ABOUT ANTONIO FUENTES · TEXTS · JOAN GIL
ANTONIO FUENTES. THE REAFFIRMATION OF A PASSIONATE ATTITUDE
Joan Gil. Member of the International Art Critics Association
Rivers of ink have been used to write about the Moroccan city of Tangiers. A city that played a role of vital importance in the war periods as a city open to freedom loving people. It was declared a neutral international area under the sovereignty of the Sultan of Morocco, bringing together an amalgam of cultures that without a doubt enriched its range.
A refuge for artists, writers, politicians, film makers, man of letters and no end of celebrities more or less exotic-some of uncertain origin-they converted it into an area where intrigue, mystery, passion and creativity took place on a daily basis.
As Tangiers was an open city, there was always an atmosphere favourable to creativity, a place where one developed those ideas that were considered unthinkable in other places. It is in this environment where Antonio Fuentes (Tangiers 1905-1995) developed his most passionate youth. A place that offered him diverse opinions, confrontation of ideas and cultures, thought analysis and the creative environment to constantly practice a talent for drawing and painting.
However, soon his thirst for knowledge made the young artist cross borders in order to enrich his knowledge. Although at the start his travels were more frequent –Madrid, Paris, Rome, Venice, etc – this did not happen as he matured, instead he practically enclosed himself in his studio in the “Zoco Chico” in Tangiers to work untiringly day and night.
On his centenary, it is a good time to pay a deserved tribute to him as well as to review, in a human and critical way, his work developed during his artistic path. From a current perspective, his legacy shows the devotion, passion, conviction and the thirst for investigation that throughout his life he never abandoned.
A REFLECTION OF PERSONAL CONCERNS
One of the decisive tests for an artist is to successfully overcome the confrontation of different creative stages. It is evident that the course of a moment, isolated from all evolutionary contexts, always turns out a lot more coherent because it closes a cycle. Due to the above, a retrospective exhibition that brings together sixty years of development is always an exam that is used to evaluate the existing connections in the course of an itinerary. This is the case of the Antonio Fuentes’ exhibition that is now held and that allows us to share an extensive and productive pictorial journey, through a work of art that evolved from an academicist realism to a total abstraction, incorporating in his creative universe the plastic legacy of the XX century. To bring art closer to life, to connect creation with external circumstances has been, from the very beginning, Antonio Fuentes' fundamental concern. His work is an instant revelation, a reflection of the most personal concerns that he always felt with intensity, never crushed by swindles with money and always coherent with his convictions. An attitude that, right from the beginning, stayed true to his principles and that never gave in to the transformations of success nor to the falsities that the art market offered him.
To understand Antonio Fuentes' work means to go into a world full of fantasy, independence, hope, poetry and mystery. His birth place, Tangiers, established a link with a world lacking in freedom and where the only stronghold of pure air was the atmosphere breathed in the streets, coffee shops, squares, in the “Zoco Chico”. This environment affected Antonio Fuentes’ work in an incredible way, his pictures and drawings being the clearest testimony of a society that primarily longed for freedom.
That is why, from the observation of each of Fuentes' creative stages we can see the sincerity and the personal commitment that always took place in the spirit of the artist, communicating his ideas, emotions or social and human concerns. It is for this reason, with total freedom of expression and with a great command of the trade; he has used different resources to achieve the desired result.
Using the possibility that this route offers us, we see that his painting has a common denominator that connects each of his works, despite the changes due to the dynamisation constantly produced. Evidently, we observe different stages with specific characteristics that show us his disturbances, his eagerness to investigate and fight. However, a connection exists between each of his works thanks to a language based on spontaneity, sincerity, and on a forceful expression dictated by his impetuousness and most vital concerns.
Since he was young he decided to dedicate himself to plastic communication. There was nothing else that interested him as much. For this reason, he fought against all odds to demonstrate that the only thing he desired was to plastically express and to show his inner potential. Fuentes belonged to that class of painters who believed that painting is converted into an inexhaustible fountain of new ideas and, therefore, new painting. For him, the practical pictorial work converted into a vital necessity and a requirement. This is creation and therefore the most appropriate means to communicate with the world. It is also the vehicle to find oneself, to rummage in the core of human thought. Pictorial expression was really important for Antonio Fuentes as he could achieve personal fulfilment and discover through this language the meaning that life offers.
Initially his work is positioned between the realist cezannian masters of the post nineties generation, immersed in that return to order, with feminine figures -in which he reinforced affluent ways and constructive values- elaborated in the tradition of classic and academic realism. However at the end of his path -captivated by abstract tendencies- he walks towards a new orientation, leaving the figurative art to investigate new vocabulary.
