Pilar Ribal Simó

My soul lives powerful and full of cheer: it participates in the passions of the ghosts created within it.
Paul Valéry1

A ghost underlies Marta Blasco’s work. A mysterious fog, painted dream or persistent passion compels her to explore the history of art, journeying back to other ages so as to appropriate the very essence of their images. There is something almost compulsive about her work: a desire inspired by bodies and faces in which certain artists caught a glimpse of something unique. Her creative methods bear the hallmark of a wise insanity, spurring her impetuously on in search of the gratifying radiant vision that a drawing or painting represents.

To attribute its appearance to the so far non-existent – the genesis behind all creation – is as brilliant as it is meaningless. “You will never force the non-existent to exist,”2 said Parmenides, opening up debate on the human capacity to ‘imagine’. Seeing everything that your awareness can perceive through images; painting, drawing, modelling or revealing the invisible – that is the job of the artist.

Jannis Kounellis once told me “a painter who doesn’t like ghosts is stupid”3. In line with this idea by the great master, we can agree with Freud’s hypothesis that while history acts through vision, art finds the starting point for that other reality that artistic images constitute in the artist’s unconscious dreams, memories and visions4.

Since the first paintings that I ever saw by Marta Blasco5, I have long known that her work is connected with that artistic ghost that still sails across Patinir’s Styx; he who one day embarked on a journey of no return on that ‘ship of fools’ that engraver Sebastian Brandt brought to eternal iconographic life. It is the same ghost that inspired pre-Raphaelite digressions from the norm or the Surrealists in their hallucinated searches, or who still compels us to return to sources of visual and written knowledge to discover what makes them so special.

The bible, classical literature, cinema, Faiyum’s portraits, Millais’ Ophelias, Pilon’s body of Christ, Mantegna, Durero and Botticelli’s ‘opened-up’ Venus are some of the visual sources of inspiration behind Marta Blasco’s art work. Art and its shadow – like an eager ghost whispering that same old pictorial story in one’s ear – define the scope of all her artistic obsessions. Horror and sci-fi stories, literary myths, Schopenhauer’s philosophy and other secret passions from literature and universal poetry all determine a personal imagination that emerges with such pride in the artist’s compositions. Underlying Blasco’s paintings and drawings, like a secret heartbeat, is a persistent, vehement need to breath new life into images already known to man.

To gain a closer insight into Marta Blasco’s work, not only must it be contemplated but we must also retrace the steps of her journey through art, cinema and literature, through recent or more distant episodes of an artistic repertoire whose keys help us to discover her work. In celebration of that shared event that painting constituted and still constitutes, Blasco’s work heeds those bewildering ‘voices’ that drive her toward past and present in a to-ing and fro-ing that is as impassioned as it is fruitful. In contrast with those who blindly erase a collective imagination that goes back to the days of Plato’s cave in one fell swoop of the pen, she shamelessly enters the digital image’s technological present in the conviction that painting’s timelessness can, in its visual profundity, also make its presence felt.

Marta Blasco’s aspiration and the link that unites her creative process are to highlight the validity of the same resources that characterized the work of Rafael, Leonardo or all the great masters, giving in to that hint of madness – that ghostly muse, inspiration or mere intuition, call it what you will – that truly sets a work apart. Talking about Marta Blasco’s work is like drawing a history of faces or tracing a genealogy of bodies whose impulses slumber, dedicated to the ritual of physical matter’s sensations. Interpreting her work is tantamount to a search for new trees of knowledge or other gardens of good and evil. With her passion for that artistic world of the imagination that made Hoffmann and Bataille tremble, Marta Blasco’s work knows nothing of marginalization or single time periods.

Timeless faces hide vestiges of the impact of Faiyum’s mummy portraits: the ‘l’apostrophe muette” that illuminates the work of so many contemporary artists. They are men and women glimpsed “from a neutral place that is neither life nor death”6, miraculously held in an eternal present, thanks to the solidity of the support on which they are trapped.

Blasco’s bodies are exposed to our erotic gaze, like Holofernes’s corpse painted by Botticelli or the body of Christ wrapped in discrete sheets by Mantegna or Pilon. Male nudity in her work merits a separate mention. Not only is it the legacy of a brilliant tradition. She also manages to rejuvenate it, using techniques as compelling as that big white empty space which accentuates the tension emanating from the drawn body. Adopting a traditional male approach in her portrayal of the female nude, this is some of Marta Blasco’s most erotic work, offering a glimpse of her own impulses and the desire she feels for the male body. Her sensuality in undressing the model, while also avoiding the explicit reminds us of the words of Kenneth Clark: “Nudity is not always obscene, and it can occur without bringing to mind the inconvenience of the sexual act.”7

Marta Blasco breaks away from traditional representations of the male body8, presenting it in a manner similar to portrayals of a semi-naked woman lying amid the sheets, aroused and seemingly wanting to be contemplated. This is an image that can be traced back to classical Greek statues through to outstanding more contemporary examples like ‘L’Amour et Psyché’ by François-Edouard Picot (1817) or ‘Paolo et Francesca’ by Ary Schaeffer (1855). Blasco’s vision is perhaps comparable to that of another female artist, Anne-Louis Girodet, whose lovely painting of the ‘Funeral of Atala’ shows the young lover in all the splendour of his youth.

Nonetheless, Marta Blasco’s pictorial sensitivities are wholly contemporary, closely linked to those of Gerhard Richter in his personal vision of the Annunciation after Titian or in the portraits of his daughters. Blasco also coincides with the brilliant German artist in the emphatic repetition of certain motifs, as exemplified by Richter in his famous paintings with images of members of the Baader-Meinhof gang dead in prison and by Blasco in the small paintings that accompany her large ones with her Corpuses and Ophelias.

