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Family Portrait 2001, 2001
Alkyd on Belgian linen
© Salvador Calvo 2001

Salvador Calvo and Laura Murlender:
Abstract Paintings
June 9, 2001 - June 30, 2001
Tues-Fri: 10:30 AM-4:30 PM;
Sat: 11 AM-5 PM;
or by appointment

Collins Fine Art
222 West Superior Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
Telephone: 312/ 943-9880

Salvador Calvo

St. Augustine once stated that "man is in the world, but not of it." That fundamental fact still stymies and eludes psychologists and physicists alike. Man's questioning of just how it is that he is self-aware, conscious -- and so questions in a real world where those qualities are unique to humankind -- this is the core of all religious sensibility. Its evolution indeed has given birth to myths. Each myth, however, no matter what its stories or its form, arises from within such fundamental human truths. Such insight inspires the art of Spanish-born Salvador Calvo. This artist's work at Collins Fine Art, Chicago, does not simply abstract from images as seen, nor from the formulas they have with time and thought become. Calvo's art pursues and captures a beginning, a primordial sense of wonder: elusive truths within the world before which the human creature comes to realize a whole beyond a sum of human attributes -- a soul.

Salvador Calvo assumes that humanness is not reducible to biology or mere astronomies, nor calculated by theories or even words; and then grants that societies have given birth to art believing this. For Salvador Calvo, that is a start. This artist has explored a broad variety of cultures and beliefs -- humanity. Their speculations -- and Calvo's art -- have a resonance with what the mind's eye, unfettered by the dry reasonings of such as Descartes, in fact perceives. In his art, Calvo surveys the Old World and the New: Greek and Roman, Sumerian, Incan and the seeds of human thought born much before. And Salvador Calvo from all this has made an art of subtlety and strong emotive vigor.

Oil on Belgian linen
© Salvador Calvo 2001

A painting such as Helios (44"x36": Oil on Belgian linen) serves as an initiation. In this work, three major contoured areas -- buildings built by man -- frame a central, glowing focus which lies beyond: the hot aura of a hidden sun. Helios captures not just a mood, no more than its buildings capture just baked clay or drying wood: buildings imply their builder. Humans carry that conclusion further in their world. In all their myths, no thing is truly dead or single unto itself. The world, in sight and in sensation, is a fully living mirror of a patterning, enigmatic, but with its purpose nonetheless. Even sophisticated Western man still lapses into subtle animisms, and attributes gut intent -- the Sun is nurturing, benevolent; or else... deliberately indifferent, cruel, even murderous. Despite all rationality, it is how we feel the world. Poet W.H. Auden, affirmed this, noting: "The world in which all of us, including scientists, are born, work, love, hate and die, is the primary phenomenal world as it is and always has been presented to us through our senses, a world in which the sun moves from east to west, the stars are hung in the vault of heaven, the measure of magnitude is the human body, and objects are either in motion or at rest." As in many of Calvo's works, the artist's title, Helios, sets past legacies of myth as a context, seeks their human source, and the artist then interprets what is afoot with a crisp, poetic finesse d'esprit. Neither astronomy nor physics, Calvo's painting rests within how man receives his own peculiar sightings of a human and subjective world.

In Helios, time is set to rest. Whether sunset passing or triumphant dawn, it is an instance which endlessly repeats itself; and Salvador Calvo here mines speculative intuition for its own revealing strengths -- only the creature which can measure time appreciates, and must explain, the patterns which first reveal themselves and then persist.

