Postludes - Void



'Making works that are like those fifteen stones in Ryoan-ji,
which are not so much objects in themselves as something for meditation."

José María Yturralde

José María Yturralde, who was very visible in the late sixties and early seventies, when the present writer began to evolve in the Spanish art scene as a teenager, has remained fixed in the manuals as the painter of impossible geometry. Some of his pieces from those times are indebted to the works of Victor Vasarely, the father of Op Art. Others develop a much more personal programme, connected with the proposals of a more out-of-the-way figurative artist such as the Dutch Escher. The beginnings of a development. Beginnings that clearly have very little to do with what the artist has evolved into over the years. And in order to get to know this second Yturralde --and for the revision of the manuals to which I referred--I think this retrospective at the IVAM is going to be very important. And at the same time a great logic reigns in this process of development. In the retrospective the work of the sixties coexists, with no great problem, alongside the output of this fin de siècle. He has lost his faith in a good many things in which he formerly believed, but it is not hard to detect certain basic points to which he has remained faithful. Yturralde's faithfulness, for example, to a certain Valencian background, which we might personify in two very venerable institutions, the Colegio del Patriarca in Valencia and the Colegio Mayor San Juan de Ribera in Burjasot, and in two unique personalities, Father Alfons Roig, who served as his guide through the maze of artistic modernity just as he had done a few years earlier for Eusebio Sempere, and the teacher José María López Piñero, another of his early mentors, to whom he owed part of his interest in science and whom we have incorporated, by way of tribute, in the roll-call of contributors to the present catalogue.

Faithfulness, within the same background, to the geometrical framework proposed by Sempere and by the rest of the members of Parpalló, the first group in the Valencia of the late fifties to consider things in terms that were geometrical, constructive, experimental or normative, as people said around 1960. (A few years later, in 1968-1969, Yturralde coincided with Sempere, and with Vicente Aguilera Cerni, the critic in the Parpalló group, in the ephemeral collective adventure of Antes del Arte. Yturralde also owes to his predecessor, and to the latter's colleague, Abel Martín, his initiation into the field of silkscreen printing, which he has cultivated so abundantly). Faithfulness to Paris, which--as also for Sempere a decade earlier--offered a window from which to look out at the world, a world that he was immediately to have an opportunity to see from a different viewpoint provided by the period he spent in the German city of Stuttgart, a harder time but one of importance for the broadening of his knowledge of modern culture. Faithfulness also to Cuenca, which in his case is not only his home town, soon left, but also the scene of the decisive encounter with Fernando Zóbel, Gerardo Rueda and Gustavo Torner, the three principal creators of the Museo de Arte Abstracto Espanol in the Casas Colgadas, where José María Yturralde and Jordi Teixidor, his then inseparable companion, whom he had met at San Carlos, worked as curators before it opened its doors; which in 1966 made them the youngest members of the group immortalised by Fernando Nuño on the day of the inauguration in a generational photograph that is now a cliché, just as the photo of the banquet given in honour of Hernando Viñes in Madrid in 1936 was for an earlier generation. Faithfulness to the "lyrical wing" defined by Juan Antonio Aguirre in his book Arte último (1969). A tribute to the memory of those of its members who have already died. Recognition of an enduring debt to its points of view, so refreshing in the narrow-gauge Spanish mentality of those times; with its openness to oriental culture; with its libraries, too, particularly Zóbel's library. Faithfulness, lastly, to the abstraction of the fifties, to the ascetic matter paintings of Tàpies--the Tàpies of Grande Équerre (Great Set Square), to go no further, one of the pictures that represents him in that museum--or those of Torner, commented on by Juan Eduardo Cirlot, works on which his output of the middle of that decade is based; and to discoveries in North America (the meditative wing of Abstract Expressionism) or Europe (Spatialism), encouraged by the ever-enthusiastic Zóbel and his companions in what became a kind of group.

Tàpies at his barest, the Torner of binary reliefs, the Gerardo Rueda of frames and stretchers (he, too, worked with wood), the sensitive Constructivism of Ben Nicholson, the Spatialism of Lucio Fontana or Piero Manzoni, the Op Art of Vasarely (with whom Sempere had contact in Paris in the fifties)--those are really the main references for the Yturralde of those early years. The Yturralde who, after some first enormously Tàpies-like attempts, moved on to a more neutral style, with which he created "structures", "linear tensions", "divergent movements in repose" or ''intense situations in space". The Yturralde who presented solo exhibitions at the Sala Mateu (1966) in Valencia, and at the Galería Edurne in Madrid (1967), the main platform at the time for Nueva Generación, the group promoted by Juan Antonio Aguirre, which Yturralde himself joined, and for whose members--with odd notable exceptions, such as Luis Gordillo --the influence of the "artists of Cuenca" was similarly decisive.

I have already referred to the area of science in connection with José María López Piñero. The interest in science is especially evident during the two key periods in the development of Yturralde, in whose studio there is an abundance of books on physics, optics and crystallography, as my fellow-curator Daniel Giralt-Miracle has pointed out. The first of those two scientistic periods was when he painted his Figuras imposibles (Impossible Figures)--based on false perspective--and made various kinetic objects. He became one of the members of the Antes del Arte group which I mentioned earlier (promoted by Vicente Aguilera Cerni and recently evoked by José Garnería in an exhibition seen in the IVAM after its American peregrination). He was one of the artists selected for the exhibition Arte y ciencia in Seville (1968). He took part in the adventure of die seminars on the Automatic Generation of Visual Shapes, in connection with "computable forms", seminars held in the setting of the Computer Centre at the University of Alcalá de Henares in Madrid. And he held celebrated solo exhibitions in Madrid, such as the ones given in the setting of the now vanished Galería Eurocasa (1968) in the Calle de Claudio Coello, the Galería Sen (1971) and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (1973), then located on the ground floor of the National Library. The second scientists period of his work lasted practically the whole of the late seventies and early eighties, and it was then that Yturralde set aside the field of painting for a while and, perhaps recalling the Aeromodelling School in Saragossa when he was a child, constructed his daring living structures with the desire that they should become integrated into "the subtle matter that flows" and that mathematics and the poetic should coexist within them.

