A Labyrinthine Comedy behind the Scenes: Charris and Latent Meanings


Tarancón Royo, Héctor

La broma infinita, 2016. Oil on canvas. 150 x 225 cm

La broma infinita, 2016. Oil on canvas. 150 x 225 cm

La broma infinita, 2016. Oil on canvas. 150 x 225 cm

“I have always felt attracted to works in which, the more closely one looks at them, the more lost one feels” José Antonio Suárez Londoño[1].

"There is a vast, great, rich culture of painting–of art in general–which we have lost, but which places obligations on us". Gerhard Richter[2].

Ever since its inception, the museum, broadly defined as a protector of heritage or a mere trampoline for sundry fairs and awards, has physically and mentally established the limits between art and everything else, setting out a series of implicit conditions for entry, such as the prevailing historicist discourse in each of its contents, the deathly coldness of its open spaces, the height at which the works are hung or, indeed, its pricing policy, which already distinguishes between different social statuses. Thus, this institution arises like a temple in which concepts crystallize and the display of the works rarely varies, so that each museum ends up resembling all the others. Within its walls, we can find relics of a sacred, untouchable past constantly in danger of extinction, which should certainly make the most fervent environmentalists happy, and especially the “super-specialized world of the super-specialized universe of their time”[3], but the same cannot be said for its visitors, which end up understanding little or nothing of its wordy captions stuffed to the brim with references. Thus, we find ourselves in the midst of a dilemma that has no easy solution: the super-modern, inexplicable discoveries of the art show against the old belief in the immense power of the image, or to put it differently, the invasion of images from popular culture in antiquated and apparently untouchable contexts, that is, Charris.

Guided by a compass that points to the north of our strange emotions and dislocated visions, we shall endeavor to set off on our little journey toward the heart of the Cosmolocalists, the retrospective at fault for this diversion and for the panic that will soon break out when some PhD student hungry for acclaim indicates the dates on many of the paintings and, with this, the possible relationship between our painter from Cartagena and the most ruthless aliens in the galaxy. It is no coincidence that his eye, as if it were some sort of hieroglyph, is what warns us, like an ancient premonition, of the tricks and treasures that await us on our wild adventure. It watches our every step, but what we are unaware of is that, with its gaze, it turns us into true works of art that depend on the authors and styles of the long tradition of art history: the mundane happens at every moment, or rather, despite it. (He had been speaking for some time, although no one had been paying much attention until the receptionist stressed the fact that the tour was free of charge). Welcome, he says enthusiastically, to this fascinating journey to the heart of painting. Now that we have crossed the threshold, and though it requires certain sacrifices as regards the far from negligible pleasures of life, our task shall be difficult because, in A, at the start of every journey, nothing is clear. In fact, if we were to imagine this journey as a constant return to the yellow brick road, going back over mistakes, experiences, joys, anecdotes and people equally, nothing would ever be clear (“One lives with the faint intuition / of what life might have been”)[4]. As you shall see, there are too many signs and directions to follow along the road, so it is highly likely that we will be even more disoriented by the end, or maybe not, not even I know that.

This difficult task could have to do with seeing (the visitors burst out laughing, but the guide reassures them), the best joke is always left for last. Whether we like it or not, seeing has always played a key role in our relationship with the world and, in some way, it has defined the perspective (isometric, dimetric or cavalier) with which we experience our environment. There is no innocent or neutral point of view (“It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it”)[5] and, for as much as we try to resist, we always end up being lured in by the sirens' song. Furthermore, within this dynamic, we expect to receive a promise of continuance that redeems us from our fleeting and fatal destiny (“The paradox of beauty is well known. / It takes hold and lasts an instant / which justifies eternity”)[6], or certain uniqueness which enables us to distinguish ourselves from the rest. Because we are not stupid! And so, convinced of their actual effectiveness, we go back over the same images again and again, like forgetful fish that bump into the most obvious of facts , to that moment that was and now exists as a recording (“It is in them that we become unique, individuals. They — and of course the precise setting of a certain culturality and historicity — are what really make us)[7]. Consequently, although too predictably, we end up overloaded with references, shapes and colors because of the intensity of the moment we had at first so keenly sought: our strength of belief in the images and their spaces has more in common with Christian rituals than it might at first seem[8].

“The silence was complete”[9] (The guide stops talking). No one present knows how to continue such a deep explanation. (The inexperienced bravery of the student enters the scene) After a few minutes, to break the ice a bit, the young man remarks that that looks like a painting by Hopper. Everyone, except the guide, turns to stare at him (Moment of drama. They must choose between visual culture and the traditional stylistic account. They huddle around each other and, right when they are going to announce their decision, the guide begins to speak again, even more energetically). In fact, though we tend to ignore it, Edward Hopper's paintings are an essential example of how, blinded by our determination, we look for meaning where there simply is none, or there needn't be any. Fascinated, as he was, by the 19th-century French masters (Degas, Manet, Millet & Co.), after brief stays in Paris between 1906 and 1910[10], he was compelled to capture the American context to please the critics, those suited guys intent on leading us the wrong way and down paths that head nowhere. It sure is something, history and its Cosmolocalism, with the need to be universal within a fenced in territory. Like building a house starting with the roof, I tell you!

