Fernando Villena






Experiences and sensations interpreted on canvas. Painting becomes motivation and motif for living. Gerhard Richter comments that his work does not spring from motives, but rather from motivation. I find the same principle in the work of Fernando Villena. The emphasis is not on the object, nor its interpretation, but in creation itself. The personal motivation to keep working and painting is a vital link which lends motivation and meaning to his existence. Stopping is not an option. Experience in painting, attitude and motivation are the essential principles which give body to Villena's work.

In a recent exchange of emails, to delve into his origins, the author explained how he got started in abstract painting when he suffered an accident which impeded certain gestures with his injured hand. This, along with the drive and need to keep painting, led him to change his painting to an abstract geometric code. Naturally, he had already completed the intellectual processes necessary for the change, but it was the accident, a physical limitation, that led him to this work. But, where do we find the source of this motivation? What processes push one to art, to creation, to painting, in such a way that it is more difficult to abandon painting than it is to do it with physical limitations, such as blindness, etc? In a search for answers to this question we can find clues to an understanding of his work.

We worked together as setup technicians in the early years at the Guggenheim. We handled a prodigious and fantastic number of artists and works, a strange privilege that connected us intimately with the authors. We were part of the artistic process, like a link in a chain that begins at the stretching and stapling of the canvas, and bears witness to the wavering or confidence in the strokes, corrections, etc. The hours spent unpacking or installing pieces provided a lot of time for thinking and contemplating the purpose of art, your own place in art, the role of the market, artistic language, and the path that many of us had set out on. At that time, the development of Fernando Villena's work was as much visceral as it was controlled. Thick paint, applied without inhibitions, was by its very nature, as technique, his main field of study. The creative process always takes part in the meeting of the unknown with what is revealed, and his time at the museum was a catalyst for reflections that he now realizes have marked his work. If painting is a language, this language was used to know a medium, to analyze and define. The act of communication, a radical act, is found in the choice of free pictorial approaches.

Today his work, tremendously prolific, is more a process of self-knowledge, of a search for a creative but also personal space in which to develop. We find both perseverance and scientific introspection in his methods. And I believe that this is revealed in his resulting work, taken together as long series. Nevertheless, in contrast with the colder image of an investigator, the motivation we've mentioned springs from emotion which gives origin to the creative process. It has an undoubtedly emotional origin that becomes dialog within the pictorial experience of pure freedom and traps, modifies and transcribes on the canvas the very sensations with which the dialog began: loneliness, survival, adapting to the medium or the system...

His work is indelibly marked by his life experience. And just as the move from his rural background to the city of Bilbao can be seen in his early work, now he deliberately seeks this motivation through travel and the experience of striking natural settings, in the search for light or experimentation with a space. His time at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 2002, as well as the trips he made from there to the Caribbean jungle provided Fernando Villeno with a series of striking contrasts that have led to his current creative and productive strategies. The creation of situations in extreme conditions, in deserts of sand or ice, or in desolate landscapes with his camera and his notebook, have built up a rich memory of senses, colors and light that are now the starting point and emotional content of his work. In these conditions, the body learns to control the use of resources and limit movement, providing a radical view of what is important, and eliminating the superfluous. Without a doubt, the author uses his creative offerings and knowledge to create a parallel between overcoming physical limitations and willpower.

The result is silence. Fields of uniform color dominate, crossed by organic forms that suggest fluids, cellular bodies and membranes that modify and modulate their boundaries, spaces broken by strong color contrasts. If it is experience that breaks first upon the white, his conversation with the sketch and color produce that rhythm and final structure of the piece. The principle of action--reaction is seen at different levels, to the environment and to the interplay of forms, light of colors, etc. as well as to the actual artistic act. Often an earlier work leads to a newer one, like the use of a photographic image or something left unsaid. Once the process has begun, there is a coming and going between the work and the author, in which a window is always left open for structure and process.

Although he most often paints, he also employs photography and to a lesser extent, video to highlight significant areas of his work. He considers himself a painter, and studies the pictorial medium, giving a special relevance to the empathetic quality of color. He accesses color though various means: the use of the weft and veils of the paint, the saturation of the finish in digital printing or of the modulations and shine created by the slow, liquid movement in his video work. At the same time, he makes a natural use of sketches or monotypes. Recently, he has begun experimenting, by means of silk screens, with the layering of photographic images and textures, achieving a new range of images with an important iconic reference with still much to explore.

This process begs a look at its origins. To begin with, we are going to take a brief look at a feature of painting during the last one hundred years: the relationship between figuration and abstraction. His work is highly systematic, and allows us to make not only a formal or aesthetic analysis, but also to make a narrative reading. Alternating between figure and background, as a strategy, prevents the creation of hierarchies. Beyond a concern for the autonomy of art, between the poetic image of hope and the attempt to capture the totality of space, Fernando Villena converts his images into the representation of parts of a much larger all-encompassing whole. These images might be microscopic looks at something intuitively immense, or rhizomatic images that accumulate in strata and at the same time overflow the limits of the belief in the unity of nature, the unity of man with his organic, mineral and geological surroundings. Unmistakably, his work demonstrates an attraction to the understanding and aesthetic of pictorial space, but at the same, and while not intentionally transcendental, it develops strategies for the reinterpretation of man's place in the world. His texts often include these references to human beings as part of a whole, the need for sustainable integration with the natural world, and although this is not immediately obvious, it is omnipresent in each and every one of his pieces.

Enrique Martinez Goikoetxea.