Thanks to a grant from the Fundación Juan March, during the academic year 1975-76 he was at the prestigious Center for Advanced Visual Studies of the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), where Giörgy Képes and Otto Piene promoted an open kineticism (and R. Buckminster Fuller became one of its leading lights at that time). He developed an interest in the world of holography--in 1979 he worked in that field with the Optics Laboratory of the Faculty of Physics in Valencia--and later, at the Faculty of Fine Arts, he was one of the leaders of the Laboratorio de Luz (Laboratory of Light) collective. And now Yturralde maintains a relationship with science that is rather more relaxed, one might say, than in the past. Although the scientistic preoccupations have not actually disappeared from his plans, they have been relegated to a secondary level, displaced by his earlier belief in the prestige of pure painting and in a very Rothkian longing for asceticism and a desire to achieve the sublime. In 1986, in the catalogue for his solo exhibition Spatium Temporis, held in the now vanished gallery that the Caixa de Pensions had next to the central Post Office in Valencia, Daniel Giralt-Miracle quoted something that Barnett Newman had said about painting and passion in connection with the then very recent return to painting of Yturralde, with whom he had been in close contact during the scientists period. Newman is undoubtedly a painter who--like Rothko--has always accompanied Yturralde, and yet it is clear that at the time of the Figuras imposibles, Antes del Arte, Arte y ciencia, and the Computer Centre in Madrid, there would not have been much sense in speaking about anything other than formal issues and questions of method in connection with that work, and so there would not have been much sense in quoting a sentence from the author of The Sublime is Now, and, to make matters worse, a sentence about passion. In 1986 Yturralde began to consider things in a different light--see, for example, a picture such as In illo tempore (At That Time)--and when Giralt-Miracle chose those words, he did so in a very emphatic way. Painting, meanwhile, once again contained an emotion, an immediacy--from the aspect of handling--that he had not allowed himself during the time of the Figuras imposibles. "Yturralde wanted to recover various elements deeply rooted in his individuality," Giralt-Miracle says, "to speak with the language of the senses and without eluding his dense theoretical resources, endow his painting with new energy and vibration." And also: "at present, despite the predominance of constructive or geometrical grammar, he is closer to the poetics of a Rothko [...] than to Yturralde himself about ten years ago."

Admirable headway has been made latterly by this Yturralde, attaining a higher stage in his evolution, a stage in which a new synthesis is achieved, in which everything--geometry, science, orthogonality--is overtaken by an exceptional concern for balance and purity, relating him to the Minimalists but even more, further back in time, to Mondrian, Malevich and other pioneers of abstraction, imbued with a metaphysical aim that others who came later called into question--thinking, for example, of the Argentine Tomás Maldonado (Giralt-Miracle's teacher in Ulm) and a text --extremely interesting, by the way-- that he wrote in 1953, "Vordemberge-Gildewart y el tema de la pureza", published in his magazine Nueva Visión and recently included in his anthology of Escritos preulmianos (Infinito, Buenos Aires 1997).

In 1990, a new solo exhibition of Yturralde, this time in a private gallery, Theo-Valencia, now La Nave. Work from the period 1987-1989, with particular emphasis on the last year. Paintings based on the square, a figure to which he might pay homage, like his admired Albers. although at that time he had a tendency to break up the orthogonality with certain shifts and twists. Bright, resplendent paintings. Blues within blues. Tiempo ausente (Absent Time), a title that constitutes a whole programme. Ausencia vertical (Vertical Absence), Reflejo divergente (Divergent Reflection), Elusivos límites (Elusive Boundaries). Blues interrupted by red lines--Memoria de la noche (Memory of Night)--or green ones. Dialogue, in some cases, between complementary colours: for example, in Bételgeuse (Betelgeuse), Púlsar (Pulsar) or Estructura roja (Red Structure), all three in red and green. The yellow of Sirio (Sirius) or Espejo del tiempo I (Mirror of Time I). A series with a highly expressive title: Constancia de lo inestable (Constancy of the Unstable). A lucid text by the artist in the catalogue, proposing things in terms of order and chaos and providing the reader with contemporary references --to the Neo-Geo of the American Peter Halley, whose exhibition at the CAPC in Bordeaux he saw the following year, or the German Gerhard Merz-- but also references to Paolo Uccello, an artist from his imaginary museum, from a past always seen as present... A fundamental exhibition in Yturralde's development was the one held in 1996 at the Sala Parpalló, organised as a result of the award to him the previous year of the Premio Alfons Roig, which he received with understandable emotion. In that exhibition one could see, through the development of his Preludios (Preludes) --the first one, in white and yellows, dating from 1991-- and Eclipses and Interludios (Interludes), the profundity and irreversibility of the process of purification and asceticism on which he had embarked, and his ability to make paintings that became increasingly more empty, more bare and more ineloquent, less "programmed" and "systematic". An extraordinary example of this is the Interludio (1996) in black and orange --a great black surface with glints of orange at the edges, an approach increasingly habitual with him-- acquired then by the IVAM, where it joined a monumental Figura imposible and a blue relief from the time of Nueva Generación, included in the Juan Antonio Aguirre Donation. My text for the catalogue of that exhibition at the Sala Parpalló bore the simple title "Reencuentro con Yturralde". A personal re-encounter favoured by my work in Valencia, which began the year before. I had first met him in 1968, at the very start of my professional career, but had heard very little of him for some time and had even begun to think that he had given up painting for good, but now I saw him more determined than ever to give battle on that field with renewed energy. A re-encounter too --and I think this is ultimately much more important-- with certain matters that are of interest to us both, and most particularly with the belief in what was called by Juan Gris --so great in his humility-- in the title of his famous lecture at the Sorbonne, the "possibilities of painting". Mark Rothko--by any reckoning, the chief beacon for Yturralde at this fin de siècle. "Acquired" by him, like Barnett Newman, in the days of Cuenca (we must remember the importance that Rothko's example had also had in the formation of Zóbel, who by his own account was converted to abstraction after seeing an exhibition of his work in Providence), the Russian-American confirmed him on the path of pure painting and at the same time stimulated him to develop for it what we might call a metaphysical programme.

