Reinstating the ideal form
Writing about the work of Manuel Duque is the same as thinking about his proposal to "rehabilitate painting", to follow the subjective line that motivates his pictorial intentions to then see them manifested in the scene of contemporaneity. Rehabilitating painting is also the same as beginning a search from the very centre of creation, the same as drawing up a creative credo. In other words, it is finding the path that leads from the form to the matrix and, once experienced, manifesting it again in a new language which is the bearer of its essence.
In fact, all the great creators have searched within themselves for a rehabilitation: to translate what is always perennial into a new creative language. Here we might bear in mind a fragment from T.S.Eliot:
"...And so each venture/ is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate/ With shabby equipment always deteriorating/ In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,/ Undisciplined squads of emotion, And what there is to conquer/ By strength and submission, has already been discovered. Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope/ To emulate -but there is no competition-/ There is only the fight to recover what has been lost/ And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions/ That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss./ For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."1
For Duque, the path is the same as "previously becoming real, that is, I had to destroy myself, get back to zero and wipe out everything intellectual in me. I couldn't preserve more than the emotion in my deepest being, I had to totally reintegrate myself in nature to form a single unit with her and thereby be reborn. Finding myself in a world in which realism had no meaning, I couldn't think in the old way, but feel. In other words, turn the hourglass over again and replace the realist doctrine with the idealist doctrine."2
. Duque has searched within himself: reduced to total nakedness in the chiaroscuros until its birth in the subject of Nature (natura naturans), his painting has always recreated itself. Ideal form. Duque not only wants to rehabilitate the essence of painting, he reinstates the concept of creation as a profound act by the nature of the creative being, who, from Kant to Klee, appears as one of the topoi of the artistic act itself. And here we see his connec! tion with genuine modernity, because it is the painter himself who draws his historical and theoretical conception of the art of the twentieth century: Realism equates to a closed, finished, outdated form. In contrast, reinstatement will come with the ideal form, the one that can lead us to the "genuinely new".
Kant attributes a sublime-dynamic concept to nature. A force which materializes aesthetically in an idea of the suprasensitive stretching imagination to its limits, be it an extension (mathematical) or according to the force of the spirit (dynamic) where the feeling of destiny is founded which fully surpasses the domain of imagination3
. The ideality of painting is dynamic fusion, rediscovering the primordial Unity, which is where the source and the meaning of creation are to be found. Reinstating the ideal form therefore, for Manuel Duque, is the driving force behind his research and what has generated a work of constant aesthetic reflection.
Thus we see that Manuel Duque not only anticipates what would later be well-known "schools" or "movements", but avoids getting trapped in classifications and probes what he recognizes as his own: abstract explorations, gestural sings (perception of his own realization), to the recovery of "subject matter" as metaphysical objectivity, what he calls "pictorial literature". The series of works making up The Golden Legend are fruit of the passage from an abstract universe to the symbolic abstraction of myth. "The substrate of myth isn't thought so much as feeling" (Duque). The symbolic emotion incarnated in myth is always metaphysical, just as the qujte is of the origin. Like the painter hero in E. T. A. Hoffman's novel4
, Traugott, Duque points to the place where nature and myth coincide.
During the sixties, Manuel Duque organised what he called three "shock exhibitions"5
, conceptual exhibitions for reflection, in which, alongside his pictorial work, he considered the recovery of a new way of looking at the meaning of contemporary art, tying up loose ends, subjecting what he called "academicism" to his masterly insight and wide-ranging critical appraisal, which was also to characterize some of the aesthetic thinking of the art of so-called post-modernity.
In this path of rehabilitation, we could say that Duque sums up in his work what for four decades (1960-1990) was to become -on the European scene, where he has always been present- a subject of experiment. From conceptual art to the new figuration6
, Duque has been through trends and movements, following the same essential thread which was to lead him to the great synthesis of the work of his last period. In it we once more find Manuel Duque at his peak, in his attempt to abolish the Querelle des anciens et des moderns, following Poussin's ideal form. Ideal nature has become a kaleidoscope of many mirrors, fragments of a single origin, where Duque recreates a time without past or future, which is the time of artistic creation.
“(…) And so each venture/ Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate/ With shabby equipment always deteriorating/ In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,/ Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer/ By strength and submission, has already been discovered/ Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope/ To emulate - but there is no competition -/ There is only the fight to recover what has been lost/ And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions/ That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss./ For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, N° 2: East Coker, http://www.tristan.icom43.net/quartets/index.html
Manuel Duque, Rehabilitar la pintura (Rehabilitating Painting) (Manifesto, 1965), see infra.
Kant, Critique of Judgement.
Traugott, in his determination to represent paradise regained pictorially, exclaims, "This picture, as you will see, is paradise regained...Allegorical pictures generally represent poor spirits and small imaginations. This picture, for me, is not a fantasy, it is a fact; it does not represent, it is". E. T. A. Hoffman, La Cort d'Arthur, Gallimard. Paris, 1985, p. 45.
These exhibitions were Rihabilitation de l'objet (1965), Bouguereau (1965) and La mort d'Apollon (1968).
Pierre Restany was the first person (1963) to coin the name of new figuration with regard to Manuel Duque's mythological and "figurative" work. "Ces peintres revenus ` la figuration aprhs l'ichec de leur expirience abstraite sont les seuls "nio-figuratifs" au sens strict du terme. Ils rejoignent ainsi un courant continu de la peinture reprisentative moderne qui n'a cessi de s'affirmer dhs la Liberation (la giniration de 1945). Ce sont finalment ces peintres de la continuiti que le mythe confus de la nouvelle figuration remet aujourd'hui en pleine lumihre. Leur rtle de pricurseurs est plus que jamais ivident. En quoi consiste cette continuiti picturale? Il s'agit d'une laborieuse et dilicate synthhse entre le 'naturalisme abstrait' cher ` Michel Ragon et ce que j'appelais, il y a cinc ou six ans, la "figuration informelle". See Restany, P. "La crise de l'abstrait?", in Galerie des Arts, July, August, September, 1963, pp.8-16.