FERNANDO GÁLVEZ DE AGUINAGA
PEÑALTA and his inhabited stoneland
The relationship between man and stone is so intense, that the first phase of humanity which started approximately 2.8 million years ago and lasted until the appearance of metal, is called the Stone Age. Many scientists theorize that the fabrication of stone tools was what led us to evolve towards our human condition, and this construction of stony tools seems to have even gifted us with the spark to discover the first ways to make and control fire.
In this “infancy” of the human species we also had the impulse to paint on walls and when we decided to symbolize the animals we hunted for our sustenance in different caverns, we made the most of the capricious rock protuberances to add realism and relief to the physical characteristics of bison and deer. Thus, this essay that talks about PEÑALTA’S work may go in the opposite direction to the extremely beautiful volume Roger Cail- lois titled Stones and that in its beginning issues the following warning: “I speak of the Stones that have always laid low or that have slept in their deposits and in the night of their seams. They are of no interest to archeology, nor to the artist or the diamond cutter. Nobody has used them to build palaces, statues, jewelry; not even dikes, fortifications or graves. They are not useful or famous”. Curiously, although I will be talking about the stones highlighted by PEÑALTA’S art, what the artist himself wishes is to emphasize the intrinsic beauty of the stone and, so, PEÑALTA’S art does not seek to devastate or to radically transfigure the stone he chooses, but rather to underline, inside the cuts and veining, the hidden characters and beings hidden in its natural drawing; it is, thus, a homage to the stone akin to that of Callois, but developed over the stone itself like the latter did through writing.
In brief, I and Callois speak of opposite things. I speak of the rela- tionship of stones with human culture, for although the works of art that I speak of seek a dialogue with the stone and its veining that is as respectful as possible, in the end they are already the works of hu- man culture. However, I believe the work of Callois in itself points out to the seed of these cultural links and developments, mentioning legends, myths and histories woven around certain stones in different regions of the world. For example, he narrates: “To the West of the K`i prefecture, seventy lis from the Long district, there is a grotto called the cavern of the dragon or of the fish. There you can find a stone that is sometimes large, at other times, small. If someone breaks it and examines its inside, he will perceive the figures of dragons and of fish”. This mythical tale seems to point out to the origins of PEÑALTA’S creation, the way in which his brush highlights what is already encapsulated inside the matter, establishing a collaboration between the mineral shape and the artist’s imagination.
Psychology studies the way in which the mind is capable of per- forming formal associations from a shape that is already established in an object from reality, with some minds more predisposed and other totally incapable of enacting this phenomenon called pareidolia. In a series of notes where he gives advice to beginning artists, Leonardo Da Vinci, the great Renaissance man, issues an invitation to an exercise in
pareidolia: “How to Increase and Stimulate Inventiveness through Sev- eral Inventions: I cannot omit from amongst these precepts a new and speculative invention, that may seem paltry and almost ridiculous, but it is very useful to stimulate ingenuity for several inventions. It is what follows: if you observe some walls, dirty with stains or built with uneven stones, and you allow yourself to make up scenes, you may there see the image of different landscapes embellished by mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, grasslands, great valleys and all kinds of hills. You may even see battles and agitated figures or strange looking faces, and garments and an infinity of things you could translate into its entire and accurate shape. These multifarious walls do the same as the sound of bells, in whose tolling you may discover any name or word you can imagine”. PEÑALTA seems to pick-up Leonardo’s invitation, taking it to the extreme by irrupting into the art scene with his marbles and onyx stones, seeking the guiding principle for his works in the natural lines and stains of these silica stones, where using acids such as muriatic acid, he tones down the shine of certain areas that configure the discovered image, bringing out to the surface the beasts, characters and scenes that lie beneath the image offered by the mineral veining and that are then underscored by oils. Thus, there is a playful posture in the way he configures the pieces of this group of works that comes close to surrealism, as well as other times and artists who used formal associations as a working tool.
