The most beloved thing that I have I paint
I paint you on the edges of sharpened knives
In the trapeze swings
 where balance is a duel
between death and bravery
In the theaters
 where they applaud with the soles of their feet
our hands are tied
to the back of the chair
 We don't reach what we see
we don't touch what we desire
I paint you
with your mouth shut tight
and your nose wide like a bull
breathing bravery
and holding in tenderness
a shout that scares the brightness of the colors
Sometimes I paint you
with pain of anguish
and without forgiving I leave you
with the indigos and violets
I close the door
I go out
searching for another color
I return
in the same
with the contrast
and you
my life

Critical Essay

Madness and Reason: Lita Cabellut's Quest and Vision
An interpretation of her “Interpretation of Don Quixote”

by Jerry Cullum, 2010

Lita Cabellut’s rise from Spanish street child of gypsy origins to internationally celebrated painter gives her a unique perspective on Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the novel that might be termed Spain’s anti-epic. For the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance is at once a hero and a Pure Fool after the manner of Parsifal, but with no Grail at the end of the quest, only rueful realization of his past madness and where it has led him.
Those who, like Cabellut, have been all too familiar with the street will recognize the longsuffering quality of the figure of Sancho Panza, declared a knight’s companion and dragged along on his master’s errantry. And every woman will recognize the condition of Dulcinea, elevated to Lady Fair whether she wishes to be or not and thus likewise swept into the dream of Don Quixote to restore an age that has passed, or to make an age come into being that never existed outside of literature.
The heroic combination of monumental painting and psychological insight in Cabellut’s “Madness & Reason: An Interpretation of Don Quixote” might itself be thought to be a quixotic venture by contemporary skeptics. There are those who say that the time has passed when painting could contain such possibilities; thus it requires a venture of major proportions like Cabellut’s to challenge such assumptions.
Defying the ingrained expectations of contemporary theory, Cabellut’s heroic enterprise of interpretation succeeds spectacularly. Representational painting is here restored to something like its full possibility of psychologically communicative glory.
In order to comprehend the nature of that success, it might be useful to recall the nature of Cabellut’s efforts to transmit emotional and intellectual inwardness through the medium of paint. She has said in the past that “When I finish a painting and I sit down alone to re-examine and rediscover what has come out of my soul, I always read in the canvas, through the eyes, the mouth, the gestures, the colors, the lines fighting or kissing, a poem." She has also emphasized the importance of her innovative surface textures as well as her brushwork and her palette: “The technique that I have developed over the years through much caution, investigation and help from various chemical laboratories has been based on my obsession to give a skin to my characters…. The human condition can be read in the color and structure of the skin. Emotions come out through our pores.”
All of these past strategies and inward concerns converge and are deployed with stunning acuity in these “Madness & Reason” paintings defining the characters of Sancho Panza, Don Quixote, and Dulcinea.
Various sequences of portraiture define the trajectories of the trio. Since Cabellut uses both surface texture and expressionistic brush strokes to convey emotional conditions, my brief survey considers both formal concerns and content.
It might be best to begin with the stunning, immense portrait Sancho Panza XII. The canvas itself is set with deep creases that are matched by the broad strokes and swathes of paint that define the craggy face and suggest his condition as patient companion to the erratic knight-errant Quixote.
Various sequences of portraiture define the trajectories of the trio. Since Cabellut uses both surface texture and expressionistic brush strokes to convey emotional conditions, my brief survey considers both formal concerns and content.
It might be best to begin with the stunning, immense portrait Sancho Panza XII. The canvas itself is set with deep creases that are matched by the broad strokes and swathes of paint that define the craggy face and suggest his condition as patient companion to the erratic knight-errant Quixote.
Sancho Panza XVII, quite different in palette and emotional tone, is resigned but reflective, in sharp contrast to the self-evident misery conveyed in the twelfth painting in the series. The lyrical paint handling conveys as much as the headgear does that this is the heroic Sancho Panza as Don Quixote perceives him, but also perhaps as Sancho Panza really is…for the illusions in the story are also, at some depth, unperceived realities even when fated never to come to fruition.
