Guillermo Pérez Villalta
Spain, 1948
The crucial historical moment for Guillermo Pérez Villalta is undoubtedly the coming together of figuration in Madrid in the seventies when, with Luis Gordillo as reference, a very special dialogue was set up between painters such as Carlos Franco, Carlos Alcolea, Manolo Quejido, Rafael Pérez Mínguez, Javier Utray and Juan Antonio Aguirre. With Pérez Villalta, those artists displayed an extraordinary plastic and intellectual consistency, composing a "group portrait" which conveys their awareness of belonging to a period. Among the obsessions of the time are Duchamp-style speculation, in a process which means that the conceptual does not necessarily lead to dematerialisation, but to an pictorial incarnation. Indeed, Pérez Villalta considers that the big wheel in Le Grand Verre is in motion thanks to the river of thought, without that meaning an anathematisation of the visual. In the mid seventies he embarked on a study of neo-Classical aesthetics and the relation between the avantgarde and popular culture until neo-modernism was structured. Nor did the work of Frank Stella, the architecture of Louis Kahn, Pop or Minimalism pass him by unnoticed. He undertook a review of the history of art that is in tune with the contemporary phenomenon of revivalism: from Velázquez's painting to Rubens' sketches, Piero della Francesca's compositions, "certain painters such as Pisanello or Sassetta, or Duchamp, who have provided me with a base for understanding painting in another way." The journey to Italy left a deep impression on him and, most of all, the discovery of Byzantine art, the potency of the geometrical and mathematical rhythm of the spaces and figures. He gradually replaced ironic pictorial positions with a mythological iconography linked to an understanding of art as a kind of atheistic religion. A defender of "painting from memory", he lets his imagination wander joyfully through the labyrinths of Mannerism until he allows what we may venture to call "cultisms" to settle. The narrative current of this painting involves a constant use of the procedures of allegory and metaphor, even in the most decidedly ornamentalist compositions. Themes such as the return of the prodigal son, the via crucis or the theatre of the imaginary, developed in the late nineties, reveal the unruliness of this artist, who draws diagonal perspectives with foreshortening and contrived vanishing points. It is clear that his deep concern with composition and that moment in the late fifteenth century when Bellini, Titian, Giorgione, Masaccio or Piero della Francesca laid out the composition system which the Renaissance received as "the rules of a giant chess." In this peculiar stylistics, where an interest in the neo-Gothic emerges (from William Beckford to John Ruskin, William Morris, the pre-Raphaelites and the Nazarenes), there is always a strong autobiographical content. He wants to bring up questions of life, even if it is through rhetoric of painting that leads him to identify with Dionysus or the Crucified Christ in a kind of dramatisation which returns us to the ritual dimension of art. Eroticism and the desire for pleasure, along with a certain will for transgression, structure this painting which has always kept its distance from instant manufacture, the primary, monolithic idea, but also from the retina image conceived solely to astonish the eye.
Fernando Castro Flórez