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There is a painting preserved in the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche in Urbino which is the living image of the quattrocento. Until now, its authorship is unknown, although some attribute it to Laurana, Piero della Francesca or even Alberti. Its title is The Ideal City, and it depicts an open square, with a circular building of Corinthian columns in the centre, a few metres away from some buildings the separation between which is mathematically measured. This ideal city, harmonious and luminous, is the opposite of a labyrinth.
From the first floor of the art gallery Alcalá 31, one can configure an image of the conceptual and spatial labyrinth presented by the curator Óscar Alonso Molina on the retrospective dedicated to the painter from Cádiz Guillermo Pérez Villalta. The museological architecture reproduces the psychotic intensity of the paintings, and through the exhibition we come upon windows ¾real ones and painted ones¾, into lanterns ¾elevated ones and depicted ones¾, and even into walls which hamper our passage. But there is an essential difference between the common idea of a labyrinth and the exhibiting labyrinth: in this case, all the paths lead to some figurative place. In every corner, in every nook, there is a painting. If by any chance the visitor gets lost, they can always look to the apse of the room, where they will find the face of Christ, the compass and guide of the visitor, the artist, the art history.
Pérez Villalta takes a chance on imagination when Informalism was triumphing in Spain in the mid-1970s. Throughout the last five decades, his style has not changed, but the bodies which filled up these cramped compositions, typical of the Movida Madrileña (Escena. Personajes a la salida de un concierto de rock [Scene. Figures Leaving a Rock Concert], 1979; Grupo de personas en un atrio o alegoría del arte y la vida o del presente y el futuro [Group of People in an Atrium or Allegory of Art and Life or of the Present and the Future], 1975) have given their space up to emptiness. Pérez Villalta now composes images like La biblioteca (The library) (2019), in which what is spatial is not dependent on the body’s measure, but on the architectural’s. The artist works as a sculptor on the canvas, filling the right part of the labyrinth with geometrical compositions which remind us that both the painter’s and the architect’s tasks originate in the same place, even though sometimes forgotten: imagination.
Pérez Villalta’s paintings gathered in this exhibition allow us to, in a way, approach his mind, they help us compose the image of his idea of the world, in which what is imaginative does not exist without what is material, as depicted in Anunciación (materia y vida) (Annunciation [matter and life]) (2006): life arises from what is geometric, what is geometric is a bridge between the interior and the exterior. Hence the importance of the ornaments in the windows, small and big, that the artist has photographed throughout 20 years and that he now reproduces in photographs and paintings. Beauty protects, and the harmonious design of the window is such a support of privacy that it prevents everybody from coming into our territory, like a fundamental expression of geometrical beauty.
The relationship established between what is human, what is mythical and what is mathematical is labyrinthine, like thought itself. Pérez Villalta resorts many times to what is sacred or what is mythical: Icarus appears like a projection, the dream of a fall on the canvas, Narcissus observes his reflection on the water in a dam, a space reserved to work and production. Even if Pérez Villalta’s figurative bet and harmonious will can awaken accusations of pictorial reactionarism, the truth is that his work with the myth is radically contemporary, as it points at its mechanical construction. The cisterns, partitions, windows and stairs also belong in the mythical world, or it is the myth that, contemporarily, is constructed from them. In any case, there is a relationship of reciprocity between what is oneiric and what is mechanical that is related to the view that the esquizo painter has of himself: a creator of shapes. It does not have to do so much with searching the beauty but with isolating it, in a continuous reestablishment of the painting limits. But beauty does not fit.
In Altar (2001), the painter elaborates a vision of Renaissance proportions: an open altar which, like every architectural work, breaks down natural beauty. Inside, nonetheless, we do not find figures: nothing fills up the landscape. We imagine that, in Pérez Villalta’s labyrinths, emptiness has flattened silence’s path. The painter warns us that ‘life emerges to be conscious about beauty’, but beauty is also emptiness. This is the choice of a classical and contemporary painter who projects an ideal city with Renaissance roots, where he wishes technique and myth, body and emptiness, dream and reality, to come together. He is aware that not everything fits in a painting, which is how we can understand his canvases as attempts of isolating the beautiful part of the dream, the part where everything contradictory meets.
(Featured Image: View of the exhibition. Photograph Guillermo Gumiel)
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)