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Reality and Consciousness

by Jorge López Anaya
     It is a well known fact that the ideal of a pictorial art based on the notions of imitation and representation has come down to our days through various sources from the dawning of the Rennaissance.

  With an unmistakably Aristotelian language, critics stated that painting was an imitation of nature, understanding human nature not as it is but rather, in Aristotle's terms, as it should be, "purged from everything abnormal, everything eccentric, so that it may be replaced in its highest sense" (Irving Babbit).

  The relation between the Rennaissance outlook and the painting of the end of the 19 th century works -following Jean-Francois Lyotard- as a mirror in which Cezanne's revolution is reflected. Cezanne's laboriously worked space acts de-constructively upon the field of vision programmed by Leon Battista Alberti in the Quattrocento. This dissociation of spaces, the blurring of signs, is at the root of the problematic of historical avantgardes.

  For the European movements in the first decades of our century, a picture is no longer supposed to represent: the picture itself becomes an object. Its value derives from the organization of the signifier. The "plastic invariants" begin to appear in the artist's operational 'precepts. Andre' Lhote stresses drawing, color, value, rythm, ornamental character, plane inversion and monumentality. Without fully coinciding, Paul Klee refers to the configurative qualities that are no longer the object of a recognition activity. The themes are now the laws of rythmic organization of the surface and the patterns designed to sustain plastic interest. Now it is a question of offering the eye "a number of clear-cut well-articulated signs that will prevail one over the other by virtue of its reactions... (Lhote).

  Towards the end of the last century, many historians believed that painting was coming to the end of the supremacy it had held ever since the Rennaissance" (Werner Hofmann). After half a century of abstraction, the same critic can only say that "the less a picture is a reflection of the real, that is, a second grade reality, the more it will be an autonomous and independent object".

  From different viewpoints, this "autonomy" has been the object of considerable analysis (Benjamin), while the "independence" of the aesthetic object has been put to a test -as Giulio Carlo Argan pointed out- by "the crisis of the object, of the subject and of the relationship between them".

  The art that served as the model for the construction of the objects made by man and placed by him in an orderly world could hardly serve as an example when objects were no longer regarded as values designed to preserve the patrimony, as a consequence of the advent of standarized mass production.

  In the sixties, the Pop movement reformulated the conception of reality with its rejection of the humanistic conception according to which art drew a distinction between object and subject and, at the same time, defined its dialectic relationships. At present, some artists are again raising questions about reality and representation, orienting pictorial practice towards a kind of realism that is subsidiary to the photographic camera (Kanovitz) or towards the tradition of the linguistic rules of easel painting (Pearlstein). But these forms of realism cannot be placed side by side with the old eclecticism of a Bourgereau and a Messonier, for they develop in accordance with their own view of the relations between the parts of the image, and their stylistic model is no longer the academic ideal.

  Along similar lines, though not wholly coinciding with these realisms, is the work of Hector Giuffré, an Argentine artist who published his first manifesto in 1968 ("On the Intimate Structure of Reality"), followed by "Towards a Structural Realism" (1975), "The Realism in which I Believe" (1976), "Structural Realism as Painting's Possibility of Being" (1978) and "Towards a Structural Realism" (1978). In all of them Giuffré explicitly states his opposition to realisms based on mechanical reproduction and those which refer back to the academic linguistic norms.

  An unusually lucid artist, capable of discussing the aesthetic tenets underlying his individual work, Giuffré can always provide a coherent explanation of the philosophical doctrine (the world view) which endows it with meaning. "If in my painting I refer to the concept of realism -he wrote- it is because I regard painting as a means by which man can acquire knowledge about the reality of things and his own".

  He is at variance with post-pop realism, which tries to compete with or emulate photography, the mechanical and limiting vision of the camera. He proposes a kind of painting capable of "penetrating into the intimate structure of the real", thus rejecting neutral verism. On the contrary, he takes up the challenge implicit in painting a human being by making the real the subject of painting, in a historically justifiable manner. In other words, without naively adopting the tradition of the naturalistic representation.

  His figuration is completely free from the restrictions imposed by the 19th century pictorial theory. In order to understand it, then, it is necessary to distinguish between the naturalistic and the realistic ways of representation. We might introduce the subject on the basis of the criterion that "naturalism" is the faithful reproduction of what is superficial in a phenomenon, of what is perceived through the senses. "Realism", on the contrary, is the reflection of the essence of reality.

  But the distinction might also be drawn on the basis of the conceptual view that regards realism not as an artistic language (style) but in terms of signification, as a "category" of meaning, of a signification that is not arbitrarily engendered by an artistic language.

  This is what Giuffré means when he states that, according to whether objective or subjective contributions -and their different prevail in painting, we will have hyper-realisms, surrealisms, expressionisms, etc. And in this respect his own pictorial practice remains in a middle ground between man and things, between the extremes of the subjective and the objective.

  This balance between subjectivity and objectivity, between man and the things (the ideal of classicism) implies choosing the values and the plastic configuration capable of embodying a proposal for the future, a "historical project" vis-a-vis the ethically and aesthetically contrasting alternatives (expressionistic neo-figuration) which regard art as a "destiny".

  Hector Giuffré has a place in the "history of art" and, within that history, in the "history of River Plate's art". In this context he regards himself as the heir to a tradition that dates back to painter Prilidiano Pueyrredón (1823-1870), a tradition that, enriched by later Italian and Spanish contributions, led to constructivism and, through some key figures, to the consolidation of an eclecticism capable of endowing our culture with enough autonomy.

  A consideration of Giuffré's work must include an analysis of the issues concerning the relations between the parts of the image. All his representations seemed to be endowed with striking intellectual wittiness, and lay near the problems resulting from figurative illusionism. These works poise thought-provoking queeries, among them, that of the notion of the "picture", made even more complex by the inclusion of the picture within the picture, of the mirrors that offer the opposite perspective, of the shadow of the artist's own body projected on the canvas, of the artist while painting, of the sketch within the picture, etc.

  In all cases, Giuffré's reflections on pictorial realism make him resort to a repeated procedure: the fragment. Picture, window, flower vase, plants, are usually fragmented in the representation. There is no room for a deceitful figuration, since it is a precarious reality. The spectator is presented with the picture as a figurative riddle that requires a solution. it should be made clear that the queeries are of an artistic nature and the riddles, of a logical and figurative one.

  Throughout his work -his paintings were first exhibited in the middle of the sixties- Giuffré has always shunned oportunism and has concentrated on a few aesthetic issues related to the identity between painting and consciousness. It is clear that his models belong to a concrete space resulting from a number of tensions, of relations, of levels, between the reality of consciousness and of the world experienced as interrelated. The space that contains his models belongs simultaneously to phenomenic reality and to consciousness, and is not represented as an "ideal" space but as a space that involves the artist's own existence. This is one of the most suggestive themes in his work.