Interludes as Transitions

For many years the painting by José María Yturralde placed us in the relational limit between the artistic universe and proximity to science. However, in his works, the structure of his raison d'être was hidden behind the science, which absorbed it like a phagocyte as a necessary nutrient to create the thread of his aesthetic work. Yturralde's work moved from the second to the fourth dimension without losing the thread of artisticity. It is a Renaissance-like quest for knowledge taking place in the laboratory and what is really important is not so much the final solution to a problem, but the enigma of a succession of incognitos, which the passion for cognition pursues.

It was not a fundamentally epistemological discourse, but a path strewn with questions where the partial answers gave way to new situations with multiple possibilities. It was an open space which covered wide periods, from the end of the 1960's to the end of the following decade. The 'impossibility' of the perceived acted as a stimulus in the pictorial space, followed by the three-dimensional figures capable of flying, as a permanent incognito situated in the space of nature. The genesis of Yturralde's work is possibly the result of his preoccupation with emptiness, understood as a primaeval absence in which the smallest variation takes on great intensity. In any case, it seems evident that throughout his work he establishes a dialectic relationship with the presence, whose tensional variables are the origin of a great part of his oeuvre.

But that is not the only articulating element of determinant values. In his paintings - especially from 1985 - time itself acquires the status of an event. The 'strong' line inhabits not so much emptiness as the space upon which it interacts. Colour moves and expands occupying an inevitable happening. In its journey, the boundaries between existence and nothingness fade and following the law of inexorable transformation of energy, the pictorial surface achieves a narrative level where it is unknown whether there is a before, but where it is beyond doubt that there is an afterwards. That was a period where temporariness lacked dimension while asserting its presence. The scientific universe gave way to a philosophy of existence where the author continuously spoke about the verisimilitude of his newly born attentions.

With the beginning of our decade, he posited another theoretical stance in a series he called Preludios [Preludes], probably due to the affinity with the musical term that so often more than announcing a piece, summarises it. In that moment, for Yturralde the pictorial space continued being that of an intervention upon which he nevertheless incorporated variable transgressions: the appearance of uncertainty and surprise, instability, the movement or restlessness of asymmetry, progressively meeting a more humanised painting in its immaculate pulchritude. However, in spite of those incursions there is a conscious will to remain close to the metaphor, probably because he does not wish to abandon the radicality of perfection in the language, while he does not renounce transcendental options. We must take into account that we are dealing with an artist who transforms his task into an existential continuum he does not want to lose.

To optimise space through the dominion of procedure is nothing but a ritual -fortunately always unfinished- to which the unfolding of a different, developed and coherent creation of painting gravitates.

The current exhibition consists not only of minor transitional works from previous periods, where it is possible to contemplate the conjunction between reflection and spirituality in the harmony of his creative process, but also of the epigons of the immediate, acting as a transitional testimony for those determining his work today and that he has called Interludios, consisting in thirty paintings of large format accompanied by series of more reduced proportions.

The pulchritude of these works introduces us in a more intense metaphorical universe, if that is at all possible. Initially, the significant link between symmetric forms has changed in such a way that both aesthetic structure and visual equivalents have experienced a different projection. The relationship between the planes creating the surface of the canvas show a smaller contrast, which cannot be interpreted as tantamount with the diminishing of its intensity; on the contrary, as if through the small tinge we are introduced into a larger mystery: what is it that exists in space? What minimal introduced variation alters the totality in a significant direction? Why is it that the levity in the saturation of a geometric form changes in a qualitative way the sense of a piece of work in a certain direction? We are not only facing an epistemological challenge, but a provoked reality that we should solve according to our experience. But that in Yturralde's current painting reaches an elevated conceptual content open to interpretations. In some cases the clear aura emerging through the sides introduces us in the metaphorical evocation of the eclipse or the sunrise. Grandiose and surprising spaces whose scientific logic does not manage to suppress mystery. In others, the calm presence of a nearly perceived structure takes us to the reflection on the tinges of existence.

The dissolution of the limits of the forms also constitutes an ambiguous provocation of their presence, while the altering of flat colours by tinges of altered clarity allows the suggestion of the arrival of a transparency, of an existence crossing limits. In short, of an indeterminate space-time relationship which descends upon the beholder as a projective attitude, as a transition.

