Javier Garcés (Zaragoza, 1959) has it really clear: “Although it’s very important, being able to make things is only a part of it… What’s necessary, primarily, is to be able to look.” Besides this statement of principles what remains is to choose your vehicle and if painting is your medium of choice, as a contemporary artist it’s not the easiest path, as Garcés can testify.
The importance of that choice doesn’t help the fact that the value of painting as an artistic practice has died several deaths in the last century. That is: since Paul Delaroche certified its death (the emergence of photography meant an unbearable breakdown for the ‘artiste peintre’ entrenched in the academy) the art of painting has often had to sit in the dock. There’s no point in reviewing the facts chronologically or recalling the prosecutor’s names, because in most recent historiography they have been misunderstood or taken too literally.
And besides, beyond painting there’s the even more radical option of working from nature, which Garcés embraced early on his path: “Since my one-year stay in London I started focusing on painting from nature. In fact, there I understood that my search was about running away from the noise of the world. For that La Bisbal seemed to me like a place trapped in time—even outside of time: its sleeping factories, the disused ceramic houses, a river which is almost always dry… All of that helped me to seclude myself and find the calm I needed for working.” An old carpentry seemed to be the most suitable place…
Garcés’ paintings (and of course his drawings) are above all a celebration of the moment and of direct contact with people and things—the ‘hic et nunc’ (here and now) in its most literal sense. “I’m interested in working without filters or prosthesis, with the least intermediaries as possible. My works are strictly analogic: the relationship between the piece and the model stays in time.” In this sense, his approach is a phenomenological one (as old as thinking itself, although it wasn’t until Husserl that phenomenology was used systematically): observing things, respecting their manifestation, without speculating and without metaphysical prosthesis. The goal is clear: phenomenology (according to Derrida) is a positive gesture that excludes theoretical prejudice in order to “go back to the phenomenon which doesn’t simply designate the ‘nature’ of the thing but the nature of the thing as it appears, the ‘phaintesthai’, which means to appear in the brightness and visibility of the thing itself.” The point would be to recover “an original perceptive experience” that would lead us to relate to all visible things without previous hierarchies—without gender or species preferences—, feeling the same respect for the tiniest wisp of grass as for the most elaborately crafted object.
Given this emphasis then it’s no surprise that Garcés’ latest project ended up taking him to the basement of a Natural History Museum: commissioned to illustrate a hoopoe (the symbol of Empordà in [ut]) he worked in the Darder Museum of Banyoles for seven months. The job became a metaphor for the creative act itself… “I worked right next to the model of the ‘Black Man of Banyoles’, surrounded by stuffed animals, which helped me to make intimate connections with what I was drawing as well as with myself. I think what I share with a taxidermist is the interest for the epidermis: we are both convinced that all that we can explain is on the skin.” The drawer’s fest (as it could also be named ‘The taxidermist’s dream’) captures the viewer’s imagination in an unusual way: “It’s the first time”, Garcés says, “that I show in the same space the finished piece and its model.” In the opportunity to trace the artist’s dialogue with the model lies the great goal of this latest project—exploring our perceptions of time and appearance uncommon in these times.
That’s the point: drawings—big format drawings in his case—, paintings or sculptures by Garcés talk about a process of knowledge that has to be understood in terms of duration. The slowness in the execution of his works along with the long days of observation imply a sensitive maturity— away from theoretical prejudice and metaphysical prosthesis—that leads to that original perceptive experience that has to reconcile us with visible phenomenon. We could do with staring in low-motion at the hoopoe’s flight in order to understand it. //