Don Quixote II is splendidly rendered as the would-be chivalric knight in his first flush of determined glory—a self-perception that will be echoed more subtly and with greater complexity in subsequent paintings.
Don Quixote VII, distinct from the other paintings from the series on display at Bill Lowe Gallery, appears to be Quixote as he is and as he sees himself at the same time—clearly a hero clad for struggle, yet rendered with a relative lack of expressionistic brushwork, presenting the hands as well as the facial expression, and thus introducing a mood of realism that will transform back into interior consequences in later paintings.
Don Quixote VIII returns us to a tightly composed image of the face of a fearlessly gazing knight whose lips are compressed in determination. The surface is unflawed, perhaps further suggesting that this represents the purity of his self-perception.
The masterfully monumental portrait head of Don Quixote X is more like Shakespeare’s King Lear than like the confident knight Quixote set out to be at the quest’s beginning. The surface texture remains coherent, but the brushstrokes with which the hair and beard are rendered are utterly chaotic, transmitting the emotional content via the paint itself.
However revelatory the sequences of Sancho Panza and Don Quixote may be, it is the Dulcinea paintings that are the deepest works of “Madness & Reason.” Perhaps the greatest of them is the monumental idealized Dulcinea XII, in which the gentle lineaments are disturbed only by the gridwork of tiny pores that characterize Cabellut’s involved use of surface texture.
In other sequences of smaller works, she appears to be, at different moments, skeptical (Dulcinea Composición 1 & 2), downcast (Dulcinea Composición 3 & 4), and somewhere between meditative, downcast, and dubious (Dulcinea Composición 6). As if to reflect her uncertain emotional state, all these works are rendered in a predominantly dark palette.
When seen as Don Quixote’s sees her, Dulcinea is intrinsically placid. Yet even the astonishing Dulcinea IX, with its idealized Vermeer-like pose and tranquilly positive palette, contains a seemingly anomalous smear of red at the chin, as though the outward sign of an inner injury appears even through the gauzy textures of Don Quixote’s dream vision of her. (“Sentiments form scars,” Cabellut notes in the interview in which she describes how emotion flows out through the pores.)
In Dulcinea XIV, the red streaks have come to dominate the portrait, and the disturbed expression suggests that the world as perceived by her has begun to become dominant, and ultimately to break through the exquisite screen of chivalric vision pursued by Quixote.
Dulcinea XX is another dark painting, and perhaps the equivalent in its resigned realization to the stormier self-discovery of Don Quixote X. Yet there are many other Dulcinea paintings here that appear under slightly different titles from the primary sequence, and it is clear that Cabellut means for Dulcinea to be a more complex figure than either the single-minded Quixote or his similarly uncomplicated reluctant companion in deeds of chivalry.
The entire body of work might at first appear to follow the sad trajectory of Cervantes’ novel, as illusion is replaced by insight earned through experience. However, the viewer’s simultaneous perception of the sequence is quite different; the paintings evoke moments of elation followed by contemplative reflection, and our own psychological journey through this remarkable imaginative realm is likely to be far more joyous than the path trod by Cervantes’ characters. Cabellut’s version of the tale leaves us purged by pity and terror as in a Greek tragedy, and we are emotionally and existentially the better for having had the experience.

Critical Essay

Interview with Lita Cabellut from Dubai newspaper AL EMARAT AL YOUM

by Ali Al-Ameri, 2010

1. It seems that childhood memories typically accompany artists throughout their lives, and also interweave into their work. What was your childhood like? What details do you remember from that part of your life, can you give me details?
My childhood is the universal story of any child who lives in the streets, anywhere in the world. It is difficult to describe now, kilometers away, from my experience and with consciousness a situation like that which affects children living on the street. Despite being one of them, life erases and sweetens those childhood memories that we strive to retain with false sentimentality. The child on the street never worries about what he does not have, the majority don’t even know what they are missing, nor do they miss that which they could have had, and have the right to have. Their entire bodies and beings are “today”, the coming few hours, the present moment. But now, each detail that I could give you would be based in the consciousness and morality of the Lita of the present. I don’t trust my memories.