These expressive changes and evolutions do not make up a unitary style, but it is necessary to understand them as permanent challenges in order to not be categorised in a specific style.
His social relationships, without using the word scarce, were selected with order and meticulously. Not at any time did Antonio Fuentes intend to leave his world, on the contrary his work showed that he was learning to reassert himself in an internal universe a lot of the time alone but of enormous variety.
With the aim of delimiting his pictorial stages, due to his inexhaustible searches, we propose to reconstruct each one of them to shape his specific characteristics. All are a true glimmer of the intense experiences lived by the artist in the different cities he resided in. In the exhibition that is now being held not all of them are represented, as subjects such as bullfighting, still life, the religious series or the nights have been left out to not redound to certain aspects. This way the elected collects a representative summary of his career.
NUDES. DESCOVERING HUMAN NATURE
At the beginning, Fuentes aimed at perpetuating the archetypes that reality offered him. In this sense, he always treated the human figure as the only object of inspiration, structures of generous and solid build, with a compact drawing and closely following an unmistakable devotion for concrete shapes. They are works that have a great plastic potential, a vigorous presence, a clear precision and volume rates nearly sculptural. The large attention he paid to the constructive way that translates the bodily consistency of the figures, brings him nearer to the German “New objectivity”, closer to Otto Dix, with a human figure, of a hard, powerful and sensual realism that at the same time conserves the heat, mildness and placidity typical of the Mediterranean, peaceful and archetypical.
The work of classicist tendency and mainly Italian influence, was not an exception between the big wave of artists -of different significance- that felt lured by that “return to order”, which includes Picasso himself.
In all his nude paintings exists an anatomical study of the figure that comes accompanied with scenes where the sea, boats, and Tangiers architecture harmonise the composition. Like a bright golden light, its figures are outlined with precision, reinforcing the human meaning of its presence. One can see in some drawings that accompany certain figures, hints of what would be his abstractions fifty years later. A premature revelation that in the artist’s unconscious will constantly palpitate until achieving fulfilment.
“BAILAORES” AND “FLAMENCOS”. PLAYFUL SCENES
Having stayed in Madrid from 1925 to 1929, where he enrolled in the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts, he settled in Paris between 1930 and 1935 where he carried out sketches using a paintbrush. During his stay in Paris he did caricatures for "La Semaine de Paris”. In this period he sketched a series of dancers called the “Bailaores”, flamenco from the Spanish ballet; studies of rapid fulfilment in which he captured, through silhouettes, the essence of movement and the expression of gestures. His work breathed the festive and picturesque atmosphere that is captured in the streets and coffee shops of the “grand cité”. This atmosphere enabled him to meet relevant Spanish artists that went to Paris: Manuel de Falla, Encarnación López, Vicente Escudero, Andrés Segovia, etc… as well as young artists that also lived in the city such as Souto and Pelayo with whom he shared ideas and projects.
His thirst for learning made him enrol at the “Grand Chaumière” where all the great names of contemporary painting go. It is here where he mixed with Vlamink and Kisling, with whom he would later share collective exhibitions. A tireless worker, he practised without resting his hands and his eyes. His drawing, confident, resistant and firm, captures the essence of a moment but never leaves anything to fate which could enrich it. Antonio Fuentes wanted his stay in Paris to be a true testimony and to quickly portrait the most incredible subjects. In 1930 he was accepted at “La Nationale des Beaux Arts” with an excellent nude painting. Here he made contact with young painters that, like him, also aspired to make themselves known in the art world. Later he exhibited in the “Salle d’Art Castelucho” where he met Pablo Picasso. From this encounter, funny and interesting anecdotes written in Fuentes’ letters are kept which make reference to conversations between both artists.
In 1934 Antonio Fuentes moved to Rome with the intention of widening his artistic knowledge. Ramón del Valle Inclán signed the entrance form to the Spanish Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. Although Paris had converted into the new artistic capital venue, Rome always kept its artistic city status of excellence. A clear interest for the classics could be seen in Fuentes mentioned for study and analysis. He always declared that the “The Slaughtering of an Ox” from Rembrandt was a work of reference for contemporary art, which makes you understand the admiration he had for Soutine and Kisling’s work with clear references to the Dutch painter and how well Emilio Sainz de Soto demonstrates this when he says: “they were Rembrandt’s grandchildren, and above all both had interests in expressionism very similar to that of the then young Antonio Fuentes with a very similar brushstroke”.