From a reading of Yturralde's very interesting diaries, an extensive selection from which is published for the first time in the present catalogue (something that gives it a unique quality, since it is by no means common for diaries to be written by our artists, a good many of whom pride themselves on their illiterate status)... from such a reading one can deduce that Rothko is indeed one of his constant references. The pages on the retrospective organised by the National Gallery in Washington, which then went to the Whitney Museum in New York and which he was able to see at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, are very explicit in this connection. "It's essential to see Rothko now'", we read in the entry for 25 March 1999. And in the entry for 29 March, "I hope that at some time I may be capable of doing something with the profound clarity of Mark Rothko." These diaries also enable us to know something of the many other interests of their author. His interest in the spiritual spaces of the great architect Luis Barragán, two of which he saw and experienced live during a recent visit to Mexico. In contemporary architecture in general. In the pleasurable company of music of all centuries, something that cannot surprise us in someone who has painted Preludios. And, in the latter half of the present century, in the music of Morton Feldman, who --as we can see in the collection of his Écrits et paroles (L'Harmattan, Paris 1998), arranged and introduced by Jean-Yves Bosseur-- wrote admirably about the painting of Rothko, Kline, Guston and other friends of his, from which he drew so many lessons. In many other modern composers, including the avant-garde Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas. In the intuitive way in which the relationship with geometry is presented by an artist who preceded him in the IVAM's Gallery 1, the Swiss painter Helmut Federle. In Wolfgang Laib's pollens. In James Turrell's light. In Monet's Nymphéas (Waterlilies). In Tintoretto. In Japanese poetry and its brief forms --one of his recent paintings is called Haiku del Norte (Haiku of the North). In the philosophy of Xavier Zubiri. In the extreme purity of the paintings of a ''great minor painter", an Italian not yet as well-known as he should be, the geometrician and previously metaphysician Antonio Calderara, a name that he discovered in the sixties thanks to Jesús Rafael Soto and re-encountered personally, this very year, on the walls of Charpa. In a book that is unique within its genre, the Diario de un pintor (1984), the first of the titles by Ramón Gaya published by Pre-Textos, with its pages on Venice and the lapping of the water against the marble! In the world of Zen, and most particularly in one essential place, the Ryoan-ji sand garden in Kyoto, which in the second half of this century has become a common reference-point for such diverse figures as Tàpies, Jorge Oteiza, Octavio Paz or John Cage, and which he recalled, in 1996, when he chose fifteen as the number of canvases forming the central series in the exhibition at the Sala Parpalló that we mentioned earlier.

Within the natural dispersion of a diary --and of the very life that a diary seeks to reflect in all its complexity-- there is great consistency in the mesh formed by these varied interests. As a kind of "bass continuum", the daily practice of painting and the studio, a practice about which we are provided with a wealth of precise details, in a very personal mixture of prose, with his moments of hesitation and doubt, and of almost mystical exaltation, of certainty of being on the right path. And the business of wrestling with new ideas, the preoccupations and dreams of emerging generations, which come from the responsibility of being a professor in a Faculty of Fine Arts, together with the tedium, the impatience, the moodiness, and even, at times, the desperation that it brings. Coming back to the paintings themselves, paintings that the knowledge provided by his diaries about the artist's interests in architecture, poetry or music helps us to understand better, it seems clear to me that the last room in the exhibition documented by this catalogue constitutes the culmination of Yturralde's development so far and a kind of aesthetic manifesto for him at this fin de siècle and at the time of this exhibition, undoubtedly the most important that he has held to date. Pure light conveyed by colour, pure painting without boundaries and in which forms dissolve... the huge canvases, presided over by a triptych, that make up this exhibition, canvases of stillness, almost empty and practically without composition, huge canvases that until now the artist has had to view in the restricted space of his studio in Alboraya and that only now will acquire their full significance, compose a kind of chapel --as one sees very clearly in his working model for the exhibition-- with Rothko's Houston chapel always in his memory. The former geometrician and former member of groups is now a solitary painter "without adjectives", who sets himself ever higher goals and who, in Rothko's famous and for me marvellous words, is interested in "expressing basic human emotions'' or, in his own words, making "not so much objects in themselves as something for meditation". Someone who, in order to give reality to these proposals, uses colour, atmospheric, airy, sprinkled colours, almost close to Wolfgang Laib, absolutely dematerialised colour/light that occupies the whole great surface, all over, in the most weightless and most transparent way possible. Someone who devotes much time to questions of "cuisine", as can be verified in his diary, yet who does not wish painting to remain on a formal level but rather wants --and, in my view, manages far more than most-- to breathe into it a metaphysical, spiritual dimension. Someone who sees quite clearly, like George Steiner, a great literary critic and unexpected admirer of Rothko's resplendent, desolate spaces, that art is loneliness, timelessness, silence and transcendence, and that in order to construct great work it is absolutely necessary to shun the banality and hubbub and confusion and triviality of the age, and all those invasive things, so much the order of the day, that threaten the normal development of the necessary, essential activity --at least for some human beings-- of painting.



The problem of the so-called "two cultures", apart from a small core of rigorous studies that must be read, has given rise to an interminable series of trivial approaches that have degraded it to the point of making it a hackneyed cliché. The reiterated contrasting of "art" and the "humanities'', on the one hand, and "science" and "technology", on the other, corresponds to a completely false conception. Socioeconomic interests and ideological conditioning are the only supports for this cultural schizophrenia, which arbitrarily ignores the fundamentally integrated condition of the human being and his activities. Forty years of friendship with José María Yturralde have provided me with the privilege of sharing an experience -that is, learning acquired through use, practice and life- that has shown us the profound senselessness of that schizophrenia. Since his student days, Yturralde has been a prodigious artist of the human figure. Those who know his work only partially may think this belongs to a mere initial phase, the content of which was soon left behind and forgotten. However, the preoccupation with the "truthfulness" of the human figure has been one of the constant infrastructures of his whole career. Let us simply note the significant fact of the months of intense work that he devoted, at the height of the period of "impossible figures", to studying the rich collection of anatomical illustrations, ranging from the Renaissance to the twentieth century, housed in the Medical History Library in our University. Through the osmosis of experiences that is only made possible by friendship, I then learnt various basic assumptions about art, which are closely associated in my memory with our reading together of the Cartas a Théo, by Van Gogh, and the "discovery" of how Gaudí had striven to learn about the anatomy of the human body.