2. How have these memories influenced your experience of being an artist?
Just as our bodies contain memories, and we are capable of reacting physically to the memories stored in our bodies, the soul and the mind also contain memories. A true artist has and should have the necessity to use all of these stored experiences. In my case, my art is a suitcase of latent sentiments.

3. Your artwork transmits to the viewer a sentiment that makes us tremble because of its devastating beauty; works that electrify the viewer upon contemplation and that make us remember the lost happiness and love of tortured souls. What is it that your art can contribute?
Solidarity, respect and compassion for the human being.

4. Do you think that it brings consolation to a lost earthly paradise?
That is a very complex question, if we take for granted that the human being is capable of understanding the large complexity of paradise. I think that our intellectual capacity is not capable of responding to this or to give a universal explanation.

5. In your paintings and sculptures there is a tragic world. Where does this pain come from?
You call it pain, but it goes much further than pain. Pain is the origin and the beginning of an entire branch, a whole extension of feelings, fragility, loneliness, tenderness, incapacity, feeling disconcerted, faith, and love. All of this is derived from and is a consequence of the initial act, pain. Pain is intelligence and wisdom, if it does not hurt us nor is important to us, there is no difference between the human being and a lizard. Ethics should be painful for us, if we want to call ourselves human beings.

6. Is there loneliness and cruelty?
Yes, in my sculptures and my paintings there is loneliness. My work gives space to those people ]who have existed, who exist and are a part of our human condition. It is about those who have no voice, those who we don’t want to see, to whom we do not give a place, who we do not want to recognize. I paint the creatures that travel by night, the heroes of loss and chaos. The blind owls, I try to paint them, give them a voice and visualize the always open wound that we have as human beings.

7. It seems like your art concentrates on the eternal expression of man and his psychological worlds, more than the external worlds. Why have you chosen the human face as a means to show all of these expressions?
I chose portraits because they are something inevitable. They are mirrors, either whole or cracked.
I have portraits I have made in every corner
Mirrors that reflect impossible losses
You look like me.
And all of us like eachother.
The same profiles have fears
And the same eyes, that which we desire so much!

8. In your poetry, how do you see the relationship between art and poetry? Above all I notice that poetry has impregnated your art work.
Poetry is the song of the soul’s choirs.
When I finish a painting and I sit down alone to re-examine and rediscover what has come out of my soul, I always read in the canvas, through the eyes, the mouth, the gestures, the colors, the lines fighting or kissing, a poem.

9. Is there a trace of the Arab culture in the components of your personality, given that your art is filled with intense emotion?
Arab traces? Of course, my nose, my dark eyes. I am a gypsy, in Spain the gypsies are Arab descendents. My passion for music and flamenco dancing…the birthmother of all of this is Arabian art. But what I really want and desire deeply is to be a daughter and sister of this marvelous planet earth.

10. I have observed that you paint in large spaces, and it seems to me that you do so with all your body and emotions. Is it possible that the spaces are so small that they are not large enough to capture all your emotions?
A very good observation, on your part, but things are not as they seem. The physical space where I paint is small, tiny. My studio is enormous, but in this giant space I have made an island in the form of a podium that forces me physically and psychologically to enter into the canvas. Three steps backwards, and I fall off the podium. One step forward and I enter into the world that is my canvas. I paint with my body and all of my being. Yes, they are dances of passion and very intense expeditions.