Thus, with a French brush but an American mind, works of his like Hotel room (1931) and Nighthawks (1942), set within the context of the strain of the Great Depression, froze the alienation of modern life for all future generations. Composed around a central figure or building surrounded by a series of elements as in contrast with nature, the letters, the tension between the interior oppression and the exterior freedom, or the lonely gazes, his scenes push waiting to the limit, the decisive instant that has yet to occur. Indeed, writers like Erika Bornay and Mark Strand attempted, to no avail, to continue the emotional vanishing point left by Hopper in their accounts and descriptions. What foolishness! (The guide encourages a moderate smile.) More than once, these attempts to look for meaning end up becoming stagnated, when not utter failures. Furthermore, not to get too far off track, this style of poetic - some say metaphysical - echoes is actually the result of a closely calculated composition, which we also find in the apparently mundane nature of the scenes by filmmaker Yasujirō Ozu or in the open endings of writer Raymond Carver's stories, despite the fact that they owe their fame to the editing and manipulation of his publisher, Gordon Lish: “I just want to say one more thing–he began. But then he could not think what it could possibly be”[11].

(Thinking) This interruption or break in the story, which shouts for a conclusion, decisively spotlights some of the most characteristic features of Hopper's work, like the utter frugality of resources he uses to construct the setting, the clear and brilliant pictorial volumes that lead the eye to a certain point, the lifting and placement of the fictitious point of view of the picture like a voyeur or actual passer-by, the numerous superimposed meanings that can be unearthed from the oil paint or the overriding void of life[12] (“Hopper's referentiality is the result of replacing symbolic values with the signs of modern civilization”[13]). (He starts to point at paintings) However, while Charris' debt to Hopper is visually evident , he reworks many of these characteristics in his pieces. On the one hand, the inscrutable nostalgia, which is sometimes more critical and ironic about the American way of life than he has been given credit for in traditional historiography, becomes a tranquilizer with ambiguous effects. (The guide gets nervous) Calm down, all in due time. In these works, as we can see, the mundane is a stolen fragment of ordinary time, a pause in which the epic, the global and the peace of mind of one who is aware of his fate, or of the rules affecting the game, predominate. There is, thus, a refined, elegant humor that examines the strength of our cultural references and our ideological impostures.

What's more, this inherited poetry of intimacy that occurs before our eyes is projected into the future in this case, due to the encounter with a universe full of possibilities, encounters with the impossible and with the chaos inherent to life[14]. (He sighs deeply) Indeed, his paintings show us the shadows, the hidden folds of our gaze, by placing the entire immense universe of images that we see every day and that we consciously or unconsciously add to our memory, which fosters this disconnection from reality we were talking about.Has anyone seen a film by Wes Anderson? (No one answers) It doesn't matter. Our painter places us squarely in the middle of the enigma of the emotions present in movies like The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), which combines, in equal proportions, victory and defeat, second chances and disastrous endings so that, at the end, we are not quite sure which way our confused internal arrow is pointing, whether toward happiness or toward nostalgia. (He checks his watch) Take this card; this way you are sure not to forget anything: “When I paint, I always endeavor, taking nature as my source, to project onto the canvas my most intimate reaction to the object, as it appears to me when I like it best, when the facts are unified by my interest and my prejudices. Why I choose certain subjects over others, I cannot say, unless it is because I perceive them as the best means for synthesizing my internal experience”.

Excuse me, the source of this quote is not listed here, remarks the student out of curiosity. (The guide ignores him. The lady takes the stage to come to his rescue) When two authors have an identical feeling about artistic creation, the names are more like brand names than actual identity. 'Ultramegafantastic!' exclaims the guide now, this short video will answer some of our questions: With the triumphant emergence of the historical avant-garde in the early 20th century, the outdated academic painting methods were renewed through the Cubist defragmentation of reality, the wild color-blindness of the Fauvists, the Futurist praise for cities or the power of dreams of the Surrealists, styles which would lead to other movements such as Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism that were crucial to the Americans that witnessed their inception. Art, more than ever, was on the crest of the creative wave. Within all these -isms, the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico masterfully combined, like never before, elements such as surprise, enigma, fatality and revelation. In fact, according to the American academic, Hal Foster, in his essay Compulsive Beauty, the Italian painter, in his texts, described the world as “an immense museum of strangeness”. This enables us at least to highlight several points at which… (The video inexplicably jumps from minute 1:56 to 14:43) So now we can more clearly see the ties with Charris. The Enigma of a Day (1914) depicts a scene that disturbs the viewer with its extreme perspective and the presence of nostalgia for what is lost, as in La Siesta en la República [Nap in the Republic] (1994). The Italian painter not only distorts the perspective and the vanishing point, but also the proportions between objects, as we can see in Love Song (1914) and its Spanish homonym, Grand Cremá (2004), and its very presence in space, the frontality of which prevents us from escaping from the trauma, as is the case of the pair, The Disquieting Muses (1916) and Wabi Sabi (2016).