We are not witnessing the disappearance of the limits but the alteration of their relationships configured in space. A polysemic place [surface, cosmos, absence, solitude] where the author finds the ambiguous reference to establish his relationships. We find ourselves before an open exercise of meticulousness. In front of the participative provocation, paradoxically through introversion. At the same time we are before a harmonic conjunction between balance, sensuousness and transcendence.



Conversation between Daniel Giralt-Miracle and José María Yturralde in his studio in Valencia on 27 October 1996.

"When I arrived at his apartment in calle Císcar, the studio was packed with books on physics, optics and crystallography, something that seemed incongruous in the artistic panorama of that time. Artists read books about the Renaissance, Impressionism or the avant-garde; they were all immersed in different artistic tendencies, but this scientific approach was indeed atypical. Somehow it helped me to understand that in the history of art, characters such as Leonardo or Gaudí occasionally appear, applying science in a practical way to the art world. With this kind of reading material, Yturralde is heir to that stance, something which could not be said of the rest of the members of the Antes del Arte group, who were to end up distancing themselves from this scientific approach.


Daniel Giralt-Miracle: A moment I find particularly interesting is when you finished in the Escuela de Bellas Artes, still ascribed to the traditions of fine arts, to drawing and painting from the model. What I mean is that the hand of the artist is still very visible in the exercise of art, but you already had the intuition that something was changing, something was happening "in the groups Parpalló and 57. Besides this, you went to Cuenca and found open minded people such as Zóbel or Torner, Saura and Millares in the Museo Español de Arte Abstracto. At what moment did you realise that you could start a new artistic career and cross the boundaries to another territory?

José María Yturralde: I had had the feeling previous to that, and this was mainly due to a fundamental character in Valencia at that time -Alfonso Roig. I lived with him for two years, which also meant I lived with the works of Kandinsky, Julio González, Vasarely. Perhaps it was Vasarely's works what impressed me the most in that moment when I was sixteen or seventeen. Besides, in the following year after enrolling in Bellas Artes I went to Paris to live and the moment I got off the train the first thing I saw was an exhibition of Kandisky. For a teenage student in 1957 it was an impressive sight. I lived in Paris for a year and then in Germany before going to the Cuenca museum and so I was not astounded by what was happening there although I did learn a lot.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: What you are saying is that what you saw in Paris was more advanced than what you found in Cuenca.

José María Yturralde: Of course. The thing is that what was being made in Spain could be easily integrated with what was being made in Paris. Although art informel was by then being done everywhere, here there was either that option or the abyss, chaos and clichés. The most advanced group at the time was Equipo 57. There was also the alternative of others such as Estampa Popular or Equipo Crónica which appeared at a later stage and developed along different lines. But none of us of the following generation tried to copy informalismo which had already passed its peak back then at the beginning of the sixties. I ended up practising a sort of super-minimalism without ever knowing minimalism properly.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: Have you stopped being minimal?

José María Yturralde: I think that back then I was more radical.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: When you arrived in Cuenca you found yourself in a moment of division of the abstract between the gestural [Saura and Millares] and the geometrical [Torner and Rueda]. Did they exert an influence on you or was your period in Cuenca the result of Zóbel, founder and patron of the museum, supporting your career?

José María Yturralde: I think that living with masters was essential, and all of them were my guides, apart from Alfonso Roig, who was my grand maestro of passion and poetry. Living with Saura, Zóbel, Torner or with Gerardo Rueda taught me a lot, not only from a technical viewpoint, but also through the conversations, through their ways of expression. I went to Japan for my first time because I had heard them talking about Ryoan-Ji, the marvellous garden in Kyoto. My first contact with Chinese or Japanese art was a result of my conversations with Fernando Zóbel and his collection of Chinese painting.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: That confrontation between your apparently rational, although increasingly less rationalist, world and a sensitive foundation around which the whole of your system moves is very curious. You went through an apparently hard period, that of the triangles, and yet you still spoke of the spirit of the triangle, of its magic. Thirty years after your first journey to New York, the Generalitat Valenciana is bringing you back there as part of the exhibition Antes del Arte. Apart from this official attempt to retrieve an extremely interesting and curious moment in the history of our art, how would you evaluate this experience of reflection, this experience with its highly intellectual, plastic and investigative potential? In my opinion, Antes del Arte, meant the opening up of a path of reflection that had still not been discovered by art. It meant taking instruments of scientific analysis to work in the art world. It is when you carried out your research into the field of mathematics that I was most impressed. You studied physics, crystallography and optics... At that time in your studio in calle Císcar you had a whole para-scientific library specialised in the theory and the physics of colour. What sense does it have to present this interesting moment in the recent history of our art in New York at the end of the nineties?