11. I have seen that you use a very special technique to create your paintings, as well as the strokes you use to paint; what can you tell us about your technique?
The technique that I have developed over the years through much caution, investigation and help from various chemical laboratories has been based on my obsession to give a skin to my characters. Sentiments form scars. The human condition can be read in the color and structure of the skin. Emotions come out through our pores. The muscular activity in a scream or a smile is so fast, so rapid, that our eyes cannot retain the thousands of lines that form the scream or the kiss. My technique is a part of the mechanics of my work.

by Mauricio Cortez

"It is a great pleasure to introduce the paintings of Lita Cabellut who I believe is one of the most significant artist in an expressionist genre today. Her art has given me much inspiration from the moment I encountered it for the first time.

Lita Cabellut, an artist in the true sense of the word, possesses a painterly method that is complex and intriguing. The content and breadth of human emotion depicted in her work is exemplary. She is able to take our most common feelings and transform them into a remarkable picture of the human condition.

While listening to Lita Cabellut one discovers the depths of her sensibility and her knowledge of history of western art, and with those foundations she makes a melting in a very special way, and results in an artist of the present who visualizes the human spectrum and gives it a very particular meaning. As we observe Lita's paintings, we start uncovering worlds that were not there before; characters and very settle universes of color that did not seem to be there in the beginning. They flow with life, and slowly appear as far as our spirit let itself be guided by our sensorial and intellectual compass.

I am glad to share her work in the context of this book along with the essay realized by the art critic from New York, Robert Morgan.

In a time as uncertain and restless as today, it is enlightening to find an artist as Lita Cabellut, who seems to comprehend the human soul further that the mere and stamp it in to her canvases in beautifully poetic language. Her paintings go beyond the ordinary into the extraordinary. They reside in the realm of intimate expression, beside the most prominent art of the past."
A Voyage Through the Eyes of the Figure: The Paintings of Lita Cabellut

Robert C. Morgan (New York Art Critic)

"I am reminded of great poetry when I look at the paintings of Lita Cabellut.

There is something ineffable about them. To view a painting by Cabellut is to understand the course of figuration; that is, to empathize with the manner in which the figure is drawn, to see through the eyes of the artist into the eyes of the figure. This is what great poetry does, and this is what great painting attempts to portray. In the best sense, painting is concerned with the subtle passages of time, the hidden interval. Painting is a voyage, a happenstance disguised as certainty. It is viewed through the legacy of forgotten histories, remote geographies, lost continents of thought, and brilliant intuition. It is the power of mind and body fused into an inseparable whole, an elasticity if self confronting the necessary of its own figuration. This constitutes the vocabulary of art, the specific language, that gives us the power to understand who we are and how we live in the world.

This is the perennial challenge for the artist, to make this voyage, to gain access to the language of art. It is a most personal affair, a private journey.

To discover one's language as an artist requires a significant rite of passage, a passage through the darkness where true insight reside. To view the paintings of Lita Cabellut is an act of reliving this experience. It is a journey through the darkness into light. For each of her paintings is possessed by a specific light. Cabellut understands this light. It is the kind of luminescence that one finds in the great masters, the axis between the Spanish and the Dutch Baroque painters of the 17th century. It is the light if the late Rembrandt, the ambient stillness found in Velazquez, the tortured silences found in Ribera, the passionate ecstasy found in Murillo, the gentle pulsation of the light that transforms the ordinary into the transcendent as found in Johannes Vermeer. For Cabellut, the discovery of painterly light is not fixed; it is persistent and temporally engaged with the surface. The consistency if her canvases is about the oscillation between the temporal process of her pictorial technique and the desire to secure that process in time, to place the image within time, to give it the sense of being natural, to project a mood that hovers between the immanent and the transcendent. This is where I would locate the painterly achievement of Lita Cabellut.

In this case, one cannot ignore the technique, because the way she paints is also the way she thinks. To place an image within time is not a fanciful gesture; the process involves a thorough formal knowledge of painting, an awareness of the history of art, and a motivation to go beyond the ordinary. Here is the paradox. For Cabellut, the act of painting was about the ordinary - people she would meet by chance. She had no preconceived idea as to whom she would meet or how she would arrange a sitting. She allowed life to intervene upon art and art to intervene within life; but the process of this two-fold intervention was always shifting. Cabellut understood early in that life influences art and art does the same with life. Though separate, they are in a sense together, Art and life play off one another.

