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This is Not
Original title: Ceci n'est pas
Polyester resin and enamel on canvas
Dimensions: 140 x 280 cm
These two pieces belong to a series by Javier Baldeón, made up of works with the generic title Ceci n’est pas. In one of the pieces, on the pristine white surface we see the shadows of four office chairs; in the other, a pile of overturned tables and chairs. Objects represented on the surface of a painting? One cannot be too sure that this is the case, because strictly speaking there are no objects, there is no representation, and there is not even a painting. Baldeón is one of a number of artists who have continued to work on painting and the problem of representation, making their way along sheer cliffs, where their work defies traditional classification. To begin with, it is not quite accurate to describe the works as paintings. They are more like dioramas: a canvas made with two layers, painted on both sides, in such a way that what we see on one side is a reflection of what is painted on the other. In this case, the game is taken a step further: what we see are painted shadows that peep through a canvas treated with glazes that lend the work a strange luminosity. Finally, the work bears some resemblance to a theatre curtain, a screen onto which real shadows appear to be projected. Shadows, ultimately, not objects. Like a statement of intent, the title Ceci n’est pas underscores the point: whatever may be there, this is not it. And the fact is that neither the chairs nor the tables are there, only their shadows. The shadow is the reverse image of the form; it is the object in negative—certainly only a trace of the object itself, and practically the ‘non-being’ of something. The title clearly references René Magritte, but in this case the point is taken even further. Baldeón is not satisfied to highlight the problematic nature of representation in painting, as the Belgian painter sought to do. His asserts that there is no representation; it is simply not there. The process used to obtain the image is straightforward: the artist simply paints the shadows of objects cast by a spotlight. This process links Baldeón’s work to that of another artist determined to move away from the notion of painting as a mere act of representation: Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp used the projection method to produce some of his works and many of the objects represented in The Large Glass. His aim was to eliminate the artist’s hand and subjective expression by employing a mechanical technique. Baldeón also eliminates this relic of post-Romantic expression in painting, going even further along the trail blazed by Duchamp, as he seeks to turn the surface of the painting and the paint into something more than the mere representation of a thing. The shadows make the painting something real. They transform it into an object with a real presence that is highlighted by the diorama effect, by the intense luminosity that emerges from the shadows. Moreover, in this case there is another reason one cannot speak of simple representation: what we see is not just a painting on a flat surface. It is not a window onto the world—the classical view of the painted canvas—it is a place that receives, though it is also translucent, without being transparent. It is neither precisely one thing, nor the other. In displaying something close to physical inconsistency, in always looking as if it is about to disappear, the work of Javier Baldeón stands on a knife edge. This is the nature of shadows: they are fleeting and changeable. The reality Baldeón presents us with is a fleeting one, and the space he seeks for the artwork as a real object is based on its inconsistency. In this game of dodges and constant negations, the paintings in the ‘Ceci n’est pas’ series assert the impossibility of ordering the world or offering an image of it that is coherent, definitive and immutable. The futility of any effort to offer discursive frameworks for Javier Baldeón’s work—which drives us to reflect on the reality that surrounds us and that he offers—gives rise to a constant back-and-forth movement, because ultimately his work is concerned with the impossibility of making an image in art. He endlessly brings into question and negates the image in order, in the end, to be able to make one. In other words, the meanings of his work overlap intensely, offering an image that is not an image, of a reality that is not reality.
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