In contrast to the views of art based on intuition, that is to say, on "the ability to understand things without reasoning", Yturralde has always been a conscious follower of a fundamental conception that corresponds exactly to the title of the treatise Pintura sabia (c. 1660), by Juan Rizi, which deals successively with geometry, perspective and anatomy. Within this framework he has opted for a very definite path, which clearly sets out from the Neo-Platonic cosmic view of what the old German historiography called the "High Renaissance", summed up by Leonardo da Vinci in the famous words "saper vedere le ragioni matematiche della realtà".

The intellectual ability to perceive mathematical "reasons" with the eye calls for an instrument with which to express them in drawing and painting. In his period of the "impossible figures" Yturralde used the instrument of perspective, the "bridle and rudder of painting" according to Leonardo himself. In order to bring it fully up to date and be able to recreate expression, he made a careful study of the new assumptions and resources of perspective that appear in the geometry of the second half of the twentieth century. When he considered this stage to be exhausted, he went on to another which in my opinion could be called "construction of structures", harmonious and weightless, on a large scale, possibly culminating in the one he took to Venice. At a time when he already enjoyed considerable prestige, this new stage, running clearly counter to consumer motives, signified a change not of course but of instrument. It consisted principally in bringing to the foreground the work De divina proportione (1509), by Lucca Paccioli, a mathematician and contemporary of Leonardo, who illustrated the first part of it. In order to update the obtaining of harmony by means of mathematical relationships and recreate expression once again, Yturralde associated the resources of geometry with those of statics. In connection with his current stage, the fruit of his tireless quest for fresh possibilities, I would only venture to say that, despite its consistency with previous stages, it implies a qualitative variation. The interest in colour and the effort to assimilate this chapter of optics has been another constant infrastructure throughout his entire development as an artist. We have reached the 250th anniversary of the birth of Goethe. Is there some relationship between Yturralde's current fascination with colour and the peculiar Platonism of Zur Farbenlehre (1810)? I am not now in a condition to give an answer to that question. At the very least, I need the immediate future of our old-established friendship.



In 1996 Yturralde exhibited for the first time the graph paper sketches which gave way to his 1970s impossible figures. On a frailer format and marked by time, those drawings displayed an unprecedented perspective. Yturralde himself referred to the imperfection of the sketches when compared to the impeccable finish of his larger-format works. In his answer to a question from Daniel Giralt-Miracle in his Valencia studio, he said: “Yes, I’m also working on the imperfection idea” (1). His comment seems contradictory in an artist whose works are defined by apparent formalisms and an obvious concern with accuracy.

The weft of the graph paper was like a mesh which held a reading sequence in the development of his figures. The prefabricated paper background was presented as a space of rational and abstract coordinates that was yet broken by the impossibility of the very figures. Yturralde delved into the link between the bi-dimensional periphery of the drawing space and its centre, and in the irresolvable representation of space.

Indeed, a recurrent element in Yturralde's works is the search for centrifugal and centripetal developments in the construction of the pictorial space. Daniel Giralt-Mirácle confirmed this hypothesis when he referred to the exhibition held at IVAM in 1999: «While his "Figures, Structures and Macles" were eminently centrifugal and expansive, these paintings promote a centripetal effect, making us part of another space, in an N dimension which he had never reached in previous works» (2). In this model, the "space" lies in a totally different place from a purely visible space or the perspective issue, regardless of the fact this may be a condition of possibility for the analysis. The spatiality type analysed here is one with a discursive order; it pre-represents a subtle stage of connection between symbolic and spatial thinking. This search for the sign-space would allow us to understand the evolution of his work.

One of the most interesting points in the bi-dimensional space issue in modern tradition is the link of that surface with a conceptual, almost linguistic topology that operates as a sign of spatiality. His impossible architectures, crystallographic models, dia-grammatical layouts and constructions, and the abstraction of the space and scale experience take place in that context. In this respect, the histories of art told from clearly anti-formalist discourses, particularly in the American context, are not really satisfactory when trying to analyse the roots of conceptual models in the 1970 art scene.

It is not really the form question that is at stake, as one might think if you read the literature and the recently told art histories, but a space representation case from a perspective that has been voided of visual coordinates in order to condense space concepts. In that region -more conceptual than formal- the painting becomes the opposite of a stage, of the space-time anecdote, to unfold the analysis that lies in the origin of 20th century transformations. The re-arrangement of the painting space -the privileged representation place- is confirmed as the decisive battlefield of modern art. In fact, it is the very concept of representation as a space associated to modern thought which is systematically dismantled in that period.

In the interstice between the visual and the symbolic, artists like Yturralde work on the need to inscribe all abstract thinking. When Manuel Muñoz Ibáñez wonders about the hyper-sensitive nature of space in Yturralde's “Interludes”, he refers to the relationship of such space with the inscription phenomenon: “What actually exists in space? What minimum variation alters the whole in a significant way? (3). Logic or mathematical deductions deploy in their symbolic writing, and that in turn establishes its own connectivity nodes as a construct sustained in the specific space of abstraction. There, structures stay in the suspension of their relative, inter-dependent links. The suspension of such structures could be interpreted as some type of void, but in actual fact it is a possibility condition for space itself.

This aspect in Yturralde’s works was lucidly advanced by Román de la Calle in 1993 when he wrote: «At the end of the day, all structures -in being plastically embodied- break through the tetra-dimensional game and take it up under their own responsibility. And, the other way round, those very space-time coordinates –if they go beyond their conceptual abstraction- also need to be empirically anchored into the specific genesis of forms, thus becoming an unavoidable condition for their possibility» (4).

