Written by President, Caixa de Girona

The sand and the wind, like gravity and levity, constitute a unique thread of relationship, a point that overcomes all barriers and limits, because Josep M Riera i Arago is one of those artists practiced in the chemistry of emotion.

His work involves a meeting between impressions which speak of dualities and dichotomies as though of a generic memory of the creative act.

When I consider his work, there comes to me the metaphor of the desert, a metaphor which refers to the dichotomy which unites the most weighty and the lightest. Sand, not as a material used, but as a symbol of a form, of a tactile element charged with memories, which welcomes the silence of an internal space, of a time lived outside history and outside chronology. And wind as an eternal silence, weightless, which at some point its journey takes on form.

Perhaps one of the most significant features of this work is its timelessness. Throughout his career we have seen how he has overcome all the physical and mental barriers, those which bring us close to the materials and supports, but also those which refer to the need to capture an internal process. That process which makes artists, creators, into universal beings, because the work - to be authentic - has to be able to live in any context of time. Riera i Arago has the capacity to separate himself from all that is not patina, from material that does not endure, and he immerses himself in a parenthesis which is always real where the only important things is to obtain space and internal time.

There is not too much difference between his works, pure organic poetry, and those left to us by some immortal men - and so it is that when grasping the meaning of some of the artist's creations, the first feeling that comes to us is of interest - in the Shakespearean manner - in the great internal processes which, forever, has affected mankind. The memory of the creative act comes together with that other memory of space - and constant experimentation with materials means that the mixture becomes a tactile game - with different treatments, multiple, mutating.... - and visual.

Any of his expositions embodies the idea of mobility and permanent transit, with works of open reading, transformable, which are broadened and expanded by time. There is an expansive intention which multiplies perceptions and goes beyond limits, a wish to share with the spectator the intensity of the creative act, that balance which is produced at a given moment, but also the fugitive instants which are held in an open dynamic full of dualities.

I wanted to begin this text with the image of wind and sand, a moving desert where the opposing elements are needed to find sense, a desert which, far from the static nature of matter, is shaped by the movement of the wind. Perhaps, when we look back at the great works of the 20th century, we have to realize that lightness is more and more essential, the magic flight of the sand in search, always an ongoing process, of knowledge and waiting for the opening of new roads of reflection.

SEIZING SPACE

by Serge Fauchereau

Great art has never taken exceptional subjects as a pretext, nor has it ever taken pleasure in the search for the extraordinary: Velázquez's Venus and mirror is simply a woman lying on a bed, and Verrocchio's Colleone is a man on horseback; Monet's Water lilies show a stretch of water with the plants floating on the surface, and Kandinsky's finest works are a series of geometric figures and lines...The artists who have aimed higher than the desire to momentarily surprise a few fools know that art is to be found in a common place where everyone can find themselves, all the more so if they are public works.

For some years now, whatever the particular form of artistic expression he has employed, Riera i Aragó has chosen a few elemental figures which he does not tire of conjugating for our greater pleasure, the main ones being the aeroplane, the airship, the submarine, the boat and the bow. In his hands, they have become tranquil timeless signs, quite the opposite of the futurist machines which glorified speed and progress. They form part of those imaginary machines of childhood, of that residue that remains within us of the child we once were: toys, sometimes disproportionate toys but in any case simple, essential ones.

(This is a common experience to all of us when we were ten or twelve or so: "Lets make bows", said Johnny. The little one and I prepared the arrows. Meanwhile, Susan draped some sheets over the bench of stone blocks to make the ship. Everything was soon in place so that we could all sail off to explore the Orinoco and the Amazon, and perhaps even meet Captain Nemo.)

Realism? What has realism got to do with anything when what we want is to give free rein to our dreams? A ship is an oblong form, and child and artist alike can decide whether it is made out of stone or solid iron. An aeroplane is a propeller at one end of a stick (though the stick can also become a bow) and even if the propeller doesn't turn, it is still an aeroplane. Look how the Gran Avió d'hèlice blava (Big aeroplane with blue propeller) or the Gran Avió d'hèlice groga (Big aeroplane with yellow propeller) take off. Slowly and surely. At stand-still on its wide-set wheels, the Avió Naijo (Naijo aeroplane) in Japan retains its great mechanical form at rest amidst the wooded mountain slopes. And if the Gran Avió groc (Big yellow aeroplane) of Figures has no wheels, no doubt it is because it has taken off and is flying like an arrow over the ground and our houses. Taking its time. There is also a masterwork, the Submarí soterrat (Underground submarine) of Barcelona, which is emerging from the ground. Sometimes the artist shows his works together; such as in the bas-reliefs of Les Rambles and at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona; the airship, the submarine, the bow, the anthropomorphic aeroplane standing upright in a boat. In his monumental three-dimensional works, he generally prefers to isolate each subject: the larger it is, the simpler he wants it to be; it has only to conserve its essence to remain, to resist with all its horizontal lines, curves and vertical lines, the grain and colors that are set against the city and its architectures, against the great natural forces that are the sea, the trees and the rocks.