TANGIER. POPULAR SCENES AND PORTRAIT PSYCHOLOGY
This Spanish artist born in Tangiers is one of the people that continued this Spanish trend and who was influenced by the North African atmosphere, like other painters from the eighteen hundreds such as Mariá Fortuny and Josep Tapiró, not forgetting Tomás Moragas or Antoni Maria Fabrés, up to other artists from the XX century such as the Catalonian Alfred Figueras, the Majorcan Juli Ramis -with whom Fuentes kept a really personal relation with regards to esoteric and astral themes- or even Gaudí, who travelled to Tangiers to design the ambitious project for the missions of the people from Tangiers. Being in love with the atmosphere, the types and the traditions of Morocco, the scenes and portraits that Fuentes captured make up a rich account of the customs from the neighbouring country, without ever being influenced by an excess of exoticism that distort the reality. Fuentes regularly walked along the side streets in the old quarter of the city -where he lived, the “zoco chico”-. Life quietly passing by and contact with people supplied him with themes that he was looking for in his painting. Varied aspects of daily life that he knew to perfection and that he captured immediately, without glorification and without adding any anecdote or folklorism.
The contrasted chromatism and the dense brushstroke characterise this stage. They are works of immediate and rapid resolution, of first intention, with a first gestural touch of the paintbrush that makes insistence unnecessary to explain the image. This summary intention is the result of constant strength to eliminate the anecdote, unnecessary detail and superfluousness. A large mental elaboration that takes place in touches that are incisive and trembling, but definite, and it contains the emotion that the artist has experienced during the observation of his most immediate environment.
It is here where Antonio Fuentes shows all his expressive strength with an overwhelming sketch coming from the most furious modernity in Europe.
The Tangiers’ popular scenes such as streets, squares and markets as well as the inside of the Fuentes coffee shop all have a similar style. They are works carried out with passion, with expressive strength, avoiding detail and emphasising the overall composition. They are expressionist brushstrokes in the purest way. His chromatic range obtains bright and intense colours: ochre, yellows, ground colours, blues and whites form a wide plastic range. On the contrary, the portraits from this same period require a more naturalistic shade which intends to capture the psychology of the person and where the colours boast a more accentuated smoothness. The drawings of faces of people from Tangiers are made with huge naturalness, with very few signs, observing without a doubt the most essential features.
CATHEDRALS. A MYSTICAL CONCEPTION OF LIFE
One of the most evocative and special themes in Antonio Fuentes’ work are the Cathedrals. These send us a mystical conception which can clearly be seen in this series; also in others it is suggestive. His opinion about life against death made the artist confront in a devotional way a subject matter that eagerly exploited.
The architecture and the construction of the cathedrals dominated his attention during a period of approximately 5 years within his pictorial development (1965-1970). It is a singular and personal theme that took place in one of his greatest artistic stages. They are works of splendid maturity; works that have been thought out and perfectly structured keeping true the constructive lesson. The conception of the composition appears robust and finely polished with a light and spatial perception. In these works it seems that the coexistence between the Catholic and Arabic symbols constructs bodies at the same time convincing and magical that are more similar to visions and fantasies rather than realities. People in procession, hinted faces, that demonstrate a spiritual revelation, within an architecture by way of an ecclesiastical altarpiece, referential stars, rays of cosmic and celestial light that violate the area, form a habeas full of religious and human connotations. We found here a metaphysical and telluric atmosphere that in later series is found in a more accentuated way, transmitting an anguishing nostalgia in view of the conception of other imaginary worlds.
ABSTRACTIONS. ENERGIES OF ETERNAL AND IMPORTANT SUBJECTS
From the 70’s on, Antonio Fuentes adopted an introspective position towards life. His world closed around him and he abandoned that external universe which provided him with many things in order to go into his thoughts and create his own universe. A devastating but voluntary attitude that made him carry out works of extreme freedom in a field that he had never dealt with up until that time: abstraction.
After the stage dedicated to the cathedrals, he abandoned the previous strength and solidity to be influenced by ethereal, vaporous and diffused situations. He reached the painting period that was developed over the seventies in which the spatial atmosphere is the only main subject. It is evident that in these paintings he kept the predilection for the constructive sense and for his intimate relation with the area, although he was abandoning it more and more. However this structural order depended on the bright element with a voluntary chromatic limitation with regards to austerity and simplicity. A light that Antonio Fuentes followed as a reference, as a guide to destiny, sometimes uncertain, in search of a meaning of the world he lived in. A clarity identified with spirit and morality. Antonio Fuentes’ light is a creative force, cosmic energy, an irradiation. Psychologically, to receive enlightenment is to acquire our own conscience and, consequently, to obtain the spiritual strength; which never abandoned him and which made him explore worlds never known to him.
