The artistic career of Antonio Ugarte (Venezuelan, 1961) has been focused on several thematic series displayed in individual and collective exhibitions since 1986. Triathlon, Waters (vertical, organic, horizontal), Characters, Faces, Frutalia, are all specific titles defining the artist’s stylistic and iconographic interests. On the Triathlon Series Roberto Guevara* wrote in 1990: “His current world is that of man in critical trance. This has meant years of closely following marathon events, capturing all their phases, differentiating individualities and the most decisive moments.
” The Waters Series are deeply interesting for the expressionist force of the stroke and the waving line conferring pictorial movement to the water surface which in a 1993 text I described as “ strongly active, dynamic with vibrant, almost calligraphic brushstrokes not a common place, but the essence of that place-landscape which might be a river bend, a swimming pool fragment acquiring the character of a profound, almost religious intimacy.”
Susana Benko*, in her 2012 analysis, places Ugarte’s work “ between two penchants: a work focused on human representation—the appraisement of the body in itself—and the representation of nature as a space or a segment of it or as a detailed vision of the water flow.” On this point, a 1993 testimony by Ugarte is illuminating: “I seek in the water the reflection of my spirit.” Water has been his thematic obsession. All this being said, it is necessary to add Ugarte’s passion for photography, an unconditional ally to his creative process along with the research on different techniques, on which the writer José Napoleón Oropeza states in 2013 that “hardly many artists combine like he does different techniques with the simultaneous creation of atmospheres where infinite questioning thrives with simple elements, bare and stark images, leaving only what is essential, poetic and plural”, stressing also that for Ugarte “his paintings are photographs, his photographs are paintings.”
Coherent in his thematic and pictorial proposals, with structures aiming at specific meanings within multiple possibilities of variation, Ugarte sustains his work on continuous reflection and investigation. Eschewing the anecdotic and the narrative, and propounding a conceptual abstraction while maintaining his figurative essence, he attains a formal structure in his work—whether it is painting, photography or installation—capable to liberate in the spectator unprecedented sensations and feelings upon unraveling the “mystery” behind the transparencies, veilings, overlappings and juxtapositions of images and deep chromatic wealth. Based on these creative experiences, he has been working for several years the proposal leading to the Pentimenti Series.
Pentimento is a common practice in traditional painting aimed at correcting mistakes as well as clearing up formal and spatial situations in the process of carrying out a painting. It consists on painting over the same image—say an arm, a leg, a face—to correct it and re-construct it so as to achieve pictorial or aesthetic perfection in the academic sense, leaving the correction unnoticed. This is not Antonio Ugarte’s case, since he never follows the traditional techniques of pentimento, but on the contrary, he conceptualizes it into an innovative pictorial proposal. He chooses a painting out of his many series and re-creates it with iconographic alterations which enrich and valorize it, expressing a new visual and conceptual sense. It is not about de-constructing or re-constructing the work. It is about its semantic aggrandizement through a visible syntax of new, overlapping images which alter, cover or delete the original ones. Without contradictions, the spectator discovers in the “new painting” the dialog established between its interior and its exterior, according to the formal patterns forwarded by the artist. In such sense, Ugarte shows that pictorial realities are not at all immutable, but changeable according to their free agency, as expressions of the creative freedom inherent to them. As a vehicle for communication, the Pentimenti Series offers the spectator the advantage of otherness, the possibility to change the artwork’s essence according to his own sensibility and perceptual capability.
A description of the process endeavored by Ugarte to attain the realization of the Pentimenti Series is key to analyze the pertinence of his achievement as a result of the triad conformed by talent, perseverance and discipline. For instance, Clear Forest derives from a 2009 painting in which the silhouette of a surfer lies upon gray and silver water bathed by the light of the sunrise. He later intervenes the work with the representation of yellow orchids floating on the water and being reflected in the foreground. In 2011 the silhouette begins to disappear under the water, leaving a dark trail in motion—appearing to swim toward the water depth—and now the orchids are green; the next year the athlete’s figurative representation appears on the water, superimposed to all the other images, and the title is now Triathlon # 365 in his homage. And lastly, in 2013 the original title returns: Clear Forest, the crouched character disappears under blazing brushstrokes of bright, oblong colors vertically displayed on the whole surface of the canvas, fully turned into light. Another pentimento, Aroma del clavel (Scent of Carnation), comprises fifteen years of work. Superposing image over image it started with a male figure in the lower part of the canvas, rising and becoming female in the upper section; later two roses were added and on them a Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus was painted; lastly the surface was covered with a golden metal patina. Over time, the final version acquires greenish tonalities.
