Zobel’s works were made from careful observations of nature. Jucar, as this piece is titled, takes its name after a river in Cuena. In it, a misty field of beige is interrupted with a mustard-brown movement toward the left of the painting, abruptly contained within two parallel lines toward the center left of the composition that fade into the beige field and bisected horizontally with a black line. This earthy color palette is disrupted by a shock of turquoise blue, flanked on its bottom and right with a flaring, tense, unmistakably Zobel line, ever so slightly ticked upwards.
Zobel took much inspiration from the American artist Mark Rothko, whose explorations of color revolutionized the nature of painting and the genre of landscape. Rather than depicting a physical reality, both Zobel and Rothko attempt to grasp at a more plastic form of art, to inspire in us an emotional depth and restore the intensity of human emotion. As such, the jolt of blue serves to disconcert the viewer, almost as if a meniscus of water rendered in a flat cerulean blue was contained within the unstable line flare. This is a bitingly sarcastic sentiment: the fluidity of blue water is frozen into a solid, while earthy browns usually connoting solids are clouded in tone and shade. Perhaps this is a comment on our confounding tendency to reach for fixed certainty in the haziness and ambiguity of what surrounds us.
The black horizontal line, inconsistent yet stable, acts as a horizon that separates the brown form into two opposing forces. Zobel, well read in the Humanities from his education at Harvard, saw painting and art as an intellectual pursuit – one could read this painting in light of the Sefer Ha-Zohar theory which states, “[all] in the world is split into two parts, one of which is visible and the other, invisible. The visible is merely the reflection of the invisible.”2 This dialogue between what is seen and what is hidden forms a subtle yet powerful clash, which becomes the ordering principle for the rest of the painting: it is full of other reflections, such as the faint lateral reflection appearing on the right of the beige field.
The hazy background of this painting is at also often interrupted with lines of color that disturb the one-dimensionality of color. These moments are almost ephemeral in nature: a deeply ironic sentiment considering Zobel had to apply paint in multiple layers, waiting hours in between each layer in order to ensure his paint did not unintentionally mix into a muddy sheen and that his lines remained precise. This work, as with the rest of Zobel’s oeuvre, is a statement to the cerebral labor that goes into understanding even a singular moment, once we begin to fully consider its emergence and implications.
1 Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Zobel, Ediciones Rayuela, Madrid, 2003, pg. 266.
2 Marcos - Ricardo Mamatán, Zobel: A Vindication of Dialogue, Eugenio Lopez Foundation, Inc., Manila, 1990, pg. 271.
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