Art is not about being famous. Art is about freedom, human freedom... but to find freedom for others you must first free yourself. An artist must follow his dreams and feelings and not what’s trendy or topical. Art is not a competition with other artists, it is not a race.
Pedro Paricio, June 2016
Sea Dogs Pedro Paricio, 2016
Many years ago, when I was starting out as a journalist, the Booker-Prize-winning novelist Ben Okri told me something I’ve never forgotten. There are two kinds of writer, he said, those who mine a shallow stream of consciousness and produce work that is instantly gratifying and immediately forgettable; andthose whose writing emerges from the mulch of a lifetime’s experience to deliver something original and profound. These, he said, are the great writers. And it applies equally to artists.
Good artists do more than make you look: they make you think. Like Okri’s writers, they are not about fame or money, nor do they pursue the vagaries of fashion. Rather they dig deep inside themselves to produce work that resonates, not only with us now, but also with future generations. One such artist is Pedro Paricio. In the time I have known Pedro, I have seen his work grow and develop through three exhibitions: Master Painters, (2011), Diary of an Artist (2012) and Shaman (2014). And it has been a pleasure to see him fulfil his promise as one of 100 New Artists chosen by Francesca Gavin (Laurence King, 2011) to emerge as an authoritative voice in modern art.
This new exhibition, Dreams, is not only Pedro’s fourth with Halcyon Gallery, it also marks the fifth anniversary since he became their youngest signing and it comes hot on the heels of last year’s retrospective, Elogio de la Pintura (2014-2015), at the Tenerifio Espacio de las Artes.
Just as Shaman was a leap forward in confidence and maturity from Diary of an Artist, so Dreams is both a progression and departure from Shaman and Pedro interprets his theme widely. If in Shaman he was introspective, in Dreams he is outward looking. He has turned his mirror round, to train its gaze on us.
At a time of global uncertainty and mass migration, this new body of work is as much about our common humanity as it is about freedom of the individual. This is Pedro’s most political series to date and his darkest: subjects include war, gangs and Europe’s current refugee crisis. Some of the pieces such as Realpolitik (above) and Youth are almost sinister, but humour and optimism bring them back from the edge. In Boney and Clyde (below) all the dreams of freedom you could ever wish for are captured in the clenched fists guiding the machine gun. However you feel about Pedro’s work, you will never be indifferent to it.
‘Dreams are not only what we inhabit when we sleep,’ he says when we discuss this new exhibition. ‘They are fantasies and desires and fears, both of what we are hopeful for and what we are oblivious to. Though dreams are subconscious, they are also a reflection of consciousness.’
The majority of pieces in this exhibition are, as you would expect, acrylic on linen or, in the breakout series Particles of Dreams, a mix of acrylic on linen and canvas. Painted mirrors and his first three-dimensional kaleidoscopic Sculpture for a Dream inspired by Dürer’s The Philosopher’s Stone (below) point to an exciting new direction.
Dreams is the work of a more open, relaxed, Pedro - a man who is comfortable in his skin. He is back in Tenerife after two years living and working in London and has set up a new studio in the north of the island. Whereas before he painted in artificial light, he is now using natural light and the windows, once closed, are wide open. Is it a cliché to say that to enter an artist’s studio, is to enter his mind? Not in this case. Pedro’s studio is an Aladdin’s Cave of magazine articles, puppets, bric-à-brac, found items, pictures, books and what he calls his Portobello objects, curios from the famous market. They are the touchstones that stimulate his mind when he’s working late into the night of a twelve-hour day with only a cigar and his music for company.
Pedro’s appearance is also symbolic of his work: each item of clothing is chosen with care and for a reason. In this new phase, the uniform of jacket, hat and tie has been replaced by white T-shirt and jeans and he has let his curly fair hair grow out. The hat, which features in so many of his paintings, was abandoned after a nightmare in which he understood it was time to move on with his art. The new Pedro appears on the shoulders of the old in Builders and in Analogic Man where he is strumming his guitar.
‘When I change my art changes,’ he says. ‘I change to keep my art alive. Artists that keep going the same for forty years, I don’t like that, I like to try different things. This new series is different but the same. All I have learned in the last ten years, I have put in.’
He celebrates this freedom in two paintings: Mount Neriton and Lazarus, perhaps the two most personal pieces in the exhibition. Neriton in Homer’s Iliad is the mountain dominating Odysseus’s homeland Ithaca. If there are parallels between Tenerife and Ithaca, then this is a painting about homecoming.
