A Reality of its Own
If the word ‘art’ has to have a certain meaning, all the things we usually agree to call ‘art’ must have something in common, must share some kind of essence by which art could be distinguished from any other phenomena. In pursuing such a distinction, the critic Arthur C. Danto comes to the conclusion, in his book What art is (2013), that it has to be what he calls ‘the embodiment of ideas’, a principle in line with Kant’s aesthetics and referring to the power of art to present itself in a sensory way, that is to say as an autonomous reality and not just as a formal representation of some external model. And the ideas the art brings into existence are of course aesthetical ideas and not conceptual ones, ideas our senses draw from the experience, not intellectual notions translatable to conventional words.
From the last century most people are obsessed with finding a precise meaning in every work of art. Not just ordinary people; in fact, it is not uncommon that some critics and curators, and even artists themselves, talk about a work in terms of signification. This attitude implies a conception of art as being fundamentally a code system, however free and creative it might be, a particular hieroglyphics that can be decipher and reduced to a concept, which is for the most part incompatible with the embodiment of aesthetic ideas. In 1964, Susan Sontag, in her well known essay Against Interpretation, warned about that way of thinking, already prevailing in the sixties. No doubt that a great piece of art can have a specific content, and even carry a political message, and still be a great piece of art, but as Sontag shows in her essay, the merit of such a work “lies elsewhere than in their meaning”. And in trying to give back to art what belongs to art, she vindicates an erotics of art, a criticism distant from hermeneutics and aimed to reveal how a work is what it is.
In painting, in literature, in music, in films, modern artists fought for the autonomy of their oeuvres. Agustí Puig, whose production can be regarded as one of the most interesting of the last decades, of course in Catalan Art but in the international scene too, is an artist perfectly rooted in modern and postmodern tradition. In his paintings there is an open dialogue with Picasso and Matisse as well as Pollock and many others, and like Picasso did, he had a period of correspondence with Velázquez. Tradition is the solid ground where his oeuvre is placed, and as it occurs with all the great artists, the paintings he creates allows you to better understand the erotism Susan Sontag reclaimed: the erotic approach is something that his paintings asks for. You can’t see them any other way. Erotics are the colors, the unifying treatment of colors that every series of his works explores and celebrates in a different manner. Erotic is the thickness of the brushstrokes and the marks, some kind of engraving technique, that you have there not only to see but to feel in a sensory way. Erotic are the mystery, halfway abstraction and figurative, of the textures, forms and human attitudes you can glimpse on Puig’s canvas. And erotics are of course the anatomies of the beings, sometimes just a silhouette, sometimes a very apparent feminine leg, a head and shoulders or a head with his own foot, that often inhabit his paintings. It has no meaning, just as real life doesn’t have either, it is something similar to what in poetry we call metaphor: a reality of its own.
Ferran Toutain, New York 2018