INTERIOR LANDSCAPES

Exposición Elsa Peretti’s Foundation 

Some people are artists both by nature and because they wish to be, and for them their work is basically a way of manifesting their condition as artists, is the vehicle of their artistic expression.

Other artists, right at the other end of the spectrum, appear to be solely at the service of their work. Neither one of these two categories is better or worse than the other. Both contain geniuses and masterpieces, and also mediocrities. But there is no doubt that they represent two different ways of understanding art. For the first type of artists, the kind who have the souls of artists, their awareness of this provides them with certainty, if not security. Their condition as artists is usually revealed to them at a particular, specific moment, with irresistible force: when they visit a museum or an exhibition, or in an artist's studio, or simply when contemplating a second-rate picture or a commonplace reproduction: any spark will do to light the fuse. They act according to internal impulses and, as they are not reflective, they do not usually offer eloquent explanations when asked about their intentions or their methods.

Montserrat Clausell does not belong to this group. If you ask her when she realised she was a painter or when she decided to be one, she doesn't give a firm answer, although she has one. When you hear her talk about where she's coming from, you get the impression her profession has developed bit by bit inside her, without any revelations, being the result of a series of different factors.

She was born and grew up in a family dedicated to the plastic arts and, in the most natural way possible, right from the beginning, she started to become interested in art and to make it, but when it came to deciding what she was going to study and planning her professional future she gravitated towards other fields. When, later, her interest in art outgrew all others, she entered the Fine Arts faculty, but spent little time there. In those years, an artist's training took necessarily different paths from those provided by academia. She became interested in alternative movements, and, although her work later went in other directions, she never renounced the principles which were predominant in that feverish and creative period, which regarded the future of art with a certain desperation. She spent a year in London, studying, making contacts and absorbing the Anglo-Saxon way of doing things, which, at its best, consisted of combining creativity with rigour, spontaneity with culture and research with a knowledge of tradition. Upon her return, the return often being the most important part of a journey, she decided her apprenticeship had come to an end. Later came the search for her own identity, the routine of work, and longish stays in Paris and New York. In the 'Nineties she discovered realism and figurative painting. To say that she discovered them is a way of speaking. What she really discovered were the possibilities that this visual language offered her pictorial world. With a modesty tinged by irony, Montserrat Clausells says that in that period she made her peace with the Old Masters. If you ask her for specific examples, she replies slowly and reservedly; if you ask her what her points of reference are, she lists them hesitatingly, as if the need to make a list of favourite artists had caught her by surprise. In fact, she knows who they are perfectly well, but, faced with putting it into words, she doesn't want to confuse the listener by offering an unorthodox or overly voluble selection: Rothko, de Chirico, Turner, Velázquez, Antonio López. These painters not only belong to very different periods but also follow apparently incompatible paths. If they have anything in common, it is the mystery of an oeuvre which refuses to reveal its significance or, better said, which lends itself to as many interpretations as there are spectators. So much for generalisations.

Montserrat Clausells belongs, no matter which way you look at it, to the Catalan artistic tradition. This means that she is the heir of a rich patrimony which, however, is in dispute. Provided by destiny with a series of world-class painters, some of whom have been gifted, what is more, with a notable capacity for making a splash, Catalonia has been, throughout the modern era, one of the liveliest battlefields in the enjoyable aesthetic wars. As happens in all wars, no one has emerged unscathed from this one, but all parties involved have ended up as experts, as has the public. Actors or spectators, we are all art critics. It isn't easy to paint under such conditions.

The pictures which make up the exhibition to which this catalogue corresponds mostly are, or appear to be, interior landscapes. This classification is purely descriptive and has nothing psychological about it: the pictures show constructed, although not closed, spaces; in these spaces there is no lack of light and air. Sometimes these spaces are empty, sometimes they are soberly furnished. Although there are no humans – or any other living beings – present, occasionally you notice that they have passed through. Nothing of all this is present on the canvas. What is shown to us does not claim to be a transcription, no matter how partial, of reality, but rather registers the impression made by this reality or by its memory, in the memory or in the soul: a sudden impression or a calm evocation, the effect of light or shadow, a mood associated with a moment or with a place. These images transmit tranquil emotions, which are, however, close to the surface: felt and stored emotions, which are neither melancholy or sad, which do not transmit anguish, but rather mystery.

To comment on pictures which have no visible anecdote attached to them can lead to empty statements. The work of Montserrat Clausells is descriptive of a sensual space or a space inhabited by sensuality, that is to say, perceived by the senses and exposed in such a way that the senses find a point of reference in the picture, an element which they recognise without it being necessary for reason to identify it.

Everything we have talked about so far deals with the intention of the painting, not the painting itself. Each piece is the fruit of a precise technique developed over time; neither clumsy nor exquisite, based on the use of acrylic on canvas with a treatment similar to that given to oils, giving a smooth feeling of distance. You don't feel like touching the canvas, but each painting can be looked at for a long time without the spectator getting tired. In this respect, they are comfortable, but not accommodating, paintings. Their comfort is that of a well-stocked library, in which the reader can find all kinds of stimuli. As happens in good work, it seems as if the image has imposed the brushstroke and the colour, and that the artist has limited herself to obeying it. You can sense the years of studying, the practice, the search for the most economic expression possible, the assimilation of influences, the journeys. You can also sense reflection, rigour, a certain asceticism with a touch of humour. None of all this, it goes without saying, interferes with the immediate relationship between the painting and the spectator. And one last thing that seems to me to be pertinent. Each painting by Montserrat Clausells appears to have been created in order to inhabit a place, to find its location. This is important in a period in which many pictures are painted with a view to their exhibition or to critical discourse. The paintings of Montserrat Clausells do not renounce any of that, but they are made for the wall of an inhabited place, so as to form part of the dialogue of contemporary mankind with its surroundings.

On this occasion the place and the exhibits coincide in an especially felicitous manner. The exhibits can be seen in a space which just a short time ago was still used for the purpose for which it was built, a long time ago. It still feels used and timeworn. Here, light was not supposed to illuminate art exhibits but to accompany the inhabitants at different times of day and at different times of the year. In this unusual atmosphere the paintings feel they have been made welcome, as does the person who is looking at them.

EDUARDO MENDOZA

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