Without a doubt, Yturralde’s spatial conception, together with his systematic research on cognitive and perceptive aspects in the genesis of representation, give his works a clearly conceptual orientation. However, it is precisely in the distance he sets from conceptual practices -in their tautological or linguistic perspective- where the differences in the inclusion of the scientific discourse become especially revealing. The tradition in the development of a symbolic space shows very different nuances based on the relationship with the medium and formalisation. In this respect, some experiences of the linguistic conception have approached –more or less literally- the spatial condition of algebraic or numerical constructions. This is the case with Bernar Venet and his representations of mathematical functions, Hanne Darvoben and her long numerical series, or Agnes Denes and her formal logic syllogisms deployed like the drawings of thought. In all these artists, the use of works on paper or media associated to the very practice of abstract thinking does not avoid a strict sense of the visual and plastic dimension of space. In some cases, as suggested by Gillo Dorfles, an aesthetization of that space can be sensed.

«The vagueness, polysemy, and metaphoric and metonymic component which, from Aristotle to Vico, from Richards to Epson, constitutes one of the surest attributes of literary, poetic, and artistic language in general cannot be ruled out all of a sudden to please an uncertain expressive modality. It would be tremendously sad to discover that the artisticity of Venet's paintings (or Darboven's figure series, or Kosuth's dictionary pages) lies in their cryptic nature (and not in their rationality!) and that, by admiring and praising them, we position ourselves in a situation similar to that of those Australian savages who worshiped the plane that landed on a mountain thinking it was a magic bird or a fallen God, ignoring its true technical features. Unfortunately, the critics try to justify works like Venet’s (which by the way are not really his works but excerpts from scientific manuals, or, to put it bluntly, lectures that Venet turns into sheer rambling in front of unlearned and ignorant audiences), calling on his rationality and semantic absolute, without realising that what actually makes them "attractive" and embarrassing is their "de-conceptualisation", their ‘filling up’ with meanings different from those that the artist –perhaps sincerely- would like them to have» (5).

Despite its general hostility to such works, Dorfles’ argument also includes a lucid version of the facts. The aesthetization –which is not free from fetishism in the relationship of conceptual art with scientific objects- turns into an even more radical artistic problem which somehow queries a great deal of paradoxes and antagonisms in recent literary criticism. The evolution of the most representative artists of the linguistic conceptual evidences the gradual 'solidification' of the medium towards objectuality. Over time, the vector pointing to a shift “from object art to concept art” -so effective a way to understand the 1970s art practices- reversed (6).

As to the art projects related with this abstraction of space, a deep painting tradition reconstructs a translation of the logic and abstract thinking problem into a model of construction of the pictorial space. José María Yturralde’s interest in the genesis of that space inside the plane and the origin of representation is reinforced by his extensive research. Yturralde’s stay at the Center of Advanced Visual Studies of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1975 is already an unavoidable reference in the literature about the artist. In this regard, the development of his impossible figures and other studies undertaken later could be interpreted as being part of the same project.

The importance of this biographical and intellectual period in Yturralde’s art should not be played down in view of the subsequent evolution of his works. Without a doubt, we must keep in mind the interpretation of the sign-space as a place beyond the pictorial but as something which takes place in that realm. The place of the impossible figures is the place of signs, the inaccessible space, only apparently void of experimentation. In the analysis of Escher’s world as a genuinely transformed space (7), Yturralde shows once again his interest in the ‘unfinishable’ reconstruction of representation as impossible or unfeasible space, ontologically constrained within representation, whose sole possibility does not only take place in abstraction but is generated as mental space. The dialogue with the material effectiveness of such figures and our perception of them leads him to build his kite series, a part of his work little studied but possibly one of the most interesting. His proposals about the physical space operate like models or sign machines whose inscription conditions alter spatial circumstances, cancelling the anecdotic level beyond themselves. The sky appears as a neutral background with impeccable cut-out kites sort of suspended on the geometric archetype.

In his “prelude” and "eclipse" series, we are faced with the need to reinterpret painting beyond the game of depth where magic exercises take place. Their very organisation reissues the relationship between centre and periphery with new approaches, adjusting the works' inner stress further. In “Eclipses”, the veiling of the centre as a blocked space gives way to the displacement of energy from the plane in a reversibility game, as the impossible mechanisms of the first figures did with respect of the gaze. From the need to be supported by figures (however abstract they might be) to the total dimension of the art piece in its relationship with the spectator-inclusion space, there is a progress which is soon seen in Yturralde's artistic discourse. The reversibility effect between the centre and the periphery of the pictorial space offers him an autonomy premise which ensures the reiteration of a sign-space, a neat and independent signifier. The start of continuity and self-understanding under this perspective is made clear when he states (1990): «I understand that the visual memory these paintings make up is a logical part of the evolution of those fluctuating forms –from the somehow representative paradoxical soundness- of the “impossible figures” that emerged from spatial networks of a secret multidimensional homing instinct; they did not become a painting until today, when the plane and a more poetic yet highly accurate (I wish) attitude were recovered» (8).

Throughout Yturralde’s career we find tension between the medium as an instrumental intermediary and the search for a discourse able to transcend the work of art in a meaning project connected to the poetic and sublime. The hidden language of the sublime would deliberately appear blocked and reduced to the systematization of the signifiers -perfect and hermetic-, as if the dark meaning of poetry concealed by those pictorial spaces escaped from its own representation attempt. Right in that tension is the permanent concern with technique, which dates back to his 1968 research at the Calculus Centre of Madrid University, his 1969 computer works, or the work developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1975.

His new poetic sensitivity, referred to in a great deal of papers about his work in the 1990s (9), is complemented by his diaries, where innumerable referents unfold which encourage that impression in critics and historians. In his “Postludes”, Yturralde himself advanced this idea about his own work: "This work of art is based –through colour- on the pulsing matter metaphor, on the almost perpetual processes of an infinite spiral, like life imposes upon entropy, where some room should be made for the concepts of the ineffable, the sublime, and the absolute in painting…”10.

