Madrid

Guillermo Pérez Villalta

Galería Soledad Lorenzo

Though he has faithfully practiced painting for thirty-five years, Guillermo Pérez Villalta considers himself a conceptual artist. Painting is, for him, the simplest and most direct way to convey ideas about art, representation, and the task of the artist. Often involving sophisticated references and allusions that are difficult to unravel, his work has always attempted to balance intellectual games with sensuality; his paintings, one might say, possess a thoughtful beauty. Pérez Villalta often writes incisive texts to accompany his shows, and in his essay for this most recent exhibition, he addresses and defends precisely this question of beauty. Never before has he presented work so bound to the pure idea: Here, the paintings looked like distilled representations of concepts.

Pérez Villalta’s work has been undergoing a shift of late: Though central to his practice until not long ago, the human figure—while still present—is now little more than a vague, ghostly suggestion; this shift was already becoming evident as early as three years ago, in his previous show at this gallery. Like the early twentieth-century work of Giorgio de Chirico—which Pérez Villalta admires greatly—these images make use of mannequins or simulacra of bodies, which serve as templates for memories or as references to these now ghostly people. It is as if these figures were a means of referring to an idea that needn’t be fully embodied. This tendency indicates the artist’s gradual shift toward abstraction, evidenced in his increasing use of geometrical and purely formal elements, which, in his hands, become symbolic. This move connects him to other maverick Spanish artists such as Dis Berlin, a painter whose use of imaginary figures and abstract fields is closely allied to that of Pérez Villalta.

El encuentro de Salomón y la reina de Saba (The Encounter of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba), 2007, shows the importance of ideas in Pérez Villalta’s work. Here we see two apparently contrasting figures: One (Solomon) is built from elements that, according to Pérez Villalta in the exhibition catalogue, evoke “reason, science, and language,” and has depth, color, and sensuality; the other (the Queen) is linear, monochromatic, and flat. The extremely theatrical placement of the figures in the space demonstrates the influence of de Chirico, albeit by way of one of his followers, Yves Tanguy. The construction of the figures in these works also evokes Picasso’s work from the mid-1920s.

Appropriating a wide range of influences has always been at the base of Pérez Villalta’s work. “Imaginary Landscapes with Stories,” 2005–, combines elements of Flemish Renaissance painting with others taken from nineteenth-century Romanticism. While it develops themes taken from classical and Christian mythology, “Imaginary Landscapes,” is also inspired by Rococo chinoiserie, though Pérez Villalta prefers to mention the influence of Walt Disney. The beautiful smaller paintings in exquisite colors in this show are the closest the artist comes these days to sensuality.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.