(Barcelona, 1954 - )

Art has always been an intersection of enigmas.

Rafael Argullol.


Gabriel. – The establishing of the corpus of my work goes hand-in-hand with its execution, with the exploration of the idea of art in its purest sense and, consequently, as it develops over cultural time, the witnessing of into which arena of perception and consideration it breaks. Given that I believe the present status-quo which decides that the guaranteeing institutional fabric works by empowering a specific paradigm which, generally speaking, disassociates form from concept, and limits the horizons of art by the construction of visual speculations subject to arbitrary justification, normally of an explicitly redemptionistic nature, and, given that I believe that he meaning of my works is perceived as eccentric by the political consensus which prescribes a certain cultural awareness of what is good art, you find me in areas of thought not strictly related to the business of art, common ground, accretions of analysis of the foundations of art which make me think that what people these days award more importance to visualising, may be more visible, but the invisible is of a superior dimension.


Rafael Argullol. -I think that, not now exactly, but the second half of the twentieth century was overly dominated by a dogmatic vision of the meaning of art, a vision which became canonical, thanks, in great part, to dealers, critics and universities. And this visions resulted in a certain ossification of what had been the idea of modernity and the avant- garde-which I believe to have been very productive throughout the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, in what we now call the historic avant-gardes, and which reached a fertile and radical degree of creativity – but, from the second world war on, what we may term scholasticism gradually took over with respect to both the avant-garde and modernity. This scholasticism led to different means of artistic expression being manifested, basically, in a single, conventional way. For instance, in music, the conventional way was atonalism and serialism, in painting it was abstraction, in sculpture it was non-figurative sculpture, closely allied to abstraction.


Even in the literature there was a certain, slightly impoverished, sense of experimentation, which, as I well remember, led to some literary critics in the nineteen-seventies declaring: “from Kafka to Thomas Mann”. This was based on revolutionary ideas of civilisation   and humanity which reached their crisispoints at more or less the same time, the end of the seventies and the end of the eighties, and at the time brought on this type of dogmatism -which I think was very stabilising -  after the Second World War which filled the artistic scene with all kind of “trans”, “posts” and “neos”, and was followed from the eighties on by what we could call eclectic an pragmatic ideas, lacking audacity, on culture in general and art in particular, which where know as Postmodernism.


The final decades of the twentieth century were marked, on one hand, by an increasingly hollow dogmatism propounded by theoreticians, and, on another, by so-called Postmodernism -a type of eclecticism which finally came down to a position little given to experimentation, in the strictest sense.


I think that this, now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, is changing a little: globalisation and the clash of cultures from around the world have begun to cast the dogmas of the second half of the twentieth century into crisis. I think we are beginning to glimpse symptoms of a certain return to a deeper, weightier, idea of art and a certain weariness with the pseudo avant-garde, as manifested by an excess of conceptual art, an excess of the theoritcism, an excess of installations and everything that goes with it. Obviously, this stands in contrast to the existence of authentic creativity. The creativity which I always regard as being linked to a type of vision is, in the end, a constant in art, which dons different masks during different artistic periods. Art is an investigation into the human conditions, into its own condition and situation regarding the cosmos. As various manifestations of art catch on to this, it seems to me that we are dealing with a special case, and as art is made more inaccessible by middle-men and speculators, we are moving into the territory of fraud.


  1. -I think that one aspect of my work deals with, or is in line with, a kind of desire to recast form. To reempower, to confer on forma a diagram of the senses, a body of faculties of uchronic essence, which is unlimited, secure, because it embeds into the structures of language and thought, and which has constituted that density o which you call on, which has made us. I like o think of art as thought implemented by form. I draw on categories which are -why not?- spiritual. I see art providing access to a kind of cognitive frontier, with the work enabling a transit, a displacement from the centrum to a point outside the centre, to an ex-centric or off-centre place, accessing the edge of the defining abyss of the outer, where all the weft of correlations and evaluations, so part of the hand-to-mouth work of survival, are rendered invalid as they reach their upper limit, the final limit to externalization. I think that art, I don’t know what you think, could be a kind of episteme, cipher, machina which allows for a glimpse into confusion, that final emptiness.


  1. A. -Generally speaking, I see art -in its anthropological and, naturally, historical, development- as a kind of mediator between human certainties, or rather, uncertainties, and enigma. I love the etymological sense of the world “enigma” – it means both to reveal and to veil. So I believe that during our lives we have to make the effort to investigate to the maximum and to respect all that which we cannot know- the enigmatic parts that we may never know. But, evidently, what I think is fundamental to the attitude of man when it comes to artists, poets and philologists, is to search through the darkness for a meaning, as he Greeks put it: to look for a cosmos in the middle of chaos, never forgetting that chaos exists and is always waiting in the wings.