José María Yturralde: I think that is within the bounds of artistic policy, a policy attempting to recover all the important movements in recent years within the Valencian artistic panorama. In its moment the repercussions of Antes del Arte were felt more in Barcelona or Madrid than here in Valencia. We had our first exhibition in the College of Architects and my memory of it is of something really innovative. It was an exhibition displaying absolutely kinetic elements. Sempere had already done some previous works of this kind. In the forties he had presented the first abstract painting in Sala Mateu of Valencia, but all of this seemed to have been forgotten. Those things we did as a group, based on theory and reflection, seems to be the last thing that happened in Valencia at a collective level. After that no other attempt has ever consolidated.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: At the end of the day, the theoretical discourse of yourself, Teixidor, Soto, the rest of the team and Vicente Aguilera Cerni in Antes del Arte advances the use of the computer as a work tool, something you would develop in the Centre of Calculus. It was there, in the Centre of Calculus of Madrid, where the turn of the computer began, and the lot of you ended up there because it was the place where you found the means to be able to continue a path of research that was not possible to undertake just with pencil or paintbrush any more.

José María Yturralde: Despite all that, not everybody ended up there. There were the normal tensions amongst us and I was the only one in the group who actually went to the Centre of Calculus.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: What part did Sempere play in this adventure?

José María Yturralde: His presence, together with his sensibility and support, were very interesting and important for us as he was one of the few well-known artists who supported us at a moment when there was an outright rejection of what we were doing. In 1968, I gave a conference at the Academia de Bellas Artes de San Carlos. I projected some slides of the works being produced at the Centre of Calculus of the University of Madrid, and also a film that had been sent to me from the MOMA, which was the first one made from the computer screen. The room was packed, and there was applause, whistles and everything nearly ended up in a fight, because they thought that what we were presenting were hand made cartoons, and the audience did not want to admit to them-selves that computers had the ability to draw according to what was programmed. In any case, we were conscious of the limitations of the machine. You will remember how I -in a messianic fashion- went to Barcelona and on one occasion I gave a lecture at the Escuela Elisava...

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: A conference which caused a great impression on the audience. All the students of design of that moment, when design was regard-ed as the future for those artists that would eventually not paint, welcomed you enthusiastically and nobody whistled at you.

José María Yturralde: Nobody, not even one. What actually happened, and it really surprises me, is that the progress with computers has been so slow. The fact is that there are still many limitations and that the programmes are still very restricted. The same thing has happened in the field of virtual reality and its aesthetic, which I find obnoxious, terrible, but more so for the people using it than the means in itself.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: In a certain moment of your career you decided to stop working with virtual reality and its gratuitous condition. People seem to believe that no matter what you do in that field, it is going to be OK. In graphic design this is as patent on even more so than in the field of visual arts. As an instrument, it gives you a whole repertoire of images, then you just give it a shake as if it were a cocktail shaker and whatever the result, regardless of theoretical proposals, basic ideas or predetermined objectives, it will always be acceptable. But it is lacking in creative quality.

José María Yturralde: In the beginning at the Centre of Calculus, there was a constant reflection on computers and their possibilities and on their limitations. Therefore, what we proposed to ourselves was somewhat conditioned by that reflection and by the sensibility we wanted to convey, because we were aware that it was mainly a tool with its limitations. Now there is no reflection whatsoever, and if it exists it takes place at a later stage and in the minds of people who are not users of the machines. The users are subject to the speed that the creation of a quick message involves. Well, I would say that all the results are very similar.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: Probably because we are still at the beginning and we are mere novices. The use of the instrument is so new that, as occurred with photography or prints, until the means is trans- formed into a creative process, it will not be able to free itself from its functionality.

