New York

Victor Mira

Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs

Of the many quasi-religious characters and symbols that populate Spanish artist Victor Mira’s drawings and paintings, the stylite plays the leading role. Mira’s stylite is a soulful little figure with a passive, skull like physiognomy who perches on his pole or cross, gazing heavenward. Based on the legend of Saint Simeon, who spent 30 years contemplating God on top of a pole, the stylite is a symbol of transcendence through contemplation. This show was obsessively repetitive even for Mira, who is known for addressing similarly spiritual subjects—Saint Sebastian, Christ, tortured philosophers, the holy mountain Montserrat, and various memento mori—in endless series, and various media. Mira’s previous shows have not only been more thematically diverse but they have been characterized by a more vigorous, painterly style, rich built-up surfaces, and more violent situations, in which his pantheon of saints and philosophers frequently suffered wounding or imprisonment. The work in this show is calmer in both style and subject matter, and the repetition here makes for a trancelike viewing experience.

The stylite, or estilita, usually appears in Mira’s work alone against a plain back, ground, sometimes contemplating a small blue patch, as in the drawing Estilita and a Piece of Sky and the painting Estilita y Cielo Razonado, both 1987. At other times, however, this figure appears symmetrically paired on triptychs that recall altarpieces, as in Estilitas, Man Intoxicated with God, 1987, or in groups, as in Estilitas, the Silence of the Lips, 1989. The only real variety in this show is to be found in Mira’s materials. Only a few of these 13 works are in oil, and of these, only the triptych Estilita, 1989, is a large-scale oil on canvas. The majority are small-scale drawings in pencil and pastel, or paintings in gouache, done on grounds such as cloth, cardboard, burlap, wood, sand, and paper, and it is hard to miss the ascetic nature of these choices. Both White Triptych and Triptych Estilita (both 1989) are made of painted squares of cardboard tied together with thongs, and in Estilita, 1989, a sparse image is painted onto a piece of burlap attached to rough planks of wood. The repetition of the same image onto such humble materials suggests that the artist has undertaken a self-consciously contemplative and perhaps purgative exercise parallel to that of his alter-ego, the stylite.

Mira’s choice of religious subject matter is clearly more than post-Modern eclecticism—it offers the artist a source of images to articulate the suffering, with which he outspokenly identifies. “For me, the painter is like a saint, both share the same problem, namely perfection.” Such a romantic stance has no doubt provided grounds enough for his dismissal by many, yet whether or not Mira takes himself too seriously is ultimately irrelevant. What is more to the point is the power of his idiosyncratic combination of a specifically Spanish tradition of religious art with a contemporary neo-Expressionist sensibility. Mira shares the intense spirituality of Spanish painters such as El Greco and Zurbaran as much as he shares the painterly brushstroke, primitive figuration, and largely autobiographical frame of reference of German neo-Expressionism and the Italian trans-avantgarde. What makes his appropriation of art history so unnerving is the unusual level of sincerity that is involved. Mira has created his own pictorial language in which the present show can be considered a long, monosyllabic chant.

Jenifer P. Borum