Almost all the paintings that stir our feelings tend to raise, explicitly or implictly, the important question of the origins of painting. I do not mean to go so back in time as the paleolithic art or the medieval frescoes. What I mean is that moment which is nearer to us and where a fragment of the world is represented on a flat, clearly framed surface. As our cultural environment understands it, painting was invented in the Renaissance period, starting from a few basic assumptions: I am the ideal spectator who is standing face to face with a theme which represents or evokes something which is clearly different from myself. My own eyes adopt the painter’s point of view as something of my own. In this way the distance between myself and the theme can be measured corporeally, and there is the possibility to establish a gradation: near at hand, close to myself but not much, far or very far from myself. This is the field of vision. The painting of the Modern Ages (what is called the Renaissance vision) started when the spectator’s look concentrated on the long shots, with a clear preference for the waist height: it was supposed that the horizon placed at the same level as the eyes of a standing man would divide the painting horizontally into two halves.
I am well aware that these apparent ideals were often rebuked and that the artists who painted during the long period between the fifteenth century and the avant-gardes did not always follow the standard rules of that vision (in fact, they hardly ever did so). At the beginning, the landscape paintings did actually diverge from the rules. The landscape paintings seem to have emerged in opposition to that conception of a perspective of reality which was so typical of the architectural interiors and city views. This is obvious in the works of Joaquin Patinir or in the works of the numerous Flemish or German painters who specialized in the bird’s-eye views of wide fragments of nature, with a great number of such elements as houses, cities, woods, mountains and lakes. In these cases, the spectator has been skillfully raised to the heights. Where is he looking from? What is he doing on the top of an imaginary mountain? Has he been invested with a rare angel-like condition and lives weightless in heaven from where he has command over the universe in all its enormous immensity?
I cannot help thinking about all this whenever I look at the series of paintings by Miguel García Cano called «El Silencio» (Silence) They are certainly «landscapes», but they are only so if we go back in time to the historical origines of the genre. The trivial, sentimental aspects which later polluted this type of painting are absent here. There is no facile picturesqueness. García Cano pays no tribute to the honeyed indulgence, but neither do we find the skilfull surrealist lunar deserts that have been so common in the western painting from Yves Tanguy onwards. Let us take a close look at any one of the paintings in this series. It will be square (there are only a few exceptions, guided by the golden ratio) as if that format would help to further reinforce the idea of the fundamental painting. It is not a chance choice, as in the western tradition the shape of the paintings is normally rectangular: vertical for the figures and mostly horizontal for the landscapes. Therefore, the choice of a square format has many implications, any of which is «naïve» or the result of chance. In the first place, it reminds us of the stills of an analogical camera with 4×4 negatives, which until very recently were so popular among the professional artistic photographers. But the characteristic feature of that type of photographic format was to play with the framing in such a way that it was the shot what decided our position in relation to the theme. To which type, then, do these «bird’s-eye views» by García Cano belong to? Where are we ? (Where has this ideal camera been situated?). Sometimes we can imagine that we are in a high balcony from where there is a whole view of the landscape (as is the case of Mirador de umbrías I), but in most cases we find pieces of a wide geographical territory that we can only perceive if we imagine the spectator hanging from some kind of kite. The bushes and their shadows are relatively near at hand and the same is true of the rolling land. There are clearings and hillocks, shady valleys and slight superpositions of geographical features. In other words, there are material objects, casting their shadows, and they offer us a clear perception of distance. This might be the clue to understand the shiver that we feel, the strong feeling that a miracle is taking place: we find ourselves floating at some distance from the world, but not from a ground-level point of view, but rather from a high one, and looking downwards. Are we actually falling from an immesurable height? Is this «silence» a horrifying prelude to our fateful return to the earth? Anyway, I cannot help feeling that Miguel García Cano has turned us into an Icarus at a moment when our fall is starting to be evident. The incredible hibris of the flight is giving place to the bitter experience of failure. I see these paintings as the representation of a terrifying moment: from up there the world is a lonely place, with no houses, no fields, no animals and no people. It is the right place to face the essential features of our existence. These features contain a powerful anesthetic. They are the prelude to nothingness.
This is the reason why those features are so closely connected with their format. A square can be turned round with no problem. Unlike other parallelepipeds, it has not clearly a top and a bottom, or a right side and a left side. The paintings with a square format suggest that vertical, implicitly revolving fall better than any other formats. But we cannot help drawing attention to García Cano’s concern for the golden ratio and for the modularity. The themes are different all the time, but the series suggests the idea of equivalence. This means that each painting can be compared to all the others in terms of such basic concepts as the themes, the technique or the emotional intensity that they arouse. It is a repetitive module that takes us to the universe of minimalism, which is also «anesthetized». Therefore, I believe that this artist evades like few others can do the distinction between radical abstraction and figurative painting, or between the absence of feeling and radical feelings. His distance from the theme and the feeling of its rapid reduction (a strange zoom effect) have, therefore, a deep raison d’être.
We go back to the origins, to the very essence of the art of painting: the edge of the canvas, the contents, the format, the size, the surface of the canvas and what is represented on it. In short, all this speaks of the spectator’s body, of you and me, of our precarious presence in the world and of the incredible instantaneous quality of existence. The paintings (these paintings) make us like gods, even though it is only for a moment, while we descend shuddering and in silence to the cozy dwelling of the earth.
J. A. R.
Translation: Carles Mora