Prof. Dr. Francisco Calvo Serraler
«What is Real»
«What is Real»
Introduction to the catalog of the solo exhibition “Álvaro Toledo”, Leandro Navarro Gallery, from September 18th to October 30th 2008
When contemplating Alvaro Toledo’s work, many will surely consider it to be «realism» in the erroneous belief that this refers to the traditional representation of a figure and in stark contrast to what is considered as contemporary art. Perhaps some of the more informed would classify it as Madrid Realism, which has achieved a not wholly unwarranted status, although nobody can really explain why.
Possibly, there are even fewer of these hypothetical viewers who would attempt to classify Toledo’s work and the aforementioned Madrid Realism within the traditional and renowned Spanish realist school. But surely only a select minority would not only be aware that realism is a creation of the contemporary vanguard, both as a term and a style, that was acknowledged in the mid XIX century but that did not become fully developed until after the 1930’s, successively passing from one controversy to another until the present day.
Let us not forget that the artistic vanguard of the nineteen thirties is historically referred to as “realist”, but that from 1960, it again resurged, this time so emphatically that they used other formulas for public presentation such as «hyperrealism» or «photorealism».
Although we could continue to present more information in this respect, and even without considering the more lax sense of the term realism, such as that which corresponds to a figurative work, I don’t think we need continue along these lines. At least, no further than we have so far with the sole aim of clearing up any misunderstandings or prejudices, whose principal defect is that they oft impede our capacity to see and even blind us to the facts.
For our part, we will try not to fall into any false stereotype and we shall look in detail at the work of Alvaro Toledo, that now reaches some thirty paintings, approximately half of which are produced with charcoal on panel, the other half of which are oil paintings on canvas, on panel or on a mixed surface. From the thematic point of view, the majority of this work fits into the genre of still life, a genre that has logically been represented in the interior and intimacy of a domestic scene, such that it contributes to the architectural reconstruction of its surroundings. If we were to now reconsider the characteristics that have historically defined this genre over the last four centuries, which is when it finally again became independent, so to speak, we could not fail to notice the fine causal detail, as useful and clarifying as it might be, fatally leads us away from the main object of our attention.
Alvaro Toledo’s realism is without doubt contemporary, which does not however signify that it does not have precise ties with its past, although none that are the product of the specific concept of today’s artist, whatever his leaning or technique, of his ancestors.
In this sense, I think that the work of Alvaro Toledo is indebted to the so−called «optical realism» of the Dutch School, from the second half on the XVII century, and in particular, given his fascination for light, with Vermeer. Nevertheless, the way that Toledo composes and interprets the spaces in a domestic interior, searching for perspectives and visual axes would have been unthinkable without the vanguard art and architecture of the XX Century. Also, the way that he uses the light –the way in which it winds, activates, focuses and inseminates the space- would not be possible, without fear of saying so and less of appearing radical, without Mondrian himself, who was as Dutch as Veermer (who also influenced him). Along the same line, although slightly changing tact, he also brings to mind, for example the Danish cinema of C. Th. Dreyer, and not least, the photography of some of the best-known contemporary masters.
As such, either in oil or charcoal, Alvaro Toledo’s work is not only the complex precipitate of the crosstalk between the centuries, but also the updating of history, putting it to the test to take best advantage of what he sees. And what he sees and attempts to represent is the light. But not just an ideal permanent midday light, but rather a modern light that is dramatized. And this light’s drama is centered on time, that is the infinite changes that occur as the sunlight passes over our planet, that not only modifies our sight but also what we see. To extract himself from this fascinating, yet also intoxicating experience of the infinite changes of light, man has tried to fix it as an idea. Thus, through different devices, he has tried to «chronicle» it, measuring his life according to the passage of the hours of light.
Finally, he has been capable of creating artificial light and even of freezing it in time. Nevertheless, whether he has exorcized or manipulated it, the life of man, both past and present, remains tightly linked to the light.
However, for an artist the question is how to physically represent it, not the light itself but rather its incarnation, its effect on things. Alvaro Toledo dramatizes the light, firstly through the modern chiaroscuro technique, that makes us visually aware of the shadows, and that defines the quality and warmth of the objects. In addition, he dramatizes it by capturing its beat, which make the rigid space dance and sparkle to the rhythm of its reflections. Nevertheless, neither one nor the other, neither the focus on the light nor the animated fluttering of its thousand reflections, ceases to tell a story, a tale that is never repeated, because the light can never be the same since the materials and objects with which these have successively been made change. Indeed, the light does not act the same on glass, steel, methacrylate, etc., or when the domestic furnishings, the interior architecture itself and so many other things are modified, for one reason or another. Thus, the way in which we sense the light, means that it literally lightens up our life in many ways. All these innumerable events, that differentiate the distinct ways in which man exists, constitute a supreme challenge to the artist, who tries to register every detail of this epic light.