(When the lights come back on, the visitors find that the guide has vanished). His voice, however, can be heard over the loudspeaker. ‘He was lip-syncing!’, exclaims the student, who is starting to think this is one of the strangest guided tours of his life. Don't worry, says the museum souvenir shopkeeper from the back of the room, I can continue with the tour. After all, I worked at the home shopping network for several years so I have practice with this sort of thing. Besides, he whispers, I have been highlighting the parts of catalogs that might help us in my free time, but don't tell the director that or he'll promote me to curator! Actually, the heterogeneous nature of the realities that are superimposed in Charris' paintings are the direct result of a Spanish invention: the Cubist collage by Picasso and Juan Gris. What a coincidence, eh? His appropriationism, quotationism or quite simply sampling work, according to the leading expert on him, affords his works countless emotions and latent meanings, the origin of which can be found in his sketches, which he meticulously creates, combining photos from his travels, references typical of pop culture and from the art world, in addition to the beliefs, customs and views of other cultures.

Travel has always been essential to his work, to feed the fire of experimentation and cultural and artistic variation (“How do you know if you've never tried it?”)[15], and therefore his works move through stations and on roads, many of which are unmarked, offering quite a palimpsest that is constantly rewritten, giving rise to an expressive encounter in its contradiction. Like a small independent universe, each of this paintings comprises, in the most profound sense, a metapicture, according to W. J. T. Mitchell, an image that reflects and talks about itself[16]. That's why it is so necessary to expose the ideas, compare them with the mysterious and dangerous exterior (“I've always suspected that Carpanta told me that story about the book so that I would find him out and put an end to our agreement. And not because he doesn't like my cooking (I can attest to that) but rather because, in his field, he is a great artist and, as Lee Marvin says, the home and slippers are an artist's worst enemy”)[17]. It is funny how an artist's work is composed of equal portions of reflection and intuition, and the premonitions and unexpected discoveries become as important as the intellectual baggage with which we all endeavor to construct something of interest to our contemporaries”[18].

Precisely, this knowledge is contaminated by pop culture, placed on the same level as the high art world (“I find it amusing to follow their intrigues and strategies(…) I like that art is all those different things at once, although sometimes all the merry-go-rounds and amusement rides are a bit dizzying. The art world is not art, but it is the place where things happen, the mechanism that makes art move, the generator that powers the lightbulb and, as everyone knows, sometimes machinery is dirty and full of grease”)[19]. Charris - voilà! - destabilizes the advertising imagery that is so common nowadays, as well as the myths of coldness, apparent banality and mere quoting of pop art references, evidencing the unified coexistence of our references and his capacity, last but not least, to renew himself in each encounter with the viewer, to challenge the traditional limits of the art world and the spaces we live in with images that are recognizable at first glance. From this viewpoint, and with Ed Ruscha in mind, the shift is located at the crest of the wave (Fig. 24): the enigma, the absurd, the comical, the ambiguity, the failure to communicate, the deautomatization, etc.

I am truly sorry for reading so much, but when one has a product to sell, acting as a ventriloquist is the best option. Here comes the good part! Non-Western cultures! The primitive, defined in the early 20th century as that which is foreign, was used from a distance by the historical avant-garde and it was not until well after the turn of the century that anthropologists began to express their discomfort with this intellectual colonization. Globalization! Some shouted. And everything remained the same. However, some of Charris' works show that, beyond our ethnocentrism, there are totally different ways of experiencing creation, time and the environment, regardless of how much neoliberal economics have expanded or how rigid minds are (the squares with the squares and the circles with the circles) (Figs. 25-26). Therefore, what the Cosmolocalists show us is nothing more than… (A bell rings in the background, sounding too much like school and high school).

- I am afraid our tour is over, announces the salesman.

- What a rip-off! Oh, those Cosmolocalists that no one knows anything about! I knew that, for all the paintings here, those modern folks were going to trick us too, cries the lady, making a fuss.

- Don't worry, although the Cosmolocalists appear in one of the texts in the catalog, I have prepared some explanatory notes here, which will solve your problem.

