Interior experience, colour and structure in Manuel Salinas’ recent work



Considered for a long time a long-distance runner in painting, a solitary and independent artist, and therefore, not involved in the dictates of fashions and even out of step with them, Manuel Salinas has been leading one of the most beautiful and coherent roles in the Spanish abstract painting for the last twenty-five years. Definitely settled in abstraction since the first half of the seventies, the real point of inflexion of his work will take place towards 1980, when the vigorous strokes and the fast expression connect him with abstract expressionism. His production has always been in a kind of tension between order and expression, between reason and emotion, the elements which decisively configure his present work are colour and structure, a combination which starts prevailing in his canvases towards 1987, when he makes some compositions whose main feature is the balance between great chromatic masses on either side of the surface, coordinated by vertical axes or big strokes in the shape of an arch of evident architectonic reminiscences, as it can be seen in a big format oil painting kept in a private collection in Cordoba. That interest for architecture, which has been very Manuel Salinas. "Sin título", 2003. Óleo / lino. 205 x 200 cm.great since his youth in Salinas, is also felt for town planning, for furniture designing and for interior decoration, a pole of attraction which can be synthesised into his interest for geometric forms and volumes in space. Despite the presence of marks, of a vibrant stroke and of a firm expressiveness, there is in Salinas a permanent desire for order and balance, an inclination to geometric things which is just the visual picture of his concept of the world and of nature.

          Towards 1989-1990, the division of the painting into broad vertical bands controls the whole composition. In some cases the pure coloured bands are combined with others where the colour is mixed, although the most suggestive effect is the one made by the paint drippings, put on the top and bottom area of the picture, although there are also bands which are completely crossed by them. Other times, without leaving that language, the composition becomes more architectonic, the painting turns more towards something purely investigative and experimental and colour is tempered up to nearly completely disappear, remaining a sober and bare range of whites, greys and blacks, just made alive by the doodles and the dynamic graphics of the surface, as those  thick diagonal, horizontal and vertical lines which seem to stress the direction of the bands. The crowning achievement, somehow, of this whole period is represented by a famous painting from 1991 where absolute primacy to colour has been given, a sumptuous and physical colour, even creamy, applied from top to bottom in vertical bands which seem to be a colour chart, everything very visual, very pictorial, letting the colours, deep blue, turquoise, yellow, red, black or olive green be shown without any restriction, showing us their inner beauty, their irremediable physical and sensitive load. Nevertheless, it is an ordered and structured colour, absolutely unaware of that integral dissolution of form which was dominant feature of the orthodox informalism. A thick black line in the lower area closes the composition from below, stressing the quadrangular format.

          These vertical band paintings will last until 1995-1996 and they will have some connotations in some works made in 2002, it is better now, however, to focus on a number of canvases painted between 1992-1995 in which that tension between the composite structure and the expressive manner reaches some results full of vigour and resolution. In one of the first of those compositions two areas clearly delimitated, divided by a yellow very thick vertical stroke, can be seen. Both areas, the one on the left painted in turquoise and a bluish white and the one on the right, are shown closed by the ends, the first one through a red stroke making a 90º angle and the second one through another wide white stroke, in the shape of a crooked line. The geometrical purpose is very visible, leaving a rectangular form facing another trapezoidal one. The axis lines of the composition are broken even more in another canvas from 1995, dominated by the tension of the diagonals which go through them; although this time, the dripping effect singularizes the whole body. It is, no doubt, a much more baroque work than the last one, full as it is of confronted and contrasted forms. At the same time, during that period of time, we have, as it is usual in Salinas’ work, to pay special attention to his work on paper and on cardboard, where he uses waxes, graphite and other materials. If we observe carefully many of those pieces of paper we will see that they offer an experimental aspect, focused on the research of geometrical forms, as the cube or the tetrahedron. When we talked about cubism in Salinas’ work, which we can do when we refer to this kind of tasks, we do not mean, of course, that the painter goes back to that movement of historical avant-garde, repeating its forms mimetically, but that he gives a fundamental place to the geometrical form in space, researching in a parallel way into the chromatic effects. This kind of tasks and of variations will undoubtedly be decisive in the production of the great canvases.

