Antonio López García: In Defense of the Little
I worked on the drawing tirelessly for about twenty days and when I felt it was finished, I took it home and showed it to my parents, feeling that I had achieved little, but that maybe, as my uncle Antonio had said, that little was exactly what it was supposed to be.
—Antonio López García (1936)
Years back, when we were living in the mountains just above the Pacific Ocean at the north end of Malibu, California I saw a beautiful pool of light shimmering on the ocean’s surface as I was heading into town driving south along Pacific Coast Highway. I pulled over and took several photographs. Later, when I showed them to an artist friend of mine, he said that in his own work he “always tries to subvert beauty.” I remember thinking then, as I do today, how foolish that sounded. But it was, and still remains, a common opinion, one that could derail a young artist into oblivion. I watched again recently the film, El sol del membrillo, “The Sun of the Quince,” a 1992 documentary on the marvelous Spanish painter, Antonio López García, as he struggles to capture the fleeting light on the Quince tree.
He speaks to his wife of the beauty of the light, marveling “how pretty it was, the golden fruits, really pretty.” He talks of the few hours in the morning of the light he wants, the early sun, the most golden of them all. You understand so much about this painter as he attempts to capture and hold in his painting what he sees before him, his knowing that in a matter of seconds as the autumn light shifts, all will be gone. You understand that his persistent desire to capture the essence of what is there is the fuel he needed for a lifetime spent striving to hold life in the painting. Few do it better than he.
An open ice box, a sink and mirror, a refrigerator, a basin of soaking clothes, his daughter and wife at dinner, an open window, flowers, an infinite cityscape, a skinned rabbit, a Quince tree. Antonio López García paints the most ordinary of subjects around him in the quietest and most extraordinary way. His subjects are things most painters would walk right on by.
Antonio López García is a painter who is tied to no one, he drifts as he wishes, never rushed, content to wait, as he understands and values what time gives him and his painting. He has carried this wisdom from a young age, surely passed down from his uncle and this has protected him well. He does not stray from what is essential and has spent a lifetime in this restless state, never quite content, always wanting more from the painting, not from the subject. He fully understands and intuitively feels what a painting needs; this is part of his gift, his innate and unique ability to transform the material he works with into life itself.
López García understood early that technique was simply never going to be enough, it could not hold him and sustain him and elevate him. He knew that he needed more from his work and his material. In his remarkable painting The Dinner (1971 – 1980), you can immediately feel this. It is one of those paintings you marvel at, a painting that one could look at and study for a long period and revisit again and again to learn from and still walk away with so many questions. But then again this is what great paintings do: they change you and your fixed views and take you somewhere else, away from comfort and agenda.
The Dinner was painted over a period of nine years and perhaps still the painter wrestles with it. There is the story that while hanging his exhibition at the Reina Sofia in Madrid, he painted out a figure in one of his early paintings that had always bothered him, hoping that the collector who owned the painting would not be upset. The misstep one often makes when looking at a painting like this is to see only the finished painting and not spend the necessary time looking to understand the path that the painter took to arrive there, if only more would do this they could come to appreciate so much more about painting and put an end to the sluggish questions of always wanting to be told what to look at and why. Viewing paintings takes work, they are complicated things.Tivoli, NY
April–May 2018, LJC Edited
Lawrence Carroll is an artist. He lives in Bolsena, Italy and Tivoli, NY