Born in 1924 in Manila, Zobel first began painting during his studies in Harvard, lacking any previous formal artistic training and driven by his creative enthusiasm alone. Crucially, he was profoundly inspired by the Abstract Expressionism of Mark Rothko, both artists sharing a fascination with expansive color fields. Beyond this, Zobel had found a lasting spiritual guide in the principles and aesthetics of abstractionism, which now enabled him to convey a deeper, more profound significance that representative paintings simply could not. The artist therefore came to reject prescriptive formulas and compositions of reality, in favor of the communicative power of color and stroke.
This work is dominated by a backdrop of muted, dark green, almost blending into brown at the very corners of the canvas. However, these gradations of shade across the painting recreate the subtleties of light and shadow casting upon the scene, giving it the illusion of depth. The organic interplay of hues ends up infusing a tangible movement or dynamism into this otherwise static, two-dimensional plane.
The focal center of the work is occupied by expressive black streaks, birds in flight stripped down to their most fundamental forms. The texture of Zobel’s brushstrokes carries a sense of fluidity and motion, sweeping over each other and tapering out into the background, as agile as the birds they represent. All this is evocative of calligraphy, with its bolder down strokes and blended lines – Zobel’s fascination with Chinese and Japanese calligraphic traditions led him to take up classes in Manila, the aesthetics of which bled through into the very substance of his work. Even in such a restrained, almost overcast atmosphere, the birds appear transcendent and suspended in space, illuminated by the single ray of light in the center of the canvas – heightening the sense of drama and buoyancy the work carries.
Pequeno Vuelo captures the simplest essence of flight, without intermediation or outward appearances. As the artist himself wrote, ‘Movement [as] observed and felt, never imitated, yet…clearly expressed.’ This piece is a showcase of the best of Zobel’s ideals and techniques in art. Rather than being cold, his minimalism bore the imprint of the human hand, while even the most spontaneous brushstrokes in this work are made with a fully controlled, inevitable effect. In the end, Pequeno Vuelo is a harmonious orchestration of line and shade, an abstract depiction of movement that is fully grounded in nature and reality.
‘Every superfluous line or colour creates a barrier between the artwork and the viewer. I would like to achieve a richly layered expressiveness without any obstacles – obstacles for the viewer, that is.’ – Zobel, 1975.
 Rodrigo Paras-Perez, Fernando Zobel, Eugenio Lopez Foundation, 1990, p.37.
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