The sea is always disturbing. It is a spectacle in which the emotional of our entrails, and the visual, inherent to their liquefied masses, form an effusive symphony. Moreover, for us, the islanders, for the inhabitants of this highly controversial archipelago, the sea plays opposite roles, always associated with its expressive mood to signify our edge and our daily life. Yoan Capote, conscious of the denotative intensity of this motive comes to it to build a very unique image in a series of works of remarkable expressive power. Under the label of Islas (Islands), Capote has created different lines of horizon. Each of them is framed by a different format, tarnished with a different atmosphere, and traced to a different height. But they all coincide in one point located outside the image. All balanced, assembled as if it were a large installation in a uniform, regular, unbreakable line. And that scheme of horizon is nothing more than the distorted reflection of our consciousness, in need of sketches, boundaries, lines and borders. Islands, not seas; it is worth drawing attention to it; in this series of works those who perceive, play the leading role. We are pieces of land, rooted to the backbone of this planet, bathed and agitated by that sea. We are islands, centers, moribund pieces of root and we live constantly succumbing to this infallible trauma, pristine reflection of an immobility as pleasant as stigmatizing.
It is true that seascapes are a traditional subject within painting and its formal treatment almost always focuses on transmitting to the linguistic system the bundle of impressions and sensations evoked by the sea in the creator. But with it, inscribed in the great theme of the landscape, something very particular happens: it becomes a projection, not of the sensible, palpable world and of its physical accidents, but of the predisposition and human vulnerability before it. And from it always emerges a text of global value and appreciation, easily apprehensible, ready to be shared by the community. And from that, already fused into the substance of a set of social imageries, other imageries arise in turn. In short, with the landscape and specifically with the seascape, as well as with all works of art, first occurs a process of interpretation, then another of transcription, and finally the generation of a textual surface charged with senses and contradictions, capable of fostering the emergence of general traits, common accounts, generic sufferings in which a particular society can be identified, reflected, reconstituted. Some great voices of this century have already commented: society is self/institution. And art is a building mechanism in this sense.
Now we analyze two of the canvases fashioned in connection with this series of works that Yoan Capote has been carrying out for some years. One of them entitled Isla (pertenencia) / Island (belonging), dated in 2010, the other Isla (ausencia) / (absence), of 2008. Although these two pieces were not presented in the solo exhibition that presented their author last February in New York in the Jack Shainman Gallery under the title Palangre, because they belong to the private collection of José Busto, they are especially significant, since they are the first examples of this idea. We must bear in mind that the first drawings, previous sketches of this series of works, date from 2006. A year later, Capote made one of his most emblematic seascapes, Isla (In Memorian), to which –in addition to oil and the hooks– he included his own blood. He undoubtedly installed in the work the explicit function of self-reference, by the inclusion of his own body fluids and by the recurrence to a conflict or a motive of his daily life, as is the sea and the condition of insularity that accompanies him in the field of the senses.
Subsequently and gradually, he makes other landscapes in this same dynamic. Thus Isla (ausencia) and Isla (pertenencia) emerge. The latter was produced by including in the arsenal of materials the blood of who has been its owner since it was made, José Busto. This piece was made expressly for him. Then came the impressive works of the series American Appeal and more recently, in 2016, the culmination of the series Isla, shown entirely in New York at the solo exhibition Palangre.
The hook has been implicated as a material –along with oil and other substances– in these compositions. This is the most outstanding feature in this series of works. The commitment of this functional element in the warp of the pieces has taken into account, on the one hand, its formal expressive possibilities and on the other, its textual capacity; in general, the whole of its significance.
With the installation of hooks on the board, Capote has managed to translate the visual impressions generated by the tumultuous frothing of foam and salt, the always fluctuating and surprising violence of waves in a shriveled sea, to a plane of virtual nature. Historically, this has been a major challenge for artists, particularly landscapers, in facing the tradition of pictorial art, as well as the most accurate of strategies to show their own virtuosity. Before this we cannot fail to perceive in Capote a nod to the history of painting and art in general. Definitely thanks to the transformation of the hook into another agent in the canvas the artist has managed to express both the exciting roughness and the dangerousness of the ocean in a renewed symbolic and formal resolution.
Glacial, electrifying, chaotic, menacing, these littler harpoons have not left being, even for a moment, a deadly weapon. Even in this new situation in which their sign has been placed in another light and its function has been altered, its dynamic, of a stalking nature, has only changed its intensity, reducing its first effect –the injury on the flesh, the body still in breath, and “the earnings to the fisherman”– to a potential suffering, a probable wound, unrestrained intimidation.
The implication of the hook in the works in question recalls the treatment that the cubist artists gave the common object: in strokes and pieces it was placed through the technique of collage, in a reality far different from the one of daily use, from life itself; a virtual reality, intellectualized, subjective. In the body of each of the materials and objects involved in the plastic surface was exposed a piece of culture, a small text. It is, then, no longer the erection of a symbol, but of the conversion of the object and matter into an organism-receptacle, where the symbol is lodged. Starting from this procedural paradigm, we notice that the hook possesses –a priori– a significant solid substrate within the system of our culture, resulting from its functional character and daily use. It is necessary to describe some of the relations that support it as a concept.
In the beginning, the harpoon refers to fishing. This practice, whether in its symbolic tie to human sustenance or in its idle, sporty, hedonistic version, comprises a sneer between two characters/roles. On one hand, the prey, obviously animal. On the other, the predator, of undeniable humanoid faculties. And the logic that orders the cross/narrative connection between them is that of entrapment and deception. Thus, fishing works in this set of works, as an allegory to the arsenal of attitudes that the man efforts against the imminence of his reality: credulity, astonishing and disdainful credulity. It is not by emptying the forms of its ordinary substance and by removing them from its habitual situation and from its place that Capote transforms the harpoon into a symbol, but by providing a new substance, a new situation and a new place. Remember: allegory is only a means. If what takes form in it has life, the allegory lives; if not, it is nothing more than an inert wrapping. It is the sea, with its silhouette of vaporous horizon, an infallible trap that seeks to stir spirits, breaths and consciences.
