Ángel Mateo Charris


Ángel Mateo Charris was born on May 10, 1962 in Cartagena (Spain), the youngest of the four children (Gregorio, Juan Manuel, Paula and Ángel) of Manuel (a port security officer) and María. He went to primary and secondary school in the city's public school system and became interested in painting, literature and music, despite having no role models in the family in this sense.


In 1980, he enrolled in the San Carlos School of Fine Arts in Valencia, where he specialized in painting. During his training period (under professors such as Sento, Juan Barberá and José María Iturralde), he became interested in diverse approaches to artistic creation, ranging from the most traditional (landscape or portrait painting) to more innovative genre (video art, photography). Showing a taste for comics - Disney and Hergé are some of his most immediate influences - he initially incorporated esthetic features of Pop Art into his work, but quite soon developed a more open and receptive attitude toward the wide variety of sources and stylistic options available throughout the history of art. At the end of his studies, he started doing graphic design work, and the compositional methods used in this field would have a decisive influence on his work.


Although his first solo show dates from 1986, in the second half of the 80's he mainly participated in group shows held in different towns in the region of Murcia, except for his first incursion in Madrid, which arose through a Contemporary Art Workshop with Andrés Nagel at the Círculo de Bellas Artes. During these early years, he began winning sculpture, comic, painting and photography competitions, and in 1989 he won the Certamen Nacional de Jóvenes Fotógrafos (National Contest for Young Photographers) held by the SpanishInstitute for Youth.
In 1988, during his first sojourn in New York, accompanied by Gonzalo Sicre, another painter, he delved into the world of American painting, particularly the work of Edward Hopper and the nineteenth-century tradition of the members of the Hudson River School. Without completely neglecting other styles, in the early 90's his work took a decisive turn toward fully figurative representation in which the use of visual references to film, art history or advertising, which are easily interpreted and immediately recognizable, does not bar the inclusion of other more cultured references that, on a second level, enrich the work with subtle conceptual rhetoric not without a biting sense of humor.
He joined My Name’s Lolita Art gallery in 1991.


After his first major solo shows –My Name's Lolita Art (Valencia, 1990) and Columela (Madrid, 1991) – he travelled to New York again and, upon his return, began a prolonged creative cycle in which the literary component became increasingly important. Thus, through the texts he has written for his exhibition catalogs and well-organized work based on extensive pictorial series, he has created something like parallel worlds –Charrilandia and the Republic of Cartagena– which are built around metaphors for travel, exhibitions such as Mácula Tours (1994) or Xirimiri Express (1997), adventure –300 Exploradores ('300 Explorers') (1996); La fiebre del óleo ('Oil [Paint] Fever') (1996), Cape Cod/Cabo de Palos. Tras las huellas de Hopper ('Cape Cod/Cabo de Palos. Following the Footprints of Hopper'), a book published in 1997 with Gonzalo Sicre after his third visit to the United States– and a calculated exoticism –deserts, frozen landscapes–, that are, nonetheless also important stages for criticism, in which he places a diversity of icons through which he indistinctly pays tribute to or questions the course of art in the 20th century, or manifests his personal viewpoint on political issues like power, war, colonialism and cultural appropriation.
During these years, he is included in group shows curated by Dis Berlin (El retorno del hijo pródigo or 'Return of the Prodigal Son') and Juan Manuel Bonet (Muelle de Levante, 1994) along with a group of painters that endowed the art world with a new metaphysical figuration.
In 1995, the first issue of La Naval came out, a small magazine that would, years later in collaboration with the architect Martín Lejarraga, become an editorial and exhibition project which continues today.
In the late 90's, coinciding with a major show that the IVAM museum in Valencia dedicated to him, he introduced a more personal line of reflection in his work, with time and individual solitude as the backdrop for his figuration. At the same time, he began a line of research on form by creating boxes inspired by the work of Joseph Cornell in which he repeated, in three dimensions, the subjects and iconography developed in his painting. The complex iconography of his tributes and quotes includes artists that have been particularly relevant in his education such as Klee, Miró, Hopper, Friedrich, De Chirico, Torres-García, Van Gogh, Sorolla, Beuys, Dalí and Renau, incorporating into each canvas fragments of the artist he is paying tribute to, in juxtaposition to images taken from the media, filmscapes and characters from cartoons and comics. He has also made critical remarks on art theories in works such as Rareza del siglo ('Rarity of the Century') (1994) and since then has dedicated numerous works to different periods in 20th century art history: Realismo mágico (‘Magical Realism’), Action Painting, Conceptual, Color Field, Minimal and En una playa Dada (‘At a Dada Beach’).


In 2001, he was commissioned by La Mar de Músicas festival to take a trip to Mali, the fruits of which are the exhibition and book entitled Tubabus en Tongorongo. In this trip and others (in this decade he travelled more frequently: Burma, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Europe) he found another major source from which to construct his poetry, which has been described by art critics as a "disconcerting universe that mixes the style of Miró, Dalí, Chagall or De Chirico".
By the late nineties, the painter had added a new territory to his iconography: the frozen white landscapes of the North. His exploration into the whiteness of the landscape continues in works like Antártico ('Antartic') and Ártico ('Artic') (1994), which contain a play on the word "art" in the title, and in En un aria blanca ('In a White Aria'), El hombre relámpago en el mundo de los hielos ('Lightning Man in the Land of Ice'), La cueva de hielo ('The Ice Cave') and La gran travesía ('The Great Crossing'), all from 1995. But it was not until 2003 that he devoted an entire show to the subject of snow –Blanco ('White'), at the Casa de Vacas cultural center and the Provincial Government of Cádiz– after a trip to the Arctic Circle.
In 2002, he painted the dome in the restored former military hospital building in Cartagena, the seat of the new Polytechnic University of Cartagena. In 2007, his exhibition entitled Welcome to the House of Painting includes a unique staging, an effect he was to use repeatedly in subsequent years in other exhibitions such as those at La Conservera art center or the CAB museum in Burgos. Once again, the subject of this exhibition was the world of art and the act of creation. Years later, he would devote another show to the British Turner Prize (Who’s Afraid of the Turner Prize?, 2010).


In 2008, he took on the project of illustrating Heart of Darkness (Galaxia Gutenberg/Círculo de Lectores) which enabled him to create a series of works that combines two of his passions, Conrad (literature) and Africa (travel). In 2013, he took on another challenge of this kind with the same publisher and Charles Dickens as the central figure, about Great Expectations, with the Victorian world as the backdrop.
In 2011, again with Gonzalo Sicre, he held a major exhibition in tribute to Leon Silliaert at La Conservera, a cycle –Insomnio ('Insomnia') – about night and the northern landscapes of the Belgian city of Ostende.
In this exhibition, the architect Martín Lejarraga participated in the staging, and the two also had an exhibition at the CAB museum in Burgos (Piel de asno ('Mule hide'), 2013) showing their numerous collaborations over the years, prepared during a visit to New York.
If in Días en Volcanovia ('Days in Volcanovia') (Sala Carlos III, Pamplona, 2006) he had emphasized the adventurer topic, in this decade Rabinos, cannolis y puertos ('Rabbis, Cannoli and Ports') (Palacete del Embarcadero, Santander) and Una de aventuras ('One about Adventures') (Fundación Cajamurcia, 2014) took over, later giving way to a whole series of new works about the South Seas and the Tiki subculture.


Note: This brief biographical note uses part of the material on file about the artist at the Museo Patio Herreriano and the IVAM.