However, the systemic coherence of his works, agreed upon a long-run programme, could remain latent under the semantic ‘recharge’ incorporated by such concepts. The sign-space continues operating like a capacitor in an impeccable coherence. The need to refer to the issues invoked by Yturralde himself as sources of a productive need is sanctioned by the striking tendency of both critics and historians to describe the evolution of his works in biographical terms. Juan Manuel Bonet (11), Daniel Giralt-Miracle, or Carlos Catalán (12), and many others too, arouse in their assays on the artist's works what seems to be a declaration of the artist's interests and concerns, in turn reinforced by the publishing of his writings in the form of a diary following the retrospective exhibition at IVAM in 1999 (13). This invokes a non-immanent universe other than that of the works which seems to provide the discourse with symbolic, lyrical, or religious contents. The rich fabric of cultural suggestions, with special incidence on musical referents, entails a new connotation which is ‘shelled’ by Yturralde without rhetoric. As the artist says: «It is difficult to find a meaning in the works and actions we constantly strive for in this world, from our frailty; we are not able to understand neither the end nor the beginning or the occurrences in our lives» (14).

Inevitably, the fate of signs seems to be to signify, and so laconic signifiers get full of symbols. The careful construction of a parallel story consolidates an allegorical operation around the works that remind us of the work of art that Malevich placed around the black square in a white background, with ritual or funerary overtones beyond the formal condensation of a relationship between figure and background. José María Yturralde follows an evolution which draws one of the most suggestive and enriching conflicts from modern tradition. In the emptiness of the sign he hides a poetry as humble as precise, a vibration of the sublime reached without the mediation of rhetoric or megalomania. The sublime stems from the de-occupation of the sign. Even though abstraction seems to detach his works from the contextual and sociological problems that occupy today’s art iconography in a hegemonic way, his central topic remains a blind point between the need for and the contingency of representation. In his loyalty to the genesis of the pictorial sign -associated to the ‘scienticist’ premises which capitalised the utopian fruit of the avant-garde in former times, today his works remain inevitably open to the question about the meaning which has never betrayed his dependence on the medium. The stress and tension of his canvases continues being the necessary premise to create space, as the kites float vividly in the sky thanks to that same stress in other solidarity canvases that cooperate in the construction of regular polyhedrons on the sea.



  1. "Vagando en el desierto, viendo la estrella" (Conversation between Daniel Giralt-Miracle and José María Yturralde at his Valencia studio on 27 October 1996), in YTURRALDE, J. Ma.: "Preludios / Interludios", Diputación de Valencia. Valencia, 1996, p. 36.
  2. Giralt-Miracle, Daniel, "Yturralde, en busca del ontoespacio", in "Yturralde", IVAM, Valencia. 1999, p. 15.
  3. Muñoz Ibáñez, Manuel, "Interludios como transiciones", in "José María Yturralde. Preludios-Interludios", Consorcio de Museos de la Comunidad Valenciana, Valencia, 1997, p. 6
  4. DE LA CALLE, R.: "La aristocracia de las formas artísticas", in [Catalogue) "Yturralde, el espacio, el tiempo, el vacío", Girarte, Valencia, 1993, unpublished.
  5. Dorfles, Gillo: "El devenir de la crítica", Espasa Calpe. Madrid, 1979, p. 23.
  6. The well-known text by Simón Marchán Fiz is still a reference and an unprecedented case in the critical and theoretical literature on contemporary art, with never-ending editions and clear validity.
  7. Yturralde was the curator of the 1996 exhibition “El mundo de Escher: el espacio transfigurado en la Fundación Carlos de Amberes”, Madrid.
  8. "Yturralde. Obra reciente". Theo-Valencia Gallery, Valencia, 1990.
  9. This idea is also consolidated in the reviews to the most recent exhibitions, in articles by Cereceda, Miguel, "Racionalismo místico", ABC Cultural, Madrid, 3/4/2004; or by Maderuelo, Javier, "Hacia el infinito", "El País, Babelia", 27/3/2004.
  10. "Del vacío sublime. José María Yturralde", Galería Miguel Marcos, Zaragoza, 2003.
  11. Bonet, Juan Manuel, "Reencuentro con José María Yturralde", in "José María Yturralde. Preludios-Interludios", Consorcio de Museos de la Comunidad Valenciana, Valencia, 1997.
  12. Catalán, Carlos, "A la búsqueda de los límites", in "Yturralde", Caja Navarra, Pamplona. 2000.
  13. "Yturralde", IVAM. Valencia, 1999.
  14. "Yturralde, José María, "Fragmentos de un diario" en "Yturralde".


"I believe that these are highly emotional paintings not to be admired
for any technical or intellectual reason, but to be felt"


Exactly thirty years ago I asked the then recently formed Antes del Arte group to present their most recent work in the field of optical, kinetic and structural experiments at the Galeria As in Barcelona, of which I was then the director.

Under the guardianship of Vicente Aguilera Cerni -mentor of the group- we saw the work of Michavila, Sanz, Sempere, De Soto, Teixidor and Yturralde, with whom I established a very profound relationship and shared intellectual reflections that have continued until the present day. In the cultural context that surrounded us, dominated basically by all the variants of Informalism, with abstraction and the Cuenca school at their highest point, turning one's eyes towards constructivist, rationalist, formalist, normative or philo-scientistic ideas meant swimming against the stream, accepted only in matters of design and architecture. At the time I was immersed in a "gestaltist" stage - to use the term coined bv Juan Manuel Bonet - and imbued with all the phenomenological and scientistic thinking that I had learnt with Tomás Maldonado at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm, and what attracted me in that proposal, the programmatic aim of which was to "trace the path that runs from science to art" and "deal with the behaviour patterns, processes, phemonena, structures, etc., that are to be found in the very basis of artistic phenomenology, limiting these examples to their link with science", was precisely the fact that it reduced the distances established between art and science, between the humanistic world and the world of technology, which ultimately drew together all of us who wished to place ourselves before and/or after the fact of art.

