Expeditionary Strategies (Voyages of Discovery) - Carlos Forns Bada (2013) read
Kite fishing
- Carlos Forns Bada (2012) read
Carlos Forns Bada -
Edward Lucie-Smith (2004) read

 

Expeditionary Strategies (Voyages of Discovery)

The expeditions of true scientific appearance in which I've participated across the last decade can be distributed in three consecutive sections. First, those travels whose goals are the recuperation, the appropiation, and the natural description of the selvatic paradises from a past childhood, task in which memory serves as the ideal tool for investigation; both memories, the one from the vigil and the one from the dream statuses, bring an emotivel, symbolic special meaning to remembrances, activating them as mechanisms of perpetual vibration.

Afterwards, the discovering of a vast continent, whose unsuspected reality reveals itself as a fourth dimension overlapped to the barren territories of the daily experience and its hurry for survival, impulses the organization of new travels for the explorations of these lands, much closer and more inaccessible than the childhood sceneries, from which in this phase solid knowledge is possessed, of elaborated herbals and entomological or mineral collections. These, along with the capacity to observe, fueled by the curiosity and the admiration that the contemplation of the universe produce, are now the adequate means to perceive the present fragile paradises.

The third section is constituted by the expeditions started by the possibility of other worlds's existence, worlds less transitory and more consistent than those present or past. From these arrive anticipating images, news, that seem to vibrate at the same time as those which come from our past or present. Imagination is the essential tool to achieve a detailed inventory of the flora and fauna of these possible otherworldly paradises.

The result of these three expeditionary ways is the chance of being able to access a singular vision of the natural images of our world, a vision which can connect them both with those from our childhood and those which arrive from the supracelestial paradises.

The interweaving of data, this transit of images from one universe to the other, forms a final motive in which every item collected seems to resonate with others from a very far location, making this common vibration reach a sudden flare that lights for an instant the appearance of an unexpected, bright and fleeting sense.

Carlos Forns Bada, 2012

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Kite Fishing

Men live, without knowing it, at the bottom of a turbid sea, feeding on the opalescent visions that reach down there, confusing the sky and the water. Their souls emerge bubbling from the deepest crevices of coral reefs as igneous spheres that burst beyond the surface which limits their world, releasing images faintly anthropomorphic that resemble winged insects, small and light.

As protected by the membrane inside an egg, the world, according to Democritus, is covered by a grid of hook shaped atoms intertwined. Angels, winged mermaids and Socratic cicadas, expert Mediterranean fishermen, launch at nap time hooks baited with baits of incandescent beauty to help souls in their ascent through the celestial circles, tense and vibrant as they pass, just like the strings of a harp, allowing them to forget every superfluous memory that anchors them to their underwater life, only preserving priceless images of their childhood.

Once they have reached the flowery field of galaxies, souls, living unkowingly an eternal life, indulge themshelves in happy childish games, chasing butterflies and looking for flowers in the lush margins of sacred groves. Getting into magical caves they discover inside small mud houses in which they recognize those where they lived in their early years, with its gardens planted with daffodils and pomegranates. After a decade, harassed by the search of even more beautiful dams, they unconsciously get themselves lost in the dense forests. There, huge guardian angels lead them into shaky bridges with wobbly planks to ravines hidden by flower beds, to tutelar snakes lurking coiled on huge flowery purple digitalis branches. After the ritual meeting, the ground opens beneath their feet, that supercelestial ground made of jasper, carnelian and rubies, and the souls, always prone to amazement, begin a long slide down a neural network of tunnels of light that will turn them into pupae, asteroids, seeds of unusual worlds. Finally, deposited on the Piranesian, fertile silt of new reefs, ingrown already, they shall initiate pretend games of whose eternity are accomplices wise and benevolent cicadas and mermaids, chanting amphibian songs to the beauty of the cosmos and to the visions offered by a daily afterlife.

Carlos Forns Bada, 2010

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Edward Lucie-Smith on Carlos Forns Bada

The Spanish artist Carlos Forns Bada won early recognition in Italy. His reputation there dates from the exhibitions of his work organized in 1989 by Claudia Gian Ferrari and the late Italo Mussa. In a brief catalogue text, Mussa noted Forns Bada's links to the Pittura Colta impulse that Mussa himself supported, and also to the inter-war Valori Plastici movement (named after also mentions Picasso the review of the same name, published in Rome between 1918 and 1922). For her part, Claudia Gian Ferrari noted the resemblances between the work of the young Spaniard and Italian artists of the Novecento such as Mario Sironi, and also the homage paid by the young artist to the neo.classical phase of his compatriot Picasso. In an interview with Arnaldo Romani Brizzi published in the same catalogue, Forns Bada also mentions Picasso and expresses admiration for the work of Sironi and for that of the sculptor Arturo Martini (1889-1947).

