Written by Javier Montes, 2007
Catalogue of the exhibition at UBS Bank, Adrián Navarro, Galaxia, Landaluce&Navarro Editores, Madrid, 2007.
“I do writing, not stories”: Dashiell Hammet used to say and what he says may spring to mind on seeing Adrian Navarro’s new paintings. It’s something that goes back a long way (or that comes from afar: Adrian’s paintings have always travelled): since the very beginning, in the spirit of Hammet’s defiant words, his work has stretched between figure and background, line and colour, narrative and form. It’s as if Adrian in his own way resolves the dilemma implicit in Hammet’s words: paint paintings, and forget the stories.
Or put in a different way, above all, his paintings tell their own story: the story of their journey, how and why they came about, where they’re going. Because Adrian’s paintings have always moved on, outdoing themselves, like the galaxies in the title of the exhibition; in perpetual expansion, wishing to get beyond, to widen the limits a bit, with little desire to stay in the same place or to step on firm ground. You just have to see Fantasma or Naufrágo to recognise the metamorphosis in his painting in its full process of gaseous dilation. The margin round the canvas is there for a purpose. It’s not a case of not knowing how to reach the end: it’s not through the canvas that the painting will continue to grow, but through the retina of the observer, whilst observing and after having observed. So now there is white light, ghosts and ghost-children, there are galaxies in his titles and in his paintings: things to be seen, but not touched. Which allow themselves to be felt on emerging.
There is a wonderful joke in Annie Hall: Woody Allen as a child with trademark specs, forced by his mother to go and see the doctor; she pulls him by the ear until he confesses to the long-suffering general practitioner the cause of his illness: “I’m worried because the universe is expanding. Infinitely.” Adrian’s painting has less of the Cartesian than that Brooklyn kid does. Such expansion and non-definition of limits does not worry him. At any rate, it encourages him to pursue his journey, after pausing here for a while, the time to rest and gather strength. As the painting travels, so Adrian travels through the painting, reclaiming the “scientific” rigour of certain –isms, filtering it through the experiments of mediators like De Kooning, weighing up the ins and outs of colour-field painting through rough and varied calculation, half joking, half serious, with Pollock’s all over totem painting (Myth refers to Pollock in the title, but Adrian takes his distances and purposefully produces an almost all over painting).
Lest one should be mistaken: this is not post-post-modern eclecticism (whether more post or less post) of the latest style reflecting yet another London trend which could have infected him since he settled there: he knows that there will never be enough spare tyres once the journey started, and that only by doing his permeable and porous painting, borrowing from the qualities of gas which expands towards nebulous limits he would like to attain, that some opportunity will emerge to counter the anxious child confronted with a Universe that is too big.
So Adrian has just stuck to the best of London: its scene – like all clichés, of course – which the city has, despite all odds, providing the perfect hideout for omnivorous voyeuristic painters fully aware of how to take advantage of what London has to offer with its continued renewal over the last hundred years (as opposed to Paris, which one fine morning grew tired of playing host to the flâneurs): arriving and having a look around without a sense of committing. You can see that Adrian came and had a look. And you can see that his only serious commitment has been to his painting (something to be admired in a city which is also a covert list of As and Bs, dos and don’ts, must haves and trends, requiring anyone new to fit in and declare instant affiliation.
One year has passed since his last exhibition in Madrid. At the time, I wrote about the start of this long journey of which we can now see one stage. And it’s frightening to start writing another text for Adrian because, frankly, although he has moved on, I for one haven’t travelled as much as him or his painting. We greatly fear that some of us have remained on firm ground, and we are now grateful for news he brings back from abroad. He’s coming from London, but he tells us of things from further afield. One of the works is called Transformer: actually, something has happened here, the nuts and bolts have been re-adjusted, although maybe the most obvious changes are basically not that big; and maybe it is easier than it first appears to understand the internal coherence. A year ago, Adrian hung an Eye on the wall through which he looked and let himself observe his work: the whole of his work, in reality, became the eye. The question of looking (and who looks at who, with what eye does he who sees see or is he seen) is once again pertinent in his collage-paintings: the eye re-appears, more material than anything else and it is precisely for this reason that it is more unreal than ever: in the context of Adrian’s painting, there is nothing more unexpected, almost nothing wittier, than using photos. They are there precisely for that reason, his cut-outs of gazes and faces: necessary emblems for the act of looking that is implicit in all painting. As well as being short cuts and crutches or machetes which the painter can use to move ahead. They are mainly there to remind us that, at the end of the day, Adrian has no time for many stories, just a long journey ahead of him: He is painting paintings.