THE MYSTERY OF CHINESE BOXES. José María Parreño
It is a space, a room with black sides, floor and ceiling, the entire back wall one unbroken window opening to the outside, an open field. Through the window a strong and even light illuminates the space. At times in the room there is a pile of clothes or a drawer full of computer stuff or there are diverse characters. Its difficult to get an idea of the size of the place, which appears larger or smaller depending on what element is placed in the foreground. Nor can we be sure of the nature of the background: a glass wall onto the outside, a back lit photo or even a reverberating screen. Only a rare combination of architecture and geography could produce a plausible union of outside and inside. The majority are fictional constructions, transparent, illusory. Room and view belong to opposite categories. Embracing the logic of the painting, the “real” space is counter-posed to its conceptualization, a painting or an image, either photographic or electronic, of a landscape. The method of a painting within a painting originated in Flemish painting of the 16th century and appeared soon thereafter in Spanish painting (before the end of the century). In these cases, the two counter-posed worlds were not different places but rather distinct ontological planes. In Pieter Aertsens still life and in the domestic scenes of Velázquez, we are shown a room in which a painting is hung or a window is open in order to evoke another place. But not only that: there is a perfectly selected Biblical scene commenting on the “real” one. There was a sacred scene embedded in the secular plane, thereby counter-posing day-to-day reality to a reality that doctrine proclaims to be even more real, a final and transcendent truth.
My apologies to the reader for such a pedantic dissertation. Im sure Amadeo Olmos has painted these pictures without any such thoughts in his head. I dont believe hes painted the natural world we see in the background as representing a final or sacred reality that will remain when electronic junk, dice, paint buckets and golf bags are gone forever. Rather I believe hes done it as a continuation of his investigation into realistic representation and its union with geometry. Years ago he demonstrated his overwhelming ability to create totally compelling illusions. He also made us aware that this was not enough for him because, in truth what is visible is only one aspect of reality. Leon Battista Alberti, in the height of the Renaissance, compared a painting to a window. In the middle of the twentieth century Magritte shattered this idea to remind us that even behind a broken window reality lurks. Today we understand that so-called reality is no more than a boundary our senses trip over as we explore the world. Amadeo plays with both of these ideas in these paintings, as well as adding his own.
A few years ago Umberto Eco suggested that the museum of the future could likely be a museum of one single painting. I was reminded of this by the painting project at la carcel. One small painting in each of the cells. Representing a stifling space, the painting itself is locked up like a solitary prisoner in these rooms that are the manifestation of confinement. These are paintings that evoke the boundaries between reality and illusion in a place where illusion was essential for bearing reality. A game of Chinese boxes, one within another within another. Here the viewers find a space not so different from the one in the painting, and we fantasize that someone might be watching us looking at the back wall where there is a painting of viewers looking at the back wall. The question, perhaps, is not only whether or not what the characters in the paintings are looking at is real (we know it isnt), but if we ourselves are real. Prisoners in a cell of our own ideas, each of us condemned to our own age, we continue reflecting.
José María Parreño