These guidelines are still valid today, but, during the decade and a half since that exhibition took place, perspectives have subtly shifted. Forns Bada was welcomed in Italy as a suitable Latin and classical cousin, but little attention was paid to his situation within the world of Spanish contemporary art. In a certain sense this is not surprising, since the artist situation in Spain is ambiguous. The official account of “the contemporary” now offered by Spanish museums and curators seem to differ in some important respects from the true situation. Generalísimo Franco died in 1975, just as Forns Bada was starting his career. His first one-person exhibition took place in 1976, at the Galería Edurne in Madrid. In the following year he was included in the 28ième Salon de la Jeune Peinture, held at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris.

During the Franco years, painting had enjoyed a much greater liberty of expression that was allowed to literature. Interest focused on the Dau al Set group, founded in Barcelona in 1948, and in particular on the career of its most eminent member Antoni Tápies (b. 1923). Tápies enjoyed considerable success abroad, to the occasional irritation of the Spanish authorities, not least because his work seemed to fit in with some of the major artistic tendencies of the 1950s and 1960s, especially with what French critics defined as Art Informel and presented as a pan-European rival to American Abstract Expresionism.

Since Franco's death, Spain has seen an extremely rapid growth of institutions that present, support and publicize contemporary art. The celebrated Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is part of a much wider phenomenon. Naturally, this growth has needed the support of a more-or-less “official” history. What this history consists of could be seen in an exhibition organized in 2003 by the Museo del Corso in Rome. Entitled La Spagna Dipinge il Novecento (Spain paints the 20 th Century); it was drawn from the collection of the Reina Sofía in Madrid, which is now Spain's pre-eminent collection of contemporary painting and sculpture.

The show began, logically enough, with the work of the great Spanish artists of the beginning of the century who based themselves in Paris ­– Picasso, Juan Gris, Julio González, with others of lesser rank from the same milieu. Miró, however, was represented only by work made much later in his career.

The period after the Spanish Civil War was notable for the absence of any typical paintings by the artists of the Dau al Set group. While Tápies was present with later work his fellow Dau al Set members Ponç and Cuixart were omitted. Yet this was the most important Modernist effort in immediately post-Civil War Spain. Later in the sequence, there was a gap where work from Equipo Crónica (1965-1981) should have been. Equipo Crónica represented the reaction against Art Informel, heavily touted in the Museo del Corso exhibition, and the effect to come to terms both with the political side of Picasso and with American pop Art.

In general, La Spagna Dipinge told a very one-sided story – for the organizers, Spanish art, post-Picasso, was largely a matter of the manipulation of texture and surface. Where it contained figurative elements – as for example in the work of Miquel Barceló, with its links to the Italian Trans-Avantgarde and to German Neo-Expressionism – it still had, as far as possible, to conform to his ideal.

Very few artists from the currently thriving Spanish realist tradition were included – the best known was Antonio López García, with a panoramic view of Madrid, equipped with a suitably abstract foreground.

Needless to say, Forns Bada's work was absent, and so was that of any artist who might have been seen as mildly resembling him. This was all the more surprising because Forns Bada is already so well-known in Italy.

The gaps and the distortions in the selection made for the show can in part be attributed to the fact that the reina Sofía is a comparatively young institution, with important lacuanae in its own holdings of recent Spanish art. As for example, the Surrealist works of Dalí entered the Museum's collection only after the death of the artist, and as his donation. Yet the choice also, I think, showed a determination to rewrite the history of 20 th Century Spanish art in such a way as to make it match both political and aesthetic agendas that are not in full conformity with the facts. It was an “anti-Franco” show where the memory of the Generalísimo cast a long shadow, not least in a nervous distaste for over-specfic imagery.

Given the context – and also given the fact that a convincing history of Spanish painting and sculpture in the second hald of the 20 th Century still remains to be written- it is important to look at elements in Forns Bada's work which seem to have a specific relationship to the Spanish Modern tradition.