Above:Anu Was the Son of Anshar and Kishar, 1997
India ink and watercolors on Arches paper
Below:The Seed of Gayomart, 1997
India ink and watercolors on Arches paper
© Salvador Calvo 2001

Many of this artist's titles are clues to sources and provocative intents: collaborators with the painted vision. But sources notwithstanding, the end expressions in this art are immediately felt: they take on an independent life. Salvador Calvo's captions, like a scholar's footnotes, merely map the artist's motivating pulse. The map is not the territory. Anu Was the Son of Anshar and Kishar (1997:22"x16":India ink and watercolors on Arches paper) is, of course, a reference to Anu, the sky-god, a major deity of the Sumerians, known best from the epic Gilgamesh. A glance into Mesopotamian Myths by Henrietta McCall (British Museum Publications/University of Texas Press:1990) will provide a scholar's gloss: Anu, a god which presides upon events, one indifferent to human destinies. Calvo's work evokes both an ancient monument to cult, and a modern sensibility of indifferent foundries, boilerplate, and constructions built with imposing energy. Each age and nation builds the idols which it serves. (Historian Henry Adams in his Education predicted that the cult of the Dynamo would supplant the cult of the Virgin.) Calvo's Anu plays familiar elements of the Post-Industrial Age -- riveted plates and armor-like facets on curved planes, cable ends, what seem like lightening rods, and antennas -- against a natural awe for size and scale as attributes of power and status, at times... divinity. Calvo's Anu stirs a deference, a social response, millennia-old and perhaps even pre-human. Here, a timeless mood is analyzed and evoked with intense deliberativeness; and it draws upon a fundamental archetype.

In inspiration, Calvo's art harkens to the Pittura Colta movement among Italian artists of the mid-1970s. (Interestingly, although 'Colta' today refers to 'cultivated,' it has an earlier, now archaic connotation of worship -- cult.) However, the art of Pittura Colta, exemplified by such as Carlo Maria Mariani and Alberto Abate, centered about the Classical, European past. Calvo reaches out to a broader human history. The Seed of Gayomart (1997:22"x16") springs from ancient Persian myth... the seed that after forty years within the earth, gave birth to the earliest human pair: Mashya and Mashyoi. This is another graphic rendering in which direct mythic impulse is realized in a highly disciplined and skilled technique. In this work of India ink and acrylic on Arches 300lb paper, subtle black and white tones reveal a sense of ambient light, a night vision which is all the more noticeable by the reserved fundamentality of the artist's stark geometric composition. And, despite the seeming laconic directness of composition, Calvo's image is built up from a meticulous stippling, a painstaking working of fine penstrokes. Here, a reductive composition collaborates with a soft 'white noise' of expression to evoke an unreal sensation of dream state or transcendent visitation. In Calvo's The Seed of Gayomart, the abstracted dual contours, each of which recalls a vaguely human form, drew among some viewers at the gallery opening comparisons with the massive Polynesian sculptures of Easter Island, or the monumental idols carved along the ancient silk routes of the Orient.

As with music or dance, visual art may express profound aspects of human nature, without communication of specific concepts or even facts. Human experience precedes all verbal orderings. For the more inquisitive (or perhaps for those with a penchant to have everything explained and documented), Calvo, as in many of the works on display, unobtrusively incorporates explanatory text quoted from his expansive reading. In these paintings, it offers the visitor still another starting point.

Spanish philosopher, Ortega y Gasset once noted in his essay, "Reviving the Paintings," that: "Strictly speaking, all history tries to understand an ancestor just as he understood himself, but it turns out that it cannot do this unless it lays bare the deepest level of suppositions on which that ancestor lived and which, because they were so obvious, he overlooked...." That Salvador Calvo seems drawn to meditate on such "deepest level of suppositions" of many, widely varying cultures seems consistent with, and throughout, his art. Writer Jay Yodder noted that although Calvo has lived in Evanston, Illinois, for nearly twenty years, the artist is a native of the Rhonda area of Malaga province in Andalucia, Spain. For this artist, a history received gives life to further histories to come....

