Anarchic impetus

Konrad Tobler. 2013

A pair of trousers against a dark background. A hand grenade that reminds one of an embryo. A swan, two swans. A glass of milk. A long knife. Underwear. 

These are some of the motifs that Adela Picón employs in her latest painting. It may seem shocking that the artist, who for years has been presenting videos and video installations, which most of the time triggered – never boldly – political reflections, has surprisingly returned to painting (without at any time abandoning her video research). It is indeed a return because she started out as the painter she still is. She was trained in painting at a time when Spanish art was heavily influenced by the artist Antoni Tapies’ pictorial imagery, in which earth tones and symbols play an important role; these characteristics stereotyped this painting as typical Mediterranean. Neither was Adela Picón’s teacher Joan Hernandez Pijoan (1931 – 2005) the abstract painter he was so often called. His work grew out of realism, of the bleak landscapes, which he then simplified and structured in a process fusing the figure with the ground. All this can be seen in Adela Picón’s early work. Then, when she arrived in Switzerland, she moved away from the almost gestural style toward a strict, hard-edge geometric painting which she finally abandoned in favour of video. Then painting was no more the medium through which she could convey her reflections. But, as it now seems, painting just withdrew, perhaps as a repressed wish, as a latent potential.

The return to painting. And here we have what is almost an inventory: hand grenade, a pair of trousers, a swan, a glass of milk, a gun, a knife or that mountain landscape with a greyish moon spread over four pictorial spaces. The objects seem to have, without prejudging them, a certain mundaneness which is echoed in the painting. This ordinary, everyday quality which they possess is a traditional element of still life, and something which many contemporary painters are interested in (for example of Silvia Bächli). Adela Picón’s objects only become evident at a second glance; as simple as they are, they tell us something. They remind one of something which is not easy to grasp. Evidently: a gun is a gun, it is war, it is death. The same can be said for the hand grenade. And the knife? And the greyish glass of milk?

Adela Picón speaks about pictures of memories. The glass of milk: given to school children every afternoon during Franco’s dictatorship (in the morning: the national anthem and the saluting of the flag). A glass of milk for the people’s welfare, but for the artist this remains a depressing memory. This is what these motifs refer to (although not all are explained). They are themes from both the present and the past, things which attracted Adela Picón’s attention or were revealed to her. The importance of the Civil War – the artist grew up after the war in a Catalonia which had been strongly fought over – and the fact that these deep wounds were not healed, is reflected in such images as the gun or the hand grenade.

The themes in these paintings should arouse associations. The objects find their place and spontaneously, their way into the painting – without always necessarily having to be explained. They are there, silent, and above all, enquiring.

Pictorial concepts. The supposedly mundane element in painting is, hardly surprisingly, more complex than at first sight – and so is neutralized: preserved and later developed. The artist does not hide the fact that the painting is done quickly. Paint is not applied layer by layer as in oil painting. In acrylic painting however, each brush stroke is a composition which contributes to build up the surface of the picture. The objects, most of them light in colour with hardly any shadows, and the ground, clearly delineated, form two separate entities that come together through the painting. This concept, deliberately chosen, requires a fast but highly concentrated way of working, in which usually a single relatively broad brushstroke is applied. The choice of colours that the artist has imposed on herself is also conceptual. Using just four colours she creates a complete chromatic range. Blue is forbidden. Only black and white, red and yellow are used. Out of these evolve a variety of colours and shades that lean towards dark earth tones and, at the same time, avoiding stridence (and gesture).

And so the process becomes ever more complex. Not even the composition is arrived at casually. It is based on a photograph that Adela Picón has taken of those objects that caught her attention. The photos are projected onto the canvas, and in this way, the objects find their place and size within the picture space. Only then does the process of painting start, during which the artist sets herself free from colour and also, to a certain extent, from formal guidelines or depicted reality (the photograph is only the starting point for the painting). Here is the defining moment: with the choice of palette – why each particular colour? – they define, in some way, what we can call the “atmosphere of the picture” (for example the grey glass of milk).

¡Viva la libertad! What Adela Picón tries to achieve in this new phase of work – she emphasizes, without turning her back on video – is nothing other than the longing for freedom. This is what the Spanish term “anhelo” refers to. The longing to both liberate, and liberate oneself from memories (in both senses of the word). Longing is also the desire to recapture the experience.

It is the longing for the painting lying forgotten in the corner. It is the longing for longing itself: for new simple and even commonplace images, the longing for risk. It cannot be denied that behind such longing there is a need to peel away well-established stereotypes or sterile categorizations.

All this is what Adela Picón’s new painting reveals. And it has, in the best sense of the word, something anarchistic (similar to the anarchism that had its short summer in Catalonia, where the artist grew up).