Although the infinite hues that must be captured, depending on so many factors of chance, make the search to recreate this light such a difficult task, the more difficult it is in each case, the greater the delight for the painter.
This is certainly the case for Alvaro Toledo, who represents no light the same, not only because he is deeply aware of the very different forms it adopts at each moment of the day and in each place, but also, because Alvaro Toledo perceives and represents the entire scene in his works, and compositions, with all the elements it contains, only to surprise us with the dwindling passage of the light. Hence, the objects he uses in the composition positively reflect the most refractory mysteries of the light. It is then, while we look in detail at what is happening with the illuminated space that appears in Alvaro Toledo’s charcoals or oil paintings, and we look abstractly at the backlit or transparent objects that occupy the interior of his scenes, that we discover the presence of Vermeer and Mondrian, as I previously indicated.
And while we are on the subject of interiors, there is another aspect of Alvaro Toledo’s work to which our attention is readily drawn, how he uses architecture to force us to look from all heights and angles. This manner of stimulating the viewer, taking advantage of the less common viewpoint reminds me on the one hand of Degas, and on the other, although it may seem strange, of Mies van der Rohe. With regards the first true voyeur, because he took his studies of the forced viewpoint to such an extreme that he used to advise one to always look through a keyhole, not to unveil any human mystery or secret, but rather, to enjoy the miracle of seeing the subject in a way that no-one usually saw it. The second, because he took maximum advantage of the revolutionary and modern industrial construction materials, to modify the conventional perspective and convert a domestic stroll into an adventure, to which we are still yet to become accustomed. In any case, Degas and Mies are simply an excuse to highlight Alvaro Toledo’s insistence to transmit to us how what routinely accompanies us in the spaces in which we live out our daily lives is a constant source of visual surprises.
Finally, if we had put a limit to what Alvaro Toledo’s work shows us, it would be the way he has of narrating what happens to us when we are not there.
By which I mean that he distances us from the scene to better capture our essence. In all, he makes us talk through the objects that surround us, through which, consciously or not, we are more eloquent. In this sense, Alvaro Toledo is not unlike Morandi. It is not that Toledo’s style, which is clean and clear, could be compared with that of Morandi, so rooted in the perception of the inner movement of the objects, but rather both share the importance of silence, that is a vacuum, an emptiness, an intriguing stillness awaiting or in remembrance of the action. The latter makes Alvaro Toledo a philosopher and a poet, just sufficient for him to be what he is: a great painter. Thus, if in the light of the above or simply after having examined his works with the detail they deserve, someone decides to classify Alvaro Toledo as a «realist», they would have to admit that, in any case, he is because he has made the light that forms our interior and exterior more palpable, in the widest sense of the word, real.
«Toledo, sparing and brilliant»
Review of the exhibition «Álvaro Toledo, still life and interior», La Vanguardia, Sunday, June 18, 2017, p.14.
Under the title «Still life and interior», Álvaro Toledo exhibits an extraordinary collection of paintings and charcoals dated between 2011 and today. It has been eight years since he exhibited in Madrid and he returns with a much cleaner and more mature work. A painting that has been enriched in technique and concept. In his charcoals on panel he leaves the impression of a display that makes the environment protagonist rather than the objects. His oils, sober, fluid, luminous, indicate the aura of his painting, without pretensions nor superfluous or demagogic additions. Currently there is an excess of rhetoric in everything and this sparing and brilliant expressiveness is appreciated. Using watercolor, charcoal and pastel, he achieves works of great significance and chromatic vividness. Álvaro Toledo, Madrid 1965, has a degree in Fine Arts from the UCM and this is his fifteenth solo exhibition. Recipient of the Pedro Bueno, Penagos and Pilar Banús Foundation awards, he is among the most outstanding names of the latest generation of Spanish realism. As proof, the work reproduced, Beams and golden package, 2015. Oil / panel, 110×100 cm. Recommended visit!