Like toys, Riera i Aragó's aeroplanes do not fly, their wheels do not turn any more than their propellers do; his submarines and boats do not sail; his bows do not shoot arrows. They do not attempt to trick us with facile effects: their movement lies in the head, in the eyes of the beholder who leaves his aesthetic feeling to the mercy of their lines and colors, of memories and dreams. Technology is like the extreme realism of the reproduction: it immediately loses relevance. Whatever the technology pressed into service by wise men and engineers, whatever the realistic tricks and complex artifices of the artist, they will never reach as far as the imagination: space rockets and atomic submarines pale into insignificance beside the Nautilus or the Time Machine.

Art is a game for adults. Riera i Aragó presents us with beautiful big toys which transport us to oceanic abysses or to fabulous planets, the most beautiful of which are always the ones we have never seen, which are to be found in our dreams. If monuments and public works also have a social function, they can propose no better symbol of hope than a child's game: this affects every one of us, touches our very core.

Riera i Aragó loves his little arsenal of dream machines but without overtaking it too seriously, and he knows how to turn it around, as a child does his own games. His inventions include the flying boat, the submarine with oars, sails or wheels, the propeller-less aeroplane and the aeroplane-less propeller the airborne submarine and the sea borne airship, the bow on wheels, buried lighthouses, miniature squadrons of mosquito-aeroplanes, the airship with holes in it and the submarine with its hull eaten away by internal rust... And the soft submarine, what a find! We must never overlook this dimension of humor underlying all of Riera i Aragó's body of work, or try and fight back the slight smile that frequently comes to our lips when we look at it. This little amusement is comprised of aesthetic pleasure, but also of satisfaction given the positive attitude - voluntarily optimistic, we could say - it implies, because Riera i Aragó's aeroplane never calls to mind a bomber or fighter plane; there is absolutely no menace in the submarine, whose form and possible use suggest neither bombs nor torpedoes. For Riera i Aragó, submarines can even hang from the ceiling by their tails, like fish hung up to dry, and when one of them emerges life-size from the ground, our reaction is one of surprise rather than fright. In this case, once again we have to mention the specific work of the sculptor who has taken into account a number of different factors such as the different possible perspectives - seen at ground level, seen from the bridge or from neighboring buildings, seen in the distance or close at hand - or the most varied of cultural "appeals". A utilitarian object, or an object to be looked at, the Submarí soterrat (Underground submarine) emerges, it is true, in three fragments which we want to imagine as parts of a whole, from the heart of a huge sand bank where children play: it is no less evocative of the shady rocks which emerge from the carefully smoothed surfaces of Zen gardens, or of islands, or of a whale, the whale of Jonah. Pinocchio and Moby Dick: "an unknown species of whale", said Jules Verne of the Nautilus, "a kind of underwater ship in the form of a huge steel fish". Riera i Aragó, having seen that its horizontal nature could be worked with verticals and curves, has arranged its forms to enable it to be climbed, and children do not hold back.

One final observation. Although the artist retains a precious part of childhood, he is no longer a child. It matters little whether he proceeds by calculation or well-placed intuition, it is he who is responsible and has all the less right to error in the monumental work exposed to everyone's gaze. It is not a question of size or of ostensible formal complexity (the true complexity lies precisely in this divestment, in this return to the essence to which we have to proceed). At first sight, Michelangelo's Moses will surprise the viewer who is only familiar with photographic reproductions; afterwards, as we look at him, he grows and grows; his lines of force and his whiteness seem to suddenly be deployed and take over all the space around him as far as the very arches of the architectural setting. Perhaps more than any other, the work of art in three- dimensions takes into account the near and distant environment. Brancusi's Endless column measures over thirty meters high and some of Giacometti's figures are no more than ten centimeters tall: if there is such an accuracy, such a force in both of them, it is because monumentality is a question of authority rather than of format. To be able to seize space, we have to master the forms, the colors, the material, chance, the physical, mythical and emotional setting, and many other things that I know nothing about. Riera i Aragó, however, does know what he is doing.

 
 

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