          Thus, we go into the most concrete content of the exhibition in Malaga, which starts with a great canvas from 1999 whose most evident feature is the breaking up and the dispersal of forms and of the marks which are arranged along the surface. There are already in 1995 very clear precedents of this language, distinguished by a deep background over which the dispersed chromatic marks stand out, a vigorous earthy blot on the left, from which two appendixes of similar colour appear, showing at the same time a dark blue mark and another red one. It is a pure abstract symphony, made up of an extraordinary elegance, composite balance and chromatic harmony. The same thing can be said about the 260cm height painting, pure interior notations, as if the inaudible music of the soul acquired some physical consistency in those elemental geometrical-shaped strokes and in those very visible colour marks. The forms seem to gravitate here in an undetermined and unspecific space, as if they were suspended around the white silhouette of a house. We recall Esteban Vicente watching these paintings.

 In the paintings made from the year 2000, the quadrangular and rectangular forms full of colour become more and more predominant. Sometimes, as in a magnificent painting from 2001, we can see four square forms placed towards the four corners of the canvas, red, grey, black and with some doodled strokes. Other geometrical figures in different perspectives end the space over a light background, giving room as well to graphics. The forms change their position and their colour in other compositions; however, we always have the imprecision of space supporting the presence of the geometrical figures, at times heavy and dark, dense and impenetrable. From the year 2002 we have a series made in a medium format on linen which, even though it is not going to be present in Malaga exhibition, it is necessary for the interested spectator to know it. It is very well printed in the catalogue of Salinas’ exhibition held three years ago in Sofia, capital of Bulgaria. They express a very beautiful poetic purity; it is one of the best achieved works of his whole production. The intense lyricism which they have comes from the orchestrated presence of blacks, light blues and blues. They are variations of pure painting. We now recall Morandi, due to the intimacy they transmit, due to their peaceful silence, a silence, paradoxically, full of joy. They are almost miraculous works. From that same year we have another brilliant red lit painting, which we are going to see here continued in a great canvas in which six red squares are placed more or less in an orderly fashion over a completely red background. It is as if the forms blinked and vibrated within the flames. However, we have to take into account that Salinas never uses a ruler, and that his lines are drawn by hand, making the distances not be exact or completely symmetric.

 From that incredible and ethereal series mentioned before, in the same year 2002 Salinas goes to another one of almost similar format but more focused on colour, especially by the introduction of reds. On the other hand, in this one as well as in other compositions that we have mentioned, we can see distant elements from Malévich, basically the distribution of forms in space. Salinas, however, does not isolate them, but he leans them one against the other, he lets them support themselves and communicate with each other. This kind of series is similar to musical variations, with a paused and harmonic rhythmic cadence.

          Salinas continues working, without the slightest sign of repetition. In this sense, there is no mannerism in his work. His last works show us a painter involved only with painting. His knowledge of the history of western art, together with an exquisite sensitivity, is in a great measure responsible for his numerous achievements. When we visit his studio and his house in Seville, full of frames with no pictures, of old furniture and of paintings and engravings from centuries ago, we also understand what Salinas has known to collect from the past, what he has learnt from those ancient and worn out objects, as well as from the engravings and sheets of old books. This last one is one of his greatest passions. In the end, it is just love for beauty. That beauty can be in that detailed finish and in the perfect ending of an English mahogany and persimmon chest of drawers from the 18th century, as in the illustrations and in the engravings of a book of religious subjects edited in Seville in the 17th century, or … in Manuel Salinas’ paintings. And it is in these last ones, among other reasons, because he has known how to look at the plastic work of the past and of the present, because his eyes immediately recognize the quality of a Velazquez or of a Rothko, of a Vermeer or of a Juan Gris, of a Tiziano or of a Kandinsky. He has processed and rationalized that recognition, that advice, and at the same time it has been leaving a trace of plastic and visual wisdom. The achievement of a good picture, of a good painting is something very difficult, extremely difficult. Together with the creation of a literary text, is one of the most difficult things. However the artist, as it happens to Salinas, can never be very satisfied, because a higher achievement is always possible. Besides, another very important feeling that we can see in his work is his sincerity, his authenticity. It is a real work, which conveys emotion to that one who watches it in silence. It is not a shouting work, nor one which tries to attract our attention with tricks and in an inappropriate way. It is defended by itself, by its fair and balanced used of the pure components of painting. Salinas does not use any artificial thing. His work is the result of a slow evolution, full of doubts and of mistakes. Nevertheless, in each one of his exhibitions we can see a painter who is demanding with himself, who chooses among the things he does. Salinas takes his time and we must take it as well to enjoy his art. 

Traducción de José Mª Valverde Zambrana

Publicado originalmente en el catálogo de la exposición Manuel Salinas, obra reciente, celebrada en la

Sala Italcable de la Fundación Unicaja de Málaga entre los meses de abril y mayo de 2006