Absence, interiority and silence.

Reflections on Jordi Teixidor’s «black collection».


Enrique Castaños Alés


The over forty pictures of the so called «black collection» that Jordi Teixidor has made since 1994, represent one of the most beautiful and coherent pictorial selections of the contemporary Spanish abstraction. More than a tour de force about the possibilities of the abstraction at the present time of the evolutionary development of plastic arts in post-industrial societies, it must be understood as an aesthetic and intellectual reflection on the limits of painting, as a search after the non-painting, as the unattainable desire of making the final picture, or, what it is the same, the non-picture, but also as the personal expression of a feeling of ethical-political failure.

      The first black pictures appear in Teixidor’s work in 1994. Made of oil painting over linen canvas, from a purely material and technical point of view they represent, together with the whole artist’s work from the mid seventies, to a vindication of similar composition although in lighter shades, as it is the case, for example, of the so called Death and love or Idea and reason. The most important feature of theses canvases was the division of space in three areas, a  much wider central one and other two lateral ones, like bands, of similar width. These bands were not either something new, as they can be found in Teixidor’s work since 1973. As he has admitted in different statements, those bands are influenced by the typical vertical bands of Barnett Newman’s paintings, one of the most distinguished exponents of the American post-pictorial abstraction since 1960, a neo-modernism movement, as Simón Marchán stated a long time ago with an unusual sharpness, which, besides its aestheticism, focuses «in intrinsic problems to painting itself in its contemplative sense». Interested «in colour without texture or matter ingredients» unaware of a hierarchical subdivision of the work in different elements, worried about giving colours «functions of division in relation to forms», the members of this movement use the big format to try «to give their works a direct value of reality». Nevertheless, those paintings by Teixidor are quite different from Frank Stella’s who states that «my painting is based on the fact that they are only made up of what can be seen … What you can see is what you see»[1].

      The black collection can, then, be considered inaugurated with four canvases from the group of Contradictions. By the way brushstrokes are applied, it is clear that the purpose is to leave the artist’s marks visible, the touch of the canvas, however without almost no texture, with a very self-controlled expression. These four paintings, whose titles – The audacity of the end, The lie of the brave one, The sand of the temple, The shadow of the altar – have an unquestionable symbolic power and help give them an inscrutable mystery, illustrate at this time the essential aesthetic worries of the whole collection, worries which, on the other hand, has defined the painter’s search for a long time. These interests offer three complementary levels. Firstly, a particular attitude towards the empty canvas, that is, relate certain elements as dimensions, handling of surface, colour and texture. Secondly, an special relationship between structure and colour, a relationship in which colour finally reaches the prominent role, that is to say, as Teixidor admits, «everything is finally ordered according to it». Colour must involve the observer, an aspect which it is better reached when a bigger format is used. Thirdly, the «subject» depicted by Teixidor at the beginning as the relationship which is set among the different bands of colour, either vertical or horizontal ones. The variants among those relationships represent precisely the «subject» of these works. The painter himself has expressed this better than anybody else: «the constant or essential premise is the relationship between colour and colour, between vertical or horizontal bands. And the subject is, in my works, the different way of presenting, each time, the relationship among everything»[2]. Painted in black and green, it appears in them a third and even narrower band, practically a stripe, situated on the right or on the left, that increases the elegance which emerges from these works. But the bands show also a sense of the rhythm, as  well as a sensation of marking, or  of enclosure. Colour shades and texture, especially green shades and the brushstrokes of the black stripes, evoke the big flagstones of some magnificent churches, although the black central area also seems  to evoke a door, an opening towards the unknown.