This is from where form, artistic form, acquires such supreme importance. In all the arts, all artistic languages, for is the artist’s instrument for attempting to mediate between the day-time world and the nighttime world, between the world of knowledge and the world of enigma. 

I think that form can occasionally be almost a homage to chaos, but in general, the tendency is for form to be a homage to the cosmos. A cosmos that embraces discord and chaos, not a simplistically narcissistic cosmos of endless harmony.

What I find attractive about your work is, firstly, the importance that you give to form. In my opinion it has more prominence in your work than most done in the last third of the twentieth century. Secondly, that you tend towards something which I think is completely right, you tend o see form as the subject matter. By means of form we are able to communicate content, subject matter, thoughts. As such, form is not a mere formality but content itself.

This also takes us back to ancient, but not, I think, obsolete, ideas about harmony with which despite the fact that we are aware of the presence of the abyss and the presence of destruction, we try to mark out territories of meaning in which we can move, as Goethe so brilliantly put it, by means of form.

So, artists, self-named artists who, I believe, in a frivolous way, in most cases through incompetence born of inability, spurn form for supposed chaosbringing provocation, one hundred years after Dada, almost a hundred years after that, which is totally ridiculous. And so, of an artist, I would expect creative solitude, effort, investigation into meaning, since chaos has already brought him luck. He who is sincere in the search for meaning will be the one who incorporates chaos in the most brilliant and shrewd way.

I am personally in favour of the return, not of the return exactly, but of he composition of forms having the role which they have always had – a mediating function, from the form of the bison at Altamira and Lascaux, to the form that concert may take; the thing that is sought is mediation, a mediation which explains the creative and destructive human passions, evidently by means of mediation.

In this sense true art is cosmic; it always has a cosmic dimension. Cosmic in the sense of cosmos, not cosmos as a sort of exterior universe – the cosmos of our interior.


  1. - I think that an artistic work emanates from an interior chamber, from the pained resonance of existence, from the lower foundations upon which our bearings rest. For this reason, I think we should not transcribe autobiographical anecdotes, the individual mindscape of an author or spell out paradigms of social usefulness. Art pertains to the universal structure of the psyche and engages in satisfying the primitive impulse of pushing the boundaries of our condition.


  1. A. – We always see according to three co-ordinates: the co-ordinate, we could say of ourselves which, in terms of love, is self-love; the co-ordinate of our similarities with our species -human-kind, the human condition, the community etc- and the universal and cosmic co-ordinate. In fact, I would go so far as to say, that if art Is to be understood as mediation via the vehicle of form, it is a continual voyage to the center of the triangle described by these three vertices: the vertex of me myself, my personal subjectivity; the vertex of us, the human condition; and the cosmic vertex. Although this is evident in many artists, in many periods of different sensibilities in a great many ways, we are always operating within this triangle.


  1. – Before, you mentioned two concepts which I am also very concerned with: one is the word “enigma”. I often think we pay too much attention to the requirement of explainibiliy, of justification of the art work which I think obviates the necessity for the art work to be enigmatic, maybe because the self-sufficient work, which inexorable emanates mystery from its endogenous nuclear weight, contains the chaos factor in a quiet state and is predictably unstable, a condition which makes it, is essence, unobtainable. If we slice open an animal and rip out its heart, it dies.


R.A. -I think that works of art have needed more and more explanation and hyper-explanation as they have become more impoverished. Most of the art of the second half of the twentieth century, as well as the immense majority of the things that are being done now, a specialist, a pseudo-specialist, sometimes even with a self-proclaimed artist converted into a pseudo-specialist on himself. This is the case of most installations and performances which only make sense when, after an explanation, you can say, “Ah! That’s interesting!”, or “so this means one thing, and that means another:”, but not because they have any intrinsic spiritual or aesthetic power. But that’s, unfortunately the way it is: the shorter on meaning, the bigger the crowd around, all professing an interest.  Without mentioning names, there are exhibitions and museums here in Barcelona that, without so-called experts to explain the sense of it all, the sense of such and such a project -that’s what they’re called nowadays, projects- without all this, no-one would go near them, they’d be of absolutely no interest, no potency, because they have no power in themselves.


