miércoles, 24 de junio de 2009

The baroque and the hybrid

Among the many definitions of the word baroque are these two:

1: of, or relating to, or having the characteristics of a style of artistic expression prevalent especially in the seventeenth century that is marked generally by use of complex forms, bold ornamentation, and the juxtaposition of contrasting elements, often conveying a sense of drama, movement and tension.

2: characterized by grotesqueness, extravagance, complexity or flamboyance.[1] [Emphasis added]

I have emphasized various words and phrases in these definitions because they are particularly relevant to our discussion of the paintings of Germán Tagle. As it developed in European centers, the Baroque was an expression of the visual possibilities revealed by a deft manipulation of light, a penchant for narrative drama and a taste for complex compositions. Imported into the Americas, however, the Baroque represented something altogether different, largely because of the vast difference in the social and cultural realities of both places:

From Mexico to the Andes, conquered American Indians, black slaves, elite Europeans and their uprooted nonaristocratic compatriots mixed together, creating societies that were highly inegalitarian and hierarchical, but in which the traditions of many continents were combined. New groups arose everywhere: the mestizos of Hispanic America, the mamelucos of Portuguese Brazil. In response to the Westernization imposed by the Catholic Church, Madrid and Lisbon fostered mestizo cultures that drew freely on Amerindian traditions or the constant flow of influences from Africa.[2]

This hybridization of physical and cultural elements, and the subsequent production of an environment that is a product of varied sources, are at the heart of Germán Tagle’s paintings. The artist himself notes the significance of hybridization in his works as a key element. He describes his landscapes as emblematic of a “larger environment, a totality, something that is inescapable, without end, dual and hybrid.”[3]

The power represented visually by this cultural and conceptual hybridity is clear in works such as Electric Dragon, 2008 (*Fig. 12). This image presents a dynamic relationship between surface and background, between support and paint, between form and content. Metaphorically, it also addresses cultural difference and the effects of the modern mixing of history and present, innumerable cultural elements, and time and space. Among the more recognizable objects in this painting are the “whiplash” form seen in the center and borrowed both from organic forms and from design of the Art Nouveau period. As the solid form of landscape moves down the center of the painting, the sensual, linear form of the whip becomes immediately evident.

Similarly, the imagery in Messenger (*Fig. 5) epitomizes the hybrid relationship between the constructed, idyllic landscape of the toile fabric and the abstraction of the paint. The modernist paradigm of nonobjective form is poured stridently across the bucolic scene in the background, underscoring the tension that the artist has created between both worlds. A woman does her wash below the shade of a tree, while near her two shepherds lead a cow through the scene. Far above, an ominous, formless rain cloud hovers, painted in solid forms of blue and gray.

The palpable relationship between the form seen in the textile print and the artist’s shape underscores the hybridity of the landscape to which he refers. The unending pattern of the Orientalist lines, in Electric Dragon, covers the surface of the work, which is then intervened with a slowly moving but compelling series of references to land and water. In Messenger, a scene from the countryside, European or perhaps American, inspires a feeling of nostalgia, or familiarity, a remembrance of pastoral scenes created by Western artists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As an inspiration of the Baroque, the juxtaposition of these very different forms signifies its legacy in the Americas.

By tracing these weighty themes throughout the work of Germán Tagle, we are allowed to follow a visual and intellectual exploration of historic forces, abstract forms, the significance of pattern and image, and a number of other elements. The pleasure of viewing the paintings sometimes belies their deeper signification. With their rich, pearly layers of paint and their formidable strokes, the paintings would invite a contemplation of form most immediately. However, exploring the artist’s signifying use of the figure and the background, form and content, fabric and color, reveals the intimate depth of his bold narratives.

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/baroque, Feb. 16, 2009.
[2] Serge Gruzinski, “The Baroque Planet,” in Elizabeth Armstrong and Victor Zamudio-Taylor, eds., Ultrabaroque: Aspects of Post Latin American Art (San Diego: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2000): 112-113.
[3] Author’s conversation with the artist, February 9, 2009.

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