Javier Roz and man’s questioning nature





The main subject of this exhibition by Javier Roz (Plasencia, Cáceres, 1975), discerned already in the title itself, The difficult thing is to make questions, is man’s questioning nature, the relevance of making questions, regardless of the answer  obtained, or, even the fact that there is or there is not a reply. These questions, first of all, can be made by man or he can make them to himself, that is to say, they can be questions that man can make in his desire to comprehend reality, or they may be questions which inquire about the nature itself and the personal subjective character of human being. Secondly, these questions to which Javier Roz’s reflection refers to, are not superficial or frivolous, on the contrary they are supposed to be related with those more or less transcendental issues that affect man, issues of an aesthetic, metaphysical, scientific or spiritual nature, let us say, issues such as art nature and the essence of the creator act, questions related to the sense of life, the possibility of knowledge or the existence of the other world.

             As it can be observed, throughout the present argument we can feel the four questions that Kant considered necessary to define philosophy in sensu cosmico, that is, in the cosmic sense: What can I know? What must I do? What might I expect? What is man? The first one is answered by metaphysics, the second by morality, the third by religion and the fourth by anthropology. Kant himself tells us that all these disciplines could be combined in Anthropology, as the first three questions end up reverting in the last one. However, the fact that the content of Kantian anthropology does not deal with man in his entirety, that is to say, that does not study any of the problems that human nature brings about, such as its place in cosmos and its relationship with destiny as well as its existence as a being that is aware of its mortality, expresses, according to Heidegger, the indefinite nature of the issue or question «what man is». In other words, according to Heidegger the way itself of questioning about man is what would have become problematic[1].

             Therefore, not only the content of questions, but the way they are made, must be taken into account by the observer of the exhibition and by everyone who wishes to follow the thread of the argument of the artist from Palencia settled down in Malaga since 1985. An argument, that beyond having a clear romantic tendency in the sense of Gesamtkunstwerk or Wagnerian «wholly unified work of art», in which the expressive possibilities of each art would combine and become integrated, a sense that is already included in Novalis’ theory which expresses that in its essential nature, music, visual arts and poetry form a  unity[2], offers a laborious attempt, widely achieved, of expressing by means of apparently different techniques and languages, a common idea. The same thought, the same reasoning, is expressed in this exhibition through drawing, graphic work of art, photography, digital printing, painting, sculpture, video and even installation.

             The greatest accomplishment, however, consists of beginning from a fundamental idea,  a basic idea which is displayed separately throughout the whole exhibition, without ever losing its unitary sense, that is, the articulation of each piece with the remaining ones, as if the same idea could be expressed in many different ways and they all were complementary among themselves. In this case the fundamental idea is a 145 cm height installation-sculpture, made up only of a male character to whom we can only see his shortened hands and the even more schematic head, made of wooden frame, paper and wood pulp, who, smartly dressed with a black suit, is sitting on  a bulrush chair facing a bare wall, to which he stares as if the wall were a mirror where his own face is reflected, that is, as if the wall were at the same time sender-receiver of answers, in this last case sender of empty and meaningless answers, as it is not possible to answer the questions that the character makes.

             In perfect symbiosis with this installation, we have to mention the video that can be seen in this exhibition, which is only an animated development of the same idea. The character dressed in black comes from outside into the breath of vision, a narrow space where only the angular corner of a bare wall can be observed. The person comes into the room carrying a chair, on which he sits down putting his ear close to the wall. At a given point in time of the short film he seems to discern signs, answers to his questions, but they appear to be meaningless or unintelligible. At another moment, he is covering his face with his hands or is covering his ears. The atmosphere is quiet,  with a monotonous and grey background sound, although we observe uneasily that a faint shadow, corresponding to the man’s body, is projected onto the wall, provoking distant resemblances to the allegory of the platonic cavern.

             The series of drawings made with pencil and watercolour explain some questions to us, as for example that M gets up and unhesitatingly writes down the questions on the wall, although we finally observe that his writing is not very legible. In any case, the strong resolution with which he sits up and scribbles on the wall does not rule out an anxiety and distress state. The gesture of lowering his head, observable in the video as well, may correspond to the disappointment of not getting answers, a heartbreaking answer that M does not want to see or hear. When M, with a negation gesture, turns the chair, it is as if he gave up his hard way of asking, undertaking another one, we ignore if it is the right one. The best thing, however, is the integration of M with the wall, an integration noticeable as well in the video which seems to express the symbiosis between the order of the questions and the order of the answers. It is an spectral image, almost a faint appearance, which stylistically relates Javier Roz’s work with the photographs of the Greek  artist Christina Dimitridis corresponding to the series named Private spaces, from the mid-nineties.

