been normally a close companion of every Art manifestation. In my case, I begin my work establishing the intellectual coordinates, the concept, through rigorous geometry whereupon I can work in freedom, without hesitation." (1)

By his own admission Pascual approaches the act of painting as one might interact with The Beloved, and this revelation provides a key to his work. By describing the creation of art as an act of love, replete with all the levels of meaning inherent in that act, he acknowledges his relationship with his partner in lovemaking, not as an extension of personal unconsciousness but as an experience at the level of the Platonic archetype. Although Pascual allied himself with the 19th century Symbolists in his imaginary landscapes, his current work is neither symbolic in the universal sense, nor allegorical, as it goes beyond those, merely rational modes of expression.

To grasp Vicente Pascual’s work the viewer, must experience it, not just consider it. We must be with it. Pascual, without being obvious or heavy handed, relies on the viewer to complete the work of art. By bringing personal belief systems, experience and energy to a discovery of Pascual’s primordial imagery, the viewer completes the artist’s work. In other words, the viewer must be with the work to experience simultaneously both the instant and the eternity embodied in the work, as one must be with The Beloved to experience the act of love.

If this sounds heavy-duty, it is. Pascual’s work is as profound, and as natural, as being. It is also deeply rooted in Neoplatonism, a philosophy that advocates an infinite, unknowable, perfect One as the ultimate reality of the universe. From this One emanates nous (pure intelligence), which generates the world soul, the creative activity that engenders the lesser souls of human beings.

The world soul, however, because it is intermediate between the nous and the material world, has the option either of preserving its integrity and perfection or becoming sensual and corrupt. The same choice is open to each of the lesser souls. Each soul has the choice of pursuing either independence, which results in a sensual and corrupt existence, or unity with the fountainhead of its being, which results in an all-pervading ecstasy. Neoplatonism is characterized by an opposition between the spiritual and the physical; by the metaphysical idea of mediators—the nous and the world soul—that transmit divine power from the One to the many…(2)

Before touching on the Neoplatonic content of Pascual’s work and the influence of Henri Corbin’s theosophy upon that content, it is important to examine the physical manifestation of those ideas in the paintings themselves.

Pascual’s modulation of color in the series of paintings begun in 2001 may at first glance seem akin to the way Rothko laid his color down in transparent layers. While the Spaniard uses transparent layering to build his fields of color, close examination of works in both the Imago Mundi series and the Circles/Cycles series reveals that Pascual’s use of color and texture possesses a variety, depth and richness neither achieved, nor sought by Rothko. An examination of "Imago Mundi XIX", displayed in raking light, reveals a drama of texture and subtle variations in color that supports the dialog between the dark circle and the light circle which are the protagonists in the painting.

In the most of the paintings in the Imago Mundi series Pascual lays down color and texture and scrapes it away only to lay down another transparent layer. In this way he incorporates the texture of the canvas into the overall texture of the work, but in the large red triptych, entitled Imago Mundi IX, he revisits the brighter color scheme and impastoed textures used in his earlier, more elaborate work including the Imago Terrae series of 1999 and his individualized works such as "De Revolutionibus" and "Imitatio" of 1998.

The particularized themes explored in 1998 and 1999 relate to mythological concepts such as the minotaur’s labyrinth and to imagery associated with nomadic peoples, including Native Americans. (3) The kaleidoscopic imagery present in Imitatio (1998), "Center Wheel" (1996) and "Omens" (1996) relates to pictographic rugs and paintings on animal hides, and Pascual’s work often during this period incorporates the sunburnt palette of his sources.

To get from the particularized themes of the late 1990s to the minimal, cosmic image building of his present work, Pascual has extracted archetypal imagery from the narrative pictorial tradition of peoples close to the earth, distilling and redistilling the forms to their absolute essence. He considers image making a form of alchemy (4) and his working method a variation on the alchemical method of "solve et coagula." (5)

Although the disks he painted in the late 90s were suns, labyrinths, wheels, etc., the circular forms of the past year have superseded their prior incarnations. The artist says of these archetypal forms "Simple forms such as the circle can’t help but to convey what a circle conveys as long as it’s elaboration does not betray its content. But I would like to point out that when the man of symbolist mentality looks at a circle he never would consider it as symbol of the Sun –for instance- but as an icon of that same thing that is reflected by the Sun. References related to the same level of existence are allegories not symbols, and I have not any interest in allegory." (6)

In changing from individually titled works to series of paintings best understood by being viewed in the context of each other, Pascual has gradually made real the philosophical teachings that he began to embrace a quarter of a century ago. His passionate, direct approach to the essence of being views the circle simultaneously as both a point and a container of all things, a metaphysical embodiment for the way we experience reality. While his Imago Terrae (literally Image of the Earth) paintings exhibited their kinship with earthbound symbols, his work in the Imago Mundi (literally Image of the World) series grapples with realities that are not quite so tangible. Applying alchemy as a metaphor for Platonic enlightenment, the artist uses his materials to solve et coagula, so his work becomes a meditative conduit for the viewer to become enlightened. His is no longer a representation of the shadows of Plato’s cave; it has become metaphysical poetry, the Mundus Imaginalis, (7) an equivalence serving as the mediator between the viewer and the ultimate reality.

Pamela Hoyle, February 2002

 

1 Vicente Pascual made these statements in a email to the author on January 9, 2002.
2 The Encarta® Desk Encyclopedia Copyright © & 1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
3 Pascual had been preoccupied with the art of nomadic peoples from all over the world from 1993 to 1997.
4 Briefly, alchemy, the forbearer of modern chemistry, originated in the Aristotelian philosophy that all things strive for perfection. Originally alchemists believed that gold was the most perfect substance and that it was composed of the perfect balance of the four basic elements: earth, air, fire and water. In medieval times this belief was extended to the idea that discovery of a substance, the philosopher’s stone (later named alkahest, the prime element, by Paracelcus) capable of transmuting base metals into gold.
5 Literally, “set free the agent of coagulation.”
6 Pascual, email to the author, January 9, 2002.
7 See Henri Corbin, Mundus Imaginalis, 1964, for an extensive explanation of Mundus Imaglnalis.

Pamela Hoyle is an independent curator living in New York.
Her published exhibition catalogs, reviews and articles cover a range of topics from 19th century photography to 21st century painting and printmaking. 
She has been the director of Washington Printmakers Gallery and Global Fine Art in Washington DC.

 

copyright pam hoyle & vicente pascual 2000