       The following group of works  is composed of thirteen canvases made between 1995 and 1996, all of them untitled ones, and whose formal research culminate in a «Black triptych» from 1998 and, above all, in a three-metres height lengthened picture, also from that year. Except for one of those thirteen canvases, that presents a red narrow stripe on the upper part, the other ones are basically painted with greenish and grey shades, besides, naturally, with the black one. The main innovations lie, on the one hand, in the fact that the lateral stripes are moved now to two adjacent sides, one bigger and the other one smaller, in a right angle, or at three sides, and, on the other hand, in the fact that the border bands do not have the same width any more, these are formal aspects which confirm Teixidor statement quoted previously. But those thirteen pictures, which can be perfectly considered a linguistic continuation of The Contradictions collection, find, as we mentioned, plenitude in a wonderful rectangular 300 x 120 cm. oil painting completely painted in black and with a very elegant golden colour stripe in the upper area. This canvas, which is made up of a complete purity, bring us into mind Barnett Newman’s words from 1947: «The base of an aesthetic act is the pure idea. Nevertheless, the pure idea is, inevitably, an aesthetic act. Here is the epistemological paradox which is the essence of the artist’s problem»[3]. However, gold refers, likewise, inevitably, to a symbology related with the ceremonial, with divinity, very deep-rooted in the Byzantine artistic tradition, where the golden part of the bottom of the mosaics and the icons refers directly to the reflection of celestial light. It is a great aesthetic skill, apart from a daring intellectual act, the fact of joining the black colour, here a symbol of absence, disappointment and disillusionment, with golden colour, symbol of divine light. Nevertheless, above all, naked beauty, immateriality, pure contemplative abstraction predominate, it is something, doubtless, which connects and which Rothko, a painter whose work invites as any other one to contemplation and meditation, would have liked.

     Year 1999 is marked, more than ever, by a magnificent trilogy, somehow the main body and the essential part of all the black collection, or at least the one which is more neatly identified with some of the fundamental theoretical premises. The three canvases, each one of a 340 cm. length, from their titles themselves propose - Virgilio’s death, The end of the battle, The defeat – a whole attitude and a way of thinking before reality. They are formally very beautiful, rectangular in horizontal position, with a golden stripe dividing them into two areas, the left one narrower than the right one, and, apart from Virgilio’s death, which represents a light gesture expression on the right side, without any obvious signs of the painter’s activity, although as you come closer, as it usually happens in Teixidor, the application of pictorial stuff over the surface can be perceived, although very light in the present trilogy. «Black colour is far in them from the symbolic connotations which Kandinsky gives to it in his well-known text from 1912: Black colour sounds inside as nothing without possibilities, as dead nothing after the sun goes out, as an eternal silence without future and without hope». In Teixidor, black colour symbolizes more exactly absence, distance, separation, and abandonment, although leaving an open door, or expressed in a better way, a gap through which we can discern a far distance a weak and almost extinguished hope. It is probably a pause, but not a complete and closed one as the father of abstraction likes. What we can find is its absence of sound, that is, the fact that over black » any colour, even the one of the weakest resonance sounds clear and precise»[4].

      The sequence of the three pictures is ascendant,  as if trying to underline the idea of ethical failure, of deep disillusionment with certain political prospects which were expected in the first years of the transition in Spain. But a painting like Virgilio’s death, a remarkable opening of this trilogy, is more than that. From its possible interpretations there are two which we must stand out. First of all, the homage to Hermann Broch, author of the homonym novel finished in 1945, when the great Austrian writer had already lived in his American exile for some years, and where he was forced to move as a result of the annexation of his country by the Nazi  regime from Germany in 1938. As a Jewish intellectual, Broch was then arrested and imprisoned, being his life seriously at risk. He, together with Freud, Musil, Hofmannsthal, Wittgenstein, Loos, Kokoschka, Schönberg and many other eminent names, turned Vienna, the old capital of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, into an exceptional cultural focus in the years before the First World war, this circumstance continued to a large extent until the sudden interruption made by the irrational atrocity. Teixidor is seen here as the kind of intellectual extraordinarily European, civilized, educated, refined, cosmopolitan, tolerant, as Stefan Zweig has incomparably described him in The world of yesterday. However the support and affection is also for Broch as a man who can see his whole word collapse, who has to run away harassed and pursued by the most appalling conceivable intolerance, and who can only confront injustice      with intelligence, knowledge and dialogue. However, this injustice not only cannot listen, but cannot hear anything, it does not want to hear anything. That is why Stefan Zweig is so deeply and bitterly disappointed in Petropolis in 1942, until he finally decided to come into the kingdom of absolute silence. He could not stand the deafening shouting of his contemporaries, but he still thought that that shouting was not going to be defeated by word.

