PEPE ESPAÑA, EXPRESSION AND FORCE
Pepe Españas entire work is firmly rooted in Spanish culture. He lived for many years in central Europe but has stayed a true Spaniard at heart. He has spent over three decades in Switzerland, he likes it here. But he never became a Swiss national. Somehow he wound up here, he found love and settled down, a small circle of friends developed. Pepe Españas work has been well documented and interpreted by Angelo Calabrese (published by Verlag Sauerländer Aarau, 1987), and a further publication (Verlag Buschö Schöftland AG, 1995).
Coexistence of drawings and colour
Academic tradition considers drawing the basis for painting. Only an assured draughtsman should be allowed to progress to painting. There are countless essays on drawing versus colour. Pepe España never took part in such discussions, was never interested in them. In 1999 he stated simply: «to me art is life and life is art». The reality of his work, however, answers the struggle for supremacy between paintings and drawings, attributing both equal significance. They are on a par, complementing each other, united. The harmonious co-existence of drawings and colour is characteristic for Pepe Españas work up to the mid-1990s.
«Expresión y Color con la Vertical al Espacio»
In the mid-1990s España started a new work cycle: «Expresión y Color con la Vertical al Espacio». In a short written piece on his work he emphasised that he had always seen the new as an extension of the old, that no actual break had taken place: «It is January 1999 and I am currently working on a series of paintings, devoid of human forms. No drawing; nothing to remind of either male or female figures. All seems to be separated from my earlier work, my earlier creative periods. And yet my work always reflects my way of feeling, my way of expressing myself: mirror images of my inner self. The creative act is idea and expression combined, executed in form, and ultimately defines the artist.»
Even though Pepe España stresses that this cycle is only outwardly different from earlier works the observer cannot help but notice that once again important creative progress has been made. Verticals, for a while accompanied by horizontals, add elements not seen in his pictures over the last 40 years. Then, geometrical elements symbolising our modern, materialistic world were used to demonstrate a stark and clinical state of alienation. Now though, precisely painted horizontals and verticals provide harmonious additions to the realistically drawn parts.
Geometry is the language used by constructivists, supporters of pure art who put great emphasis on its departure from anything imitative or mimetic (Theo van Doesburg and Max Bill preferred to call it concrete art. They disliked the term abstract art as they argued that all figurative art is ultimately abstract). By the middle of the twentieth century in Central Europe at least bitter fights for dominance between geometric artists and the followers of figurative and abstract art ensued, from a distance reminiscent of violent clashes between Protestants and Catholics. The conflict has been officially resolved, the spokesmen long buried. However, to many a unison of geometry and figurative art is as unachievable as that of water and fire.
In true Spanish fashion Pepe España kept out of these disputes. He knew the dangers of ideological dogmatism very well, having as a child experienced the Spanish Civil War and later the Franco years. The first pictures of his cycle «Expresión y Color con la Vertical al Espacio» show that a union between biomorphic and constructed forms is indeed possible.
He made boisterous use of the possibilities in picture languages. Filled with childlike joy the septuagenarian combined well-defined and hand painted shapes only to add spontaneous splashes of colour to the carefully constructed. These calligraphic traces of movement cause him to comment «these pictures also contain a certain element of abstract expressionism». He has an equally unorthodox approach to colour. Academic rules such as the emphasis on complementary colour-schemes have always been ignored by him but now he is becoming even bolder. He does not shy away from turning harmony into dissonance by using pink or orange shades reminiscent of a glowing sunset. Why hold back? After all, the real world does not adhere to textbooks either.
«I have always believed art communicates ideas best through pictures. It is fundamentally important to me to interpret and not merely copy reality. Whatever I paint, I always paint it with passion, joy and love. In a picture everything comes together: love, pain, human forms and most importantly the feelings of the artist.»
11th September 2001
The last picture España painted while still in possession of his full eyesight dealt with the events of 11th September 2001. As an artistic theme the terrorist attacks on New York defy simple processing. España did not aim to capture the events on nine-eleven in a chronological order nor did he try to analyse them. He believes it his right to communicate his very own personal reaction to them. The images of the collapsing twin towers and the massive loss of human life touched España deeply. His picture, painted shortly after the attacks, is a warning against hysteria. He does not show us expanses of rubble and ruin, instead there are two upright towers with two vertical, aggressive-red beams coming towards them. The facades of the towers are dripping with streams of blood. No fire, no smoke, no bursting structures. The towers are obviously synonymous with the creative act, damaged but not destroyed. Here, España resembles a farmer who after a particularly bad storm inspects the damage to house and land, picks up his tools and starts with the repairs stalwartly and full of confidence, just like Job in the Old Testament.
Therefore the picture entitled «En Recuerdo de las Torres Gemelas Nueva York (11/9/2001)» deals less with nine-eleven and more with Pepe Españas thoughts on an unexpected, horrific event. This work seems to quote the Stoic Epictetus: «Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well.»
Autumn 2001: Pepe España loses his eyesight
Pepe Españas stoic approach to life was put to the test just a few days after completing the picture. Within a few weeks his eyesight had reduced drastically, leaving him effectively blind. It is unknown if the events of nine-eleven accelerated the symptoms of macula degeneration. His friend of many years, the collector Andreas Röthlisberger writes in 2002: For the artist who perceived and absorbed his surroundings visually unlike any other begins a time of darkness and despair, yet not without hope that some medical break-through might facilitate recovery. It is a time of fundamental and existential self-reflection. Independence and freedom, always central to Españas life, took on a new meaning. Pepe España accepted his fate. In spite of his doubts he started giving space to the pictures growing inside him again in February 2002. The first step was the hardest: accepting that he was no longer able to see his work. Initially he started with a series of drawings entitled «Fuerza y Expresión force and expression». With irrepressible force he seemed to blaze a trail through the darkness into the world of light and colour. The faces reflect despair, sorrow, but also hope and confidence and an amazing determination to face destiny. «Haciendo Frente» to stand ones ground, to fight for the artists values. This is the way out of despair, out of the darkness, the tinieblas, dark hazy mists which define his present life. Pepe España found new light, new colours behind the dark mist which he paints despite being artistically restricted. And always, even in his drawings, the artist is looking at us the tiny amount of vision left to him. «Hombre en las Tinieblas» depicts a figure surrounded by dark mist, pointing to the rich beautiful colours behind the haze, showing us how great misfortune can lead to inner light, freedom and independence.
Peter Killer, Olten
Who is Pepe España
Pepe España on himself (1991)
Julian Sesmero Ruiz Crossing Space