Julio Rondo

Galerie Tanja Grunert

In his first large solo exhibition, Julio Rondo, a Spaniard living in West Germany, exhibited nine new works, all from 1988. These six single-canvas paintings and three triptychs are, in a sense, “double” paintings. Their composition, influenced by the strategies of graphic design, is conceptual, yet reveals a kind of self-conceived innocence. With restraint and simplicity, these works ask about the value and validity of painting, while reflecting a comfort with the transitional moment in art from which such questions emerge.

Each work actually consists of two paintings: one in oil pastel on canvas, and the other in gold paint applied to a pane of glass held in place in front of the canvas by thick frames of dark wood. The canvas paintings are generally faux-naive graphic renderings of simple forms expressed as warm-colored planes sharply outlined in black—for example, buildings, plant motifs, or completely abstract signs. But the viewer reads these elements through the glass pane on the back of which the artist has painted a motif in gold, such as constellations of gold lines through which we can see a dark blue starry sky above a grayish-green watchtower, divided by a heavy black slashing line. In the triptych Place of Virginity Lost, the left-hand section features random arabesques of golden curlicues over a painting of blue buildings against a blue ground; in the middle, two rows of tiny gold circles, the phrase “Gare de l’Est” in gold letters, and a gold image of a satchel against three panels painted with a dark red monochrome ground; and on the right, clear glass over a painting of flowering plants in black outline against a green ground.

In some works, it is the canvas painting that dominates the viewer’s reading. In others, it is the gold, as in König der Tiere (King of beasts), where a very large gold hammer and sickle completely overshadows the image of a dog in black outline against a blue ground, and a huge gold crown does the same to a picture of a horse against a green-and-black ground. In Von Heimatduft gelockt (Lured by the fragrance of home), the two layers coincide: gold dots in the foreground over the black outline of a seated female nude against uneven blue, green, and yellow stripes.

Rondo’s paintings, like the esthetics of modern church design, are lucid, iconic, and schematic. Their motifs, however, recall European comic strips: not bizarre, grotesque, or rapid sequences of action, but individual humorous cartoons that can bear serious messages. Sometimes the artist draws on his personal experience to make private “jokes”—as in Mein Katechismus (My catechism), where the artist has made ironic use of the religious symbolism of bowls of fish and gold chalicelike forms.

These objects seem to have waited—waited to be painted. Rondo offers a similar leisure to the viewer. No “instant interpretations” are offered. Rather than clearly presenting binary oppositions, these works take a “let’s wait and see” attitude; although the glass panes of these paintings are sealed closed, we can see in them (and through them) an open-ended view.

Jutta Koether

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.