California and The blue angel are as complex as Clear Forest. California’s original title was Elephant ears (1999). The same year it is submitted to a colossal transformation through the superimposition of images. The first visual proposal was a swimming pool of radiant blue water surrounded by a lush landscape, modified in 2009 with the implantation of two male figures in bathing suites in the foreground, plus a few plants. Then, in 2013, the main male figure is replaced by an alluring, half-naked female, incorporating elements of the Coral Series; in 2015 it is finished by adding oil impastos fusing the human figures with the tall palm trees which so impressed the artist in a visit he made to Los Angeles. The blue angel started in 2010 as a semi-abstract painting with representations of triathlon objects scattered around—backpack, shoes, bicycle, plants, some of them hardly recognizable; later a heavy-set athlete is added to the foreground, and in the end the entire set of The blue angel movie is incorporated through a magnificent prodigality of lines, brushstrokes, water, trees and several barely-perceivable human figures; only Marlene Dietrich’s is identifiable in a remote area to the right. In its final version, the painting pays homage to the famous German actress.
The Pentimenti Series might be regarded as a compendium and a reiteration of Ugarte’s thematic and pictorial interests. The artist wagers on a universe whose pictorial writing corresponds to the absolute presence of a diversity which is familiar to him and obsesses him for being singular to the extent that it is universal. His pictorial language is ruled by the deep vision of his reserved character, his apparent inner tranquility which emerges in ebullition with definite senses and new emotions conveying an individual and collective vision to the spectator. To a question involving the reasons that led him to carry out the Pentimenti Series Ugarte answers: “Being a cinema lover I’ve always been interested in the merging of a scene into another, the previous image dissolving in the new scene. In my work I seek a more dynamic creation, with multiple readings, the final result can have up to five or six processes intertwined like the fabrics of our lives. I work subjects like the human figure, the waters, athletes, nature and everything can be tangled in a single piece, and the spectator gets to see things that I never even tried to shape.”
Critic and researcher on visual arts
M.A. Courtauld Institute of Art, London University
Summa Cum Laude Doctor, La Sorbonne University, Paris
Honorary President of the International Association of Art Critics, AICA, Paris
*Important art critics from Venezuela
El misterio de Sombras de Museo, la serie de obra fotográfica que este año 2013 expone Antonio Ugarte, reside en el diálogo de dos dimensiones de arte: una realidad original y otra inventada. La primera corresponde a la obra de arte que atrajo al artista en sus visitas a museos y la otra, abstracta, atañe a una visión particular que atrapa con la cámara y que versiona en una suerte de reconstrucción de su misterio físico y espiritual. Es el espacio y la forma real que lo ocupa e importa, en secuencias y procesos inmediatos los transcribe en imágenes de ciertos grados de belleza absoluta que expresa en abstracciones totales siguiendo sus sombras y manifiestas relaciones subjetivas. Por ejemplo en obras como Totems, Figura, Cuerpo y Ming, el artista, apropiándose de la imagen ajena, destruye la representación naturalista y convierte la obra original, aún reconocible, en ?imagen-sombra?, una dualidad absoluta entre la luz y su proyección en el espacio.La fotografía ha sido una de las pasiones de Antonio Ugarte. Desde sus primeras etapas formativas, atrajo su atención y de hecho se preparó en la práctica y la teoría, a fin de usar la técnica como herramienta de su proceso creativo. Sombras de Museo, corresponde a un segmento del largo trabajo que viene realizando desde tiempo atrás, cabalgando entre la pintura y su deseo de atrapar lo trágico y lo bello de obras universales de la historia del arte y su contexto museístico atemporal. No hay tiempo acá, la imagen detenida es una sombra que se manifiesta igual a un sueño que se quiere atrapar a través de la memoria. Mirar es querer recordar de donde se conoce lo que allí se expresa en siluetas, con valores cromáticos apaisados que oscilan en gradientes del negro al blanco y viceversa. Si bien en la pintura Ugarte se muestra como fuerte colorista, en la obra fotográfica es todo lo contrario, aquí pareciera interesarle más el espacio sublime en el que la imagen y su entorno se presenta ante el espectador, atrayéndolo en el misterio de su no identidad visible. Desde el punto de vista formalista, el trabajo plástico que Ugarte ha realizado en la serie Sombras de Museo, responde a una experimentación privada llevada a cabo de acuerdo a la relación amorosa y emocional entre un objeto y un sujeto. No es cualquier obra la que aparecerá en la fotografía. Es aquella que, de una u otra manera, se manifiesta en su carácter ilusorio; es decir, que el artista que fotografía, utiliza su ojo y su espíritu adoptando una técnica particular para aprehender la manifestación real del objeto en cuestión proyectado en la atmósfera que lo circunda. Entonces, se efectúa una relación desmaterializadora de objeto y espacio simultáneamente, relación que lo distancia de su propia naturaleza, la intrínseca a su cotidianidad, a su realidad museística.En la obra fotográfica, Ugarte está conciente de su interés por atrapar aquella visión que oculta la obra de arte como ?objeto? expuesto a las miradas de un variado público. En este sentido, el tema implica un carácter espiritual y filosófico. Tema que expresa, visual y formalmente, en el juego de luces y sombras, generadoras de atmósferas cargadas de misteriosos mensajes que connotan un carácter simbólico significativo. Está allí ?representada? la realidad llevada a una absoluta abstracción en una obra cuya técnica y expresión visual se presenta como inédita.Bélgica Rodríguez Caracas, Febrero 2013
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