Madrid / Seville

José María Sicilia

Galería Marga Paz, Madrid / Galería La Máquina Española, Seville

Viewers recently had the opportunity of seeing paintings from José María Sicilia’s new series “Flores” (Flowers, 1986), in two simultaneous exhibitions, one month after some of these works were shown in the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Since 1978 Sicilia has lived in Paris, where he has pursued a loosely figurative style. In 1983–84 he was painting scenes of Paris and Madrid (the Place de la Bastille, rooftops with TV antennas, marketplaces) and compositions incorporating images of ordinary domestic objects such as vacuum cleaners, eggbeaters, and irons. In the past two years, his work—some of which was done in Paris and the rest during two long stays in New York and a summer in Spain—has undergone considerable development from the preceding period.

Certain formal strategies in his most recent work began to appear in a series of four paintings called “Torre de Madrid” (Tower of Madrid, 1984), which are characterized by a schematic, terraced, almost perfectly symmetrical construction; two of the works are evenly divided into two vertical color zones. In this series Sicilia displayed a noticeable tendency toward a simplification of forms—structure is represented simply by a continuous line traced over the heavily painted ground—as well as a determination to achieve geometric order through clarity of line and the delimitation of the color fields in regular and well-defined areas. In other canvases of the same period Sicilia incorporated easily identifiable figurative elements in a complex pictorial weave, an approach quite different from that of the “Torre de Madrid” paintings, indicating that he was at that time interested in achieving a certain ambiguity in his overall vocabulary. He was also searching for a way to simplify his pictorial space and still work with figurative elements, although, as he has confessed, the latter interests him only for the subjective meanings they evoke for him and never as a vehicle for mere representation.

In the series “Tulipanes” (Tulips, 1985) Sicilia began using a format of multiple panels joined together and a somewhat abstract flower motif, in order to define space, organize his composition, and condense the color that had previously been employed in the ground. He has consolidated these strategies in the “Flores” paintings, continuing the multipanel format—in groups of two, four, or nine panels—and reducing the flower motif to its most essential abstract form. In each work, multicolored fields are placed next to monochrome ones, with some borders of the panels forming precise demarcation lines between fields and others merging these together where the borders adjoin areas of the same color, but in all cases creating a clearly visible grid (or line, in the two-panel works). Order and clarity of composition ultimately provide a foil for the turbulent brushwork, which moves toward pure abstraction while evoking perhaps a flower or a garden. These recent works avoid biographical references entirely, eliminating his previous practice of introducing images of a variety of objects at hand as emblems of identity. To have chosen a tulip or any kind of flower as a vehicle for line (the stem) and color (the blossom) is already to have established a certain distance. In the “Flores” paintings he goes even further, eliminating the flower stem that he had treated as a drawing element in the “Tulipanes” and using only color to express form. In the process, Sicilia unites the seemingly opposite traditions of the late works of Monet and the spatial differentiation cultivated by Barnett Newman.

Aurora García
Translated from the Spanish by Hanna Hannah