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Drawing bodies, constructing shadows

Traçant cossos, component ombres

Consuelo Císcar Casaban
Directora del IVAM

“Uns cossos són com flors
Altres com punyals
Altres com cintes d’aigua;
Però tots, tard o d’hora,
Seran cremades que en un altre cos s’engrandisquen,
Convertint per virtut del foc una pedra en un Home.”

Luis Cernuda (Los placeres prohibidos, 1931)

Drawing Bodies, Constructing Shadows

Consuelo Císcar Casaban,
Director of the IVAM

Some bodies are like flowers
Others like daggers
Others like streaks of water;
But they will all, sooner or later,
Be burns that will grow large within another body,
Turning a stone by virtue of fire into Man.

Luis Cernuda (Los placeres prohibidos, 1931)

Joan Castejón has offered us a very particular way of approaching painting with his abundant artistic manifestation throughout his long career. This friendly, down-to-earth artist from Alicante considers his painting his best ally in expressing himself since he thinks that art is a space where he can give shape to his worries, joys, passions and anguish.

We find ourselves, therefore, before a work inseparably linked to his experiences, where he portrays different stages of his life during which man was the central theme. The crusade of broken, mutilated bodies of the early phase coincides with World War I as he experienced it. His work at this time tends towards a dark, sober colour scheme, in an attempt to underscore suffering, using chiaroscuro in a rather gloomy manner. However, the painting of this stage contrasts with the placidity and serenity of his work today. Now his warm, soft colours invade all his canvases, conveying the peace the painter enjoys at the present time.

The constant use of blue stands out particularly, bringing us a pleasant feeling of infinity. A constant feature of his work is his homage to freedom and man, under the influence, perhaps, of two of his most admired poets, Walt Whitman and Onetti. In view of this relationship the artist has always maintained with literature, we are not surprised that Don Quixote has provided him with a refuge where he can let his imagination roam freely with Cervantes’ to draw the passions of the knight from Castile.

On the fourth centenary of the first edition of the novel, there have been manifold and varied attempts to exalt the thinking of Don Quixote. So this exhibition wants to join in this year of celebrations, in which the IVAM has on several occasions paid great tribute to the most universally acclaimed work of the Spanish Golden Age, with drawings by Saura projected on a Christmas tree in an installation created by Pistolo Eliza, and the illustrations in the exhibition Dalí y el Quijote.

For this reason, the aesthetics of Cervantes’ novel is among those that have had the greatest influence on the trends and movements that came after it. It is, then, a literary work that, among other interpretations, is a harsh criticism of Spanish society in the 17th century. Furthermore, we can affirm that it was the first important work of fiction in prose that saw reality as a sort of fiction and fiction as a sort of reality. By means of the vigorous use Don Quixote makes of his freedom, he turns the world into fertile ground for growing dreams in, inspired in an appealing idealism.

Miguel de Cervantes’ narrative discourse, an extraordinary verbal heritage and a laboratory for research, decides to interpret reality according to his view of the world by creating “aesthetic truths” that are like Valle Inclán’s mirrors, where society can see itself reflected.

Don Quixote is a powerful emblem to extrapolate from his context and propagate the variety, complexity, humanistic merit and eternal value contained in this prodigious novel that opens and closes a cycle in the History of Literature based on artistic imagination. Therefore the figure of Alonso Quijano as an icon for Castejón enhances its expressivity and interest because the aesthetics of Don Quixote still has a multiplying effect and will continue to do so.

This novel consists in a different way of approaching thing from the Cartesian, because, on the contrary, we find ourselves here before a “human, all too human” work, to paraphrase Nietzsche.

Entering the sphere of Don Quixote is tantamount to entering life itself by means of a view of the world that overwhelms us all, taking us though the different essences of the human being expressed by Cervantes’ poetics. An aesthetic truth that arranges our everyday fiction for us.

And this is not only what Castejón wishes to convey to us with this tribute to the novel of chivalry par excellence but it is present in all his life dedicated to art. The painter from Alicante corroborates what Professor Ángel Palomo believes when he says that “Don Quixote himself is such a simple being and character that his simplicity encapsulates the most complicated thing of all: human nature”. The novel is also a eulogy to the joy of living the life of a shipwrecked man, according to Professor Luis Molinuevo from Salamanca University.

The human body and condition has been present in art from the beginning as art has used anatomy as a source of inspiration and a yardstick since it first began to exist. Artists’ representations of the human figure and experience as a way to express sensations and sentiments are very different so the recognition of the body during civilisations remains with constant resistance. Nothing belongs more intimately to the individual, nothing is closer to his understanding, than his own body. At the same time, few realities arouse in him more enigmas and challenges than its interpretation and representation.

In his canvases Castejón shows us man in the tragic unfolding of his adventures/misadventures in subjective solitude, torn between his political, social and cultural commitment with the times he lives in, always with an awareness that prevents him from looking the other way when he comes up against human weakness.

Due to these concerns, man often appears resentful, in feline stances, showing unusual cruelty, probably provoked by the revulsion of certain social attitudes.

When we look back over his work, we appreciate the great quality of his drawing, which occupies a privileged place in his painting. Drawing is the structure of his work, and if it is not solid, the work will be a failure.

Castejón is an outstanding member of the group of contemporary artists interested in anatomy like Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most universal enquiring spirits in the history of mankind.

He is undoubtedly an intelligent and intuitive painter. If we are to credit the words of Eugeni D’Ors, “drawing is the intelligence of painting and colour its instinct”, and in Castejón’s canvases there is skilful drawing that is later touched up by densities, shades, spatula and blending until the final work is accomplished.

The influences come from his own experience, from what he has known and what he has learned. When his brushes glide over the canvas, they paint his life, albeit unconsciously, by narrating his feelings and transcribing his excitement. It is reasonable to say that he expresses himself freely, inventing his own style. For that reason his pictures have that rather unfinished appearance and seem to want to look as though they have just been invented. His works offer an important temperature, freshness and dynamism.

The realism in his work holds an essentially human parallelism with Cervantes’ work. In fact, when Castejón dissects the human figure, he evokes within us the mental destruction of the being by means of Don Quixote’s most expressionist actions charged with tragic lyricism. The Kafkian man breaks, becomes metamorphosed and displays his inner life by means of his foreshortening, his destruction and his perhaps insane poetics, somewhere between literary fiction and dehumanised social reality.

In any case, Castejón’s tradition is linked to the old school of art that gives drawing as the structure of a work the importance it really deserves, since the language of painting finds in a natural manner the best way to communicate.