Basarse en la realidad para pintar es algo que hasta hace muy poco habría sido motivo para excomunión laica del pintor osado que se hubiera atrevido a hacerlo. Hoy parece que hay un pequeño margen de tolerancia para ese atrevimiento. Pese al asedio sofocante al que fue sometido el pintor “realista” durante décadas, no se llegó conseguir el objetivo perseguido de terminar con todo aquello que no fuera Vanguardia reglada, y los herejes parece que siguen vivos, aunque lejos todavía de gozar de triunfo alguno.
María Villalonga es pintora pero a la vez es historiadora del arte, y sus creaciones pictóricas armonizan con sus teorías. Su profunda aproximación publicada a Anglada-Camarasa le llevó a advertir la existencia de una normativa tácita en el arte del siglo XX, absolutamente generalizada, que quien estuviera al margen de ella – como fue el caso del propio Anglada- estaría condenado a largos años de ostracismo. María, sin embargo, se dio cuenta de que ostracismo no significaba por definición ni insubstancialidad ni incompetencia, y ha pintado siempre al margen de lo recomendado por los poderes fácticos del arte.
Sus cuadros son instantáneas en las que los pigmentos juegan a conformar un curioso sintetismo que da origen a percepciones muy claras. En aquellos en que la figura humana preside, María narra un mundo feliz. Incluso nos muestra a uno de sus personajes leyendo a Huxley, si bien el Mundo feliz de este autor británico – que en inglés no se titulaba así sino Brave new world – sólo podamos considerarlo feliz si nos lo tomamos con grandes dosis de ironía.
En sus fragmentos naturales – plantas, olas – aquel sintetismo de María se acerca abiertamente a la pintura pura. Es una deriva que Joaquim Mir ya experimentó a principios del siglo XX en sus prodigiosos óleos de Mallorca, y es también algo que el amado Anglada-Camarasa de la autora descubrió también cuando se enamoraba de la combinación infinita de tonos, y casi perdía de vista que estaba partiendo de formas externas que se extendían ante su mirada.
(Dr. Francesc Fontbona es membre de l'Institut d'Estudis Catalans i de la Reial Acadèmia Catalana de Belles Arts de Sant Jordi)
Las formas en la pintura de María Villalonga están embriagadas de color, pero no un color que aparece como un don celestial, sino como una expresión de pasión con vocación de racionalidad. Los movimientos de las olas marinas y los profundos y vivos retratos, denotan una vocación literaria, de expresión de sentimientos pasados por el tamiz del conocimiento. Un lenguaje figurativo en el que la razón y el esqueleto literario son raptados por el puro color.
La elección por parte de la artista de una inspiración clásicamente mediterránea, la emparentan con todos los grandes pintores levantinos que hicieron de la pintura una bellísima orgía cromática. Dentro de esta corriente, la pintura de María Villalonga aporta elementos de una gran elegancia y una profunda feminidad.
(Aurelio Torrente Larrosa, entre otras muchas cosas, fue director del Museo Español de Arte Contemporáneo y director de la Fundación Pilar y Joan Miró en Palma de Mallorca)
Maria Villalonga: Le Bonheur de Vivre
One of the main themes of art criticism in the middle of the twentieth century, was that figurative painting was dying, or perhaps dead. At first, art began to execute a ‘gradual withdrawal from the task of representing reality’, as the American critic Clement Greenberg put it. Then painting itself became a thing of the past, superseded by photographic media, and by various forms of conceptual art. A medium of expression which extended back to the beginning of humanity had suddenly run out of energy and expired— some time between 1947 (when Jackson Pollock began making drip paintings) and 1955 (when Marcel Duchamp became a citizen of the United States).
In the last couple of decades, it has become increasingly obvious that however effective this story may have been as propaganda, it was neither a plausible historical claim nor an accurate prediction. For the towering figures in late twentieth-century art certainly include the British figurative painters Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Lucian Freud; and the most exciting artists in the younger generation include several figurative painters, alongside artists whose practice owes more, for example, to Louise Bourgeois or Donald Judd.
Maria Villalonga belongs to this confident new generation—painting without anxiety, conscious of the resources that photography can offer painters, and excited by the substance and texture of paint. Villalonga does not imitate photography, as some American photo-realists did in the 1970s, or create works that have the enigmatic status of Gerhard Richter’s photo-paintings. She uses photographs as a rich source of imagery, soaked with the warmth and familiarity, and the pleasurable sensation of memory, which we associate with snapshots of family and friends; and she frames or composes her paintings in ways that recall photography, as avant-garde painters did in the early decades of photography.
[...] the surprising intimacy of El Enfermo Imaginario, [...] recalls informal photographic compositions. But these compositional devices are combined with an intense enjoyment of the sensuous physicality of paint, which appears most emphatically in her series of Waves, but is always present in her work. As well as being a painter, Maria Villalonga is an expert on the Catalan artist Hermenegildo Anglada Camarasa, and it is clear that she has been influenced by Anglada Camarasa’s lively brushwork and intense, luminous palette. But as much as this, Villalonga’s paintings recall the brilliant plein-air effects—the water, the sparkling light, and the richly coloured shadows—of the Valencian impressionist Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida.