Pedro, as are many people, is ‘a big, big puzzle with a lot of pieces’, and, as he continues to grapple with these, he needs only the simple things in life: time, freedom, nature and, most importantly, family. His art comes from so deep inside him that not even he can always see what he’s drawn on to make it. I have a vision in my mind of Pedro floating high among clouds representing his ideas and the artists he admires. A ribbon tied round his ankle snakes down to the ground where he is anchored by his wife Elena and son Theo. He is able to take voyages into his imagination because they are always there to guide him home.
Lazarus is probably the most telling piece in the exhibition. A dead body, (Pedro?), lies on a bier under a shroud. A red-haired woman (Elena?) and a small child (Theo?) look on. ‘Some people have one life,’ he says, ‘a linear life. Others are reborn many times in many incarnations.’ The catalyst to rebirth is the child.
Put like that Lazarus is not about death, it’s about awakening and, in fact, the shroud is open where the feet should be suggesting the spirit is already free, rising like a phoenix ablaze with hope and light.
Pedro’s inspiration has always come from a broad spectrum: other artists, of course, books, music, film. He is terribly affected by the news, as is evident in works such as Promised Land (above), Realpolitik and Youth. His current reading is sociology and psychology, but he hasn’t lost his love of history – of man and of art. Dreams is layered with references not just to classical art, but literature too, drawing parallels between our contemporary world and classical mythology. On the face of it Promised Land could be Pedro and Theo heading to the beach with a child’s wooden horse. But the preliminary drawings, (another new development, he does five or six now instead of painting straight onto the canvas), show this is not a self-portrait. Are this father and son travelling to the Promised Land or away from it? Could they be Moses and the Israelites leaving Egypt or Aeneas and his son leaving Troy? The painting is an allegory of exodus, one can argue, a comment on the refugee crisis currently threatening to engulf Europe. The wooden horse is significant - besieged Troy was in modern-day Turkey after all. ‘Other artists make closed statements, I want to open a debate and speak about human history - to paint about Syria,’ he says.
If this seems a stretch too far, then consider that Pedro’s work is deeply rooted in the classical tradition. Form is important and each work is structured precisely to make you reflect, as good art should do. Shaman was characterised by flat backgrounds and his signature kaleidoscopic geometry and while they’re still there, he is now more playful, more painterly.
The blurred kaleidoscope effect he began to develop two years now glows like embers in the segmented trunk of the elephant The Wise. It is the first of the new series and therefore the most connected to Shaman.
‘A new narrative phase is coming,’ he says ‘Shaman was the culmination of a previous style in all senses (mysticism, hat, flat perfection). I’m now exploring new paths but not forgetting where I came from; there is a clear break but also continuity, because art is always a break and a continuity at the same time.’
Although sometimes his work, as in his tribute After Francis Bacon (2009), could be said to have the Pop aesthetic, he rejects the Pop Art label. Au fond he has the intellect and skill of a classical artist; each painting draws on the experience of his lifetime, which is why he is always moving forwards. If you look closely, the influences of Caravaggio, Velasquez, Picasso, Francis Bacon, and others are evident, but his magpie’s eye is forever seeking out new narratives and new techniques. It’s these aspects that keep his work so fresh.
Two names are key this time round. The masters of still-life Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1799) and Italian Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964).
It’s easy to see why Pedro’s drawn to the first: ‘Who said one paints with colours?’ Chardin once asked. ‘One employs colours, but one paints with feeling.’ Alongside the Frenchman’s sharp reds and glowing yellows is a more muted palette (above), which he draws on for tonal variation. Couple that with the strong form and subtle colour gradations of Giorgio Morandi (right), and you have the technical revolution of Dreams. Acrylic, Pedro’s chosen medium, is difficult to work as it doesn’t have the malleability of oil and dries quickly, nevertheless he has pushed his paint to achieve the exquisitely subtle fading of Promised Land and the impasto of Mt Neriton’s bubble-gum-pink snowcap.
New earthy colours are in the khaki background of Bonnie & Clyde, for example, or the grey of Lazarus’s shroud. Like the reds, yellows and oranges of Pedro’s scintillating geometry these are also the colours of Tenerife.
There are many ways to tell your story, art is just one of those ways. Pedro doesn’t justify or explain his work, he sees it as being in a three-way conversation and expects it to play a full part alongside the artist and the viewer. In his clever, insightful way he is inviting us to reflect on ourselves and our dreams.