My first suggestion is that aspects of Juan Gris and of early work of Miró are at least as important to an understanding of Forns Bada's work as his declared admiration for the neo-classical period of Picasso.

Admiration for Picasso is signalled by the frequent appearance of classical male heads. These often appear, not independently, but as properties in tightly organized still life paintings. An example is Busto Verde (1995). More frequently, however, the still lifes and plantscapes are without this kind of human presence. Corazón de piedra (1996) is quite typical of the works in this group.

What initially makes this painting seem unlike Gris is the intense colour, and the lack of typical Cubist faceting –through this is suggested by the actual forms of the plants and containers depicted. The likeness to Gris is, however, rooted in something much more fundamental, and becomes stronger the longer one looks at the composition: ita can be found in the crompession of space, the way the forms are pushed towards the front plane, and, above all, in the very tight organisation of the forms within the rectangle of the canvas. These forms echo one another in all sorts of slightly surprising ways –look, for instance, at the way in which the fractured stone at the bottom right (the “stone heart” of the title) echoes the shape of the yellow plant-pot placed next to it.

The resemblance to Miró's early work –to his celebrated painting La Masía ( The Farm , 1921-1922), for instance- is, by contrast, due to Forns Bada's use of bright, unmodulated colour, and of hard outlines to define the forms. Miró's shapes for trees have more than a passing resemblance for the convention Forns Bada uses for pot-plants.

A third artist worth considering in this context is Dalí. Before dalí evolved the style of “veristic Surrealism” for which he became world-famous, he passed through a period in which the influence of traditional Spanisg realism mingled with that of cubism. The most successful work from this phase of his career is his Cesta de pan ( Basket of Bread, 1926). This is a more naturalistic painting than Forns Bada's still lifes –that is, it is much closer to a kind of academic realism. Yet there are some characteristics in common, for example the crompression of the picture space. Also the intensity with which everything is seen, though in Forns bada's case what is shown is largely invented, whereas the items in Dalí's painting are passively observed.

The specific likeness to Dalí is worth nothing because there is in fact an element of genuine Surrealism in Forns Bada's painting. The weird vegetable forms of Le Sacre du Printemps (1999), for example, are entirely Surrealist in spirit; while the landscape in Corazón abandonado (1995-1996) has a certain kinship with the Port Lligat scenery that supplied Dalí with inspiration for some of his own mature painting.

Another leading Surrealist, one who was not Spanish, but whose work has an even closer kinship in that of Forns Bada is Yves Tanguy (1900-1955). Tanguy's biomorphic forms, some clearly vegetable, some quasi-mechanical, are set in lunar landscapes. They have an unmistakable resemblance to some of the things one sees in Forns Bada's paintings. In particular there is the sense he gives one of confrontation with a re-invented nature.

Forns Bada's relationship with nature is not a purely fantastic one, as a recent impressive series of imaginary portraits makes clear. The subjects are represented bust-length, behind a parapet, upon which is placed an emblematic object. This is a formula borrowed from Flemish primitive portariats of the 15 th Century. The portraits also have an affinity with the large classical heads that feature in earlier works by Forns Bada, and perhaps a further link with the Fayoum mummy portraits painted in Egypt in Roman times. Fayoum portraits have the huge, staring eyes that feature here. These help to give the images as visionary, otherworldly aspect.

The series includes a number of famous naturalists and botanists. Bartolomeo Bimbi (1648-1730), for instance, was a painter and naturalist who made documentary images for Cosimo III de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. There is a collection of his paintings at Poggio a Caiano, the Medici villa which also houses some celebrated frescoes by Pontormo. Conrad Gesner (1516-1565) was born in Zurich and was the greatest naturalist of the 16 th Century. His four-volume History of Animals, published between 1551 and 1558, is nevertheless not really scientific in the modern sense, because it includes little that comes from direct observation. What it does include is a superb series of woodcuts of the animals discussed, plus proverbs, biblical citacions and references to pagan mythology. Another, later work is entitled A Book on Fossil Objects, their Shapes and Apearances. In connection with Forns Bada's paintings it is interesting to note that in Gesner's day a fossil was any interesting object found buried in the earth –its origin could be both animate and inanimate.