        The serigraph made up with six inks on canvas called Memory-word-presence, offers a sequence of images which could just as easily be read in a sense as in the opposite one. From the physical presence of the visible body to the disappearance of the image in its pure voidness, with an intermediate state which is a reversed spectrum of the corporeal presence. In this one as well as in other pieces, the crossed out words seem to suggest that with language it is not possible to reach certain places, or else it could be as well understood as a reference to the fragmented nature of the argument about reality or about existence wanted to be developed.

        The remaining works, which somehow finish in the series The three Readings for Tenebrae Service, are inspired by some elements of Zen Buddhism, particularly by the structure of koans and by the system of questions and answers known as «mondo». «Mondo» is a compound term made up by «mon», questions, and «do», answers, it refers, therefore, to questions and answers between disciple and master, which take place in an atmosphere which is at the same time of joy and deepness, seriousness and freedom. On the other hand, «koan», originally, meant «principle of rule», from «ko», rule, and «an», law, rule. In the practice of zen,  a contradictory problem of existence is stated and a principle of eternal truth given by a master is set. Taisen Deshimaru  affirms that «Koan» is a way of training the disciple, of helping him acquire the absolute principle, of encouraging his consciousness to be open to a new dimension. A koan may be sound absurd to common sense, but with deep experience it is understood and the universal essence is reached»[3]. From the many koans that Deshimaru learnt  from his master, we can illustrate two of them:


Bamboo exists above and beneath its node

Zen is a way without barriers.


Light has no reverse

The essential of oneself is beyond the shadow.


The composite structure of Javier Roz’s pieces that I mentioned before, reproduce somehow, then, that structure of koans, that is, something like a conflict, a clash between one thing and its opposite. If at one side of the work there is a drawing, a photograph or a painting, where things and objects can be observed, at the other side those objects and things seem to be taken away, as if arousing suggestion, as if there were an intangible presence of «what is left», of what remains» after having dissolved matter and physical entity of things of reality. Besides using serigraphs and digital printings on canvas, Roz makes use as well of gravure, etching and drypoint, although in the emptiest, the most uninhabited and full of absence area, the artist resorts to very subtle techniques, such as thin and fragile lines, tiny spots, scratches, tears and ink drippings. In Veil II he reuses waste proofs from the serigraph made up with six inks mentioned before, hiding the images, as the title itself suggests, with a cloudy veil of paint, which he uses to heighten the chair trimming and one of the shoes of the sitting figure by means of red pigment. In The enriching strength of smallness the suggestion, inconsistency and interruption of the drawing lines, evoke some works from the Portuguese artist Julião Sarmento, where we are in front of a kind of fragmentation of action, as if signs and  traces of objects were the only one to be perceived. In The unfinished, on the other hand, paradoxically, the drawing is more steady and resolute, making us recall those wonderful pencil drawings made by Picasso between 1916-1920, as Canudo’s portrait and Apollinaire’s  portrait, both from 1916, and Stravinsky’s portrait, from 1920. In Fold, the contrast between one part of the work and the other one is even more evident, however, the iconographic evocations take us to the beginning of the Baroque sculpture, as that face looking at the front and covered with a hand, perhaps because of the diagonal line traced by the fingers, perhaps because of the shade between poetic and dramatic, resembles the head of the fascinating Santa Cecilia by Stefano Maderno which is in the church with the same name in Rome Transtévere. In The return, however, the comparison is made between the upper area, in which the lower extremities of a Crucifixion, and the lower area, where the pair of shoes slightly placed on the floor expresses the tension between the earthy world and the spiritual world.  In Nostalgia we can find a similar composite structure, nevertheless, we can observe a contradiction or a contrast within the tension already existing between both parts of the work, because the character appears absolutely dressed in the upper area, which is supposed to be the territory of the spiritual ascension and of the weightlessness, whereas his silhouette is only suggested by a few lines in the lower area, although it is true that in this last one the hands and the head are much more elaborate than in the upper rectangle of the painting. The lying position of the character, on the other hand, takes us clearly to Manet’s Dead bullfighter.

                          The culmination of the whole previous series of works  is, in my opinion, as I mentioned before, in The three Readings for Tenebrae Service, a collection made up at the same time by three independent pieces like diptychs. The title deserves to be explained. The Lamentations or Readings for Tenebrae Service make up a gender of musical composition developed by Spanish chapel masters from the 17th century for liturgical and ceremonial celebration of Holy Week. Readings for Tenebrae Service, Luis Antonio González states, «were recited during the first nocturne of Holy Thursday, Friday and Saturday matins, a service which began with candles and oil lamps, which were put out, one after the other, following each psalm, therefore the service finished in tenebris»[4]. Taken from The Lamentations of prophet Jeremiah, which refers to the deplorable situation of Jerusalem, following the devastation carried out by Nebuchadnezzar II, the texts of these sacred canticles, where each verse is introduced by a different letter of the 22-letter Hebrew alphabet, are understood as a metaphor about the sins of mankind redeemed by the Passion of Jesus. Besides the wonderful Spanish pieces, there are some other noteworthy examples which deserve to be mentioned like Marc Antoine Charpentier’s Readings for Tenebrae Service, written for the Jesuits from Paris in the 17th century, Michel Richard Delalande’s, the most gifted and influential composer of sacred music for the court of Versailles in times of Luis XIV, and the greatest baroque composer François Couperin’s, to which the poetical comment by José Ángel Valente quoted by Stefano Russomanno refers to: «The vertical axis is the one of the letters that let us read, as an acrostic, the whole language and within this the whole infinite possibility of world’s matter. The horizontal axis is the one of history, the axis of destruction, of solitude, of exile, of grief …»[5].