      Secondly, Teixidor also feels himself identified with old Virgilio who in Brindisi, when death was coming for him, thinks about his work and doubts about the validity of his most important book, a subject developed by Broch in one of the most intense monologue of last century literature. The poet  honoured and praised by August, makes at this time a self-criticism, he doubts about the projection of his literary legacy in time and in future generations, about the survival, as George Steiner has mentioned, of the poetic word and about his permanence as creator. He final7ly yields to Augusto’s requests, or rather, Octavio’s, his friend, and if he does not decide to destroy his great poem is because of his final confidence in the revitalizing and illuminating role of the poetic word, encouraging gap left to utopia. Teixidor painting is divided in four areas, conscious or unconscious reference to the four parts of Broch’s book, called with the terms of the elements of pre-Socratic Empédocles: water, fire, earth an ether. This is the same order in which they would be placed on the canvas, except for, once more, the golden band, besides symbolizing fire, it could be pointing at that small opening given to hope and to a possibility of utopia, not completely lost. 

      Retable I, from 1999, is, formally, considered one of the most beautiful compositions ever made by Teixidor. It is a real masterpiece, in which there is neither something unnecessary nor missing, in which a perfect equilibrium is reached among their elements, a harmonic musicality derived from the, sidereal, weightless equidistances, among squares and rectangles which seem to float in an, eternal, dark cosmic night, between full and empty, between light and darkness, between black and gold. This canvas condenses a high plastic wisdom, a remarkable culture and an intimate spirituality, even better, a sense of transcendence. The unmistakable references are Malévich, Modrian and Albers, but they are references which never prevent the unquestionable originality of the painting. It is at least curious the absence of circles in the black collection, what could probably be interpreted as a lack of the Platonic element. It is obvious that in this case square, rectangle, and right angle predominate, once more the four elements, the four cardinal points, or, who knows, the sense of earth. Because, even when they are gold painted the three squares of the composition, who knows if we are in front of an encoded presence of Hölderlin, a poet, by the way, who is especially fond of Empédocles.

      The other works from 1999 are the Nordic landscapes, which continue searching the composite possibilities of the right angle. These are painting of a deep absorption, somehow formally in debt to the intimate homage that Teidor made four years before in The silence of Glenn Gould, an extraordinary composition in memory of the Canadian pianist who was precisely playing in his mind in the enormous solitudes of the Arctic. The stripes in right angle of the borders, almost white, described very clearly, in that vast composition, the solitude and desolation of that frozen landscape, whereas in the Nordic landscapes they have become warmer, grey and golden ones.

      The fundamental piece painted in the year 2000 is Gertrud, unmistakable and quite personal evocation of the homonym film by Dreyer. It is probably the sharpest analysis ever filmed, together with Empress Yang Kwei Fei by Kenji Mizoguchi, of woman’s condition, the subtlest exploration of the soul and of woman’s feelings, Dreyer’s Gertrud offers an incomparable final scene, a flash-forward in which we can see Gertrud in her old age moving forward a corridor illuminated by an spiritual light, symbol of her entrance in another kingdom and in another dimension in which fights and worldly ambitions do not matter any more. The deepest and paradoxical sentence which at a certain time the main character of the film utters - «I believe in the voluptuousness of the flesh and in the unavoidable solitude of the soul» - seems to disappear and become out of date when the star goes towards that different, mysterious, unfathomable, reality, unaware of the logic of reason and of perception of senses. Teixidor composes a very elegant  canvas where the black, grey and golden  colours are  probably translating spiritual conditions, intimate conflicts of spiritual nature which, in any case, reflect admiration of the Danish producer.

