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Silvia Lerin: Dialogues between the surface and the background of the painting

Text from catalog CRACKS IN MATTER edited by OAM Palau de la Música de Valencia. 2009. Legal deposit : V-4479-2009 / I.S.B.N 978-84-692-7434-7 (German translation available)

I perfectly remember my doctorate classes, in the early eighties, given to a large group of Fine Arts professors from the Faculty of San Carlos, thanks to an inter-university agreement. Among the attendees were many of the later professors, who today govern the departments and specialties of said faculty. The proposed topic, then, for my course focused on the analysis and revision of the work Aesthetica by the philosopher Nicolai Hartmann (1882-1950). An interesting posthumous text that addressed –the intersection of phenomenology with its particular neo-Kantianism of the Marburg School– the study of the relationships/analogies between the constitutive strata of the work of art and the moments in which the aesthetic experience of the contemplating subject unfolds.

Precisely when giving title to the present reflections on the recent plastic proposals of Silvia Lerín – “Dialogues between the surface and the background of painting” – memories of that highly instructive course, which opened a long period of collaboration (several decades) in Third Cycle studies between our universities and very specifically between the Faculty of Philosophy and the Faculty of Fine Arts.

More than once, those teachers have reminded me of the phenomenological approaches of Nicolai Hartmann, about the fundamental connections and dependencies between what he called the Vordergrund of the work, the foreground of its surface, with all its sensitive and material richness, and the Hintergrund, that is to say its background, with its cracks, strata and levels.

The truth is that it is not the first time that I have written about the artistic career of Silvia Lerín (Valencia, 1975) or analyzed her pictorial contributions. On the contrary, I have had the opportunity to frequently come across her works, in a good number of contests and personal and collective exhibitions. And, knowing her outstanding curriculum and her dense and commendable list of winners, no one will be surprised that, for my part, I have considered her as one of the indisputable emerging values ​​of the last ten years, in our Valencian artistic panorama and that she has followed, since the end of of the nineties and the entry into the new century, his pictorial trajectory, inside and outside Valencia.

In this sense, given the results obtained, I believe that my commitment to it – which, of course, I share with other colleagues and specialists, as I have been able to verify many times – can be considered, up to the present juncture, as highly successful. I hope that subsequent ratifications, even of greater intensity and scope, corroborate my intuition. I toast decidedly for it.

Well, those philosophical dialogues, under the expert hand of Nicolai Hartmann, between the levels of the Vordergrund and the Hintergrund, between the pictorial surface and the cracks in the background, have worked accurately, on this occasion, along the lines of memory, like the Proust’s Madeleine That is why I have been, consequently, practically forced to break down, again, such concepts, years later, in front of the series of works that Silvia Lerín now offers us precisely with that eloquent expository title: Cracks in the matter.

The truth is that I have not disliked the application of this possible methodology. I always believe that I have used, with a certain ability and efficiency, the theoretical and historical railings to move comfortably and in an informed manner through the plural and complex stairs of current artistic production. And I hope I can continue to do so.

I believe, however, that it is now time to take a retrospective look, albeit a schematic one, over the last ten years of Silvia Lerín’s pictorial activity. And I will start by saying that it represents, without a doubt, one of the most coherent and restless contributions of her generation. An extremely interesting and active generation –which finished its studies in Fine Arts at the Faculty of San Carlos, precisely towards the end of the 1990s– that any researcher and analyst who wishes to trace the solvent income and enrichment, in the 21st century, as well as its immediate contributions, by young Valencian artists.

It is, therefore, within this framework of personal and collective challenges where Silvia Lerín has established her pictorial contributions, through a very particular rereading of geometric abstraction, of a studied revitalization of constructivism that has felt capable of going beyond of the normative performance of pure forms.

The truth is that she has cleverly assimilated, in her assumptions, on the one hand, the recurring triumph of compositional syntax, which she systematically relates to each other, in the pictorial space, subtle games between geometric figures. Such relationships, which are emphasized, become fully conscious, to the extent that they often give her work its title. Thus, expressions such as “intersections between planes”, “superpositions”, “cracks”, “separations”, “fractures”, “assemblies”, “divisions”, “slides”, “juxtapositions”, “shelters”, “instabilities”, “movements” or “interferences” are eloquent enough in the description of the approach used in the corresponding compositions and their adventures with the presence of matter, with their accidents, mishaps and chances.

But this explicit geometry not only generates fields of forces, established between the elements studied (planes, lines, shapes and figures), but it is also openly enhanced through the careful use of color fields. Geometry and color, structures and masses are carefully articulated with each other, just as textures and loads of matter enter directly into the fray, as a third combinatorial and frankly decisive element. And that even in these experiences they assume a good part of the total manipulative priorities.

These are, together, the undisputed and persistent protagonists, always together with the fundamental category of “relationship”, which is what sets the rules. Relationships between colors, between planes, geometric figures or textures, relationships between washing procedures, transparencies, gestures or rubbing, relationships between compositional levels, projections, cracks, inclinations or graduated turns, relationships between geometric shapes, preferably orthogonal, floating, or on diagonal anchors. A whole vademecum of surfaces, figures and backgrounds or backgrounds that secretly open their cracks in the heart of matter.