José María Yturralde: Yes, but I believe that in the case of the computer, this process is developing really slowly. The technical achievements are impressive. For some time now, when I travel to the US and return to the MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], at the Medialab -which is a hi-tech laboratory with new materials- you can already watch 3D television without glasses. And all of this has already been functioning for some time now, and yet the final product, the one that arrives to the consumer, is still poor, because it demands qualified people. But for so-called artists, who are deeply involved with the con-tents, these programmes still do not allow you the freedom we have with the control of our own bodies.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: Remember that letter you sent me in 1976 while you were on the New York-Boston train in which you said: "A few years ago, all the artists here tried to be seen as very intelligent, serious, rigorous, scientific. Now what is trendy is to be slightly crazy, more psychological, nearly religious: to be artists. All of that reflected a very oriental component. Already in Cuenca you had said that you were interested in going to Japan to get to know the metaphysical and spiritual dimension of art. Curiously enough, people judge your artistic practise as para-scientific, pseudo-technical or highly rationalised. Even in the hard period, that of tri- angles and rhomboids, there is an element of spiritual nature, of a profound metaphysical reflection. Could the present period -that of Preludios and Interludios- be the maximum expression of that meeting of the two dimensions?

José María Yturralde: I think so, and I'm also trying -both in a conscious and visceral way- to forget all rules, all systems, to allow sensibility to come to the surface a little bit more. The truth is that all I have learnt is there and forms the basis of the internal structure of everything that would come later. Anyway, my paintings have, to some extent, to do with the Japanese Garden. Squares are not squares; lines have inclination and don't follow the parameters of vertical and horizontal. There are straight lines but they are increasingly confusing and diffuse, especially in my latest works. I'm still interested, as I was in other times, in the possibility of investigating other dimensions. Remember that one of my attempts was to go beyond Cubism and to get to under-stand the geometry of four and more dimensions. That's why I went to the MIT: to study with certain people working precisely with those concepts and with true geometry.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: You are talking about Gauss, -Lovatchevski, Bolyai, Riemann, etc...

José María Yturralde: They are classics of non-Euclidean geometry. They are classical mathematical geometricists. I went to work with people who were alive and working with a different concept of geometry and another perspective of space, of void, of nothingness, of totality, those theories attempting to unify all concepts in a grand unified theory, which is so fashionable nowadays. The vacuum used to be fashionable, and now everybody is talking about fullness, of wholeness.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: In that point there is a certain coincidence between you and Tao, the Chinese concept of painting.

José María Yturralde: Exactly. It is surprising that Western science has arrived to a point in which it connects or develops in parallel with the millenary Taoist philosophy.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: When you talk about forms, colours, textures, movement, synesthesia... in short, about the sensorial aspects of your work, Tao appears.

José María Yturralde: That's right, and I. think it is a very coherent discourse, and a very slow one. Too slow. There are no leaps: even I myself can't see what I am doing because it comes and goes, but really between Preludios and the period prior to that exhibition in 1986 for which you wrote the prologue, displaying that lyricism of lines that were like the edges of cube, there are no ruptures...

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: Then in that moment, don't you remember?, there was talk about Rothko, Albers, Halley; we talked about painting, soft edge. I think that you belong to that kind of geometry.

José María Yturralde: No, I belong more to that of James Turrell, or speaking with a certain mystique, to that of Wolfgang Laib, who worked with the colour of spread pollen and who is a sort of shaman using, for example, milk on impeccable marble; that contrast between the flowing of liquid and that base which is a smooth piece of marble. Also the delicacy of what he makes with vegetables, with natural elements. Well, I think that's rather my path, although it might look more like Josef Albers.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: After seeing your work, Eliseu T. Climent told me that he felt a disquieting harmony, a particular search for balance, a cosmological dimension, between the silence and the tension of a chromaticity which transmutes as geometric forms adopt multiple variations. Don't you think this is a quite accurate observation?

José María Yturralde: It is in fact exactly what I want to transmit: you have spoken about disquieting harmony, and I believe that is a very basic concept for me. I consider myself heir of a classicism I never really wanted to leave. I'm interested in that particular way of looking at the world of what we call the classics. I've studied in depth every harmonic and compositional system, and I can stick to all the compositional, musical, architectural rules we have inherited; however, there is always an element of unpredictability, a lot of relativism. In that sense I think that it is understood better in Oriental civilisation. From that point it passes to the idea of space, of time, of how to organise all those concepts if they can be organised. It is also that pendulum movement between the microscopic and the macroscopic. That to-and-fro, those fluctuations: the way it seems that things that we will never be able to understand happen, and how parallel universes appear; how other dimensions appear, dimensions of which we are a part without being aware of it. We are unaware of all these from our virtually two-dimensional perspective. The fluctuation through all these concepts has been the reason why, in this moment, I find myself wanting to do pieces like those fifteen stones of Ryoan-Ji which are more than an object in itself, an element of meditation. I'm looking for a piece of work which can be like a lens able to focus and through which one can start to meditate. Something like that, apparently nothing, some vertical and horizontal lines [that in fact aren't either] but if one wishes to enter the game one can reach thoughts that are both far and at the same time close, but much more complex than what the painting can express. Painting is in that sense a sort of means for meditation.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: Looking at your work is like sitting in the middle of the Japanese garden.

