Compas en Siesta is an abstract painting of unparalleled poetic beauty, rendered in chromatic hues from pale cream to burnt ochre. Strikingly minimalistic, the calligraphic spill of dark brown in the lower register of the painting introduces a feeling of rippled movement into the work; its interrupted end before reaching the opposite edge suggests an ephemeral moment captured on the canvas. At the same time, the painting conveys a meditative quality, its sombre tones more a murmur of beauty than an exuberant cry aloud. Zobel utilises light and dark modulation as a mode of spatial activation— he divides the pictorial plane into several areas marked in gradations of colour in a manner reminiscent of Rothko. Order is concealed artfully beneath the apparent spontaneity of Zobel’s brushstrokes in the form of a subtle grid, lending the work a visually pleasing sense of composition.
Zobel’s polished painterly style is a reflection of his cerebral approach to art. He was an aesthete in all sense of the word; while studying literature and history at Harvard, he made the acquaintance of several artists such as Reed Champion, James Pfeufer and Hyman Bloom, key figures of the Boston Expressionist School. Most significantly, an encounter with Rothko’s paintings at an exhibition in 1955 formed the basis of an artistic revelation for Zobel in terms of colour usage and abstraction, leading him to a ‘deeper, more profound painting.’ He also explored Chinese calligraphy, which undoubtedly informed his understanding of gestural expressionism. Zobel’s seemingly effortless navigation between different styles of art – or as he preferred to call it, dialogues or conversations with other art maestros—lends his works a sense of fluidity that is nonetheless deeply personal and lyrical.
However, despite Zobel’s modernist artistic sensibilities, a strong classicistic vein runs through his work. For all the notions of jazzy improvisation that accompanies popular conceptions of Abstract Expressionism, Zobel was a meticulous planner who made many preliminary sketches before even painting a single stroke. Compas en Siesta exemplifies Zobel’s preference for reserved, carefully planned surfaces in his paintings, with its ‘geometric undertones and rather sensuous but refined passages.’ In that vein, this elegant work is a statement to the ideated, contemplative sensations Zobel’s art evokes.
Soriano, Peter. Zóbel. Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 2003, p.261
Paras-Perez, Rod. Fernando Zobel. Manila: Eugenio Lopez Foundation Inc., 1990, p.68
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