José Celestino Mutis (1732-1808) was a Spanish naturalist who worked in South America, in what was then Nueva Granada and is now Colombia. He took the holy order in 1772, and in 1783 Charles III of Spain appointed him to lead the official Expedición Botánica del Nuevo Reino de Granada. He was one of the first to study the medicinal properties of cinchona bark (quinine) and to cultivate commercially. Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522.1605), was a professor in Medicine at Bologna University, and founder of one of the first natural history museums. Alejandro Malaspina (1754-1810) was an Italian-born captain of the Spanish navy who made notable voyages of exploration in the Pacific.

Some of the personages celebrated by Forns Bada in these portraits are relatively obscure. For example, because Malaspina was imprisoned for political reasons on his return to Spain after his explorations in the Pacific, his achievements remained unknown until very recently. Others are of major importance in the history of Science. One such is Carolus Clusius (Charles de l'Écluse, 1526-1609), whose work has been described as the source from which our modern knowledge of plant genera originated. He was responsible for introducing the potato to much of continental Europe –Germany, Austria, France and the Low Countries. Another is the Englishman Robert Hooke (1653-1703), who has been described as being “perhaps the single greatest experimental scientist of the seventeenth century”. Inventor of the universal joint and the iris diaphragm, Hooke made a major contribution to biology with his book Micrographia (1665), based on observations made using a compound microscope of his own devising. Among the things he examined were insects, sponges and the feathers of birds.

Forns Bada's pantheon also makes room for eminent writers and philosophers, such as Friedrich von Schlegel (1772-1829), one of the chief theoreticians of the German Romantic Movement, and his close friend Friedrich von Hardenberg (1772-1801), better known by his . pseudonym Novalis. Novalis is one of the key figures in the whole Romantic period, and his visionary poems and other writings continue to be influential two centuries after his death. His social theories were, for example, a major influence on the work of Joseph Beuys, the most influential german artist of the second half of the 20 th century. Novalis held that society had to pass through three stages. Kings and priests led the first of these. The second (that of his own time) was led by politicians and economists, whilst the third was to be led by interdependent individuals with the gift of “inspired artistic imagination”. Obviously these ideas were to some extent prompted by the events of the French Revolution, which took place during Novalis's lifetime, but they also point forward to attitudes we now consider typically “modern”. The rebellious students of the Paris “evennements” of 1968 took their slogan from Novalis: “Imagination to the helm!” or “To imagination, full powers1”.

To these prophetic figures from the Romantic Movement, Forns Bada ads two more from classical antiquity – Virgil and Ovid. This varied group of personages, celebrated and obscure, scientific and literary, offers us a picture of an exceptionally well-stocked mind.

This series of imaginary portraits does not represent the only occasion on which Forns Bada has used this artistic convention. Sometimes the paintings are relatively specific. Lazarillo (2000), a young man accompanied by a dog, refers to the famous Spanish picaresque novel Lazarillo de Tormes, published in 1554, which is among other things a biting satire on the Church and Spanish establishment of its day. Lazarilo in Spanish means “a leader of blind men” (“lazarillo de ciegos”), and the book is the fictive autobiography of a rogue and con man. He is represented as a kind of giant, leaning against a mountain much smaller than himself. This device, with the human figure looming over a landscape depicted on a much smaller scale, is one that Forns Bada had already used in a number of earlier paintings.

Hoefnagel (1999) is a rather similar work, but not a pair to Lazarillo since it is painted on a slightly smaller scale. Joris Hoefnagel (1542-1601) was a celebrated draughtsman and book illuminator. Born in the Low Countries, he was driven out of Antwerp by the Spanish conquest of 1577 and took service first with Duke Albert V of Bavaria and then with the Emperor Rudolph II, who based himself in Prague. In addition to being a major art collector and patron, Rudolph collected natural “wonders” of all kinds –fossils, bones and minerals. He commissioned Hoefnagel to decorate a manuscript by the celebrated calligrapher Georg Bocksay that he had inherited from his grandfather Ferdinand I. Hoefnagel responded to the commission with exquisite studies of fruit, flowers and insects. Forns Bada alludes to this in the still life material he has added to his imaginary portrait of the artist. The manuscript has survived and is now in the collection of the Getty Museum.

Not content with this, he has added a curiously shaped vase, perhaps inspired by the work of the eccentric American George Ohr (1857-1918), the so-called “mad potter of Biloxi”. Ohr has become something of a cult figure in the world of contemporary art following the rediscovery of a great cache of his work in 1968, stored in the attic of a garage belonging to his sons. A museum in his honour designed by the leading architect Franck Gehry opened in Biloxi in 2003. The composition also includes a modern adjustable gooseneck desk lamp – a mischievously incongruous object.

