A PAINTER ON THE SPOT
Germán Rubiano Caballero - ArtNexus
As Leo Steinberg said so beautifully, all art has to do with its past, all good art, above all, has recognizable antecedents. The painting of Jaime Franco —Cali, 1963— is a good example of this observation. Upon reviewing his canvasses, important works are recalled and these antecedents have already been noted by various writers on art (1). What is perhaps most interesting to consider now is why the artist has studied certain works and not others. To what extent does his own painting reveal its influences and, at the same time, demonstrate a special creativity that stems from those sources? AII that can be said in this regard is that the painter demonstrated quite early on- in his education, his temperament, personal tastes- an inclination toward abstract art. Given the options of his time (the eighties and nineties), his preferences have been equally for a painting that mixes and balances the rational and the emotional as for an essentially pictorial work, a work related to that which for a long time has been considered the true nature of painting. Franco commented in 1994 that "... few artists are interested nowadays in true paintings. Most use painting to convey intellectual concerns but that isn't painting to me. I recognize my place in the great tradition of painting; a tradition that began in the fifteenth century and which I believe has not yet died" (2).
It most be noted here, that the painter not only works within the tradition of modern painting begun in the Renaissance (oil on canvas) but also in the tradition of painting of the twentieth century, which, according to Alfred Barr Jr, "...breaks definitively with the transmission of real and natural appearance, which is nothing but a copy or a mere retelling of one aspect. It turns all information into invention. The integration of spaces, colors and forms becomes a pictorial surface, controlled and plastic” (3). But the point is, if Franco's work is painting, it is beyond question that his paintings are not simply that many empty surfaces but rather, that they possess a certain density. As such, it must be understood that his paintings contain are rich in content that could have a literary, historical, or even, to a certain extent, scientific character. The allusion, of course, is to the series of his works bearing titles related to Dante´s Divine Comedy, to his oils in which he alludes to Paolo Uccello's obsession of attempting to “transmute all lines into one single, ideal quality”(4) and to his unflagging interest in the representation of space and the latent structures of the universe according to the concepts of contemporary theoreticians. We shall return to these points later.
Franco says that his paintings can be seen as the remains left under the open field after the heat of a battle. The metaphor is beautiful and clear. It indicates, of course, the arduous process of work involved in each of his paintings, in which layers" of paint are applied one on top of another and thus, with each surface of color, something is drawn, is configured, is scratched, is erased, is covered over, and is begun again. This manner of creating his works is not new. It starts practically at the beginning of his career. In 1990, the Venezuelan critic Mariana Figarella, in analyzing his paintings of that moment, wrote: “The surface of the canvas...is richly worked, layer upon layer, such that it lets through or forms textures on which the entire process of creating the work is made manifest: structures, scrawlings, remains of ancient constructions, plans that startle the existence of nearly extinct colors and refer to an active interior life of the work” (5).
Over the course of the current decade Franco's production has undergone a great evolution. However, upon close examination, said transformation proves to be quite coherent. To confirm this, one need only recall that the artist has in mind the lucid description by Mariana Figarella when he now speaks of his work, most likely in subconscious form. By the end of 1997, José Ignacio Roca wrote: "Franco finds the 'ruin' to be a fortunate metaphor in understanding his own work: in a constant process of painting, erasing, revealing, and hiding, what subsist in the end are those elements that are the most firm. The pictorial process, like the gale winds of time, undertakes to select that which is essential" (6).
Franco's artistic career spans only ten years. It is truly short amount of time in which the painter has produced numerous canvasses, some of them in large format. He began to draw and paint in Paris- where he lived for several years- without any formal studies in painting. He studied a bit of sculpture and some oft hat patient work of pulling something out of a block or of molding or slowly making a form can be related to his painting: covering the canvasses with one layer on top of another, as of molding something and then erasing what has been made, as if pulling something out, carving something from a mass". His first drawings were figurative: self-portraits, hands, roofs. On a trip to Colombia, he tried to draw while looking at the Pacific Ocean and from that moment on, everything changed. His works produced nothing but horizontal lines, colors turning ash-gray. His first paintings, many of them on cardboard, were simple, made with few colors - ochres, blacks, grays- and few formal elements - squares, rectangles, crosses, and circles.
Several of these paintings come from his very small drawings done in ink, that tried to retain in an instant such varied events as movement, climate, his state of mind; etc. The artist still keeps a selection of those works he considers the most significant of the ones he made in Paris. He returned to Colombia in 1987.
Very quickly, Franco began to distinguish himself by the quality of his paintings. In a short time he advanced an oeuvre characterized by its restraint( and by constant elements such a lightly smudged surfaces, textures visible though delicate, gray and ochre tones at times with beautiful shadings. Also notable was the evident presence of a grid that could create compositions in the fashions of walls or become so subtle as to be like the threads of a fabric, to just insinuate themselves in dots or just attain visibility at the four edges of the painting. Elegant, refined paintings -words employed here with admiration recalling the best of the informalistic style, never approaching the irrational but rather, always permeated equally by an evident sense of order as of the desire to eliminate the superfluous. Oils, at times on paper, had something of an Oriental quality, that is, which a certain distance, reservation, and a lot of simplicity and meditation. These were the first years of frequent exhibitions in the Yoshii Gallery in New York, Paris, and Tokyo.
The exhibition at the beginning of 1994 at the Yoshii in New York had few paintings but large ones, indeed. In “Dante's Dream”, and in “Matrix”, the spirals and curves are still present. Not so in the rest:
-Ascension-, -Blood-, and "Ratio", are beautiful paintings that insisted on the impeccable elaboration of monochromatic and muted surfaces covered over with fine screens and evident rubbings. Having arrived at this point of great mastery, Franco decided to change direction. He didn't know what path to follow but was aware that he needed to change. According to the artist, he personally experienced a beautiful passage from ''Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll, where Alice asks the Cheshire Cat "Could you show me where I should go from here?" "That depends on where you wish to go", the Cat answered. “I´m not so much concerned about where..." "In that case, it doesn't matter which way you go", the Cat interrupted. "As long as I get somewhere" Alice concluded by way of explanation. "iOh!, you will always get somewhere", said the Cat, "If you walk long enough" (7). And Franco began to walk along new paths without ceasing to be himself. In 1995, 1996, 1997and 1999, the artist had solo exhibitions in Bogotá, in 1995, he exhibited in the Gallery of the Museum of Modern Art and later in the El Museo Gallery.
The artist is currently' exhibiting numerous figures that quite surely have come from the information he has regarding the knowledge currently available of the physical world, yet he doesn't cease to state that in the end, everything comes from his imagination and certainly, from his great creative ability.
In recent years, Jaime Franco has demonstrated sufficient proof of his talent. He knows, nevertheless, that in order to move forward, one must be convinced that the world of fine arts are still richer and that to achieve a work greater transcendence, one must work with discipline, with modesty, and without any inclination toward snobbery.
Germán Rubiano Caballero is an Associate professor at the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas (Aestheic Investigations Institute) of the National University of Colombia. Founder and member of the Editorial Council of Art Nexus.