And so, for me, Yturralde begins with Antes del Arte, his kinetic experimenting and his full entry into the world of Figuras lmposibles (Impossible Figures), Estructuras (Structures), Maclas (Macles), Perspectivas (Perspectives), Formas Computables (Computable Forms) and the work with lasers and holography that he did in the Optics Laboratory in Valencia University, as he had previously done in the Computer Centre in Madrid University. In that vacillating cultural context, at last an artist had appeared who had the talent, the capacity and the desire to establish a dialogue with science and technology, who was not frightened of new methodologies but on the contrary was fascinated by them, to the extent of taking the decision of moving to Massachusetts to study at the legendary Center for Advanced Visual Studies in MIT, which at that time was a veritable dream. And the fact is that Yturralde's interest in science was matched only by that of Salvador Dalí, always in his way a passionate enthusiast of the world of mathematics, the secrets of physics and new techniques of construction and holography. Those themes were the focus of our debates in the Galería René Metras - the standard-bearer of Informalism, which opened the doors of the gallery to Vasarely, Sempere and Yturralde - and at the round tables that we organised at the French Institute and the Architects' College in Barcelona and especially at the sessions that Jordi Pericot and I set in motion at the Elisava design school in the late sixties and early seventies. What ideas was the young Yturralde defending in those years? To provide a summary I would refer to three texts of his, which offer a perfect explanation of his preoccupations and his way of expressing them and show that Yturralde has always had a very well-thought-out and well-organised form of discourse:

"The methodological assumptions with which I operate set out from the aim of assimilating and making rational use of scientific knowledge from various disciplines and transferring to the context of artistic creation on all levels, thus expanding the repertoire of artistic language with basic notions of the conceptual achievements of our age." “We have reached a high degree of complexity in the handling of the various elements of signification (colour, form, texture, etc.) and the infinite possibilities of interrelating them, and with respect to the environment, which logically leads us to the use of more accurate automatic means (computers), which in turn introduce a new dimension in the treatment of information."

"Taking the name of "Antes del Arte" (Before Art), we have tried to continue the general line of studies of means of expression in artistic language and transfer scientific notions and data - in this case the "impossible figures" - to an artistic context, creating these examples in accordance with the following criteria: 1) to extend general understanding of the phenomena of perception by the provision of these data; 2) to show once again that basic understanding of the phenomenology and structural and semantic behaviour and events of the world of vision and perception is necessary for the development of 'effective' communication in the plastic arts; and 3) to create rational, effective images, endowing them with the nature and expressiveness characteristic of a high level of art but based on verifiable facts and data."

In a handwritten letter that he sent me from MIT in April 1976, he spoke to me of his preoccupations and reflections at the time and said: "I find that so-called technological art (which is being produced mainly in universities at the moment) has strange connections leading almost to Jackson Pollock himself. This is a metaphor with a grain of truth. By it I am not seeking to justify more or less computable kineticisms, just as I am 'discovering' interesting uses, abuses and sometimes intelligent achievements made by artists of primitive appearance by means of the most refined techniques and with the aid of machines. A few years ago (here) all the artists wanted to appear very intelligent, serious, accurate, scientific. Now the trend is to be rather unrefined, more psychological, almost religious, artists. However, despite the more or less superficial fashions and styles, there is something that attracts me powerfully in the art that is being made in America. Its extraordinary vitality and continuous investigation on every level, from the most scientific ones to the most extreme mysticism."

The duality of art and technology or science and humanities that existed in the USA in those years, and which more or less coincided with the minimalist or reductionist movements, was always latent in Jose María Yturralde's personality, especially in his proposal of understanding art as an exploration, a search, a field open to all kinds of experimentation and investigation, combining intelligence and sensibility. That is the dual dimension of his career, present in his distant abstract beginnings, his geometrical forms and studies, his flying or floating structures, and his painting in the decade of the nineties, when - in Preludios (Preludes), Interludios (Interludes) and Postludios (Postludes) - he delved into the dissolution of his geometrical forms and concentrated on what would constitute the "boundaries" of the picture, thus initiating what we might call the pneumonic-phenomenal phase of his painting. The pause in terms of painting that Yturralde made between 1975 and 1986 led him to two - or three-dimensional forms, a different dimension of space; and this, without involving the abandonment of the geometrical - constructive scaffolding of his earlier stages, culminated in the reflection on colour fields and liminal areas that he is now pursuing in depth. In this we cannot and must not see a rejection or denial of his earlier postulates and judgements. Quite the contrary.

Yturralde has been one of the few artists to pursue a consistent development, taking advantage of all the possibilities that are to be found in painting. Form and ground, support and surface, materiality and immateriality, the tangible and the spiritual... everything that painting is and that identifies it in the physical and metaphysical spheres is there in a new dimension and a new form of expression, taking the demands made by art to extreme degrees of refinement. For me, Yturralde's intellectual adventure is enthralling because of its element of personal evolution and its relationship with the process of development of culture and the arts. With the same fervour that he displayed in the Elisava school when speaking to us of space and its structures, the six Aristotelian spaces, the secrets of descriptive geometry, all the space-time conceptions and models derived from physics, biology, botany, chemistry, physiology, optics or anthropology, now he explains to us, in the "Diary about an exhibition" that he has written in connection with this appearance at the IVAM, how the sensitive, vibrant, emotional element has made its impact on his thinking and how he gradually decided to follow the advice of Clement Greenberg (1978) and be "more playful", that is, less rigid, more open to Kandinsky's spiritual dimension of art, without renunciations or rejections or abandonment of principles, following a Heraclitian pattern of evolution. As he says in his diary: “Increasingly I've been withdrawing into painting, traditional painting [...] as a natural, immediate medium. Not that I reject new technologies. On the contrary, I live with two computers and I use them, but painting is the medium that suits me best at present. In it I find the right flow or current, and smells, tastes, feelings and textures with sufficient warmth and sensuality for me to feel the quivering and the organic unity involved in breathing and rhythms shared by expressive action and ideas."