Collector's items from the early years of the 20 th century certainly interests Forns Bada. Another painting closely related to the two just described is Marla y el coleccionista de cristal Loetz (1999). Marla is the dog who features in the painting –she also appears in a number of others as well, among them Lazarillo. The Loetz glassworks at Klostermühle in Austria were founded in 1840, but the factory came into its own as a leading exponent of the Art Nouveau design in the years immediately before World War I. One specialty was Phänomen glass – iridescent vases with ribbons of metallic colour winding over the surface. That appears to be what's depicted here.

Yet other imaginary portraits are less specific – examples are Botánico (2000). Apparently painted from the same model as Lazarillo, and Giardinere incoronato (1996). Giardinere incoronato, however, puts the students of Forns Bada's work to a slightly different track, since it has obvious resemblance to late Gothic or Renaissance panels showing “Christ Crowned with Thorns”. An example is the Ecce homo by Antonello da Messina (c.1430-1479) in the Metropolitan Museum, New York., where the bust-length figure of Christ is similarly placed behind a parapet – a re-use or a formula used in secular portraiture of the same epoch. A variation of this composition is Mediodía (1999), where the rose-crowned male figure leans against a pillow. The image is a curious mixture of the erotic and the sacred –the dead Christ transformed into a sleeping beloved.

These are just two out of a number of instances where Forns Bada alludes to pre-Modern religious art. His Autorretrato de un desconocido (2002) is a more elaborate variant on the “Ecce Homo” theme. The painting is a self-portrait, in which the artist appears as a fictive bust. The colour is a remainder of the painted sculptures found in Spanish churches. A thorn bush with blood-red berries springs up behind his right shoulder. One branch seems to make a crown of thorns around his bald head, and there are small drops of blood where the thorns have broken the skin. Around his neck there is another circlet of thorns. Desconocido in Spanish means “unknown” or “without fame”, so this can be read as an image of suffering of cruelly neglected artist.

Forns Bada's range of reference to art both sacred and profane is both wide and surprising. For example, the hovering head, placed within a kind of halo or mandala, that appears at the centre of Paraíso en obras (1997-1998) has a striking resemblance to the images floating within elaborate roundels that feature in the illustrations made by the Sienese artist Giovanni di Paolo (c.1403-1483) for Dante's Paradiso . It is clearly no accident that the word “paradise” is part of the title of the painting. Espinas (1996) makes the religious reference even more specific. The floating head, much larger here, is backed by an illuminated cross, and is evidently a representation of the Mandylion (the Image of Edessa) or Holy Face. Two legends are attached to this. The first makes its original appearance quite late, in the Ecclesiastical History written by Evagrius Scholasticus (c.536-c.600). According to this, Abgar V Ukkama, King of Edessa, was a lepper who sent a messenger to Christ looking for a cure. Unable to come to the king in person, Jesus sent instead a cloth imprinted with an image of his own face, which immediately effected a cure. In the 10 th century the miracle-working cloth made its way to Constantinople, and thanks to its presence there was gradually popularised though its representation on icons.

A better known legend is that of St. Veronica's veil. This story, too, is non-scriptural, though many people now believe the contrary. It tells us how St. veronica succoured Christ on his way to the Crucifixion by wiping his sweaty face with her veil, which was immediately imprinted with his image. The incident is now represented at the Sixth Station of the Cross, and the original veil supposedly found its way to Rome where it was long venerated by pilgrims in St. Peter', until in 1608 pope paul V decided to demolish the chapel that housed it and the relic disappeared, to be replaced later by a facsimile. The original is now claimed by a church at Manopello in the Abruzzi.

Forns Bada's version is clearly the Mandylion of Edessa, since the Christ shown in it is not crowned with thorns. Christ's Passion is nevertheless foreshadowed by the items that appear on a shelf beneath the Mandylion. These include various fruit, among them prickly pears from cactus plants, eaten in Mexico and the Southwest of the United States, plus a leafless but fiercely thorny vonetendril. This is perhaps the closest the artist gets to producing a conventional religious image.

The references in his work can embrace both secular and sacred imagery, sometimes simultaneously. El vagabundo y el genio de la vegetación (2001) can be connected to Salvator Rosa's etching The Genius of Salvator Rosa (1662), which makes a rather similar link betwen artistic talent and the abundance of nature. The lily stem that the protagonist holds also connects him to representations of the Angel of the Annunciation, while the presence of the nude miniature “genius” on his lap turns the painting into a slightly blasphemous variant of traditional Madonna and child compositions.