If we stick to the specific meaning of the phenomena, contradictions and symbols in our cultural context, fishing is a pretext to usurp the physical space of the edges, the ground closest to the end of this land that condemns. Fishing is something like tasting the exit door, which for us is represented by the sea. In the canvases of Capote that sea, presumably open, which anticipates us, has been planted with sharp pieces of pain, in such a way that its bristly crust resembles that of a minefield. And the daily practice of reinventing the limits is agony, an existentialist claim, a gesture of metaphysical depth: there are borders, walls and boundaries, instead of open doors, bridges, prairies, and the horizon has the weight in the distance of a lie.
And from the sea as a trap and from man as a candle, as well as the hook is a body of allegory, two phrases arise: one, that of the storm in threat and restraint; another, that of stigma. Has that hook, which has spread like a fertile cell in excited gestation on the canvas, with its monochrome metallic tone, with its sharp and cold outline, does not itself announce a sinister discharge, as well as a crackling that from the sky, threatens to paralyze time and infect the atmosphere with frightful reflections? Does an ether rarefied by cold air not accompany it in this omen of tempest, prepared by the artist thanks to the physical enlistment of the pictorial mass? Is it not a gray warning over the scene as a sky, the energy scattered on the canvas? Between the sea and the storm mediates the choice of the hook as a symbol and protagonist.
And what about the threat of prefigured wound inflicted on the skin of the one who looks? Proverbial attack, no doubt. They point the harpoons invariably to the sensations that crowd in the flesh; they throw on the expectant body a lacerating feeling, between mystic and venerable. The immanence of divine grace, the omnipotence of its power, and the exaltedness of the pain that comes out of it. From the stigma –a motive that Christianity uses to reveal its ideals about sacrifice– and the metallic hook pend the eternity of the divine grace, the omnipotence of his power and the sublimity of the pain that comes from it.
It is through the use of the hook that Capote shreds and then recomposes the current dilemma regarding art –namely, its relation to contingent reality and its capacity for communion with the symbolic–, and the myth about the pictorial illusion. Altogether, he founded a narrative from the minimalism of his poetic proposal, whose theme is the seduction that the natural exerts on the human conscience, symptom of the vulnerability of the man before the physical and cultural environment that surrounds him. From fragments to fragments, from metonymy to metaphors, a whole treatise is built on the complicity between the human race and appearances. And it implies a call of attention on the role of art, media, images, and idols in the current stage of human culture. What hangs from these harpoons, really? Are they not fresh eyes?
Let us go back to the scene once more. These seascapes capture the surface of the ocean. The environment is also constituted by the line of the horizon, waist and support, and the sky, dome shallow, cusp, summit. All these elements reach communion by the action of the visual rhythm that the artist has added to the composition. Each of them is configured by stretched straight lines, an echo that is transmitted without much alteration. The horizon acquires due to the characteristics of the composition of the work, a vertebral element of the image, repeating its resonance in the fringes of the sky, in the waves drawn irregularly on the sea, in the thick traces of hooks. And inevitably it functions as a metonymy of the ocean, within a narrative in which that totality has not yet been suppressed as a character.
In this triangulation between the sky, the horizon and the surface of the sea, the shore has been left out. Could it therefore be concluded that the handles are wielded? Has he inserted it elsewhere? The sea defines liquidity, fluidity, the unsustainable and elusive texture of what is ethereal, but still palpable. But the shore it’s defined by the stone – porous, arid and rugged– that hurts the feet in its walk; the sand, the edge of the mineral. The artist has transubstantiated the shore and its material qualities in the body that the sea has molded with oil, blood and metal. The aridity in potency of one has been roughly signified in the other. And between them, in the confines of the pictorial reality, the sea is caught, a mixture of abyss and margin, of rock, placidness, water, stumbling and embracing as an integrated and indissoluble whole, in which sky, horizon, sea and shore lose their specificities and their autonomy to engage in a paradise of sterility and terror.
Facing the sea from the earth, the experience of its presence is mixed with smells, colors, flavors, sensations. Our body is detached, full of sensory pleasure, relative to the sexual. And the stories that drown in it do not emerge, they do not surpass the surface erected by such intense sensorial hits. Let us not forget that to this territory waves of people have been sent in search of the Promised Land. And in its depths are many lives. Capote upsets so pleasantly impressions, and turns them into visual disturbance, into suffering. And the Islas of Yoan Capote, regardless of their visual peculiarities, are episodes of martyrdom and sorrow. Doesn´t the disgusting, gangrenous, and pestilent skin of the suffering Christ painted by the renowned German painter Matthias Grünewald in the center of the altarpiece entitled Crucifixion (1513-1515) convey such turmoil? Don’t these two works share the same meaning?
The Islas of Capote, paradoxically seascapes, at the end are deserted places. Over them seems to extend an eternal pilgrimage. Each step leaves a fresh blood of sorrow, of torment. The horizon overwhelms and you can breathe death all around.
Are these banks stamped in oil and metal by Golgotha? Are these longliners thorny metal crowns in search of martyrs? I will never give up: a martyr, etymologically, means a witness. And what are we then?
As we can see, there is much anguish contained in these artworks. But it is not a question now on the projection, in the pictorial reality of the artist’s embarrassment over his daily life, or of the society to which he belongs, but of abstraction, of objectification, of such anxiety. All the suffering is molded and converted into text, it is rethought as concept, story and discourse.