One example would be the surrealist game of fumage, invented by Wolfgang Paalen, which consisted in generating smoke stains on the canvas or paper and parting from these smoky abstractions towards a landscape or a composition, more abstract or more recognizable, but always with the random parting point of the smoke stains. Victor Hugo, the great French author, was one of the predecessors of many of the sur- realist ink experiments by, for example, placing a certain amount of ink at the middle of a piece of paper and then bending it in two, generating a symmetrical blot that would be the basis of an image, or placing blot- ting paper over it and starting from there. Victor Hugo developed many wonderful images with these types of pareidolia games, from scenes of ships at sea, through castles to truly dream-like images such as mush- rooms or huge letters in the middle of a landscape.
PEÑALTA belongs to this lineage of creators who develop their work based on formal associations, we could say that in a way he is also related on that side to the mannerist Arcimboldo and, thus, with certain stages of Dali, but his dialogue with the stone is unique and is a contribution of his gaze and imagination to the history of art. It is a way of approaching cre- ation that I find is closely linked to the way in which the imagination of a child works; firstly, almost all children are rock collectors, but also, there is the need and the capability to discover in the shapes that surround them other shapes that may take them to the scenes of their fantasy. I believe that this is why children are so fond of shadow play in the walls, in which we project with our hands upon a wall the silhouettes of animals or char- acters.
So, when PEÑALTA goes to the marble mason, he is not seeking the headstone for any grave, nor a floor or wall for his home, but rather he seeks the most interesting drawings of nature, from which to bring his artistic compositions out to the light. We must stress that the strength of the faces and animals developed amongst the veining is what turns these compositions into a relevant artistic work, which added to all of the natural atmosphere, become pieces of great mastery with an un classi- fiable peculiarity: it would seem that the style can be from many eras, it would also seem that even though it has a clear expressionist impulse, it touches surrealism at moments, these faces can come close to those of the Goya of the Black Paintings and Los Caprichos, as well as to Bosco, the German expressionists, Jose Clemente Orozco, in short, his characters often acquire features that border on the grotesque and the ridiculous, monstrous, or delirious.
In his work “Niña Migrante”, the infant’s enormous eyes, the somewhat crooked mouth pressed because of the stress, the green, clear veining that demarcates and oppresses the central figure of the face, the texture of the rock itself that circulates throughout the skin of the child’s face making it appear prematurely aged, absolutely every- thing that is in the stone adds to the drawing itself and to the paint, and collaborates in generating a sense of oppression, of pain, jointly helping to offer a timbre of anguish the artist wished to assign to the character’s expression.
In a diametrically different piece, everything is charged towards eroti- cism, the beauty of the girl’s face is absolute, the polished stone suggests skin and the marbling weft of lines with rosy pastel toned chromatic ac- cents gives birth to metaphors about what can be felt in the instant when the man’s hand holds one of her breasts; however, with the appearance of a character up high and certain melancholy in the woman, this sen- suality holds the doubt reflected in the title: “Decidiendo”. Thus with only the title a full story emerges and we can develop our own fantasy, imagine that she’s remembering her encounters with two men and that she’s attempting to decide where her life and feelings will go.
In this creative wager, what comes off as wonderful is that all these marmoreal atmospheres leave the way open to your own configuration of further shapes and, thus, to each person’s creation of another series of tales based on the central image proposed by PEÑALTA. This is why I believe the central piece of not only this exhibition but all of this pro- posal that continues developing day by day at the artist’s studio, is un- doubtedly the painted slab titled “Miradas”: a piece in which the artist finds himself as if the geological processes had become a mirror, adding a self-portrait in the lower left corner, making all the ghost-like creatures that emerge over his head and spread over all of the stony sur- face, appear as a stylistic catalogue of his imaginings. It becomes, then, almost a manifesto, a cover letter, like the polished pebbles Victor Hugo would stamp with his signature and a brief drawing, delivered as a kind of business card. This is PEÑALTA and his inhabited stoneland.