Cadiz is perhaps one of the best known cities of Calvo's Andalucia and its histories reflect not only much of Southwest Spain, but Salvador Calvo's consequent, cosmopolitan spirit. Fachada en Cadiz (50"x42"), an oil on Belgian linen, might well serve as a totem for Calvo's art. Cadiz itself reflects a long succession of histories -- paleolithic, Celto-Iberian, Phoenician-Carthaginian, Greek and Roman, the Visigoths, and Mozarabic overlay -- each of which outlives the peoples who contributed to a character of that land; and, in a sense, Salvador Calvo's art explores the manner in which primal and universal human nature weaves man as individual. A unique and unnameable identity emerges from the site Phoenicians once named Gadir, thirty-one centuries ago. Fachada en Cadiz, with its palette of varying blues, frames the major portion of its image by a severe vertical edge of building which runs from top to bottom at the left of this painting. This provokes anticipation: a viewer examines the space promptly to its right. If immediate resolutions and understanding are not forthcoming, it may be that the subject, like its own mythologies, realizes itself most fully in the viewer's personal response. Once, Spanish philosopher, Jose Ortega y Gasset, questioned what unreal beings like the Centaur and the Chimera had in common for men and concluded: "...what they have in common is simply the following: they are the targets of consciousness, what it is conscious of in its different modes, what we aim at when we see, imagine, conceive, judge, love, or feel." He concluded: "Apparently I can never manage -- we are working with appearances only at this point -- to discover my consciousness except when it is not only occupied with something not its own -- a perception, an image, a judgement, a willing, or a feeling -- but occupied moreover with something other than itself. All sight is sight of something...." (In "Consciousness, the Object and its Three Distances.")

Calvo's images range from a figurative inspiration pared down, one which results in an abstracted representation -- as in Helios or Entrance or Exit -- to a further pure and analytical abstractionism which is given subdued dimensionality by the shadowing and highlights -- texturings -- associated with the more contemporary illusions of Realist expression. Ultimately, Cosmic Planes (42 1/2"x33 1/2":India Ink, alkyd on Belgian linen) seems to bring first-born impulse to seek meaning into a consequent, direct abstraction. In Cosmic Planes, four trapeziums dominate forms which, by their lighter overall tones, appear as floating foreground. The centermost object most strongly approaches a square in shape, while the two at image right are almost triangular. Four more kindred shapes lurk behind these, blending into the shades of dark charcoal blue background. A bright, off-white "[" element forms a border at the left. The overall palette is a range of blue-greys which forms a strong contrast of lighted objects against others eclipsed in darkness. Yet, despite the austere, cerebral geometries of this painting, the forms are bathed in the shadowings and aerial perspective -- the illusions of depth in space -- which characterize our shared, immediate reality.

Cosmic Planes is 'An instinct given flesh' -- as is whatever the human mind encounters, be it the phenomenal world, belief and myth, or quantum physics. Nobel laureate physicist, Werner Heisenberg, once stated: "What we observe is not nature itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning." It is also a very fine realization in such as Calvo's art.

In many of Calvo's paintings and drawings at Collins Fine Art, Chicago, the primordial and often the subliminal, meld with a very modern feel for visual forms and structures. (Vocabularies alter, but beyond all change, the human will to order and interpret still persists.) As in Anu Was the Son of Anshar and Kishar (1997), Calvo's Entrance or Exit (52"x44"), painted in alkyd on Belgian linen, reveals a composition which at once recalls both ancient cultic monumentality and the functional 'leanness' of modern design. Entrance or Exit, a balanced geometric composition of bare walls against a short, ascetic set of stairs -- a mere few steps, really -- might serve as well for ancient Nineveh in ritual as for countless concrete bunkers erected now for Modern industry. An overall color scheme of mottled blues, with subtle elements of red, contributes to a sense of ambiguity -- of an instant remembered rather than seen still in the flesh, and now rebuilt as prosaic fact again. The varying responses among gallery visitors might well reflect, and cause us to reflect upon, our own conditioning: the context which each viewer is most prone to bring with him. Calvo's is an art of skilled technique and precisely articulated content; and yet it is open-ended and questioning in its meanings and significance. The painting's title implies that the artist intended that. And the puzzles that this art presents are its finest virtue.

