José MarÍa Sicilia

Galería Soledad Lorenzo

From his first exhibitions, in the midst of the neo-Expressionist wave at the beginning of the ’80s, José María Sicilia’s work has been characterized by a pronounced touch of sensuality. Nature, too, has played an important role in his work; in his first solo exhibition in Spain, at the legendary Galería Fernando Vijande in 1983–84, he included a great many landscapes, some of them alpine scenes. If one attempts an overview of his work, it is clear that sensuality and beauty, and their relationship to nature, are among the issues that have interested him most deeply.

In 1993, Sicilia produced “Sanlúcar de Barrameda,” a series of richly textured white paintings in which recognizable figures (a bird, a branch, a vase) are submerged under a highly built-up surface. It was as if to say that in the end all form refers to the material, and its beauty is found within it in an essentialized manner. Perhaps because of this, the imagery of his well-known flower paintings from the mid-’80s makes more sense now than it did at the time. Sicilia has been employing wax as a material for about eight years, but only since his 1997 semi-retrospective exhibition at the Palacio de Velázquez, Madrid, has he refined his motif so as to divest it of its nonessential, ornamental elements. It sounds paradoxical to observe this of a body of work that seems so decorative and whose values reside above all in the surface, but as Hofmannsthal would have said, in this case the superficial form is the essence. Through this relationship with wax, Sicilia has charted a terrain in which he can accentuate the relationship between beauty and material, addressing such themes as the passage of time, decadence, and the sensual attraction that destruction and death can arouse—complex subjects that he evokes through the apparent simplicity of his paintings.

Sicilia’s most recent series is entitled “De los espejos” (Of mirrors), 1999, a name that underlines the attempt to convert his works into something more than attractive objects. The paintings are made of oil and wax on wooden surfaces, but with organic elements such as flowers, as well as insectlike shapes, trapped in the surface—a technique Sicilia has used before. The exhibition also included a series of works on paper whose forms are realized from the liquid secreted by withered flowers, which shows an obvious connection between sensuality and decay. All of this gives some idea as to the relationship that the artist tries to establish with nature—that which is beautiful but fatefully transitory.

The theme of decay or decadence is apparently as relevant to art of this fin de siècle as it was to the last—an epoch with which the cultural present has had so many points of contact. But while many artists now deliver themselves to aestheticism through a rhetoric of technology, Sicilia expresses his in a manner that is much more self-conscious and straightforward.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Michèle Faguet.