Dibujos y desdibujos
You come at night to seek the flowers you picked,
That on the water, in her long veils deep asleep, he’s seen
The white Ophelia, like a great lily, floating by
Arthur Rimbaud (1870)
Rimbaud, the damned, also tells us that ” A thousand years and more since the sad Ophelia / white ghost, has passed by on the long dark stream. /A thousand years and moreg since her sweet insanity / has murmured its romances to the night breeze”. Therefore, the Shakespearian creature is a myth; though she is born and lives in a particular moment – in this case, literary-, she follows the archetypal procedure of becoming timeless and residing in a remote past, in the present and in the future. That’s the reason why Gaston Bachelard, in The Water and the Dreams (1942), writes about her that ” a whole side of our nocturnal soul explains itself through the myth of death understood as a game in the water. For the dreamer, the inversions between that game and death are constant. For certain dreamers, the water is the new movement that invites us to a trip we have never embarked on before. That game materialized, extracts us matter from earth. What amazing greatness has that Baudelaire’s verse, and how comes to the heart of our mystery that sudden image: Oh Death, old captain, already is a time! Let’s weigh anchor! “.
And Elisabeth Eleanor Siddal – Lizzie – would became insane and commit suicide – as the legend tells- with an overdose of laudanum, to which she was already addicted, since she felt unable to bear the continuous infidelities of her husband, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. After that of Shakespeare, she is undoubtedly the most famous Ophelia: the pale and red-haired model who in 1852 posed for another Pre-Raphaelite Brother , John Everett Millais. It is known that, during the meetings, Millais heated the water of the tub insufficiently with small oil lamps; and that Lizzie, milliner at the time and then painter, poet and muse of the Brotherhood, became ill and was forever that morbid and mentally sick woman who appears in his magnificent picture. Neither did Rossetti himself get away from the curse: when in 1870 he ordered the exhuming of his wife’s corpse to rescue the Poems that he had left in the coffin, the critics tore into pieces those texts full of sensuality and eroticism (singularly, the qualified suite of sonnets The house of Life); he, a drug addict as well, did not overcome it and died alienated.
Of Ofelia’s death, which happens out of the scene, we know from Gertrudis : “There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds / Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke; / When down her weedy trophies and herself / Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide ;/ And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:/ Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes; / As one incapable of her own distress,/ Or like a creature native and indued / Unto that element: but long it could not be / Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,/ Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay / To muddy death”. The image of Ofelia, smiling and humming, surrounded by her flowers and herbs – some of them toxic and another abortive– (in fact we know that it was the birth of a dead son what precipitated Lizzie’s suicide) while the water stream takes her lovingly towards death, cannot be contemplated with neutral eyes: she personifies beauty and kindness, virginal candour, the aptitude to fall in love totally and the need to die of despair. We write in her the purest of our soul and of our ambitions. Yes; but, thus we also know our Hamlet, the assassin of Ophelia’s father and the causer of her torment and madness.
It’s outstanding, maybe because it contrasts with Millais’s classical vision, the fact that the series of drawings dedicated to Ophelia that Marta Blasco presents in this, her first individual exhibition, it is so obscure. ” For something to be really terrifying, in general, darkness seems to be necessary “- Burke says to us. When we know the whole scope of some danger, and when we manage to get our eyes used to it, a great part of our apprehension vanishes “. This way, the blackness that surrounds Marta Blasco’s bath is an image of horror because it is as well an image of the opened and the indeterminate: darkness will always be filled with those ghosts that each viewer should introduce in it; and they will be, probably, modern fears originated by the violence of the world and obsessions cultivated by the modern imagery of terror. This may be the reason why it has been said that Marta Blasco’s work has cinematographic reminiscences: the woman bathing in a dark room could have belonged, for example, to a Hitchcock’s film; we evoke the suspense, waiting for a dramatic event. Moreover because we know about Ophelia’s and unfortunate Lizzie’s life stories, and we are, in fact, more capable of lucubrating with the idea of a curse.
The culturing of the sinister, distressful and mysterious elements characterise Marta Blasco’s artistic productions (and, curiously, also those of her partner, the painter Ricard Chiang, with whom she shares a studio): both in her exquisite tondos of 2006 and in the series called Narragonien (that were worth the first prize of the Fundación Barceló in 2007), the artist chooses to describe a few desolate landscapes with dead trees spread over, solitary spectra, aching figures and traces; a romantic vision of nature and of existence that finds its origin in the oneiric and the literary worlds , and that gets into life with a brilliant, delicate and precious painting technique. Eugenio Trías has explained in The Beautiful and the Sinister how the Kantian feeling of the sublime invites itself to be overcome by the sinister : ” Will that Gloom God , the heart of darkness, the dark and sinister inner self of a deity tormented by its own agonies, be conceptualized as pain and will or as a primary Self in everlasting grief? Or will that darkness and gloom be the last veil, a distressing veil, which like a dark night prevents the terminal flight, that one in the course of which you “achieve the hunt” ? “(…) From these considerations Rilke’s aphorism gains all its significance: ” Beauty is the beginning of the terrible that we, the human beings, can bear “. And that beginning makes us venture, as a temptation, towards the heart of darkness, source and origin, fief of mysteries, which “though they should remain secret “, produce in us, on having been revealed, a feeling about the sinister world “.
This would invite us to suspect that the work Marta Blasco has developed in these drawings possesses, first of all, a ritual character. The immersion in the bath – emulating Lizzie – and in the darkness – the gloom as an “origin” – is a catharsis – and also a challenge – it symbolizes, among other things, the search for love and total submission. But Ofelia is a mythical form – Afrodita’s worship also demands a ritual bath – and in these times of crisis, personifies a femininity as impossible as everlasting; and, therefore, her figure -her sacrifice – is a door opened for passion: ” making the world be romantic means to bring the ends of the existence over without they touching each other. It means to be able to see the sublime and the vulgar things, the angel and the serpent, God’s light and the misery of the gloom, and to affirm the non acceptance of the nonchalance, the contact of both poles and their cancellation “, invokes Zecchi as a defence of The beauty. And that is really the matter of which Marta Blasco’s drawings are made. Light and darkness, ordinary life and mystery, rest and sensuality: there is the aim to find the limits, the contrast, the maximum luminosity and the total blackness; there is violence in the foreshortenings, risk in the compositions, adventure in the processes … And incredible as they are – because the artist reflects her heterodoxy – the video recordings which narrate the history of the drawing are, definitively, the perfect metaphor for this trip in pursuit of the sublime: drawing is always ritual in itself, it is the way in which the artist communicates with his/her own self and, since there is nothing which is untrue in it, so true it is-again- the Ofelia the drawings represent.
Javier Rubio Nomblot