Antoni Llena. Notebooks from underground.

Barcelona. Exposició

Read in catalan

The exhibition opens with a straight line, the straightest in the whole show, yet, even so, drawn cack-handedly on any old paper, on which is written: the history of painting. Art is U, there is no evolution or progress. It is a single tradition, that of vibrant art. Progress exists only in the real world, the world of technology, complexity, repetition and, with each material step forward, the more necessary the counterweight represented by the work of Antoni Llena becomes to us. In this exhibition at the Tecla Sala centre in L’Hospitalet, Llena once more regales us with a frugal poem, a work distilled of all pretension and aesthetic waste. Each and every one of Llena’s actions over the last five years comprises a lesson in stripping-down. It is also five years since he last presented an exhibition in Barcelona, though he has shown his works in the periphery, at the dark end of the street, where the weeds grow by the roadside full of cracks. We recall the green shoots that appeared in Sant Pol de Mar and, above all, Santa Coloma de Gramanet, a year ago now, in an unforgettable exhibition of projects for public sculptures. These, we now see, paved the way for the sculptural ensemble Viatge d’Hivern (Winter Journey) – one of the finest pieces produced in Catalonia over the last decade – and which this present show quite rightly chooses to highlight once more.

Llena has spread a sheet woven with a thousand drawings, created over five years’ constant work, day after day, like a modern-day Apelles, over the floor of the basement at the Tecla factory. But we are sure that Nulla dies sine linea is not, in fact, Llena’s motto, for the Latin maxim refers to an artistic past that our artist in fact questions: the tradition of the pretty drawing, the perfect circle, the persuasive profile. If there is anything of the Latin in his stance, it is that of the stoic, or perhaps the oriental sage, who does not champion the regime of accumulation in order to improve, but to empty himself, each day, of a little of his intimate food, and to return to the natural rhythm, which he tenses spiritually. The thousand drawings, or four thousand, the four years he took to make them, the five years since he last showed his work in Barcelona, these are all figures that make good headlines but are completely lacking in importance. The true message is the attitude to life and art (and death), that vindication of the need to create and nothing more; and a flash of responsibility, an intuited, desperate act aimed at conserving a tradition of spirit forms that is taking the wrong path, valid since the days of our Cro-Magnon ancestors and bequeathed to the 20th century by Miró and Tàpies.

And with all this, there is very little more to say, above all if we remember that the artist himself has put it all down in writing, and has written it well. I believe that, having reached this juncture, the only possibility we have is to be silent, tacere, or transcribe some of the thoughts that the artist sends us, these messages in a bottle. That’s the thing about artists “of root and branch” (and of the undersoil): behind a formalist stance lurk deep lessons in thought. Because, in the final analysis, art is a philosophical attitude to the world. We propose a synthesis, a reconstructed monologue formed by clippings from the thoughts that Llena has regaled us with as part of this exhibition:

“I do not affirm; if anything, I embrace. I don’t want just to draw, but to write a great book, like Moby-Dick; and to write every day, subterranean and heroically, like Valéry with his Notebooks. We should not be satisfied with a single phrase, like so many new artists: we only need to seek the core of things, as Bach teaches us, in that place where infinite possibilities of development and of writing a great book are found; because I would have liked to have been a writer, but I only know the grammar of forms. However, in the end, the artwork is failure, because it tries to tell a truth. And the truth, of course, does not exist, there are blacks and whites, nuances and resistances in everything. That is why I create my drawings in pairs, like in Noah’s Ark. But for all that, I am not a relativist, because fragility is not incompatible with eternity.” Amen…

[published in Bonart, April 2011]