"But, hey, what's this?” wonders the looter as he leans against a rock in exhaustion while observing his haul. There are stone eggs and convoluted sculptures that remind him of future times, but mostly he has stolen paintings, paintings that give off a unique peculiarity...a beauty so intriguing that...once he was inside the house, he had forgotten all about his plan and started to make off with pieces he should have left in place. It's just that they all spoke to him, and said something that mattered.
As a professional, he thought he had a clear idea of what he was going to take from Mateo Charris' house. He had pored over brochures, catalogs and books about his work, had calculated the time he would invest in the operation, had chosen the clients that each piece would go to. But coming in contact with the originals had prompted the longing...the...the...the hunger...the age-old desire to possess that had fuelled his early heists. He was originally going for seven pieces, but now look at all these works strewn about the jungle. What had been planned as a mere theft had become a plundering fed by the voracious need to take hold of images that captured ideas he thought he might have had, although not exactly that way. He'd rather not count how many he has stolen. What would he do with the extras? He hadn't gone astray from a plan in a long time. What had happened? He stares at a painting leaning against a tree three meters away. He would like to get closer to take a better look.
When he catches his breath he is still too tired to cross those three meters so he picks up his binoculars and focuses on the painting, endeavoring to discern something that might illuminate him or offer a response. He stumbles across a flesh-tone patch. He adjusts the lens better and distinguishes a large, muscular arm, perhaps a man's arm. Charris' arm? The man paints himself? Painters do things like that, self-portraits... and painters have robust arms... Could that be him? It's funny that after studying the painter's movements so closely, he has forgotten about his appearance, and right now he doesn't remember whether his arms are like trunks, sticks or branches. If he passed him on the street, he might not even recognize him. Unlike his work. But, could that be Charris' arm? The looter sums up.
Angel Mateo Charris is the son of a port security officer who, as a child, used to visit his father at work, where he heard tell of loads, sheds and ships. A world of seafarers and stevedores, blue out before him and tons of stories about remote places that no doubt left their mark on him, because throughout his life, Mateo Charris has traveled, traveled, traveled. Always departing, of course, from the house he had built in the shape of a seashell in a neighborhood that is as blue-collar as he is. Once again, that oddity. And the sea.
He comes from the Spanish Mediterranean, so of course he is drawn by the sea and the winds. In fact, watercraft abound in the stolen paintings. Icebreakers, canoes, barges and tugboats float in them. And there are freighters and ports, quays, promenades, breakwaters and rivers too. Inside the seashell-shaped house, the looter - we'll call him Saq - found cats and turtles. Live ones.
Saq has fun getting inside his victims' heads, especially when dealing with a man the experts refer to as "pop". Saq loves pop. For the last two decades, theft has been his master's in art and even though he'll never admit to being much more than a good thief, he knows a lot about contemporary art. That's why he relates Charris' work to Hopper, Dali or De Chirico, artists that he regards so highly that they often help him select his targets.
Saq hasn't needed money for years but he remains in the "business" because even in these emotionally languishing times, the risk of the raids still excites him more than any other "job", while he is immersed in beauty and fantasy and suggestion, especially since he started to focus on stealing what he likes. Why else? The alleged immorality of his business doesn't bother him: Charris himself has occasionally acted as a thief, copying in his own manner - he would probably say "interpreting" - works of artists he loves. Of course: one steals to improve. Some do it to survive, but Saq can't relate to them. And he thinks Charris can't either. He thinks they both share the goal of evolving, moving forward and going beyond and deeper or wherever, but doing what they love. Besides, one steals only up to a certain point, and after that it's you in your world built of passion, experiences and petty theft that is sometimes only in your imagination.
Could that be Charris' arm? The looter's gaze moves along the patch of flesh in the hopes that the arm at least belongs to a human being, because with Charris you never know. His assortment of incredible creatures is...
"What are you looking at?"
Saq puts down the binoculars to see Miguel stuffed into his typical 19th century explorer costume, donning a pith helmet, breaches swallowed up by high-riding boots, with a mustache and rifle. His veteran companion in plundering. How can he work with someone so different and out of touch? And yet, they get along well.
"A painting," he answers, nodding towards the painting that Miguel cannot see from where he is standing.
He finds it uncanny that Miguel can understand everything so easily, but it's convenient, so he goes back to what he was doing. Fortunately, he focuses on almost the same place in the painting where he left off. The arm seems to be holding a knapsack.
"Charris is a fan of mistakes," points out Miguel. "Well done mistakes. Had you noticed?"
"Oh, really? What is a well done mistake?"
The démodé adventurer goes on to lecture him about mistakes that make dull things interesting:
"He once said he was crazy about minor phonetic shifts...actually, anything that can cause exciting confusion."
As Saq continues to slide the binoculars over the canvas, he confirms that it is indeed a human arm: it is wearing a shirt similar to his own. Perhaps this is an explorer.
"Have you seen how he likes masks?” continues Miguel. "He is probably trying to point out the deception in society and..."
Miguel goes into one of his typical know-it-all dissertations about how the artist makes use of strange and symbolic objects to make them memorable. Saq has started to disconnect when his veteran friend asks if he has noticed that all the paintings strewn around the jungle have a certain something in common. Without looking away from the binoculars, Saq remembers the icebreaker boat stuck into a glacial white plain interrupted only by the outcropping moai that reminded him of some unknown time and place; shadowy jungles, pets among the vines, gold prospectors in the Peruvian Amazon come to mind; greyhounds in the snow; references to Google Earth, Nicola Tesla...
