Carlos León. Mujer desnudándose muchísimo, 2008. VEGAP, Segovia, 2017
Carlos León (Ceuta, 1948) already had a cosmopolitan biography behind him, including many years in Paris and New York, when in 2002 he settled in Segovia, the city where he had spent his childhood. Now, over these last years, he ha obtained undisputed recognition, as proven by the awarding of Community of Madrid Prize for Culture in the field of Visual Arts, in 2014. And recently the La Caixa Bank Art and Patronage Award in 2016.
A work and a career like these are reason enough to devote an exhibition to him at the Esteban Vicente Museum of Contemporary Art. As acknowledgement of his extraordinary pictorial work, but above all in order to grant the public the possibility of getting to know a work that is still unknown to most of them. For Carlos León it is also a moment of revealing his connections to a city which, through reiterated Estancias [Stays] over the years, has ended up becoming his definitive residence. But this exhibition used the Spanish word Estancias in a different sense, that of Rooms, as it consists of a series of rooms in which paintings, photographs and objects are shown, set out in different proportions. We would like to have been able to bring the atmosphere of León’s studio to the Museum, making its rooms an inhabitable place, inhabited equally by art and by spectators.
In these paintings one can discover mosses and bushes. Clouds and frost. Wounds and tendons. The whole drama of nature. Carlos León is without doubt a painter of landscapes, but on a scale in which they seem like abstractions as there is no overall view. He is a nature painter, but he does not paint nature. He paints neither the leaf nor the stem, neither the entrails not the muscle. If he had painted these things in a realistic manner we would look at them through his eyes. But it isn’t like that. He paints brushstrokes. And stains, glazes, drippings, washes. There is no prior drawing over which the work develops. He moves over the support with decision but without prevision. Following an intuition, guided by music. He thus acts like nature, and as such we recognise it in his painting.
León, who has looked at and photographed nature for years, one day realised that he that he found what he was doing in his studio in the photographs of his surroundings. In some of them the similarity to his paintings is surprising. His photographs travel, so as to speak, in the opposite direction of his paintings. If the latter are abstractions which evoke nature, his photographs are nature turned into abstraction. They are proof of how relative the frontier between the figurative and the abstract is.
Carlos León once said that while his painting was related to music his objects or sculptures were related to thought. The fluidity of the former and the constructive procedure of the latter confirm this. He began to assemble these works in 2014, and although they are different to his painting, they share the same life-giving and creative impulse. The materials he uses are parts from broken down machines, diverse scrap and obsolete furniture. These are objects that had come to the end of their active lives and were lying condemned to being forgotten, and which thus find a new life. This is The Secret Life of Furniture, as one of the works is called. León operates with the principle of the surrealist collage, through combinations that produce unforeseen metaphors and meanings. Also, on these occasions he indicates analogies with his painting in these materials. This is evident in the case of the rusted, paint-stripped or rotten surfaces (in Estanque cifrado [Coded Tank], for example). Or in the Vellones [Fleeces] (2016), masses of shorn wool, so similar to certain areas of his paintings. Deserving of a special mention are those he calls Colores laborales [Working Colours] (2016). These are attractive, plain, unmistakeable colours which when brought together form a palette of unexpected delicateness.
Finally, we have the glass still-lifes entitled Acoplamientos [Couplings] (2016), the material of which comes from a collaboration with the La Granja Royal Glassware Factory. In this case the collage is made up of transparencies, fragments of broken glass that balance on top of each other. Their fragile beauty, stored up and also storing menace, is a metaphor for our wonderful and precarious existence.
It is precisely in the Royal Factory that the last room in this exhibition is located. Along with new Couplings, we will find a montage of acetates, a material that León particularly likes and through which he has shown other possibilities of the transparent.
José María Parreño, Curator