«The painting’s skin»
Review of the solo exhibition «Álvaro Toledo, still life and interior» at Galería Leandro Navarro, ABC Cultural, Saturday, 20th May 2017, p.18
«I firmly believe in the assertion that states that form and concept are inseparable», Álvaro Toledo (Madrid 1965) writes. This allusion to formalism in its more Greenberg’s sense actually puts him in a context –the Madrid’s Fine Arts Faculty of the 1980s–, relating him with a generation of painters distanced from illusionism and sensationalism, and often devoted, from very different positions, to develop new ways of highlighting the purely flat character of painting.
Which explains many of the characteristics of the oils and drawings he exhibits now, almost ten years after his last solo in Madrid: a realism very grounded in the visibility of geometry –modern architectures, minimal, in which lights and shadows populate diagonals and complex grids– which owes its truth and purity to the presence of those known objects, loved, possessed, of the domestic environment, that allude always to the technique itself, the pictorial subject, which features on the painting its own history: that of «its essence, that quality that justifies its existence», says the artist.
Something that is perfectly visible in the charcoals -superb, dense and dark- on which traces of liquids and other handling remain on its surface, but also gives the oils that characteristic roughness of the direct painting, stripped, without fanfare as those of Sánchez Cotán, Morandi and other painters of the finite.
«Álvaro Toledo: to look»
Intro to the catalog of the solo exhibition «Álvaro Toledo, still life and interior», Leandro Navarro Gallery, from May 4th to June 30th, 2017
To look, to draw, to look, to paint, to look, to engrave. Look, look, look. What Álvaro Toledo does comes and goes from his gaze towards the world, from the world to his gaze, but he refers, above all, as he says, «to a universe that is intimate in which reality is re-created». His works do not seek to confuse the viewer: they are not like the grapes painted by Zeuxis, so tempting that the birds were attracted to nibble on them, nor like Parrasio’s curtain, which managed to deceive Zeuxis himself. They are not trompe-l’oeil: they do not try to mistake our eye by posing as something other than what they really are. On the contrary, they affirm themselves in their attribute as images per se. But they are not a simple visual transcription of the observed reality. As the painter himself explains, it is about images constructed to reveal the order, the architecture that is established between objects and space, or better yet between objects, space and gaze: a triangular argument that relates them to create a narrative that transcends the material reality.
In some of Álvaro Toledo’s works, the voice of Morandi resonates, his way of simultaneously perceiving a simple and sophisticated order. Cézanne is also intuited: the structure of the visual that makes any fortuitous encounter of the pots of a still life acquire the sense of the immutable. At the same time, Juan Gris appears in his words and works. Álvaro Toledo wrote in May 2016:
«I firmly believe in the assertion that states that form and concept are inseparable. This principle governs my practice. When I work I always start with a previous idea that I find inspiring, sometimes just an intuition, which is transformed throughout the materialization process that goes from the abstract (the idea) to the concrete (the work)».
As for Juan Gris, who has been placed in the wake of quintessentially French painters such as Chardin, but also in the Spanish –and mystical- tradition of Zurbarán or Sánchez Cotán, he explained in a similar way his notorious «deductive» method. A method that places him above all in the questioning of vision from the framework of contemporary painting, in critical tension with Cézanne:
«I consider that the architectural aspect of painting is mathematics, the abstract side [and] I want to humanize it: Cézanne turns a bottle into a cylinder; I start with the cylinder to create an individual of a special type, and from a cylinder I make a bottle, a specific bottle. Cézanne goes towards architecture, I begin with it».
That is to say, the idea precedes the object, the universal geometry precedes the description of the particular. Concept and form. And Álvaro Toledo continues:
«For me the old rivalry of the figurative versus abstract languages has been surpassed by new challenges, which have more to do with the value of art as an object and the artist’s role in the making of the work. These are the issues I want to reflect on.»
It is not strange that again Juan Gris, whom Guillaume Apollinaire characterized as «the man who reflected on everything modern», spoke in similar terms. Figuration and abstraction were as inseparable to him as the weave and warp of the same fabric: that of modern art, which understands painting or drawing as a form of knowledge, as a reflection about reality and about the place of the artist in the world. In that sense, it is the gaze, more than any other aspect of the material realization of the work, no matter how virtuous it might be, that reveals the artist. It is the gaze that manages to join weave and warp, concept and form. Alvaro Toledo’s gaze perceives the essence of an encounter, of objects in a place and with a certain light. And its result, honest and true, seduces the spectator without betraying him.