      After the three great triptychs painted during 2001, in which the painter composes again with three big areas of black, grey and golden colours, except for one in which golden colour has been substituted by an earthy one over which we can distinguish signs of gesture expression, triptychs which choose symmetry, centrality and open space, not delimited, next year Teixidor paints the Exile collection and the great compositions of the Africa collection. The most important from the point of view of the formal innovation in these canvases is the appearance of a vertical or horizontal area which resembles a weave and that, also, has a purpose of gesture expression, that is, an expressive aim. The fundamental painting of all that small collection is perhaps Africa III, with two wide black areas, without almost any track of pictorial track, at the extremes, a yellow stripe like a small net or weave which was made applying directly the oil painting bar over the canvas, and a very well accomplished element consisting of a grey stripe from which it seems to come up an incomplete polygonal weave, a resource coming from a previous failed painting and which offers a lively contrast among the geometrical, linear, and the expressive gesture of the yellow band, a stripe which, in fact, includes brown colours and red shades, justifying in large the painting title. The two magnificent painting in a vertical format from this same year, both untitled, constitute the most exquisite performance of the triple  harmonic relationship between black golden colours, between vertical and horizontal stripes and between the thickness of spaces, without forgetting the simultaneous presence of the undetermined origin, symbolized by the black colour reaching the border itself, and of the limit, of the marking, of the measurable and closed determination.

      The last canvases made up to the present time of the black collection, Everything is omen and Ulrich, are formally linked with the fore mentioned Africa III, especially the second one. Ulrich is a very beautiful, well-considered, and extraordinarily well-balanced picture.. As in any other cases, the resource to the diptych is explained because Teixidor does not want to be a dry and cutting line dividing the composition, but a union. The polygonal open weave in Africa III has been reduced to a slim vertical line in grey colour as well joined by small horizontal lines to the grey stripe which is in the middle of the composition. The central area is closed, leaving the black extremes open. Another possible visual perception identifies as black segments the bordering part between the grey stripe and the black area of the right part. There is once more tension between order and expressive gesture, between light and darkness, between undetermined space and concrete space. There is again a proof of admiration to one of the most distinguished representative of highest culture from Mitteleuropa, the Austrian writer Robert Musil, whose huge unended novel, The man without attributes, searches as no other book, on the nihilism that has characterized the XXth century, that is, on the most distinctive condition of our time. A book about which Albert Camus, who was not exactly an enthusiast of novel, wrote that its main subject was «the search of the salvation of spirit in the modern world». The main character of the novel, Ulrich, the man without qualities, without identity, sceptic, lucid, without a country, a being, as Isidoro Reguera has stated, «who neither wants anything, nor propose anything» who moves «between radical pessimism and mystic experience»[5] in a passage of the novel says: «The real value of imagination is related not only to the past but to the future as well: the ways of freedom and happiness which it invokes call for releasing historic reality». That same unbearable historic reality which Camus in The rebel man will also strike.

      The black collection depicts non-fulfilled aspirations, non-satisfied wishes, partial defeats, self-criticism in relation to one’s own acts and own works, flights and exiles, as it can be seen in emblematic compositions of the collection like the trilogy from 1999, Ulrich and Stanbrook, this last one is a huge painting from 2002 which refers to the departure from Alicante harbour on March 28th, 1939 of the last republicans in their way to exile, curiously on an English ship, whose name was the one that the painting title presently has in her memory. Vicissitudes of life would finally make one of those 2638 passengers get in touch with Teixidor himself. On certain occasions there are three or four black shades which make us recall even Manet, especially Manet in The dead bullfighter, and in the portrait of Berthe Morisot, whose black shades were so praised and exalted by critic Armand Silvestre and poet Paul Valéry[6]. But together with black there is gold, that warm golden colour, which avoids hope to fade away, which gives a sense of transcendence, which makes us feel uplifted, which is a weak spotlight. In the same ways as the spatial limits are shown in the classic gothic cathedral «as something fluid, inaccessible, transparent like the golden bottom of medieval painting»[7], in these paintings of the black collection as well there is an intangible fluidity, diaphanousness, an spiritual light.

