Antonio López García: Paintings and Sculpture
Francisco Calvo Serraller
D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, Inc., 2011
288 pp., $75.00
Jousting the Quince Tree
Two great predecessors who have been helpful in López García's quest are the Italian Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca (1415-1492) and the Spanish Baroque painter Diego Velázquez (1599-1660). As a student, López García admired and came to emulate Piero's monumental stillness, the quiet, geometric, and even sculptural nature of his compositions. But it was in Italy in 1955 that he discovered the simplicity and grace of Spanish art, especially that of Velázquez.
A painter does not paint what he knows but paints in order to know, to discover something about himself and the world. For López García, the process of painting is a struggle, a knock-down drag-out brawl with the world, which refuses to yield its secrets, or give a blessing, too easily. He is notorious for working methodically and meticulously, which has limited his production and consequently the opportunities he has had to show his work, averaging only around two solo exhibitions per decade. In an art world in which artists generate multiple exhibitions each year and whose studios resemble factories, it is refreshing that he approaches the production of each artifact, whether a painting or sculpture, with an almost sacramental focus and care.
For most of us, the world is no longer a cause of fascination, of sustained contemplation and reflection. A bird is just a bird, a vase of flowers just that, and the grace of this man or the charm of that woman is buried beneath a multitude of judgments we make about them as they pass us. This is the "real world," the world in which as Cervantes writes, an inn is just an inn.
But López García paints the inn as if it were a castle, investing such prosaic, overlooked, and insignificant subjects as a bowl of fruit, dirty laundry soaking in a pan, a bathroom, a skinned rabbit, a refrigerator, and a woman in a bathtub with a dignity that is, quite frankly, disturbing. López García makes paintings that are the result of his struggle with objects and experiences we rarely ever notice, much less take seriously as worth our visual recognition and contemplation.
One of the more remarkable and stubbornly beautiful and seductive objects in the world for López García is the quince tree in his backyard. For decades he has tried to paint this simple tree as it absorbs and refracts the sunlight. In 1992 filmmaker, Victor Erice was given unique access to the artist's world to make the award-winning documentary El Sol del Membrillo (The Quince Tree of the Sun). The film tells the story of López García's approach to art through his relationship with this little tree, which he feels the urge to paint every autumn. And yet every autumn it thwarts his attempt to capture his experience of it. To watch the artist around this tree offers a rare and revealing insight into the mystery of artistic practice, of smearing paint on a scrap of canvas, and the naïve yet powerfully sophisticated attention of a man fascinated with creation.
Realism discloses the awe-inspiring beauty and the heart-breaking brokenness in the world. Those who want art only to make them feel good about their beliefs and distract them from the pressures of the day shouldn't ask for realism. And under no circumstances should they look at the painting and sculpture of Antonio López García.
Daniel A. Siedell is Director of Theological & Cultural Practices at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and curator of LIBERATE, the teaching and resource ministry of Tullian Tchividjian.
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