Created in 1999, Retrato en Azul y Blanco takes inspiration from some of the great artists of the past – from Cranach to Rubens, Velázquez to Bonnard. The defined, boldly outlined and mask-like features of the female protagonist are strongly evocative of the style of Valdés’ most important source of inspiration; Henri Matisse. Delicately transforming the artist’s masterful Fauvist portraits to suit his unique vision, Valdés has intensified several subtle aspects of Matisse’s style and grandly monumentalised its scale. The inspiration that Matisse found in Japanese prints is brought to the fore via thickly applied black lines that delineate the subject’s facial features, recalling the delicacy and boldness of an ink brush.
Valdés has explained his connection to these prominent art paragons, “When I touch on historical painters, I make comments based on the specificity of my language and not on that of literature or poetry. I am just a narrator who comments on the history of painting in various ways, using new materials: it is like a game that consists of changing the code and the key to the artwork… Many of my colours, materials and textures are the product of relived experiences of other masters. My painting involves much refection” (Manolo Valdés cited in: Exh. Cat., Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Manolo Valdés [1981-2006], 2006, pp. 20-21).
The vibrancy emanating from Retrato en Azul y Blanco is characteristic of Valdés’ highly personal creative oeuvre. His portraiture actively addresses issues ranging from representation and appropriation to heritage, style, and tradition. In the present work, the artist’s original and technical skill are immediately apparent; the diverse media, large-scale composition and direct concern with art historical subject matter. All confirming Valdés’ status as one of the great masters of contemporary Spanish art.
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