A Detail and an All

Gilles A. Tiberghien

He required a hundred work sessions
for a still life, one hundred and fifty sessions
for a nude portrait. What we tend
to call his work was for him a rehearsal
and an approach to his painting.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Cézanne’s Doubt.

What is surprising about Pedro Diego Alvarado’s recent work is its serialized character and the framing of his compositions. I met Pedro many years ago, before his first trip to Europe, after his recent graduation from the Escuela de Bellas Artes. Although he had studied painting, he told me that he was considering becoming a photographer. I don’t know how serious he was about this, but interestingly enough, by the time I returned to Paris, Pedro Diego had set himself up in a service room next to the one I had while I studied philosophy and had contacted Henri Cartier-Bresson. Though Bresson did not determine his vocation of painter, he did help to confirm it in that direction.

Candelabro Oaxaqueño I, 2001, óleo sobre lino 114 x 154 cmsThough Cartier-Bresson had started out painting and drawing, it was with photography that he achieved the utmost rigor in the geometric compositions that would come to characterize his art. When Pedro met him, Cartier-Bresson had recently returned to drawing. My Mexican friend, who was then twenty-two years old, knew how to take advantage of both the opportunity of working near Bresson and his meticulousness in the results, balance and organization of forms.

Curiously, it is only in recent years that this rigor he knew well to inherit, though always present in his work, has become more evident in his paintings of citrics and fruits, captured as they are on the canvas in an extremely tight, saturated manner to the limits of abstraction.

Moreover, his use of photographic images together with drawing, and his compostions through the lens, are most likely responsible for this effect. Cutting a subject off so sharply at the border, and then proceeding with close-ups—a very recent technique in his case—confers a great deal of modernity to such traditional themes as fruits grouped into still lifes. Here, each painting is both a detail and an all; a privileged portion complete within itself, a fragment in the romantic sense, or a pars totalis.

Added to this imposition of the border is the uniformization of backgrounds that, though extensively elaborated, do not propose to give the impression of real backgrounds. What is peculiar, in short, is the omnipresence of the referent while simultaneously feeling its almost entire loss. They are no longer fruits, but ideas of fruits; painted ideas, if you will; ideas turned into paintings. I remember Pedro Diego describing to me the extraordinary synthesis of form in a pre-Colombian dog-shaped vessel from Colima that, thanks to him, I discovered with wonder during my first trip to Mexico. Pedro himself has taken this synthesis to the extremes, to the point of reconstructing objects in whose reality we do not entirely believe. They are captured in their most essential dimension, so much so that referring to the subject is as necessary as a repeating over and over an obvious truth which is to difficult to assimilate.

And indeed, repetition is the third element that characterizes, in my opinion, this new approach, and which makes the earlier exhibition, “Still Geometry”, almost a discourse on the method. However, in this new group, Pedro Diego represents perhaps more unified, comprehensive including cacti and valleys of banana trees, although the stone relief paintings stand out as an entirely different series.

The arborescent or clustered subjects allow for derivations or variations of forms, values and tones that confer his paintings a highly musical color, as if the gaze passing over the cactus, the hollow pumpkins or hardwood floors produces a sound that composes a colorful polyphony. Mitla, 2001, óleo sobre lino 114 x 154 cmsThese recurring subjects generate powerful effects of variations that bestow each element with qualities from the others, like some sort of visual combination: banana skins become dark in the background of a painting that is almost black in some parts and illuminated by a burst of yellow in others, giving rhythm to the whole and making it vibrate in the vast rectangle of the canvas. The cereus and its powerful knots that imprint a vertical, oblique rhythm to the painting, produce an internal variation that enriches the formal repetition with a constantly renewed reiteration.

The sculpted subjects move between near abstraction—the detail of a wall from Mitla—and the most sensual figuration—the stone kiss from one of the temples of Khajuraho in India—passing though a regime of disfiguration that becomes a system of stains and colors in “Crucificación” (Crucifixion) evoking Expressionism and the style of Grünewald. This representation seems to have suffered the ravages of time like a flagellated body, contorted, emptied and devastated by the sun, water and wind. The bluish shadows accentuate its phantasmal features as much as its formidable materiality does.

Crucificción, 2001, óleo sobre lino 117 x 144 cmsTo the left of the crucifix, Maria’s body can be seen supported by Magdalena; to the right, decapitated bodies are reconnected fantastically; heads appear to sprout again like excrescences of flesh in the extremity of a shoulder, bodies battle confusedly over pairs of legs that appear to belong to them as if fighting against the general petrifaction that takes hold of all the shapes and tends to dissolve them. As for the Christ, it has been reduced to a hanging cloth, a rag of stale meat, hollowed out with chisels and a gouge, whose skin falls into folds similar to fabric but that is really the skin of a tortured body.

This piece generates unease because of its strangeness; it contrasts with the powerful yet light rhythm that emanates from the relief of the Mitla edifice. It is nonetheless a unique piece of work and very inspiring in its own materiality, which knows how to give the feeling of dereliction and abandonment a sense of elevation that anyone might consider spiritual, but that I would attribute essentially to art itself.

Salomon Grimberg
José Manuel Springer
Luz Sepúlveda
Gilles A. Tiberghien
A Detail and an All
Victor M. Mendiola
Miguel Fabruccini
Silvya Navarrete
Raquel Tibol
Miguel A. Muñoz
Olivier Debroise