Cartagena, Rome, Cape Cod, Odessa…


Bonet, Juan Manuel

Both Angel Mateo Charris and Gonzalo Sicre are members of an aesthetic family –that of El retorno del hijo pródigo, of Muelle de Levante- that has repeatedly enjoyed referring to itself as neo-metaphysical. The two artists reside in Cartagena, birthplace of Charris and a city of ports, railways, the military and manufacturing, a city that I myself some time ago classified as Spain´s most metaphysical city. In spite of dedication to Giorgio de Chirico´s style, neither of the painters has spent time in Rome yet, as has already been the case, on the other hand, thanks to the revitalization of our Academy, of no less than five of their fellow artist on a collective venture: Maria Gómez, Antonio Rojas, Manuel Sáez, Joël Mestre and Damián Flores. Neither has either of the two made a trip to Italy in the way that led Dis Berlin there with a grant as one of the first Masters of Young metropolis, Berlin, on the other hand, used it as an opportunity to imbue himself with Italian art from all centuries, as well as painting of the novecento cycle and the dusks of Corot, whose shadow is always with us in Rome.
Until now the most important journey made by Charris and Sicre has not led them eastward, but rather towards the West: to the United States, a country time and again dreamt of by Charris, who at the beginning of his career was receptive to the pop art of James Rosenquist and Ed Ruscha. The memories of Charris, as a great consumer of cinema, also surface in his landscapes of the desert of the Far West, or in certain suburban scenes of motels and neon lights.
Yes, quite recently Charris and Sicre have directed their steps towards the United States. The destination that they chose, to be precise, was Cape Cod, an area on the East Coast that any amateur painter would identify with its most illustrious visitor from the late ´20s onwards: Edward Hopper, a painter who, while living, was relatively unknown outside his immediate environment, but is today, as the thirtieth anniversary of this death is reached, universally recognized.
Cape Cod as North. Hopper as beacon. His own setting as a challenge. To Charris and Sicre –as to plenty of their fellow artists, hijos pródigos or muellistas- the metaphysical painter of House by the Railroad (1925), and The Lighthouse at Two Lights (1929) fascinated them as did the symbolist Shakespeare at Dusk (1935) and what may well be his most emblematic painting Early Sunday Morning (also 1930), one of the jewels of the Whitney Museum collection. Friends of desert spaces, whether real or imaginary, of the shipwrecked zones where the scent of another time still floats by, of the cities left as window to History, of passing shadows –friends of all these things, the two artists from Cartagena look to North America as if someone precedes them on a road little frequented and along which Giorgio de Chirico went before them: the road of every mystery.
Just as with the already mentioned Damián Flores and Marcelo Fuentes, Charris and Sicre know how to work expertly in the tenuous borderland that separates the delineation of a natural shape from that of a metaphysical one. In that frontier, their encounter with Hopper was inevitable. He is a painter who Flores and Fuentes also consider to be a fundamental point of reference, and one who has pushed the great walker from Valencia, that is Fuentes, to visit New York, and to incorporate in his work some of its urban perspectives.
In the case of Charris, there have already been numerous occasions when we could take note of his devotion to the painter of Nyack. They are, on the one hand, the explicit tributes: Hopper en los Alcázares (1991), Hopper en la Algameca (1993), or El joven Edward (1995). But they are also, more indirectly, a vision of the mining Southeast such as La Edad de oro, or a rural and symbolist print such as El canto del grillo, both of which appeared in his memorable exhibition República de Cartagena (1993), where the above mentioned Hopper en la Algameca was also shown. Or, more recently, the car crossing a coast road in Puerto Trópico (1995). On this subject, I remember what I wrote in ABC regarding his 1992 Madrid exhibition in El Caballo de Troya: that the more normal his images are the more they unsettle us.
Neither are references to Hopper missing from the work of Sicre. We need go no further than the splendid painting that, this summer, carried off the most important of the prizes awarded by the Painting from Valdepeñas Competition ( Certamen de Pintura de Valdepeñas). It portrays the interior of a house, viewed from outside at twilight, entre chien et loup. The prevailing atmosphere is one of considerable unease as is usual in the painter of Líneas aéreas aeromontañosas (1994). As our North American artist also knew how, Sicre depicts common settings… in appearance only, and in that respect I mention once again a Hopper vision that I have already put forward on a different occasion when speaking of Sicre: that extremely unusual vision in People in the Sun (1960).
Now that we are going to able to see the fruit of Charris´s and Sicre´s dialogue with Hopper´s landscapes, I look to the future. I am sure that both of them will travel one day, sooner rather than later, to Rome, one of the most effective remedies for Rareza del siglo (1994), identified by Charris in a painting that recently became part of the IVAM collection. Apart from this, and yet further towards the East, they have another expedition pending, one that is somewhat more uncertain and difficult: a journey that will lead them to Odessa, following in the footsteps of Alexander Deineka, the Soviet Hopper.


 © Juan Manuel Bonet


In the book Cape Cod / Cabo de Palos (Tras las huellas de Hopper). Blanco, Cartagena 1997.