Yturralde continues to be concerned about space, his pictorial spaces. With his series Spatium Temporis (1985) and, most especially, Preludios and Interludios (1996) he began a dematerialisation of the themes or arguments that he situates in the painting, which brings him to the thresholds of perception in a Heideggerian leap into the void, opening the doors to a dimension other than that of painting, which he defines as "an emotional borderline", to the point of wondering whether it is a question of dissolving the painting. It has been a long road and an arduous journey, but Yturralde has not arrived here by chance. With hindsight we see that the mastery of the languages and techniques of art, the study of systems of representation and the geometries of space and understanding of the scientific and philosophical thinking of the last third of the twentieth century constitute the fundamental points in his present meditated, emotive painting, in which there is a more sensitive apprehension of the concept of space, a space that has no need of boundaries, advancing into mystery, and in which, size, colour and fields of paint are fundamental. Whereas his Figuras (Figures), Estructuras and Maclas were eminently centrifugal and expanded, these present paintings give rise to a centripetal effect, so that we find ourselves within another space, in an Nth dimension that he had never achieved with his earlier work. Naturally, Yturralde has not reached this point ex nihilo, since he belongs to a tradition of painting in which we must include Velázquez, Sánchez Cotán, El Greco, Goya and Caspar David Friedrich and which culminates with Malevich, Ryman, Reinhardt, Barnett Newman, Tobey and, above all, his most direct artistic mentor, Mark Rothko.

In all Yturralde's oeuvre, but very especially in his most recent work, colour plays a fundamental part. On a theoretical level he is probably one of the greatest experts in this country on chromatology, a subject that we discussed in depth in those first encounters, making constant references to the physics of colour, chromatic and achromatic scales, the electromagnetic spectrum and also the psychology of colour, its dynamics, its contrasts and harmonies and its language, starting with the studies made by Josef Albers and Johannes Itten. However, on seeing his most recent work and reading the constant references in his diary to the importance of colour in his work, and to his valiant struggle to achieve a particular tone, a more subtle transparency or a better optical mixture, one understands that colour is a fundamental ingredient, and I would even venture to say that his paintings must be read in a chromatic key, thinking not so much of the physical quality of colour as of the energy emanated by the colours that he uses.

Yturralde is very close to the colour theories of Goethe, trying to arrange chromatic values so that they act as areas of light that interact with harmony and contrast, seeking those diffuse fields of perception whose ultimate objective is to transmit feelings and create moods. Probably the key for the present exhibition is the colour blue, a sensual, transparent, serene blue, very hard to specify by consulting a conventional dictionary of colours, which Yturralde gradually transmutes as he attempts to apprehend it.

"Desaturated violet ultramarine blue", "grey/violet/blue", "lilacs, violets, sky blues, cobalt, ultramarine, titanium white, greens", "blue-lilac-grey", "semi-grey ultramarine blue with mauve and silver grey"--we see that even Yturralde finds it hard to define these colours, because they deliberately move in ambiguity or lack of definition. Yturralde gives his works identity and manages to construct their visual spaces basically by means of colour, which he uses to go beyond the constriction introduced by hard-edge painting and the loss of rigidity brought by soft-edge and place himself in another dimension, which is determined by what we might call the mandalic use of colour and space.

The pictures and their scale, their inter-relation and their placing within their architectural containers create a whole which undoubtedly brings them close to the places of meditation of oriental mysticism and Buddhist symbolism. This desire to go beyond the boundaries and get to what we now call "hyperspace" participates in the same anxieties as may have been entertained at some time by Monet when he created the paintings in the Orangerie, or Rothko with his works for the Houston chapel, or Joan Miró when he painted the great triptychs of his maturity, La esperanza del condenado a muerte I, II y III (The Hope of the Man Condemned to Death I, II and III) or the Pintura mural I, II y III (Mural Painting I, II and III), which predisposed them to perceive things and feelings, to free their minds and mental conditionings and yield themselves to the search for a deeper self, located on the borderline between the immanent and the transcendent, an unverbalised meditation which seeks the ultimate understanding attained through inner illumination. And so I venture to speak of metarational proposals which, although they put the intrinsic capacities of what we call painting to the test, can hardly be expressed by any other means and which share with Zen the difficulty of explaining their raison d'être. And the fact is that Yturralde's attitude to a painting finds its best points of reference in the inner experiences of the Tao or the meditative possibilities of Zen. Rather than being an object to be looked at, the picture must be "experienced". Rather than a presence, he offers us an immanence, a dimension that goes beyond the support of the material to open us up to a transcendental dimension.

This approach to the Absolute has its concomitants with religious experience or the very mechanisms of spirituality, not a specific spirituality but a simple concern for the universal in its cosmic projection, to which he adds a certain curiosity in esoteric philosophies and the theosophies of space, which also intrigued and inspired Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian. He himself states it clearly in his "Diary" when he says: “my intention was to achieve an atmosphere of fluid transparency, of communion with a kind of slowly expanding energy. The energy that has to do with sensitivity and emotion and poetic experience. Perhaps there is a spiritual or mystical aspect, but I don't think it's specifically religious or sacred". Yturralde does not wish to relinquish the three dimensions that provide an impulse for his work: material, intellectual and spiritual. And it is in this triad, where Buddhism, nirvanas, Tao, Zen and theosophies are located, that we find the undercurrent of his latest work.

This discourse, which might appear Eastern or mystical, is in turn a very current discourse within modern thinking. Reaching the boundary, being at the boundary and glimpsing what lies beyond the boundary is a concern of the ancient philosophers taken up again by Kant, Heidegger and Wittgenstein and also tackled in an updated discourse by the philosopher Eugenio Trías in his books Lógica del límite and La razón fronteriza, the point where thought opens up to mysticism and art, to the transcendence where Yturralde is to be found. The subtle and oft-debated borderline between the visible world and the hidden world is reflected in painting which, without renouncing all the paraphernalia of theory and practice that he has acquired during his career, is located in what we might call onto-painting, which in the world of art and the world of thought is still a radical option, assumed with courage and some risk.

And so, what remains of the Yturralde of the sixties and seventies who was so enthralled by the world of science? Everything remains, because from the very outset Yturralde was far away from the polarisation of the so-called "two cultures" - the humanities and the sciences - in what the scientist C.P. Snow called the "third culture", which is capable of setting up a bridge between both sides.