The lily stem is immediately recognisable for what it is. This is not the case with a great many of the plants that appear in Forns Bada's paintings, which exist in a fantastic botanical world of their own. Jardín iridiscente (1999-2000) is once again a variant on a traditional theme – the still life of plants and insects placed outdoors rather than indoors. There are a number of characteristic paintings of this kind by Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750), for example, where the painting seems simply to have stumbled upon a particular group of plants in a woodland setting. In Forns Bada's version of the theme everything is stylised. The sky is a resonant, completely cloudless blue. The vegetation ranges from the almost naturalistic to things that would be completely impossible in nature – for instance, the three-legged plant-creature on the left of the composition, with an open loop-like torso and a head or blossom that resembles a spoked wheel. Another of Forns Bada's variants of the theme is Sotobosque (1999), which features a rearing caterpillar.

Forns bada does seem to have a particular liking for certain plants. He is particularly fond, for example, of the green capsules which are the fruit of the opium poppy or papaver somniferum, and many variations of these appear in his paintings. Also identifiable are fuchsias, cacti and several varieties of sempervivum. It is perhaps not surprising, given the artist's Spanish origins, that many of these are plants that flourish in dry, hot conditions.

However, the plants he depicts are subject to many different kinds of transformation. For example, in Jardín VI (1997), the plant on the extreme right is in the process of turning into an object made of coloured tile-work, as are two similar plants that feature in Ceremonial (1997). These transformations often seem to be influenced by the wilder extremes of kitsch Spanish taste. In this sense, Forns Bada, in addition to being a Surrealist in line of descent from a number of the greatest 20 th century Spanish painters, also owns a debt to Pop Art.

Because Franco died only in 1975, Spanish artists had little chance to come to terms with Pop. Equipo Crónica, already mentioned, began its endeavours ten years before the dictator's death, but there was still a sense of constraint in the work of the artists who belonged to the group – the very little they chose for it, suggests that they saw the pop sensibility as being more of a burden than a real opportunity to break out of a thgen stagnant situation. It labels them as more intent on recording the changes that were beginning to overtake Spanish society than actually eager to participate. In addition to this, pop in general initially found it difficult to flourish in what was basically still an artisan culture rather than an industrial one. The conditions necessary for the creation of “mass-culture” and with it “mass-taste” were simply not present in Spain until at least the end of the 1970s.

Forns Bada entered this situation at a time fortunate for himself. As the discussion of his work has already demonstrated, he was able to draw on a very wide spectrum of artistic elements and then put them together to make a uniquely personal style.

Where the question of kitsch is concerned one has to remember that an outstanding characteristic of Spanish culture is a profound sense of irony. One has to be specially keenly aware of this when examining Forns Bada's use of kitsch. Bodegón (1996) refers to a very important element in the history of painting in Spain – the development of a still life tradition very different from the one that flourished in the Low Countries. Juan van der Hamen (1596-1631), the leading Spanish still-life painter of the early 17 th century, often presents objects in rigid, quasi abstract arrangements, placed upon neutral blocks of various heights. His preferred props include strangely shaped vases - one favourite is a kind of puzzle-jug, a pottery flask with a circular body pierced by a large hole – and Spanish biscuits and sweetmeats whose often capricious shapes foreshadow the more abstract ones favoured by Forns Bada. If one is familiar to typical works by Van der Hamen, it is immediately evident that Bodegón is both a parody and a paraphrase.

Spanish stil life paintings of the Golden Age are typified by a kind of quietism, a fascination with humble things, and often, too, by a Caravaggesque chiaroscuro. In paraphrasing them, Forns Bada gets rid of these characteristics. Bodegón is brightly coloured, with references to tile-work and to jewellery. It also shows a spatial compression that owes much to Cubism. Its basic artistic parentage is nevertheless unmistakable. Some references remain quite specific – for instance, the bowl form on the right is filled with little brightly coloured stones that are abstractions of the sweets that Van der Hamen loved to paint. The painting seems to satirise the actuality of contemporary taste when this is compared to the artistic achievements of the past.