These evocations of Spanish painting at the beginning of the twentieth century give Maria Villalonga’s painting a historical resonance. But these influences are muted, and blend with the freshness and contemporaneity of her subjects and her compositions. I hope you will enjoy Maria Villalonga’s evident love of painting, and well as the intimacy and charm, and the sheer hedonism of her art.
(Professor John Hyman es catedrático de estética de Queen’s College, Oxford, editor del British Journal of Aesthetics, así como autor de: Action, Knowledge and Will y de The Objective Eye: Colour, Form and Reality in the Theory of Art.)
There are several striking things about María Villalonga Cabeza de Vaca’s paintings. One of them is that they are predominantly portraits, at a time when the portrait painter is an unfamiliar thing. Although recent landmark exhibitions, such as The Triumph of Painting (2005) and The Painting of Modern Life (2007) have defended the persistence of figurative painting throughout the twentieth century, and have justifiably argued for its undeniable resurgence since the 1960s, traditional portraiture is now an anomaly. More often than not, the subject, or ‘sitter’, appears as a function of his or her social context, the latter usually the demi monde, leading curators to speak of social commentary. Such arguments have been made for the ‘bad’ painting which has proliferated in the past two or three decades,1 as well as in photorealist works. Like the painters from both of these camps, Villalonga also works from photographs, but this is where the similarity ends. Although her portraits are clearly contemporary – this is immediately evident in the appearance of her subjects, and is reinforced by the omnipresent sunlight evocative of David Hockney, another painter of contemporary life whom Villalonga admires – her approach to her subject is inflected by other traditions. This is in spite of the fact that she points only with difficulty to other artists who influenced her. Having come to painting at the age of 35, albeit from a family of painters (her grandmother painted, and her brother paints professionally, and her sister and mother are watercolourists), she studied for only a short time at a private studio. After briefly drawing from casts, she moved directly into oils, largely because her tutor saw in her a clear style, based on her love of, and facility with colour.2 Acknowledging her formal debt to the luminous colours and subtle yet intense brushwork of Hermenegildo Anglada- Camarasa, the fin de siècle Catalan painter who had an important, if undervalued impact on Kandinsky, she is, however, hard pressed to identify other sources for her approach to painting. Nonetheless, the referral in some of her work to historical sources, even to iconography, is clear. Discernible in a range of references, from the brushwork and the sumptuous colours of Velázquez in the velvet curtain flanking an aristocrat, to a raking path of light, reminiscent of one of Titian’s annunciations in a portrait of a dreamy, adolescent girl, this canonical language of art is still readable in these twenty-first century canvases. But there is a difference in its function, which highlights one of the most striking aspects of her work. If in the past these motifs either affirmed social status or identified religious characters, in Villalonga’s work they tell you about the subject as a subject, as a person, and not as a type. These paintings are about other people, with colour, light, and iconographical references all working together to create the subject’s unique presence. The value she places on the subjective identity of her subject is clear in the way she works. She is reluctant to paint people she doesn’t know, and uses light to emphasise the character of the subject. Although colour is the most salient feature of her work – the surface of her paintings are subtly, yet richly textured, making their material presence unavoidable – it is really a vehicle for light, which for Villalonga is the element that brings together the material of the painting and the essence of her subject. When asked what she admires in the works of other artists, it is luminosity, and its implicit spirituality, that she regards.3 Rothko’s carefully layered canvases, painted on a white ground so as to reflect the light back through the layers, lighting the works from within, and Bill Viola’s spiritual, if not religious rendering of light and water, are of interest to her. Consequently, although she paints primarily in Spain, the blinding Mediterranean light that pervades her portraits, usually from above, is not just a function of realism. Although it is a clear indicator of place, picking out the lush foliage, dancing across the surface of swimming pools, and falling across the billows of wind-swept, light summer clothing, it is also an emphatic light. It leaves no doubt that the subject is indeed the reason for the painting. This generosity toward the subject is arguably the most appealing aspect of Villalonga’s work.
(Nancy Jachec es una erudita independiente que ha publicado numerosos artículos sobre el Arte y las relaciones internacionales durante la Guerra Fría en los últimos 30 años. En 2011 ha publicado una monografía sobre Jackson Pollock y en el actualmente trabaja en su cuarto libro: The Société Européenne de Culture 1946-1968: Dialogues with the East, the West and the World. Nancy Jachec vive y trabaja en Londres.)
1 For a discussion of ‘bad’ painting and its extended genealogy, see Alison M. Gingeras, ‘Kippenbergiana: Avant-Garde Sign Value in Contemporary
Painting’, Saatchi Gallery, The Triumph of
Painting (London: Jonathan Cape, 2005), p. 7.
2 Interview with the artist, Oxford, 19.05.2008.