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Icarus or The Danger of Falling
Original title: Ícaro o el peligro de las caidas
Acrylic on canvas
Dimensions: 120 x 184 cm
Guillermo Pérez Villalta turns the famous access to Cartesian certainty into an "I think, therefore I paint". This artist who repudiates the label figurative or, of course, realist, suggests that his location is that of "the artist of the imaginary" has always declared his yearning for beauty, alongside its pleasurable link with painting, of which he has composed a number of allegories. In this picture he condenses a complex reflection on the creative process, placing a slightly off-centre painter's studio occupied by an enormous picture representing the mythological figure of Icarus, facing a canvas which we see from the side in a Velázquez-style game of invisibility. The door at the back, to which we are guided by a bar (perhaps a fluorescent tube) which disrupts the perspective and reveals the contrivance of the whole, frames a strange still life which emphasises the ornamental dimension. On one side, in a series of volutes, he decomposes a spiral staircase, whilst on the other edge he parodies a gestural-abstract surface where a (minimal) presence of a pair of feet revealing the horizontal dimension stands out. Rise and fall, interior and exterior, figuration and abstraction, allegorical device and mythological symbol, all that is woven with admirable potency in this picture in which the light and the allusion to the exterior are decisive. Icarus is linked to Greek metis (cunning) or rather the punishment which falls on his father Daedalus' cunning pride: the attempt to fly out of the labyrinth ends in the dizzy fall. Linked to the wretched youth is Phaeton, the son of Helios and Climene, who, driving the chariot of the sun, lost control of the fiery steeds and plunged it in flames to earth. Pérez Villalta did the illustrations for the Duque de Villamediana's Phaeton. In the picture Elías o el Antifaetón (1985) we see a horse falling from the sky and two figures near the wheel from Duchamp's Le Grand Verre, halted by a growing tree: "in some way nature or natural growth is the only thing that can interrupt the chain of thoughts." Phaeton, as Pérez Villalta himself explains, is the Mannerist character par excellence, the one who seeks, the one who wants to drive the chariot of the Sun, though his faculties do not allow him to do so, but sometimes represents -as in the sketches he did in 1987 for the decoration of a dining-room- water, summer and youth. In the representation of Ícaro it is important to note the presence of the geometrical lines which have provided the composition of the drawing (remember that as historical revision he has defended the idea of Florentine drawing against Venetian painting), just as on that floor marked by traces of colour there is a grid pattern. The repetitions and echoes, as well as the leap between scales and heterogeneous dimensions make this picture a stage set with an extraordinary tension, with that disturbing symbol of the fall fixed on a kind of shield, like the one leaning against a column in some of the drawings for the sets for the play El último desembarco (The last disembarkation). He introduces the bodily presence of the feet to dramatise their being on the edge of a precipice: "If it had not been for painting," Pérez Villalta has said, "I would have disappeared some time ago. Art has a therapeutic effect and that effect keeps me alive. Painting has prevented me from committing suicide or ending up in a lunatic asylum." Art can undoubtedly have therapeutic virtues, especially for an artist like this one who has taken the decision to climb the spiral staircase of knowledge: "Always on the same landscape but higher and higher and with more perspective, with more wisdom, with more memory and more tired."
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