      In several private conversations Teixidor has shown his private agreement with Ramón Gaya’s opinions about Velázquez and about painting art in general. When Gaya, for instance, states that «the great artist does not seek word, that is, art, work, but silence; although a vivid silence, a silence of life, not of death, nor even a voiceless, but a communicating one», or when he says that «art is not dressing but undressing… great art is always a silent atmosphere, because it has gone beyond reality, and beyond reality there is not death, but silence, the silence of that reality, that is, its dignity», or, finally, when he adds that «supreme works are completely quiet ones, that is, clean ones»[8], unavoidably Velazquez’s supreme work, Las Meninas, comes into our mind, the non-work par excellence, as in it «all those values which make up a painting, the usual plastic values of a painting, that is, drawing, colour, composition, and also style, are not present in that remarkable and singular canvas»[9]. This is probably Teixidor’s highest desire, painting the definitive picture, the non-picture, a wish he knows it cannot be reached, but that he, nevertheless, gives up; on the contrary, he is more devoted to that impossible task, because that is the painter’s destiny, even much to his regret.

      Teixidor considers abstraction like one of the greatest performances of  latest century, a language, as it has been well known and recognized for a long time, which has given the chance to read with new eyes the art of the past. Abstraction, Teixidor tells us, is related with the enigma of nothing, that one which is at the beginning of any philosophy, but not a negative nothing, but that one «which makes possible what it is». For that reason the painter recalls in the same text San Juan de la Cruz’s words in front of  the tangible beauty of Cordoba which a member of a brotherhood told him: «We are not here to see, but not to see»[10]. The truth of the artistic creation, Teixidor thinks, is one of the ways to keep and renew the ethical sense of life. Art probably may not change the world, as Rimbaud or the major figures of historic avant-gardism, but it can, in fact, help reflect on it, and above all, a way to interpret it»[11].


Traducción de José Mª Valverde Zambrana


[1] MARCHÁN FIZ, S.: From object art to concept art. Madrid, Akal, 1986, pages 89-95.

[2] Interview of Maria Lluïsa Borràs to Jordi Teixidor published in the catalogue of his individual exhibition in the Barbié gallery in Barcelona in 1975.

[3] NEWMAN,B.: The ideographic painting. New York, Betty Parsons Gallery, catalogue of the group exhibition shown between January 20th and February 8th, 1947. Presently reproduced in CHIPP, H. B.: Theories of contemporary art. Madrid, Akal, 1995, pages 585-586.

[4] KANDINSKY, V.: From the spiritual in art. Barcelona, Barral – Labor, 1983, page 86.

[5] REGUERA, I.: «A hundred years of nihilism». Madrid, El País newspaper, October 6th, 2001.

[6] See the catalogue of the exhibition Manet in the Prado. Madrid, Prado Museum, 2003, pages 226 and 290.

[7] JANTZEN, H.: Gothic architecture. Buenos Aires, Nueva Visión, 1982, page 80.

[8] GAYA, R. : Silence of art», in Painting feeling. Madrid, Arión, 1960, pages 71-95.

[9] GAYA, R. Velázquez, lonely bird. GranadaEditoriales Andaluzas Unidas, 1984, page 46.

[10] TEIXIDOR, J.: The choice of the road.  Speech of entry into The Royal Academy of  Fine Arts in San Fernando. Madrid, 2002, page 17.

[11] Ibídem, page 22.

Traducción de José Mª Valverde Zambrana

Publicado originalmente en el catálogo de la exposición Jordi Teixidor, serie negra 1994 - 2004, celebrada en la

Sala Alameda de la Diputación de Málaga entre los meses de enero y abril de 2004