Agustí Puig: Between Myth and Matter

Larissa Bailiff
Notes on 28 de octubre de 2015

Like his famous predecessor, Antoni Tàpies, Puig has been drawn to the infinite risks, associations, and transformative possibilities of matter, action, and intuitive processes.
This is evident in his varied surfaces, primarily worked up in neutral pigments of beige, ochre, black, terracotta, and white: the shades of earth, clay, parchment, dust, sand, and stone, organically enriched here or there with touches of aubergine or teal. Vibrant punctuations of red, suggestive of mineral deposits, fierce war paint, or ancient Pompeian walls, compel our immediate attention, while dense rubbery elements, fluid trails and crusty masses of fleshy pink, white, and ochre (which strongly recall the tactility of Tàpies’ surfaces), offer a corporeal experience that is equal parts sensuous and uncanny.

Reflecting the story of direct, physical creation and spontaneous alchemy, Puig’s works express an exciting “presentness.” But their very materiality also seems to link them back to a primordial past. Distant, monolithic figures and abraded grounds convey the passage of time, a palimpsest of experiences, somehow retrieved and brought into view. As in the art of Cy Twombly, who was likewise fascinated by the strata of Mediterranean history, culture, and myth, enormous meaning is held within the subtleties of dulled whites—evoking marble and fresco, time, wear, and the ritual of use. In a form of personal archeology, Puig seems to continually excavate his own psyche, asking formal and philosophical questions by digging into layered surfaces.

Hovering as it does between the themes of ancient past and immediate present, earth and cosmos, contour and mass, figure and fragment, myth and matter, Puig’s art seems to reflect a state of duality, even contradiction, appropriate to our own complicated era. Beckoning us, whispering, witnessing, crying out, Puig’s figures seem to wrestle with the question that has occupied man since the beginning of time. What does it mean to be human? In the well-known Sophoclean tragedy, on the road to Thebes, Oedipus successfully answers the monstrous Sphinx’s perplexing life-or-death riddle by responding, “Man is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening.” But, in surviving the critical test with this simple, intuitive answer, the archetypal hero realizes that his own existential journey, his quest for answers to the deeper meaning of life, has only just begun.

Likewise, Agustí Puig continues on his path of discovery, without a road map…..culling poetry from matter, and boldly negotiating and representing the intertwined human myths and precarious truths of the 21st century.

~Larissa Bailiff
New York-based Art Historian
And frequent lecturer at the Museum of Modern Art, NY