Calvo's is an art which, for all its abstractive expression and archetypic reference, is ever aware that these must arise from human particularities. Family Portrait 2001 (44"x36"), an alkyd on Belgian linen, provides that clue. At first, it recalls a Hieronymous Bosch toying with a bit of metaphysical wit, but it stands out as a crisp, precisely envisioned actuality. And it works well in this exhibition with paintings that are informed by an insight of writer, Joseph Campbell:

People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on a purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

The Power of Myth (With Bill Moyers) (Doubleday:1988)

Campbell concluded: "Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life."

Calvo's work here suggests in each viewing that what is seen, what is believed, and what is therefore expressed work in tandem to produce a whole which touches beyond the sum of those activities. The artist pursues and captures a beginning, a primordial sense of wonder: elusive truths within the world before which the human creature comes to realize a whole beyond a sum of human attributes. These paintings point toward a further artistic virtue. Philosopher, Ortega y Gasset, noting the whole treasury of European art, once declared: "...we have become used to it, and as our perceptions have dulled it has ceased to be there for us. But if we can manage to see the works in their status nasciendi we will renew them; they stand before us with all the energy that gave them their power and grace when freshly created." (In his essay, "Reviving the Paintings.") Salvador Calvo's recent work, uniting a broad spectrum of myth with engaging visual effect, creates a welcome and enlivening experience, an affirmation of a very human world, and it may well find fulfillment in an insight of Czech playwright, Vaclav Havel, who, speaking of human myth in a 1994 address, concluded: "a deeply and joyously experienced need to be in harmony even with what we ourselves are not, what we do not understand, what seems distant from us in time and space, but with which we are nevertheless mysteriously linked because, together with us, all this constitutes a single world. Transcendence is the only real alternative to extinction."

Each gallery visitor must judge for himself. The paintings of Salvador Calvo are at Collins Fine Art, Chicago. They are well worth the viewer's effort. The artist is further documented in two excellent printed catalogues: Salvador Calvo: Recent Works: Painting, Sculpture & Photography (Instituto Cervantes: March 2-March 22, 2001) and Salvador Calvo (Aldo Castillo Gallery/Galleria Grupo EFE: March 6-April 18,1998)

Tierra Geometrica
Oil/mixed media on canvas
© Laura Murlender 2001

Laura Murlender

Much has been said in the past two decades bemoaning the lack of an apparent and prevailing trend or 'mainstream' avant-garde in visual art. In fact, a freedom from categorical "Isms," if real, may be more of a threat to the livelihood of theoreticians and academics than to the lifeblood of fine art. Whether or not new vocabularies come into being, there still remains the question of something to say. Indeed, that should be a first consideration. Innovation ultimately is innovation toward an end. This may well be a theme underlying all the current work at Collins Fine Art. The seven pieces by Laura Murlender demonstrate that where pure abstraction has much to offer in current art, its strength arises from within the individuality of the artist.

Murlender's paintings, at first sight, do bring to mind comparisons with other artists, particularly for viewers who are deeply involved with art. A visitor recalls contemporary artists, Gerhard Richter, and his large abstractionist oils of the late 1980's, or, even more, the paintings of Irene Rice Pereira. In Murlender's art, a composition's underlying geometric grid serves as a base counterpoint to a freer, nuanced filigree of colorful, painterly brushwork. Murlender's fundamental grid schema is prominent and works in dynamic contrast with her more painterly handling of brush and surface texturing.

Such work does evoke a legacy beginning with the explorations of Mondrian and Braque, but, unlike many of their heirs who verged into starker, cerebral geometries, Murlender's canvases in oil and mixed media reassert the power of personal interpretation -- the unrepeatable textures of brushwork, the subtle and unique instances of blended and glazed paint. Psychologist, Aniela Jaffe, (in Carl G. Jung's anthology Man and His Symbols) observed that many abstractionists sought to escape subjective feelings and ideas, and even "things," but in doing so also quoted Paul Klee:

The artist does not ascribe to the natural form of appearance the same convincing significance as the realists who are his critics. He does not feel so intimately bound to that reality, because he cannot see in the formal products of nature the essence of the creative process. He is more concerned with formative powers than with formal products.

