WS100-Jack Ma is a remarkable example of Spanish painter José-Maria Cano’s latest addition to his most iconic body of works collectively known as The Wall Street 100. All made exclusively with wax, paintings in the Wall Street 100 series depict portraits of the world’s financial elites drawn from imagery taken directly from daily newspapers. In the present painting, the image of Jack Ma—one of the most successful Internet entrepreneurs from China and currently one of the most influential figures in the world—is blown up from a small hedcut drawing found in the columns of a Wall Street Journal clipping into a large-scale encaustic painting impressive in both scale and pictorial complexity. Through Cano’s prowess in the medium of encaustic, the lines of Ma’s face and the surrounding text remain clean-cut yet the surface becomes a richly textured landscape replete with bumps, drips and tracks of wax which combine and lend the painting a three-dimensional quality. Through light refractions in the translucent matter of wax, a unique luminosity glows within the painting.
Born in Madrid in 1959, Cano spent his youth as a highly successful musician and composer of the Spanish pop-rock band “Mecano” before he made his transition into the world of visual arts and started painting professionally in 2002. Throughout Cano’s oeuvre, themes of capitalism, the market and wealth feature invariably. Besides making portraits of the richest and most powerful capitalists, his subject matter include letters and documents from his divorce proceedings, frames from comic books, advertisements for prostitutes, board games as well as images of his own paintings being sold at major auction houses. Art as commodity and the market in general have been subjects of critical interest for artists and critics since the 1960s. As the renowned British-American art critic Anthony Haden-Guest claimed, “The nuts and bolts of the art market have pre-occupied artists from Modernism’s earliest days. George Seurat, the pointillist, toyed with the idea of pricing each of his pieces according to the quantity of pigment he used and the time it took. Marcel Duchamp paid his dentist with a hand-drawn cheque. Picasso produced portraits of his largest collectors; Warhol produced portraits of other portraits, and even went so far as to painted his own money.” 2
Cano’s appropriation of images from mass media and fixation with commerce and celebrity draw particular parallels to the works and silk-screening practice of Andy Warhol. Like Warhol, Cano takes photomechanical images of his pictorial source and grafts them onto painting by enlarging those images on canvas through a projector. Warhol’s obsession with famous figures such as Marilyn Monroe and Mao Zedong, both icons of their time who have been immortalized in Warhol’s silkscreens, are matched by Cano’s fixation on wealthy and powerful figures such as Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch and Alan Greenspan. However, whereby Warhol and his followers have been fascinated with reproducibility, multiplication and the transformation of the original into reproductions, Cano is fascinated with the transformation of reproduction into the original, in particular through his use of encaustic—a highly labor-intensive and time-consuming medium of painting. Instead of reproducing paintings, Cano has reversed the Warholian relation between the original and the reproduction by choosing to paint reproductions and turning them into unique works of art.
The use of wax is also significant in that it is a medium which has historically been linked with social status and prominence. The use of wax in image-making dates back to the ancient Romans who occupied Egypt during the Coptic period in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Believing that death marks the transition into the holy spiritual world and that burials must thus be treated as a sacred rite, wealthy patrons from the Faiyum Basin, usually individuals from the affluent upper class, commissioned portraits of themselves to be painted upon their coffins. The higher quality examples of these ‘Fayum portraits’ are made of wax and often gilded in gold and depict the sitter wearing valuable ornaments and elaborate outfits. It is believed that such decorations would aid in sending the deceased to a better afterlife. These ancient wax portrait paintings belong to the tradition of panel painting, which was regarded as one of the highest forms of art in the Classical world. In employing the same medium and subject matter as this Roman ancient tradition, Cano’s contemporary versions once again draw attention to humanity’s age-old belief in the magical power of images and image-making. Magnified in scale and rendered in painstaking detail in wax, WS100-Jack Ma depicts Chinese businessman Jack Ma as a contemporary icon and evokes a sense of sanctity – Ma has essentially become an idol of a society that sees capital and economic growth as sacred values. In doing so, the artist not only pays tribute to a successful figure in our society, but also at the same time brings a fresh perspective to our society’s tendency to canonize individuals who have achieved immense financial success and draws attention to how we currently live in a world of super-Capitalism in which Media, Money and Power continue to fascinate and shape our lives in the early 21st century.
José-Maria Cano’s works have been exhibited at numerous international museums and galleries around the world, including two well-received shows at the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague in 2009 as well as the CAFA Art Museum in Beijing.
1 Jose-Maria Cano quoted in Anthony Haden-Guest, “Jose-Maria Cano: Materialismo-Materico, Malaga, CAC Malaga, 2007, p. 289
2 Quoted in Anthony-Haden Guest, “Why it Pays to Have an Eye on the Market,” Financial Times, January 14-15, 2006
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