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Manolo Ballesteros

By Eudald Camps Photo Javier Almar

Manolo Ballesteros (Barcelona, 1965) looks more towards the outdoors than to home. Perhaps this is why he ended up choosing the Empordà to live and work: it is a place that offers incomparable peace of mind. Somewhat beyond the alienating dynamics of the city, his family home in Vilatenim is the setting where his paintings occupy the space, slowly but without pause. He paints the space and sculpts what is visible: his recent works show us an expanded craft that, deep down, is synonymous with maturity.

It should always be possible to pass through a garden, somewhat wild, before entering an artist's studio, the work space where there is no alternative to baring everything. The artist makes light and air with his works and, of course, invents a reality that functions as more than just an alternative.

In fact, the cliché about the artist's studio as a kind of oasis where autarchy makes creation possible remains valid. The work space also provides a more or less precise representation of the individual who occupies it: a sober being, in theory, is the inhabitant of an ordered universe, while chaos, in all its forms, is the ideal area for capricious spirits. The exceptions confirm the rule. In any case, as Michael Peppiatt said, the only certain thing is that "an artist's studio is nearly always the center of the world." Nothing more, nothing less: beyond the clichés, tidy or chaotic, bright or cryptic, spacious or tiny, accidental or premeditated, urban or wild, old or new, a studio is always and in all cases its own stage that tells us more about its owner than they would likely be willing to confess.

And what does the studio located in the center of Vilatenim say to us? First of all, it tells us about coherence, consistency with a style of painting that naturally blends with sculpture or expands in all directions. Deep down, the first question about the work of Ballesteros is precisely about the artist himself and, by extension, the limits of his work. The idea appears simple: it isn't really a matter of formulating the rules of some hypothetical game as it is equipping the space where the work can be done. Miquel Molins explained it perfectly: "Manolo Ballesteros's painting is easy and difficult to see. It says nothing in the sense of the traditional relationship between the painted image and its reference to the world. It does not project, but the surface itself, its physical qualities and its materiality, is simply a presence, a splendid presence, which is quite something. But, in its aesthetic dimension, it is also the symbolic refuge, the spirit and the emotion above all."

In this sense, and against expectations, Ballesteros has ended up being a politically active artist. The philosopher Laura Llevadot recently reminded us of this: "In aesthetic judgment, part of what we are, how we are, and what we would like to be is revealed. It is for this reason that aesthetic judgment is also political."

And what are we like according to Ballesteros? He says we are not too different from a person who has become perfectly enlightened by the genius of Blaise Pascal, that is, an average being located halfway between two infinites: when he aspires to something higher, he falls into lower depths and, conversely, when he immerses himself in lower pursuits, a light elevates him to something higher. It is reason and sensitivity or, as he called it, the spirit of geometry and the spirit of fineness. This complementarity is not only desirable but outside it, all human activity lacks this balance that is the hallmark of Ballesteros's works: the spirit of geometry that allows understanding to project its logical constructions and the spirit of fineness that enables forging the flexible structures that we invent to support the world.

Manolo Ballesteros uses geometry to talk about mankind, about the ability people have to create symbolic spaces, mental scenarios, and also the limits that he encounters with this reason that seeks to impose order when he struggles, for example, with the imperatives of matter. It is at this point where meshes or orthogonal lines, parallel lines, and symmetries become things and, through their embodiment, are placed in that intermediate Pascalian space where it still seems possible to live with a certain dignity.