Thanks to that ghostly breath that silently pervades the pleats in her soul, time and time again Marta Blasco’s work evinces her solid links with an art that concentrates its timeless gaze on man. Breaking down that linear concept of time associated with artistic movements and integrating new registers into her work, the same compulsive ghostly inspiration can be seen on the paper of her drawings or prints, the canvases of her paintings, metal of her copper plates, and screen of her videos.

Imagining that she was gazing at the sky from that Ship of Fools that brought man forward into the Modern Age9 in order to invest scientific and artistic wisdom into the construction of mankind, Marta Blasco painted a ribbon in movement; a line that traced her painting’s meanderings toward the certainty of a drawing. Appropriating the idea of man’s ‘corporal’ facet and “that growing respect for the corporeal self”10 exemplified in the series of engravings by Sebastian Brandt, Marta Blasco discovered the pathway that would lead to her Ascensions and Ophelias, to her Corpus, to those ‘torn papers’ that evoke the ‘opened-up Venus’, and even to her latest sketch-paintings.

Formulating an idea before giving it material form in order to conserve its inherent ‘feel’ and striving to convey the links and invisible allusions that underlie all her works soon became the artist’s main tasks, perhaps imitating those ancient masters to whom Kandinsky referred when he said: “L’artiste est la main qui, par l’usage convenable de la touche (= forme), met l’ame humaine en vibration.”11

The prolific imagination of an artist trained in Fine Art who has never relinquished beauty gradually materialized, shaped by Blasco’s hand; that instrument of the soul, guided by knowledge and built-up experience often called ‘skill’, ‘talent’ or ‘expertise’; a hand that, in God’s case, was the very origin of life,12 according to the poet Antonio Machado.

Thanks to her firm belief in training through practice (which guarantees “world possession”, thus fulfilling the creative ritual alluded to by Focillon13), Marta Blasco’s creative process is based on drawing, an insistency on touch, investigation into other materials, and the minimal gesture of etching lines into her copper plates a thousand and one times, rather like an unending mantra.14 Blasco’s recent works – portraits of the soul (her own and that of her models) – open up new artistic horizons before returning back to painting again. In a silent defence of aesthetics – “that magnificent oneiric shared celebration” that conserves a faith in the secret dimensions of objective reality -, Marta Blasco would once again break away from the logic of drawing as a secondary process and transform a copper plate into the final support for an original work, thus completing her own initiatory journey into the heart of Western art.

The great essay writer Rafael Argullol said that “in Heideggarian style, art’s symbolic dimension facilitates recognition of the origin or, if you like, the voyage of contingency that is needed to acquire that Einhausung (“going home humanly”) expressed by Hegel. Re-cognition through art is to capture the permanence of the ephemeral”. Art’s ability, Argullol continues, “to overcome (linear) time” is a “turn of direction” toward “the essence of Art”15.

Several decades have been needed for contemporary art to turn once again to the issue of beauty. When Stefano Zecchi reflected on “beauty’s banishment”, he resorted to Goethe and Faustus’ journey to Helen to exemplify “our culture’s final attempt (…) to make beauty’s essential function prevail in objective reality, in universal history: that is, the metaphysical superiority of symbolic language over referential language (…); the cognitive superiority of metaphor….”16.

Zecchi used philosophical arguments to defend the importance of beauty as “a form of knowledge” and to overcome aesthetics’ proverbial exclusion from 20th century art: “Magic is the art of using the sensitive world and psychological reality in an arbitrary, inventive way”17. How significant these words sound today when art has again come to appreciate the philosophical qualities of aesthetics. And how opportune Zecchi’s essay seems to be when we reflect on the “universal dazzle” to which Vicente Jarque refers when he speaks of “contemporary man’s virtual condition”: “When the ghost delights in surrounding itself with ghost-producing machines; that is, when the ghost becomes visible and is dispersed in an endless multitude of new-technology-generated images, there is nothing strange in the universal dazzle that the ensuing brilliance of those millions of images creates. There is so much to see that we end up by seeing nothing. Our eyes channel hop even when we are not in front of the television. As the historian Norman Bryson18 says: a “look” gives way to a “glance”; attentive slow contemplation of a unique image is replaced with a fleeting glance at a multiplicity of flashing images, simultaneously registered on the fringes of consciousness”.19

Conceived to be slowly contemplated so that all their symbolic qualities, links with art, and associations with cinema, literature and even everyday intimacies are gradually revealed, Marta Blasco’s work does not shun new technologies, but it does turn its back on the ghost’s imperative need for the ephemeral, as alluded to by Jarque. As eye-catching as it is complex in its multiple “artisanal” or “technological” representations, through the solidity of its aesthetic presence Marta Blasco’s work exemplifies the complementary nature of all artistic options. Rather than making technology an end in itself (whether we are talking about the technology of a pencil, a rocker20 or a digital camera), her work conveys the profundity of an integrative artistic project.

The versatility of Marta Blasco’s images is naturally evident, whether we are talking about the artist’s large imposing drawings, her small intense paintings, the incredible drawn solutions on her copper matrices and those ‘torn papers’ that metaphorically reflect her search for a final support for images, her filmed compositions and all the virtual or physical modes used to express her vocation for an art of meaning.

A ghost whispers the old, old story of a paradise lost in Marta Blasco’s ear. It is an illness without a cure. All good painters listen to their ghost.

Pilar Ribal i Simó