Menchu Lamas

Menchu Lamas

Galeria Dau al Set

Few people are aware of the cultural diversity of modern Spain; fewer still are aware of the implications of this diversity for contemporary Spanish art. Political and societal expatiation in Spain in the past decade has lessened fear of Northern European and, more generally, Western influences; the young especially feel free of the frequently devastating effects of acculturation. Not only have some avant-garde artists of the ’70s switched to new approaches more in accordance with the times, but a new generation of artists born in the ’50s has suddenly jumped to the forefront of the Spanish art scene. On the whole, these young artists pay a lot of attention to their particular cultural roots, yet they do so not in an attempt to achieve a regional style but to render their subjectivity concrete through isolated folkloric symbols. The north west coastal region of Galicia has yielded better results in terms of this process. Heterodox, primitive, and permissive, the region has clear-cut differences in regard to the rest of Spain. Here, Celtic mysticism, astrology, and esoteric religious practices are more than mere historical references; they are critical signs of a pluralistic culture in which the popular does not correspond to the denotative.

Menchu Lamas has been taken up by the art critics as a prime example of the contemporary Galician upsurge, and as such she has been selected to participate in group exhibitions of Spanish artists mounted both within her own country and without. (She was included in the “Five Spanish Artists” show at Artists Space in New York in 1985.) Most recently the Galeria Dau al Set exhibited a group of her large-scale paintings depicting symbolic motifs and static human figures. The colors she uses belong to the Fauve palette and are distributed evenly and without gradations. Color fields are super imposed but discrete, contours are well defined, and contrast is quite abrupt. The symbolic motifs lend Lamas’ paintings a synthetic quality, as if they were a bridge between sign and meanings, or a close encounter between spirit and matter. Snakes, fish, and other hermetic symbols drawn from an extant Galician gnosticism (relatively unimpaired by the predominance of Roman Catholicism in the rest of Spain) and the schematic description of the human figure recall medieval imagery. Diagonal composition, frequently doubled into an X shape, is prevalent; content is, in effect, structure, a successful resolution of the trade-off implicit in painting.

For her images to be effective Lamas uses a grand scale that precludes misrepresentation of their intent. Their execution looks quick and easy; however, this does not imply a commitment to “bad painting” but rather a desire to simplify and to make no more than one reading of each painting possible. Many artists of her generation mix abstract and formal aspects, the subject configured (or deconfigured) in such a way that there are numerous partial views and, consequently, interpretations; the neo-Romantic technique of isolating and enlarging the detail increases this ambiguity. In the case of Lamas, no partial reading is useful, since her motif is both structure and representation—a schema.

Lamas’ style does relate to recent art history, but it more directly derives from her own environment; the detection of formal similarities between her works and broad-based tendencies in contemporary art should not make us overlook the solid unicultural foundation of her work.

Gloria Moure