artist / participant
Santiago Ydáñez‘s work represents another extension of the poetics on the body that have been so influentual over the past years in the international scene. Nonetheless, in his case it is around painting - as it is in other different cases from Luc Tuysmans to Marlene Dumas - that different questions, that seem to interest critics and artists, are formulated about identity or human nature. The fact that a painted portrait is an instrument of choice - and we are purposedly calling it instrument rather than theme - has made it so that he be associated with, above all a tradition that includes Edward Munch and Francis Bacon, rather than the poetics that we are referring to now. Because of this he has been classified as, I think superficially, Expressionist or Neoexpressionist, based solely on the appearance of his work. What is worse is that a careful analysis of appearance, in truth, leads to opposed conclusions.
The formidable influences that Formalism has on Spanish critique - that continues to classify by appearances rather than content - is responsable for this serious myopia. As we will see Ydáñez’s paintings are not exactly Expressionist. Moreover I think that his distancing himself from Expressionism is what makes them more interesting. Ydáñez speaks to us - as all artists do on the other hand - of the depths of the human soul, but the way in which he does so is also with metalinguistic and conceptual thoughts of equal importance. The self-portrait is a genre which compares the work of art to the artist - it seems to say “my work is me”- but in this case, as in many others, there is no tendency towards realist verisimilitude, nor - even more suprisingly - towards psychological characterization. What we see are studied faces. Or, in the same space, masks :functional and useful, they reveal and hide simoultaneously.
Santiago Ydáñez definitely offers us an extensive repertoire of screams and complaints which couldn’t seem any more Expressionist. Yet, although he presents us with extreme expressions of his own face or of other people’s faces, he does so through analysis , method, serializing, and chromatic restraint. He purposefully never lets himself be swayed by subjectivity or improvisation.
In contrary to Wilhelm de Kooning, who tried to capture something felt or real, that is not exactly visible through repetition - women, landscapes, or women as landscapes - Ydáñez concerns himself with how that moment of capture can be expressed. For him painting is an instrument and not an aim unto itself, something characteristic of all of the postmodern aesthetic tactics. In the case of repetition, it is not a heroic and tragic act, but something that has more to do with the neutrality of minimalist serializing.
On the other hand, the chromatic use of black and white refers to the apparent photographic or cinematographic objectivity (and, in fact, many frames demonstrate an interest in film - Paco Barragán has spoken of Cassavetes and Lynch - as relevant as the interest he has for painting). Yet, all of us are aware nowadays that photographic neutrality can be used subjectively. Ydáñez’s paintings speak to us, precisely, of the opposite, of how the subjectivity of painting as it refers to gestures can be used objectively. By doing so he is, perhaps, fleeing from the anonymous subject of the fateful Neoepressionists that gave such a bad reputation to painting after a euphoria that was not always, in order to be fair, groundless. In any case the absence of color in Ydáñez’s work highlights its conceptual nature. By avoiding Naturalism and Symbolism, that would allow for those violent chromatisms that one can imagine as inherent to those distorted faces, he converts his work into declarations and consequently into representations.
A careful study of his brushstroke - the primordial instrument of gestural Expressionism - reaffirms our opinions. His are ample, loose brushstrokes of a definite relaxed appearance. Nonetheless, they are the result of an iron will to control. They are, I think, thoguht out more than they are improvised or felt. With them he is going after a specific effect far from that of producing them as a physical reflex from a psychic act, as was typical of Expressionism. These brushstrokes are not produced by Ydáñez in this way, but he paints this way in order to obtain a certain effect, and this effect is a kind of energetic monumentality. Even in the smaller formats, the faces that he paints have one more dimension to them than what is natural. Even more clearly, in the larger formats, the enourmous mouths cause us to lose ourselves in their interiors.
The open mouths suggest shouting in a literal form, but metaphorically they speak of a double yearning or double desire. The artist’s desire to devour us through his discourse in the search for complicity - and to also proclaim his personality and identity. And, (to proclaim) the artwork’s spectator’s will that searches for the door to the total space of desire within it. All the same, seeing that the human face is the physical door to its interior, these paintings remind us that all spiritual experience cannot proceed without us. In other word , his paintings reminds us that the keys to what we are, are inside of us and that we will not find the ultimate maps of the meaning of existence if it is not within our interior.
Santiago Ydáñez’s paintings have made me think of the famous sculptures of facial expressions that Frank Xaver Messerschmidt made in Austria in the XVII Century and that fascinated so many different artists - from Arnulf Rainer to Marc Quinn. In any case, Messerschmidt’s work has something encyclopedic about it, like a medical inventory. Yet, Ydáñez’s work is impregnated with skepticism. Instead of an inventory filled with possibilities, he repeats the same gestures in a conscious and studied way. He seems to imply that communication and paining - in one last word, art - have their limitations, finding, like Gerhard Richter, a certain optimistic pathos in the ritual repetition. Ydáñez speaks to us about what we are like, about our pains, joys and yearnings. He makes us think, as Cioran recalls, that lamentation always arises from a longing for paradise.
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