We are dealing with some pictures extremely sensitive and refined, full of mystery and that need a slow and introspective look. During these years, interior experiences are materialised in picturing. For this reason this work can not be seen from outside, but can be converted into atmospheres to live in, areas to immerse oneself in. It is here where he abandons the referential descriptions of reality to go into the impressions that this reality produces and when he starts to plastically translate emotions into lights, shades, transparencies, opaqueness... meaning, into climates of a timeless world. Dream landscapes, scenes with eternal and universal values, in which an enigmatic, vague and mysterious tone beats but with an emission of energies that project towards eternal and important subjects.
Progressively, he starts a lyric abstraction to develop a work based on objects that fluctuate, appear and disappear. They are uncertain and labyrinthine atmospheres in an unstable equilibrium. A painting of his memories, in which faces, shades, reflections, transparencies, presences without influence stay abandoned in the area, the same way that emotions are held in the conscience.
“FROTTAGES”. A UNIVERSAL COSMOLOGY
In this last stage, which was undertaken in the nineties, it looks like he wants to give up on everything: leaving superfluousness to pay attention to the gesture and the pressure exerted on the support in order to bring out relief and textures. Thanks to the hand movement and to the transition of the coloured tool, some signs and signals appear on the surface coming from the energetic rhythm, the intense vibration or the dynamic movements.
Antonio Fuentes wanted his work and his most sincere experience to be known, at the end of his career. Our artist leaves here all the accumulated burdens and tries to simplify to the maximum the material accumulation that humans possess. A spatial conscience that makes way to study other superior worlds far away from the surrounding reality. His mind travels in search of the light that reveals the meaning of absolute truth.
The hundreds of works of art that are now shown in this exhibition demonstrate, in a clear and overwhelming way, that Antonio Fuentes carried out a pictorial work along his development that included the most essential trends of XX century art.
One cannot study his work without keeping in mind the image of a person who was peculiar, bohemian, bizarre and eager for knowledge, concerned about a deep research in the human development. A person open to the world but also enclosed in himself.
It is a good opportunity to learn about a celebrity who had one of the greatest creative talents and who chose to have an unchangeable lifestyle and keep consistency, showing a very particular view of the world through his artwork.
Lots of comparisons could be made with great artists of the same period, but maybe it would be pointless to link them with an artist who intended to just be himself. Neither the market, money nor success made him change his integrity. On the contrary, he kept his ideas and only studied what captivated him more. Without a doubt he is a forgotten artist, but he also made this happen, maybe in search of something that to this day we do not know if he found or not. Enclosed in his “Zoco Chico” studio, this “Toulouse-Lautrec of Tangiers” as Pierre Gassier used to call him when he started his career knew how to express the atmosphere that captivated many of his predecessors such as Delacroix, Matisse, Fortuny, Tapiró and many more. His contacts with Paul Bowles, Kokotschka, Picasso, Vlkamink, Soutine and many others enriched him in a decisive way, taking from them the most interesting things to him.
An agile, elegant and expressive drawing, as well as a resistant and overwhelming painting, made from thick brushstrokes, with spirit, strength and confidence at the same time, defines an own plastic vocabulary that opened his borders and did not limit his work to an academicist narrowness.
The space concept also marked an interesting feature in all of Antonio Fuentes’ work, from the physical and real spaces found in his Tangiers scenes to the suggested and insinuated spaces found in his last abstractions.
The light could not be missing as it is an ingredient of this creator. Mediterranean lights that capture the splendour of the atmosphere, mystic lights from the cathedrals or the cosmic lights from his abstractions are a true testimony and connect to his work.
His formal compositions never abandoned the typical structures of his work. Both in drawing and painting, Antonio Fuentes materialised a natural order to achieve a well-balanced composition. Even in his abstracted work one can see his intention not to forget the things that over the years forged in his mind. The shape disappears not the structure.
Antonio Fuentes had a double background: the traditional popularism due to his feelings and the cosmopolitanism due to the experience taken from the modernity he lived in Paris and Rome. This has materialised into a singular vocabulary with a strong personality. His work transmits an encouraging message that has no contents missing.
Antonio Fuentes was a person with a strong, restless and analytical spirit who lived constantly looking for personal challenges that he successfully beat according to the objectives and demands he was always imposing on himself. It is for this reason we are pleased to pay a warm tribute to him to appreciate his personality and work.