Despite the overwhelming eagerness among those present, most of them save it to read later, in the comfort of their home. The lady grumbles, crushes the card into a ball and throws it out at the entrance. The student, meanwhile, smiles calmly, as anything else would have disappointed him greatly.

The next day, another batch of visitors is waiting for the explanation about the enigmatic Cosmolocalists. The children have turned the reception hall into a playground, where winning or losing is a matter of life or death. The teachers prepare riddles, gathering all the energy they can muster. There are falls, fights and adventures, and a feeling of naivety pervades the atmosphere. In one small corner, one child finds a ball of paper, which he immediately takes to the teacher to read. The guide tries to stop him, but the utter indifference of the teacher and the knowledge that children see, speak and suffer before becoming aware of what happens, keeps him still.

- ‘Look! Look what I found!’, screams one of the children at the top of his lungs, making everyone quiet down.

- “The end of this book [this tour] is also a beginning”[20], reads the teacher.





Héctor Tarancón Royo (Albacete, 1991) (Contact:

Critic, cultural manager and researcher. He has earned a Bachelor's Degree in Art History (2009-2013), a Master's in Contemporary Philosophy and its Historical Assumptions (2013-2015) and took a Post-graduate Course in Cultural Management and Economics (2015-2016), all at University of Murcia. He founded the AHARMUR cultural association, where he is currently vice-chairman, and is a member of the editorial team of Tebeosfera. He also collaborates on occasion, writing articles, interviews and critiques in media such as Culturamas, Détour, El Coloquio de los Perros, Josefina la Cantante, La Opinión de Murcia, Murcialove, Revista de Letras, Revista Magma, and Vísperas. Furthermore he prepared the retrospective 2/2, antología poética de Juan Andrés García Román, and has written texts for contemporary art exhibitions (“Atrévete si quieres a no hacer nunca lo que debes”, Galería T20, Festival MMOD), and for scholarly journals (“Eloy Fernández Porta y la condición afterpop: metodologías analíticas y estrategias artísticas ante la fabricación de la subjetividad”, Imafronte, UM) and conferences (“El record interminable: Eduardo Balanza y la comunicación del ritual de los (re)mixes musicales”, I Congreso Nacional de Jóvenes Historiadores del Arte, UM). Finally, his line of research explores the relationships between contemporary art, literature, identity and popular culture within the framework of Visual Studies.



[1]Valdés, Emiliano, “Preguntas sobre el dibujo para José Antonio Suárez Londoño”, in Sonseca Mas, Yara (com.), Muestrario, Madrid: La Casa Encendida, 2014, p. 97.

[2] Foster, Hal, The First Pop Age, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton Press, 2013, p. 210.

[3] Charris, Ángel Mateo, “Prólogo”, in Textos por catálogo, el arte y todo lo demás, Cartagena: Muralla Bizantina, 2006, p. 6.

[4] Fernández Mallo, Agustín, Joan Fontaine Odisea, Barcelona: La Poesía, señor hidalgo, 2005, p. 77.

[5] Berger, John, Ways of Seeing, Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 2014, p. 13.

[6] Fernández Mallo, Agustín, Joan Fontaine Odisea, op. cit., p. 77.

[7] Brea, José Luis, Las tres eras de la imagen: imagen-materia, film, e-image, Madrid: Akal, 2010, p. 18.

[8] Brea, José Luis, “Imagen-materia”, in Ibid., pp. 9-31.

[9] DeLillo, Don, Point Omega, Barcelona: Seix Barral, 2010, p. 127.

[10] Levin, Gail, “Edward Hopper” in Edward Hopper, Madrid: Fundación Juan March, 1989, pp. 7-29.

[11] Carver, Raymond, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Barcelona: Anagrama, 2008, p. 157.

[12] Levin, Gail, “Edward Hopper”, op. cit., pp. 7-29.

[13] Bagué, Luis, La Menina ante el espejo. Visita al Museo 3.0, Madrid: Fórcola, 2016, p. 53.

[14] Bagué, Luis, “Sala 2. Esperando a Hopper. La Soledad del Pintor de Fondo”, in Ibid., pp. 37-58.

[15] Charris, Ángel Mateo, “Una historia blanca”, in Textos por catálogo, el arte y todo lo demás, op. cit., p. 54.

[16] Mitchell, W. J. T., “Metapictures”, in Picture Theory. Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation, Madrid: Akal, 2009, p. 39-78.

[17] Charris, Ángel Mateo, “Una historia blanca”, in Textos por catálogo, el arte y todo lo demás, op. cit., p. 56.

[18] Charris, Ángel Mateo, Charris. Rabinos, cannolis & puertos, Santander: Autoridad Portuaria de Santander, 2008, p. 6.

[19] Ibid., p. 16.

[20] Charris, Ángel Mateo, Una cuestión de suerte, Madrid: Vuela Pluma, 2008, p. 148.