Let us remember how it was precisely Denis Diderot who underlined, in the middle of the 18th century, from the pages of l’Encyclopédie, that the definition of all beauty, both in nature and in the arts (although in the exercise of artistic criticism, which both attracted and occupied him, he generally knew how to skillfully link it to the field of painting) totally depended on the category of relationship.

That is why we want to insist, for our part, that it is one thing to resort to the establishment of relationships between elements, in pictorial practice, and another –much more suggestive and special– to turn the said procedure into a central axis of reflection, into a definitive field of tests and experiences or an effective lever for creative diversification.

Approaching the subject from a compositional discipline perspective, as an old professor of mathematical logic, I would dare to affirm that Silvia Lerín’s pictorial system, that is, the keys of her syntactic language, are essentially made up of (a) primitive elements and (b) of basic transformation rules. And we have already briefly talked about one and the other.

From there, all subsequent deployment of it could be increasingly defined, introducing more complex theorems in its operations, trying to maintain both its consistency and its diversification. In this way, new derived elements, and new supervening rules, will give greater scope to the construction system, defined by our researcher, without altering its coherence, to the extent that the principles, elements, and relationships always maintain their respective weights and calculate in detail its added variations.

But let us turn our attention again, at least for a moment, to the phenomenological approaches pointed out by Nicolai Hartmann. For him, the foreground, that is to say, the surface of the work, the Vordergrund, precisely acquires its specific weight and its basic scope through the sensitive/material charge that constitutes it. It is there where the erotic is produced, the recurring visual pleasure of painting. But to render justice, in a balanced way, to all its richness, we must go beyond the bare sensitivity awakened by the apotheosis of perception and penetrate, decisively, into the field of relationships established and explicitly captured in the aesthetic experience. This is how the sensitive enters into a direct connection with the intellective sphere, a hinge where geometry moves and inhabits at ease.

Should we point out that the constructivist options, that is to say, that geometric abstraction, in general lines, move freely, in this foreground, between sensitivity and intellective play, being between perceptive emotionality and the calculated calm of the ratio, where do you earn your greatest achievements?

Undoubtedly, it is a serious temptation, often very widespread, that is hidden behind this reductive approach. Why not follow those phenomenological suggestions and try to make viable, in addition, the path towards the background, towards the Hintergrund of the aesthetic experience, continuing this brief analytical approach, which we have proposed?

It is not that when passing the level, in the total approach to the structure of the work, the achievements obtained are relegated to the foreground, or the available baggage is lightened. Rather, on the contrary, it is necessary to insist on the need to conserve the experiential levels charged with sensitivity and intellection, already lived, keeping them operative equally in the subsequent stages to be developed.

By penetrating the background of the work, by exploring its cracks, Hartmann reminds us of the determining role of meanings, imaginative associations, or the expression of feelings that the subject activates, enhances and discovers in that penetrating and attentive reading of the construction site. This is how sensitive materials and their relationships, already known, become signs and can even give way, in turn, to different symbolic loads and expressions, without ever leaving aside their sensitive (material) and formal values ​​( surface values).

However, it is now a question of also appearing on stage, of making the possible vital values ​​of the work emerge –without abandoning the known strata in the foreground–.

Values ​​are not simply hidden in such crevices of the Hintergrund. In fact, the entire work, in all its axiological performance, as a complex perceptual object, is already inscribed/sown in the foreground, although its roots penetrate, effectively nest, beyond those surface values, expanding its reading management and its hermeneutical possibilities.

Well then, do not the colors, the textures, the compositional axes, the material loads, the geometric forms, and their relationships on the pictorial plane carry parallel heartbeats of emotion, tension, studied expressiveness, moods, and forces? symbolic or allegorical games, metaphors, and metonyms, capable of providing, as a whole, new interpretative options to the surface values ​​themselves, mixed with vital contributions and traced meanings?

Such are, in brief, the assumptions proposed by Nicolai Hartmann. And the truth is that the exhibition of the latest works by Silvia Lerín has acted –as I have mentioned above– as a reminder of these strategies of an interpretive approach to his artistic proposals.

When the summary of this first decade of our Valencian artistic panorama of the 21st century is made, one of the chapters must trace the ways in which the modalities and rereadings of geometric abstraction have been resolved, qualifying transgressions, hybrid resources, personal rethinking, and research disparate

Not in vain, since the mid-20th century, in the Valencian context, there have been intermittent outcrops in this normative art, which was capable of converting the very surface of painting into its best field of patterned experiences and the pictorial space into the place par excellence where to test each conception and each essay of the plastic language, its syntax, and its semantics, always sheltered by geometry as a constructive norm.

Maintaining this autonomy of plastic values, operationally, playing with the rules that it dictates and imposes itself, but through intuition and spontaneity, making each stage –with its new searches, exceptions, and previous synthesis– one more essay, without ceasing to be coherent, Silvia Lerín invites us to visit her Cracks in the matter.

But without forgetting that precisely such Cracks are one more step in that phenomenological game of relations between elements. Architectures for the gaze, reflection, and feeling, are established, always on horseback, as we have tried to suggest and comment on, between foregrounds and backgrounds.

Of course, I continue betting in favor of her pictorial proposals. One more time.


Román de la Calle

President of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Carlos–, Valencia, September 2009

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