José María Yturralde: Exactly. I sat in the middle of that cosmos, and one day I hope to achieve a piece that really works like that. Sometimes it is embarrassing when you keep the painting, even if it is to reject it, with the consequence that it does not fulfil the function I attempt to instil in it. It is not that I want it to have strictly that function, but I want it to work somehow spiritually, as the tremendous impression I received when I visited that garden.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: Another factor that I find disquieting is that of the paint exceeding the strict limits of the painting. From a metaphysical viewpoint, is this fact an expression of the universe, of the infinite? How can we interpret your painting surpassing the frame?

José María Yturralde: Perhaps it is like the Renaissance window: a hole through which other aspects which were still hidden can be seen more neatly. Others would appear at a later stage and more windows and doors would open. Somehow it is about the limits of space, as in a work by Klein: Ci-gît I'espace. My work is about space because my painting is also part of space, therefore, it is like the limits of a space that has been opened at a given moment and can perhaps be better understood.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: I interpret it as holes of/in space, as view points. But above all the frame is incorporated into the vibration. I mean, you don't surround it with frames to close it in, you extend it into the margin of the stretcher. The feeling is that of coming out of a space. They come and go, but it is as if they did not want to close it with a solid perimeter.

José María Yturralde: Indeed, I want them to dissolve. In some, and depending on the light, I have achieved it more than in others. James Turrell works with light, whilst I wanted to stick to the paintbrush, to those totally traditional elements: the canvas, the wooden stretcher... I wanted to find something simpler, I mean, it is very difficult to get the Turrel I like. I don't mean the photographs or the drawings, but that piece with that blue that you can even touch; you can go through it, but it is as if it didn't exist. I want to have it in here as I can have that small sculpture which I myself have designed, to touch it and to think. I want to have it there, in front of me.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: I believe that your present stage in painting is tremendously metaphysical. The hardness of the retinal geometry, of the games of perception was mere physicity, they weren't about anything else: at the end of the day, op art is nothing but simple visual tickling. Your work isn't like that. You are talking about, from a much more transcendental perspective, Zubiri and speak of intelligence in a post-orteguian line: the intelligence which comes, which is a consequence of feelings, of sensations, of inner life.

José María Yturralde: So much order and purity! I can't manage placing anything horizontally or vertically after reading Zubiri.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: You are a seeker of harmony, but as everything can't be that perfect, you destabilise it with a slight touch of grace.

José María Yturralde: Yes, I also work with the idea of imperfection.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: You wrote once about "thought, action and knowledge". It is a very oriental idea and at the same time very scientific.

José María Yturralde: But sensibility is missing: it is very hard to express and measure accurately.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: I believe your work comes from searching, from exploring, from a meeting between the intellectual and the perceptive of that territory. And united to the unpredictable flow of life.

José María Yturralde: It is emotion and curiosity what pushes you to try to gain access to those areas.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: You started with Preludios to pass to Interludios. Will Postludios come later?

José María Yturralde: Yes, but I'm still in Interludios. The fact of calling it Preludio, apart from the musicality, sounded like a re-starting, as the genesis of something. I am in the Interludios, and it still has-n't materialised, and I hope they'll eventually become denser.

Daniel Giralt-Miracle: Between the Preludios and the Interludios the physical dimension of the painting, the perceptive dimension, your manner of painting... each time getting more ethereal, intangible, weightless.

José María Yturralde: I attempt to dematerialise, to dissolve the squares, the lines. It is so hard for me to dis-solve the forms coherently... And if one day I arrive to a monochromatic painting, I hope it has a different nature to that of all the monochromatic artists who have existed. "Monochrome in this case is not work with only one colour, but to penetrate in only one dimension. It is possible to have an abundance of colour, but I do not believe that his objective is that of offering different registers with just one colour, but to be able to express visually this unique dimension so well explained by the monochromatic. I see Yturralde rambling through the desert, watching the star."