"Do you realize they are all traveling?” says Miguel, finishing off.
When his veteran friend goes into his techno-psychological analyses, Saq tends to stop listening. The figure of the scholarly looter exasperates him. Perhaps he is one too, but the desire to embellish an obviously criminal activity with layers of exuberant knowledge exasperates him. However, this time he appreciates the fact that his colleague has pointed out a feature that he hadn't noticed, so he listens when he adds that, "this man is not ashamed of his sources: he is full of tributes. Have you seen Salzillo?" Saq is unfazed. "Salzillo was a sculptor, son of a sculptor, who studied anatomical form, spatial solutions and bodily gestures better than most".
"Well, the people in these paintings aren't moving much," objects Saq.
"And yet, they never stop moving," responds Miguel, who is clearly excited. "To express activity you don't need twisting forms. Subtlety is something else. Charris is a neo-metaphysical, he won't distract you with useless disturbances. He faces the immensity and he does so calmly, as if there were no other option. Or as if this were, at least, the most suitable one. Being. Observing. Intervening just enough and, when he does, making truth come from the action."
"I'd like to see how calm he is today when he comes home," says Saq, moving the binoculars up the shirt. He gets to the neck. It is thick. The head is covered with well-groomed graying hair. The face could belong to a Scandinavian with somewhat narrow shoulders, or perhaps it's just the intimidated posture, because the man is clinging to his knapsack as if he were afraid of losing something that might not be an object.
"It is as quiet as it is disturbing," adds Miguel.
"Unsettling, you could say."
"That is a feature of the unknown. Of adventure. Charris bases his work on adventure, except that this," - Miguel traces a semi-circle that encompasses the works strewn among the rocks, brush, trunks and climbing vegetation - "is like a synthesis of his fever. Here there is only adventure. As strange as it may be, but adventure nonetheless. Yes! Adventure!"
Miguel's excitement annoys Saq, he even finds it ridiculous. It doesn't even fit with his attire: in the movies, a person dressed like this would behave with restraint. He focuses his binoculars on the gaze of the presumed painted explorer. Where is he looking?
So, what distinguishes this heist is adventure, thinks Saq. So, right now I am the owner of a handful of artworks tainted with strangeness and set in remote locations, which makes them even more intriguing, as if we had raised the strangeness to a higher power. Yes, Charris has clearly traveled. He has driven, flown and sailed enough to offer something different that, in his sophisticated manner, fits into this wild corner of the world. The group as a whole has harmony. But how is this harmony possible? You should have seen Saq in his frenzy, grabbing canvases with such a lack of calculation or control that he now finds the coherence of his unintended selection frightening. As if his mind had been thinking of its own accord. As if instinct proved to have its own logic. We know that instinct acts alone, but when we are faced with how much it dominates us, controls us, it can even be frightening.
"Sometimes he is a bit pretentious," says Saq, to make his own conclusions seem less pretentious.
"He is a poet."
"Bla, bla, bla... a poet, a poet," murmurs Saq, moving the binoculars along a blank space to what he senses is an eye, although it is so disproportionately large that he discards this possibility. He adjusts the lens, pulls back and discovers that it is indeed an eye, except that it is the size of a head. He can't comprehend what it is that he is seeing, so he puts the binoculars down, pushes himself forward and walks through the grass, among sculptures, paintings and jungle, towards the piece. He didn't take this one, he would surely remember it. Did Miguel take it? But Miguel didn't get out of the van, he just helped load.
From half a meter away, he sees that the eye IS the head topping off a negroid body. The aboriginal with an eye for a head is showing the gray-haired man another eye painted on a rock by who knows which of his ancestors. The eye-head (which is between the eye drawn on the rock and the gray-haired explorer) is the best eye Saq has ever seen. Not because the painting is exquisite but because of what it has sparked in him. Saq has seen other eyes painted by Charris, Damian Hirst or Gilbert & George, numerous versions of lifeless gazes, neon eyes, graffiti eyes, open and closed eyes... but this eye synthesizes the rest, explaining the passage of time and its effects on human creativity.
Saq is trying to assimilate the brilliant originality of the proposal. As if he could see through the eye-head, he stands just centimeters away and, like a fortune teller with a crystal ball, peers into the giant retina. There, he contemplates a frozen scene in which he recognizes himself leaning on a rock in exhaustion, surrounded by sculptures in a clearing in the jungle. Miguel, a few steps away, is also part of the scene that the two men had played out just minutes ago. As if the eye had already seen them. As if they were nothing more than shapes captured in an ancient gaze.
Saq doesn't want to believe what he is seeing because it would endanger his existence as he perceives it: real. Is that eye insinuating that he is in the head of some native from who knows what corner of the world? Does it mean that he is in Charris' head? Does it mean that he is nothing more than part of a picture, a mere painting? He is not sure and he doesn't want to think about it, so he moves away from the cursed eye and, forcing an ironic smile, says,
"Of course, with everything we've got here we could organize an impressive show."
"One about adventures," suggests Miguel.
Catalogue Una de aventuras. Fundación Cajamurcia, 2014.