This is a selection of the pieces created by painter Ernesto Morales exhibited in Milano last year. The exhibition was called the ‘Aurum’ (which in this case is a noun to define gold in terms of metals, meaning golden shine at the same time).
Each creation incorporates a golden part or golden ‘appendage’, if you like, for which gold dust is used, while others are distinct gold paintings or combinations of yellow, orange, red and gold. The color of gold ranges specifically from white to red. And there is a painting from Morales’s preceding years of ‘black & white’.
As metal, gold “is thought to have been produced in supernova nucleosynthesis, from the collision of neutron stars, and to have been present in the dust from which the Solar System formed. […] explosions scattered metal-containing dusts (including heavy elements such as gold) into the region of space in which they later condensed into our solar system and the Earth.” This explains its rarity. Without knowing this fact in the Middles Ages, the golden background of the majority of mosaics and altarpieces, in Constantinople and Italy to begin with, represented the shadowless ‘celestial’ world and its brightness. Does this bear any significance in the oeuvre of Morales who moved from Latin America to Italy in 2006?
The artificial production of gold or ‘Stone of Sage’ was the main subject of traditional alchemy in Europe. Also, it was used as currency, after which it started constituting the foundation of cash flow (gold reserves) of countries. Today, gold is still the foundation of treasuring (gold investment). There are many South American countries among the first fifteen gold producers of the globe. According to the adventure movie titled ‘Gold’, which is based on real events, gold fever still exists, nay a shrewd racket can make half of the business world go bankrupt.
Gold has a dual history: metaphysical and real, spiritual and material; as regards the art of painting, it levitates between the canonization of art history and its new actor, the world of galleries. In other words, gold is concurrently romantic-mystical and concrete. These two realms should amalgamate in the procedure of alchemy. Morales’s ambition is great, it tribulates the art of painting as well: can, if at all, the ‘royal’ or ‘celestial’ gold that is non-solvent, anti-aging and non-oxidizable mingle with terrestrial materials or options contained in the painter’s ‘laboratory’, stock or capabilities?
Reminding us of W. Turner’s Italian paintings, the small landscapes that depict gold and illumination in addition to golden colors are composed of black and colorless white (containing all colors). Minerals, such as coal and silver dust, constitute the basis of these. Their genre is landscape painting that became self-sufficing in Turner’s period. (To be noted that Turner’s peer, the Hungarian Károly Markó, who also lived in Italy, managed to export some of his paintings to Latin America in the 19th century, where they inflicted a critical impact on the evolution of landscape painting. These influential paintings are exhibited at the San Carlos Museum in Mexico City today.) Landscape painting is regarded the romantic tradition of arts, because the skies and the Earth can be fit into its framework; painters considered the canvas an open terrain to be filled with either real or imaginary landscapes. As was done by the mystical painters, such as Paul Ranson, of the beginning of the 20th century who created monochromes and identified their paintings carrying painted and levitating geometric shapes with the universe. Profaned and specified, this sort of abstract or ‘sacred geometry’ later became the initiator of society-targeted arts via ‘constructive universalism’ of the Arturo Group in Uruguay. (Morales comes from Uruguay too.) Going by the name MADI in 1946, one of the founders as well as the president of the group was a Hungarian, namely Gyula Kosice in Buenos-Aires. When MADI celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996 by an international exhibition of many artworks created by famous painters, including Hungarians as well, Ernesto Morales pursued his studies and also taught in the city, and later became the director of the Academy of Fine Arts. (To be noted that the current ambassador of Argentina in Hungary viewed the MADI collection in Vác, Hungary, so he might as well have seen the artworks of Latin American painters in the framework of the concrete international collection of the Szőllősi-Nagy – Nemes collection last year.)
Recalling the celestial world, Morales’s paintings depict the mystical version of cosmic universalism instead of the aforementioned ‘social geometry’ in two versions: dark on its top, a multicolor-layered globe that shines whitely and tenderly in the living cosmos as a result of its transitions as well as golden discs in a ‘background radiation of cosmic microwaves’ whose existence, to say that of the bright and shining universe, represents the most recent discovery of astronomy. (The myth of Genesis in the Bible narrates it, so it has become part of the imagination of many.) Therefore, there must be a small and familiar world of sentiments in the freezing empire of darkness. The golden painting depicts desire as a fragile, mystical and white plant stretching upward in a landscape that reminds us of a terrestrial terrain. At this point, the soft spots of gold mingling with each other as well as the black priming peeping through and oozing paint, as the expression of materialization and decay, are the painful implications of the alchemical and terrestrial-human (painter) amalgamation experiment.