            In Three Readings for Tenebrae Service I, the author reuses an old fogged photograph, which for this precise reason is good for his purpose, because, contradicting somehow the title of his work, he can be seen looking at the front and with his eyes covered with a black adhesive tape, holding a lit lamp radiating a bright light. Here the light is used to illuminate things and to make them exist and be visible; however, the character cannot see: he lights up things, but without seeing them. His blindness is, probably, an involuntary one, what makes it more dramatic. It is very interesting to observe the technique in detail. We have to bear in mind that that fogged photograph and, therefore, apparently useless from which he starts, is reproduced in paper by an enlarger; this reproduction on paper is scanned and, by a plotter (graphic schemer), is finally reproduced on a canvas surface, made up usually by a thin weave, which is the kind of fabric Javier Roz usually works with. Nowadays, the use of digital camera avoids him to use scanner. Let us notice that on the left side, where the photograph is, the author cannot technically do what he wants to, for instance using a paint which is too much diluted in water and very little thick, as the image reproduced by the plotter would be finally affected, and partially erased. In other respects, he has no restrictions in the use of his usual techniques: chalk, pencil, pastel, watercolour, ink, spray enamel, sealing wax and acrylic. The right area, which is a standard canvas, is made up with many transparent layers which are combined in order to be able to get the subtle desired shades. In these backgrounds with acrylic, Javier Roz does not use paintbrushes, but he uses his own hands, clothes, sponges and brushes.

            In the following work of the series, Three Readings for Tenebrae Service II, light is a sign of news, of information, but also of knowledge, although this last word is completely erased on the canvas, as if suggesting the impossibility to gain access to it, or its rejection, which is what the character who is covering his ears is probably indicating us. The photograph of the long corridor which can be seen through the glass of the closed door situated in first place, seems to evoke the distressed corridors of a gloomy and ruined psychiatric hospital, where the individuals wander around aimlessly led only by their madness. On the bluish-grey left canvas, resembling an overcast and cloudy sky, a steady red stroke, like an Oriental calligraphy, crosses the surface, whereas in the upper area a luminous wound, a lightning, seems to momentarily open the sky, as in Giorgione’s storm. The following piece, Three Readings for Tenebrae Service III, is the most disconcerting. Here the light is glare, brightness, a reflection of intelligence. The out of focus and phantasmagoric room on the left is clarified and rationalized in the schematic lines of the vision in perspective of the right image. Nevertheless, what make us feel worried is the fact of observing how the hands of the individual who is covering his face melt, deliquescent hands whose melted corporeal matter drips uncontrollably downwards, this fact, undoubtedly, represents a passionate homage to abstract expressionism and to the dripping technique.

            The final piece of the whole exhibition, Displacement, sends us back to the beginning, that is, as if the whole argument were just a circle from which we cannot escape and which closes around itself. The empty chair, turned towards the wall, holds M’s sober and mourning suit, just as his shoes are placed on the floor, waiting for the cycle to start again and for the character to get into the breath of vision and to begin to get dressed and scribble unintelligible signs on the wall. The photograph hanging in front of the chair stresses that anxiety, because, it represents the same distressed and unending corridor. There is, however, a half-open door, who knows if showing an exit, a release of the circular argument, or, in other words, the attainment of an answer.


Traducción de José María Valverde Zambrana


[1] See, BUBER, M.:  What is man? Madrid, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1981, pages 12-14.

[2]  See, HONOUR, H.: Romanticism. Madrid, Alianza, 1981, page 123.

[3] DESHIMARU, T.: The training of Zen. Madrid, América Ibérica Editorial, Inc. 1994, pages 83-89 and 41.

[4] The quotation comes from the comment that Luis Antonio González makes about the musical recording called Terra tremuit. Spanish Music of the 17th century for Holy Week, made by the vocal and instrumental group LOS MVSICOS DE SV ALTEZA, founded in 1992 by L. A. González himself with the aim of recovering and disseminating the musical heritage of the Spanish Baroque. The full comment can be read in http://www.arsis.es/discos/Terra%20tremuit.pdf

[5] RUSSOMANNO, Stefano : «The matter of  Tenebrae». Madrid, cultural suplement of Abc journal, 22nd June 2002.


Texto de presentación del catálogo de la muestra individual de Javier Roz celebrada en el

Centro Cultural Provincial de Málaga entre abril y mayo de 2004