In the majority of Forns Bada's paintings the allusions are not quite so direct. The majority of his still life paintings show either a vase of flowers or a plant in a pot. These belong to a long and various tradition in Western art, shared by all the chief schools of painting. The first examples occur as subsidiary details in paintings with other subjects. For instance, a pot of lilies will often feature in a 15 th century painting of the Annunciation. When still life becomes an independent genre, flower pieces occupy a special position within it.

It is, however, a purely modern assumption that paintings of this kind were made in front of the motif. This may have been the case with the flower-pieces made by the Impressionists, but their 16 th and 17 th century predecessors operated in a very different way. The lavish bouquets of Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625) consist of flowers that bloom at different seasons and were evidently compiled from a collection of watercolour studies made by the artist. The same was certainly the case of the Spanish painter of flowers Juan de Arellano (1614-1676). In more recent times, both Cézanne and Giorgio Morandi made use of paper flowers rather than real ones, since the real thing faded too fast to suit their method of work.

Forns Bada's flowers are deliberately artificial –and, unlike the work of the artist cited above, they deliberately and self-consciously call attention to their own atificiality.

The same comment applies to paintings which, for want of a better word, one can describe as “landscapes”. Mostly what they portray is a deliberately confined space, a kind of hortus conclusus. This too has a long tradition on Western art. The traditional hortus conclusus, for example, often serves as a setting for a Vigin of Humility, sitting directly on the ground. The garden represents Paradise and is surrounded by a wall, which symbolises the fortress of Mary's virginity.

Forns bada takes this idea and develops it in a thoroughly mischievous way. Ceremonial (1996), already mentioned, represents a space tightly enclosed by a blue tiled wall that takes the place of the open blue of the sky. The plant-forms that occupy this space are all of them phallic. The transformations imposed on them, however, suggest that their sexual identity remains unfulfilled, as does the green curving stem in the foreground, which could be a whip intended to punish all this straining sexuality.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Forns Bada's work is the way in which it functions as a kind of cultural echo-chamber. The spectator is never quite certain how many of the references are consciously intended, and how many, by contrast, have arisen directly and unprompted from the artist's subconscious. In this sense he is both a PostModernist and a genuine Surrealist.

The painter himself once declared: “I do not identify myself asa figurative or non-figurative painter – that doesn't seem important to me. The presence or absence of of figurative imagery has no relevance to the value of the work. I think any good painter always looks for the same thing. I know that the painters whose work interests me particularly are those who have experienced the materials of painting in an intense fashion (…)”.

This statement dates from as long ago as 1989 but it is clear that it holds good today. The thing that fascinates Forns Bada above all is the search for ways of making paintings that are complete statements in their own terms. That is, what goes into the painting – for example, the various cultural and art-historical references I have tried to elucidate here – is secondary to the existence of the work as a total, if complex, form, which has come into existence through the use of a particular technique or series of techniques.

Nevertheless it remains evident that this is also a kind of art that remains interested in knowledge, as opposed to the willed ignorance that informs so much contemporary art.

By “willed ignorance” I mean that there is still a feeling, among many artists and consumers of art, that the artwork, in order to be valid, must eschew contact with anything that may have preceded it. This is a perversion of the Romantic doctrine of the wholly individual, original, spiritually isolated artist that evolved during the closing years of the 18 th century and was carried to new extremes during the opening decades of the 19 th century.

Forns Bada is, of course, an heir of the Romantic Movement, just as he is also the inheritor of much from the time before Romaticism. The striking Autorretrato de un desconocido takes its place in a long line of Romantic and proto-Romantic self-portraits that includes examples by Dürer, Jacques-Louis David and Courbet.

What is striking about the picture is something that is, in a more general sense, striking about the rest of his production. The image is self-conscious, but it is tightly controlled, far from indulgent self-consciousness. The sense of irony, whose presence in his work I have already stressed, is at work here, just as it is elsewhere.

The paintings Forns Bada makes are also fictions in a Borgesian sense. They offer us a series of alternative universes. There are, in fact, two statements made by Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) that immediately come to mind when I look at Forns Bada's work. The first id from an essay on Kafka: “In the critic's vocabulary, the word “precursor” is indispensable, but it should be cleansed of all connotations of polemic or rivalry. The fact is that every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future”.

For the word “writer” one can in this case substitute the word “painter”.

The other comes from the afterword to El Hacedor (The Maker, 1960, but entitled Dreamtigers in English): “A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face”.

Edward Lucie-Smith
(from the book Carlos Forns Bada. Il Polittico. Roma, 2004)

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