MADI propagated the coming of a new world as a constant celebration to obliterate melancholy but in vain; this duality marches inseparably through Morales’s paintings. Can we therefore say from this point of view that Morales’s art is the inheritor of the inseparable composition of the joy of life and death that is so typical of Latin America? Does this manifest itself in how he depicts shadows around the golden discs of the self-sufficing image of the Universe? Though we can be sure that light has never been able to cast a shadow in the skies, because there is no material/foreign body. Therefore, the painter (as all of us) creates celestial world from the earthly one whose radiation necessarily incorporates earthly memories, imagination and experiences.
His works created in the preceding years are arranged into a series of black & white paintings titled ‘Distance’. Gerardo Giurin, the curator of his exhibition in 2016, connects these paintings that look like real landscapes with the abandoned and deserted landscapes of Patagonia, saying that remembering or dreaming appears according to its nonreal spatial relations and not to its colors. The gas station (that refers to E. Hopper) is seen as a regular geometric/mathematical perspective in the anti-perspectival (tender) space created by the tones of grey, into which is mixed the dust of a blue (Argentinian) rock. Or the other painting that depicts a forest arranged into such an equal grid that, according to Jennifer Radulovic, reminds us of the trees on József Rippl-Rónai’s ‘Alföldi temető’ (Cemetery in the Great Hungarian Plain, 1894) (better to say that it rather recalls theosophist Viktor Olgyay’s ‘Erdő’ (Woods, 1901) which is a spiritual piece to celebrate and document the birth of illumination). The pictorial metamorphosis of the shapes of the extant internal world gives way to the creation of the notion of a third one.
The title of a painting, namely ‘Equinox’ of the exhibited series accurately designates the indistinguishable duality in which this undefinable ‘third’ world would originate. This is the painter’s main theme: it unifies the Earth and the sky (terrestrial and cosmic landscapes as depicted by other pieces of the series), barely seeable red lines (regular pictorial and spatial elements? Or electric charges? Or bloodlines?) and the intermediation of ladders (as well). The mystical, celestial, erotic and earthly nature of such unification, i.e. the duality of the absolute is marked by a rose. These features can be distinguished in the shining and deepening tones of the black & white images of clouds and in the oozing black & gold paints.
What meaning does the aforementioned carry in view of the scene of Hungarian contemporary arts?
Since the turn that took place in the middle of the 20th century, the relationship between the painting and the world that created it disappeared; more accurately, the painting is no longer represented in the ‘image’ of the world or any of its parts. Change most likely occurred regarding the disappearance of the ‘illusion’ of and need for mobility between the created world and devised / owned reality. This was a gigantic ideological change: nothing like that happened in the history of mankind for tens of thousands of years earlier. (To be noted that mobility was part of the Genesis that was most likely lost as a result of ‘expulsion’. Since then, we are unable to create an image of it, because we have no knowledge of its origins.) All components of the personal (creative) process that we define as painting undergoes metamorphosis if such a creation has been begotten, no matter if it has a concrete and visible source or not. The metamorphic components are as follows: a specific known or visible or imaginary ‘motif’, form or paint, the thought, sentiment or action that connects them, the painter or creator or living (feeling and acting) person as the owner or executive of them who, capacitated by his/her physical abilities, can live through and carry out such spiritual, emotional, perceptional and practical processes that, individually and correlatively, entail certain recognition. One of these within the same system of correlations is that all factors are in constant change (as a result of correlations), until (this system of correlations) finalized in the creation coming to being. But only ostensibly, because the entire creation and its correlations keep existing within each viewer in a different manner, even for thousands of years. The entire creation is an individual world; contrasts (such as of colors) may operate within its system of relations but eventually a coherent pictorial ‘order’ comes to being. In the beginning of the last century, Lajos Fülep (in response for Benedetto Croce’s arts philosophy) defined a range as time and space, within which the artists and their moves, the internal and external aspects of the processes of creation as well as the motifs and shapes are contained in the course of the creation of their mobile art that finally sets up an unknown and universal ‘order’ that which it has imagined. Ernesto Morales’s paintings continue this tradition. They are related to the emotionally fulfilled celestial paintings of contemporary Hungarian arts. Yet none of the foregoing has such a clear and sharp logic behind.
Maybe this is South America? It is time to go.