But the technical apparatus is something she discovered through great study, focus, and concentration. This happened at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam in the early eighties. One can talk about inspiration, of course, but the language is limited. The point is to get at the practical aspect by which the signifying process of art begins to take hold. For Cabellut it was not merely an act of painting with oil on canvas. She wanted another kind if tactile relationship to the surface, a manner that went beyond the banal expectations of how to paint a picture. She wanted to fix the image in time, to give her portraits the sense that these human beings were living souls; she wanted to give evidence of these souls, to give them light, to persuade us that they existed in time and that she perceived them in a unique way.

The Italian technique of fresco bueno has a fascination for her, but then so did the Baroque notion of the oil painting. How to find a synthesis between the two? How to determine a new kind of process that would be fitting to the subject matter? How to give the sense of a glowing luminescence to these figures and portraits? And finally, how to place them within time?

For Cabellut, it was not possible to separate the manner of the technique from the emotional impact that she wanted to project trough the content of her work. The form would follow in relation to the process of how the paint would be applied. Not to force the form, but to allow the form to emerge on its own through the process of painting. Not to allow the form to become a predetermined entity, but to allow it to flow with a certain grace, a surprising evanescence that would go deeply within the interstices of her life experience, This is what she wanted to achieve - going back to the outset of her career when she first showed her work publicly in the town of Masnou (outside Barcelona) at age sixteen. Already she felt a connection with the classical painters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Cabellut has lived in the Netherlands for over twenty years, yet she is fully cognizant of her inner-sensorial relationship to Catalan and Spanish culture. She understands completely that the axis between the Netherlands and Spain is not only a political one, but also an aesthetic one. She chose to enter into this axis, to make a profound connection through her painting. This required a special sensibility, a way of dealing with paint that was not predictable, but that could allow the figure to emerge in a way that was intimate and expressive.

Her technique involved the layering of plastic over the painterly ground. She gradually began to embed the viscous paint into the plaster by working with dry pigments and medium, adding water to the compound. This allowed a flowing sensation to occur whereby a relief effect began to emerge. The result was a rich, thickly endowed pigment that spilled around the edges to give the canvas a highly textured appearance. The excess water wan then removed from the plastic. The eventual drying of the paint revealed a cracked surface that occurred as a consequence of the plaster engaging with the oil pigments. She employed a large brush with a special binding agent that would adhere the cracked pigments into place, thus giving a translucent luster to the raised area of paint. The precision of this technique was as important to her as working with precious alloys or with highly sensitive stoneware.

Cabellut is deeply in tune with her materials. She has been quoted as saying on several occasions that her interaction with materials is the essence of her craft. Her handling and manipulation of the materials becomes essential each step of the way. She gives fastidious care to each application while at the same time allowing her work to move in a free form direction. The balance between control and indeterminacy has become a factor that collectors identify with her work. The formal and technical operations are directed toward the content of the paintings - to give the utmost sensation, though always with restraint, to achieve a sense of immateriality about the portrait. Paradoxically, Cabellut uses materiality to get at immateriality - which is another way of saying that she goes for the transcendent perception through the immanence that she endows to each painting.

Lita Cabellut is searching for subjects that have a special character, that - in a sense - represent all of humanity. She wants to delve into the soul of humanity, to represent all people as having a common ground, to show that we are all somehow connected to one another. Thus, we are seeing the figure through her eyes, but we are also experiencing the figure's eyes regarding us. Through this approach of seeing, we begin to come to terms with the power of a figurative art that expresses more than the fashionable exterior and gives us instead a view from the interior looking outwards. When we look at the paintings of Lita Cabellut, we experience ourselves."


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