Ueber der moderne Kunst (1924)

Espacio Amplio
Oil/mixed media on canvas
© Laura Murlender 2001

Laura Murlender's seven paintings at Collins Fine Art regain a subjective, individual expression for geometric composition, but in doing so they envelope it in a powerful, discrete sense of process, of formative sensation. Tierra Geometrica (41"x29") exemplifies much of this dynamic. Gallery visitors were uncertain as to whether the perceived geometries were an imposed feature of the image -- a postulate of the artist -- or whether they emerged from a vibrant matrix of light and shadow -- what Jung noted among many artists as a "seeking to get past appearances into the 'reality' of the background or the 'spirit in matter' by a transmutation of things...."

Upon viewing the paintings 'in the flesh,' a viewer feels the blending of hue and tonal values, their light and shadowing, work most strongly toward a rich sensation of incorporeality, as if matter were recollected in a dreaming state. Texture and even composition seem subordinate to atmospheric effects, even in a work such as Rojo (49"x37") with its heavy impasto relief and fiery cadmium reds and charcoal tones.

Paintings such as Vista Central (41"x29") and Espacio Amplio (29"x21") do give the impression that some monolith of antiquity hovers just beyond the margin of focus and recognition. In such works, a viewer finds confirmation of an assertion quoted by Aniela Jaffe from Vassily Kandinsky's writings: "Form, even if it is quite abstract and geometrical, has an inward clang; it is a spiritual being with effects that coincide absolutely with that form." It is an insight which is reflected in all seven of Murlender's paintings in this showing.

Vista Central
Oil/mixed media on canvas
© Laura Murlender 2001

Laura Murlender was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and received her BFA in Fine Arts and Photography from the Bezalel Academy of Fine Arts in Jerusalem, Israel, in 1982. Upon receiving a French government grant for Post-Graduate studies, she pursued studies in Monumental Art with Oliver Debre and also studied ancient techniques of Fresco with professor Dellamarche. Murlender moved to Mexico City in 1985 and, in 1991, returned to Buenos Aires. she has participated in workshops with artists Pierre Alechinsky and Osvaldo Romberg. Laura Murlender has been awarded first prize by the American Cultural Center of the Helena Rubinstein Foundation in Tel Aviv, Israel; the Brenner first prize, and the Agfa prize (the two latter in photography). Her work is represented in numerous collections, among them: The Bass Museum of Art, Miami; The Mizraji Bank of New York; Latin American Museum of Contemporary Art, La Plata, Argentina; Recoleta Cultural Center and San Martin Cultural Center, Buenos Aires.

In this exhibition at Collins Fine Art, Chicago, the paintings of Salvador Calvo and Laura Murlender form a complementary unity. And, whether they indeed touch upon primal intuitions and wellsprings of human instincts and intuitions, or are the products of individual imagination and inquiry, the work on exhibit is of high caliber and rewards each visit.

Laura Murlender and Salvador Calvo were profiled in Arena, a monthly supplement to the Chicago magazine, La Raza.

--G. Jurek Polanski

G. Jurek Polanski has previously written and art edited for Strong Coffee in Chicago. He's also well known and respected among the Chicago museums and galleries. Jurek is currently a Visual Arts Correspondent for ArtScope.net.

Editorial Note: Illustrated articles on both artists appeared in Arena Cultural of La Raza (June 27, 2001). Books mentioned in www.artscope.net reviews may be purchased through this site's Amazon.com link. W.H. Auden is quoted from "The Real World" (The New Republic, Dec. 9, 1967, 27). Jose Ortega y Gasset's essays are in Phenomenology and Art (Norton:1975). Vaclav Havel is quoted in Tracking The Gods: The Place of Myth in Modern Life (Inner City Books:1995). Joseph Campbell is cited from his popular The Power of Myth [Interviews with Bill Moyers] (Doubleday:1988). Mesopotamian Myths by Henrietta McCall (British Museum Publications/University of Texas Press:1990) provides some further, useful background. Carl G. Jung's Man and His Symbols is available in numerous reprints.

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