The Saetas series is considered by many to be the most important for the artist and it is most effectively exemplified by the present work entitled Hattecvm. The name “Hattecvm” (or Hattecum) is likely to be the name of an ancient city in Spain, in line with Zobel’s tendency as a scholarly man. Indications of this arose when the name came up in catalogs of numismatic coins dated in 145 AD, along with other coins from the region.
Consisting of a body of work that established Zobel as an innovator and a true abstract artist, the Saeta’s importance is underlined by the ripple effect it creates. As Zobel established his position in the art scene as a highly esteemed abstractionist, he influenced other artists to gain confidence in working within that category. As Cesar Legaspi recalls, “Zobel took us deeper into abstraction. Before that, very few people worked in abstraction. He may have influenced some of our painters in the more linear style and encouraged others to go into full abstraction. That is one of his greatest contributions…The realization that every painting is an abstract before it can become representational…”1
Although Zobel had begun experimenting with abstract painting since 1953, the true origin of the Saetas series began in 1955 when Zobel visited and was “completely dazzled” by a Rothko exhibition at the Rhode Island School of Design. “In a theoretical sense I knew it was possible to paint abstractly, but Rothko’s demonstration convinced me completely. Almost at the same time I discovered photography’s ability to preserve the image in a manner, I felt, far superior to the resources of painting. I felt obliged to paint but I had abandoned the need to ‘represent’. This left me in a kind of vacuum. A vacuum that turned into two years of experiments and into a huge pile of destroyed paintings, until I found my theme in the technique that led to series of Saetas.” The name of the series is directly translated into English as ‘arrows’, but it also refers to a variety of flamenco and “it merely attemps to suggest something both improvised and deeply felt… You might say that the underlying theme is movement.. stated in terms of line.”2
Hattecvm (1959) represents a fully matured and superb culmination of Zobel’s mastery with Saetas. Spanning 100 by 150 centimeters in format, this tour-de-force is one of the largest canvases by Zobel in this series. Already exhibiting a predilection towards the black series, Hattecvm is almost monochromatic. Jet black and deftly applied with hypodermic syringe, the lines possess contradicting characteristics. So light and thin, they cluster in a dense criss-cross, as if dancing on the surface of the picture plane, while at the same time expressing undeniable boldness and strength.
Zobel’s skillful manipulation of medium, coupled by a deep understanding of technique, enabled him to harness light, colour and movement to their maximum potential. Applying paint in the thinnest and most transparent glazes, it conveyes the impression of a halo of light. The background is predominantly snowy white and contains only a hint of colour, the softest of ice blue vanishing into a cloud of blush, as if it is a frozen lake reflecting the northern lights. The pools of energy seem to move in intensity with the swift gesture of the lines, creating a vibrant symphony.
Don Rafael Pérez-Madero once commented, “we can start looking at his paintings, how the lines purify and attract more attention, until it becomes clear, that each time with more clarity the bareness of the stroke, the graphics (the hand and the movement of Zobel on the canvas), the movement of the painting via the lines and at the end the very absence of the background colour. For me the most important moment of ‘Las Saetas’, is when the absence of colour converts into only black lines on white canvas. For me, starting from this moment and the following ‘Saetas’, and also the black and white works from the 1970’s, are possibly, the more pure abstract periods of the paintings of Fernando Zobel” (translated).
In a single vignette, Hattecvm immortalizes poetry in motion and celebrates Zobel’s tireless, life-long passion to transform life’s harmonious symphony into a visual expression. In doing so, he offered to the world a vista hitherto unseen. Hattecvm’s rarity, large format, superb beauty and importance rank this work side by side with some of the gems exhibited at his retrospective in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in 2003. It is a privilege for Sotheby’s to offer Hattecvm, undoubtedly the most important work by Fernando Zobel to appear at auction.
1Rod. Paras-Perez, Fernando Zobel, Eugenio Lopez Foundation, Inc., Manila, 1990, p. 136.
2Rafael Pérez-Madero, ZOBEL / LA SERIE BLANCA, Ediciones Rayuela, Madrid, 1978, p. 85.
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