  1. -Another thing that we should consider is to what degree the execution of art, the thought of art, obliges us to make a voyage to the essence, a descent to the essence of cognition, the substratum of language, where also in a kind of unconscious library are to be found words, emblems, a mnemonic and disquieting library which has made us emotionally and culturally. If this, in the art of all the ages, means voyaging to the primeval state, then the exhumation of that dark uchronic syrup in the time of each period leads to the renovation of the archetypes.


R.A. -I think that are as mediator and form as the instrument of this mediation is a mediator between our different lives. We assign to this task practically all our state of vigilance. In the life of a human being the state of vigilance is a third of this existence, another third is sleep, the world off dreams and the last third is carrying out mechanical acts with your mind in a blank -your head in the clouds, on autopilot, whatever. There ae several worlds or lives which converge on tat which we call life, and each one has its own force and needs. So I believe that right from the beginning, the mediating form of art has also acted as a mediator between these several lives. One didn’t have to wait for surrealism. It happened well before- in the Baroque, obviously, the Renaissance, the Middle Ages, and I would be tempted to say in what we call prehistoric art. I well remember, as child, being told that symbolic abstract art came first, and then realistic art. But now there is general consensus tat they are two languages of art which manifest themselves simultaneously and depend on place. This means that twenty to twenty-five million years ago when mankind (who, in the mains, had the same cranial capacity as we do now) already needed, at times, to express itself with an appropriation, if you will, of the forces of reality in a more visual and sensorial way, and, at times, with a kind of display of its spiritual needs, with more symbolic and abstract language, Why? Because at that times, what we call art and what they possibly labelled with a name which would mean nothing to us, was already a mediation. For example, a mediation between the power of humans and the power of animals, between human power and the power of the community, the power of the stars, the power of the moon, the power of humankind’s own mysteries. These humans were already well developed since they thought about death, time, ageing, illness, pain, falling in love, joy and pleasure. And so, all this means that hey didn’t simply register things in the vigilant sate, they did it also in the various lives and universes that we live in.

I believe that art has always been the mediator between these universes while religion has been an attempt at answering the enigma. Art hasn’t done this: at has always been an intersection of enigmas.


  1. -Your were talking just now about the appropriation of the power of the animals where primitive man produced a graphic synthesis of animals themselves, transforming it into the exultant power of the animal which was the pure power of nature. It reminds on of the phenomenological stream that can clothe and feed artistic form with psychological and philosophical power. We have inquired into what point form, the form of contemporary art, is revealed in physiographies and abstract synthesis, which means also that it bursts into the area of the real through the unleashing of an action of empathy with the phenomenological forces of nature. If this presupposes man is motivated by a romantic perspective, then the artistic creation of forms, as it captures the forces of nature and becomes bloated, describes a phenomenon which we can only understand as a possibility, therefore emanating from that which we understand as romantic thought.

R.A. -I think that, while on one hand, I continue to agree with some aspects of the romantic figure of the renaissance artist, on the other, I more often that not feel tempted to feel affinity again for the artists from before all the distortions caused by the myth of the artist – artists up to Giotto. Artists who were capable, with laudable humility, of taking of whole series of rules and laws, of learning a whole body of knowledge, which surely would have brought them, at least by the end of their lives, to the position o have become good mediators. The romantic figure of the renaissance artist is useful from the point of view of promoting the idea o personal creative force, but after having been corrupted, mainly in the twentieth century, even before the second half of the twentieth century, it is often a very perverse and empty figure. To put it another way, I’m interested in the romantic figure of the avant-garde artist who, before becoming avant-garde artist, was a humble follower and student of classical art and craftsmanship. He was a modest apprentice for whom a body of laws meant a craft -he was the avant-garde artist who spent the day in the Prado or the Louvre learning what he could. I profoundly detested those who play the artist without having established the necessary preliminary dialogue- not preliminary, but the dialogue which has to be maintained at all times with tradition.

One of the great pitfalls -the main pitfall of modern and contemporary art- is the belief that to be modern one has to break with tradition: to be modern one has to interpret our age and maintain a dialogue with tradition in our time.


  1. -In the line with what you are saying; I remember when I was young -a provincial from the outskirts of Barcelona where, at that time, cultural life was practically nil, non-existent, but out of what there was I was able to piece together one, as far as I could, on an individual basis on my own. I remember trips to the museums, to what is today the National Museum of Catalan Contemporary Art, and I remember those dark galleries, cavernous and gloomy where Gothic altarpieces glowed like flames as a highly-charged, tangibly intellectual experience. And now, when I see these socialized museums, with enormous groups of people having access of art, I feel that these people are, in some way, being robbed of the opportunity of having a truly genuine experience.


