When looking at Fernando Zobel’s works, one cannot ignore the obscure beauty of his use of light, lines and compositions. Engrossed in his own abstract perception of what constitutes a landscape painting, Zobel eliminates the traditional aesthetics of romantic landscapes with respect to interiors and color. Minimalist colors are applied and basic forms display elements of picture planes – merging and intertwining the background and figures together. Zobel believed, “[the] best [he] could do is to try to keep the gesture clear, the body vague.”1 Having travelled extensively and exploring the rich landscapes of Spain, Zobel displays a sincere affection for the Guadarrama (1961) and the charming Roman Tunnel of Montefurado (1964). Together these paintings demonstrate Zobel's exploration of the relationship between gesture and color in his oeuvre.
Guadarrama (Lot 14) is a tribute to the artist's most iconic motif: the Negra Series. In this work the painting’s gestural movement is characteristic of Zobel’s famous Black and White period. What seems to be the product of Action Painting, the black paint dominates the composition of the white space. Reminiscent of Franz Kline’s notion of painting in black and white, Zobel’s use of technique in the Negra Series have a very dramatic impact, yet its use of light gestures is very characteristic of classic Oriental calligraphy.
Zobel’s paintings are characterized by their distinctive texture achieved through the varied attitude, thickness or pigment used. He confessed, “Limited to black and white I tried to find a substitute for the vibrations formerly produced by contrasts of color. I managed this to a certain extent by using a dry brush to blur some of my lines; blurs and streaks that changed the linear nature of the Saetas and instead suggested direction, changes in tempo, effects of light a sense of volume, etc. Inevitably, when a painting begins to suggest light and volume, and to the extent that it does, it stops being abstract. This is not always a voluntary process, nor a fully conscious one. At any rate, my paintings were beginning to turn into something else; something more suggestive and less abstract” 2.
The landscape of Guadarrama is a depiction of the artist's perception of visual architecture. Zobel's use of brushstrokes not only whisper the silence but also boisterous planes of the mountains. As color is no longer applied, the contrast of black and white creates a vibration that highlights the painting's precision, direction, and volume of space. Expressively exploring positive space on a white backdrop, the “… painting particularly stressed…the physical presence and gesture” 3 of the subject. Zobel successfully interprets the subject’s structure with his rhythmical brilliance.
The year 1964 marked Zobel's return to color. Montefurado (Lot 13) is a work which belongs to a new stage of his career that explores memory: “To remember in pictorial forms” 4. It is an extension of his earlier series where memory also plays a defining theme.
Zobel’s affiliation for foliage as his subject, as well as his exploration of rhythm and space sets the stage for an abstract structured landscape. “[Scenery] as a theme, although in most of the pictures belonging to the period the scenery is imaginary, sieved again and again until it turns into an idea or memory of what it once was, establishing a climate, an unreal, suggestive space arranging the memories and experiences of both painter and viewer. They are idealized landscapes where the viewer like the painter, can find his own sensation” 5, and this dialogue is clearly emphasized in Montefurado.
Located in a town called Quiroga, a province of Lugo, in Spain, the famous Roman Tunnel of Montefurado is the subject in the present work, which was built by the Emperor Trajan in the second century. The landscape is painted in lyrical and eloquent gestures, which compliments the mellow tones of the natural hues used to illustrate the atmosphere. The subdued tones and soft light beaming through the tunnel expresses the tranquility and serenity of the landscape. Embracing the return of color in his paintings, Zobel has used color gradients of deep olive, and shades of black with notes of blue against the white background. The notion of Rothko’s ‘atmospheric color’ is applied, intensifying the painting’s gesture and mood.
Admired for the sophistication of his conceptual perceptiveness, Fernando Zobel's works are reflective of his deep artistic sensitivity and awareness. Both Guadarrama and Montefurado convey an optimistic euphoria. Painted a few years apart from each other, these two works are transitional pieces that reveal Zobel’s experimental stage in his career. With a more expressionist palette, the contrast between light and dark is heightened in its degree of abstraction. By incorporating the black and white color scheme and varied pigments in his works, he includes only the essential and memorable particularities of color and form. The progression of the artist’s series of works provides a backdrop that demonstrates how Zobel has successfully rendered the two paintings into individual masterpieces.
1Rod. Paras – Perez, Fernando Zobel, Eugenio Lopez Foundation, inc., Manila, 1990
2 Refer to 1
3 Refer to 1
4 Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Zobel, Ediciones Rayuela, Madrid, 2003
5 Refer to 4
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