R.A. -There are three types of museum. First, the museum worth visiting, with a collection worth visiting, to which nobody goes. Like the one you talked about – the collections of Romanesque an Gothic art- to which, still today, few people go, and which is the real reassure of the National Museum of Catalan Art. People visit other things, temporary exhibitions, but they don’t go there -a lot of people don’t even know it is there. The museum with interesting things where people don’t go en masse, and where you can discover marvellous things- the experience you were talking about. These museums still exist in the world: they are often provincial museums, even very important museums, but they don’t appear in the guides. Next is the overcrowded museum, which can be a little like the idea of the destruction by the traveller of the experience of the trip due to mass-tourism. These days it is very difficult o really see the Mona Lisa. Perhaps a better idea would be to stand next to the Mona Lisa and watch the reactions of the people in front of the picture. Lastly, there’s the third museum, which, for me, is the worst kind. It is the very well-equipped museum, subsidised, which has been in receipt of some truly amazing budgets from different administrations, and to which no-one goes either, because they really don’t contain anything of true worth. These museums are like empty boxes which can only be justified by a discourse often pedantically know as hermeneutic, meta-theoretical – of these there are many. So these are he three types. And, as far as I’m concerned, the worst type is the third, because at least with the second type you have the idea that if, say, a million tourists visit the Prado, then of this million -despite most of them experiencing it in a massified way- perhaps it would serve as instruction for a few and lead on to something. The first museums are full of marvels to discover, but the last type, of which there are so many, are a wide-scale con. In them, to a certain degree, these people -pseudo-artists and pseudo-patrons pull the wool over each other’s eyes.  


  1. -What was said before and your reflection on museums bring me to the model of the work of art, to the space it takes up, in the end, to the occupied locum equivalent to the metaphysical space occupied by natural things which, like stones, are being eternally heated n the light of time, occupying virtual space, belonging to the metabole of thought.


R.A. -The work of art, I think, occupies a space. What happens is that this space is the great work of art, which it occupies with all its authenticity and majesty when it is lit by too-bright spot lights. Let me explain: before, I mentioned the Mona Lisa, now let’s move on to a work still more significant: the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel is, of course, one of the similes of mediating form to which we alluded earlies, but while it is held captive under focus of the world’s spotlights, this role will only ever be second-best to what it should, paradoxically, be playing. The more out of sight and camouflaged the gods are, the closer they are to us. For example, personally, pictures which have always had a great impact on me, emotionally, are the Faiyum portraits, which play, I believe, this role of mediator to the highest degree, because they are still essential, despite being slightly out of today’s main-stream: to be significant, one has to be away from the main-stream of today’s world. One has to be, has to have, I believe, the attributes of being central, but the flair and capacity for subversion to keep away from the centre.


  1. -That’s exactly one of my motifs: the moving of the centre to the periphery.


R.A. -Excellent.


  1. -Leaving the centre and attaining centrality in the periphery.


R.A. -Great.


  1. -You will have noticed that often in my work form is fashioned by a kind of internal musculature which provides dimension, but then later it is transformed by a surface of metallic fragments which, almost like a curtain of flashes, camouflage and encrypt this structural musculature. I am reminded of the Italian theoretician, Mario Praz, when he talked about the concept of ornament as inescapable when considering artistic category. It seems that certain fashioning and repetitive action is related to the uchronic character of art, given that cloned and syncopated repetition means the each and every action is equal. All the moment of ecqual actions add up, philosophically speaking, to the same time. In this chain of repetitions man probably tries to create a topography which gives us access to “no-time”.


R.A. -I think that art has always tried to detain time, being a highly expressive artefact of time itself trying to detain time. This is very clear in painting in general, classical sculpture, etc. What you do is make a nice link between the micro-cosmos and de macro-cosmos, that’s to say, forms which could be inside the human body as much as in the universe and at several cosmic levels. But in the interrelation that you make you introduce an element of nuance, of an imperfection within the perfect structure that demonstrates, to a certain degree, the fluidity of human life itself. If our didn’t do his your structures would bear the weight of a perfection possibly so excessive and heavy that they would collapse on to us. But the introduction of nuance and the interrelation of error, of fragment, of satellite, of the periphery, of atomization, allow your work to breath, allow it to live and allow communication. This, to me, is essential in a work of art, the art work has to reach out for perfection but avoid claustrophobia, both for the artist and the viewer. It has to strive to liberate, to let the other breath and to let the viewer berth too, even though it may have just subjected the viewer to extreme tension.


Rafael Argullol – Gabriel, thoughts on the form and nature of art.

The Vila Casas Foundation, Barcelona, November 2009.