In the pictorial universe of Santiago Ydáñez the snow is never virgin, the children are not innocent, the human tends to bestiality, the statue acquires carnal morbidity and the living flesh is mummified. The animal oscillates between the tenderness and the monstrous, becomes a haunting metaphor like the winter landscape, idyllic and at the same time atrocious.
Inveterate collector and lover of Baroque carvings, Santiago does not hesitate to visit the assorted churches of virgins and magdalenas in their niches, while frequenting flea markets and antiquaries, where buys faded albums, anonymous portraits, prints of a recent past embalmed in black and white… He treasures antique boxes that intervene in their covers, or illustrated nineteenth-century books whose engravings he add new layers of meaning.
Because his paintings are plunged into history, not that of the great stories but that of their pulverization. As a paleontologist, he searches among the ruins, unpacks the trauma trapped in an image, transforms the nondescript into a relic or icon, into a blind witness.
In fact, blindness bears witness to another type of vision in some paintings of Ydáñez: like the blind virgin between the two horses that constitute one of the triptychs of the exhibition that CAC (Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga) dedicates to him.
Q- I would say that glassed eyes, whether that of devotional sculptures or that of the dead, has always fascinated you as a transcript of an inner, nocturnal vision, like that of the owls, which also lurks from one of the walls of the CAC in this extensive exhibition that you have called “el corazón manda”.
Certainly that stoic and almost nostalgic attitude that leads you to observe the world as one more critter is my way of being here. That inner retirement is common to monsters like our dear Frankenstein and all the saints who made martyrdom their armor. The north and the nocturnal ones also harbor that uncertain spirit.
Q- Your large painting “the garden of the delights” summarizes in a single image your physical itinerary and emotional itinerary of last years: two utopian symbols that unite the Germanic (the Aryan girl whose expression is loaded with foreshadowing) and the southern (the garden is inspired by the frescoes of Villa Livia). Failed Utopias? The seed of horror behind the most bucolic stamp?
Well, yes, nostalgia for the fraud of his Eden. Berlin really has been a paradise for me. It is a city where you live very well, comfortable and hospitable. At once urban and provincial, although with the advent of crises some ghosts of the past come. Rome still remains a paradise. A city where life and beauty flow together.
Q- From Mary Shelley to Thomas Bernhard, from Ladislaus Vajda’s “El cebo” to Haneke’s “The white Ribbon”… have inspired you: icy landscapes as soul transcriptions (Frankenstein), elliptical and obsessive writing of Bernhard in his repudiation of his native Austria for its complicity with Nazism… I would say that you make abstraction of the concept of holocaust to somehow point out that we are all monsters with conscience, frankensteinian creatures.
I guess the key is knowing how to tame the monster. We all carry one inside, more or less docile. Maybe not a monster very monstrous, but a Segismundo wandering around lost. Both Bernhard and Haneke are two authors who have always put their finger on the sore.
Q- Hence you portray extreme passions, which explore the ambivalent nature of the human. Carnal mysticism is your subject (flesh eroticized or cut open, ecstatic or suffering…), thermometer of the continuous argue between love and death.
The mystique, partly inherited from the Arabs and which our writers knew how to embody so well, was an exercise of contention out of necessity. And this restraint was a catalyst for passions, both spiritual and others less light.
Q- And if flesh is the theme, the vanitas is the genre?, a genre that you revive almost like a Valdés Leal of the 21st century, through dissections, taxidermy…
A vanitas, a still life, is maybe a treat served in silver, or on the contrary, its own spoil. Different positions before the same mirror.
Q- You work the human figure in a wide spectrum of nuances. The paintings with a zoophilic theme, although the CAC defines them as ironic, to me, in their harsh description of bodies, to the solitude and difficulty of communicating the most intimate drives. Now, thanks to the stupidity of an animal protection association, these pictures that occupy a discreet place in the exhibitions, have come to the fore.
The zoophilic question within my work is rather anecdotal. There are very few pieces that I have painted on the subject and always in an ironic tone or linked to questions of race. That does not mean that it is a common theme to all animality, among which we are included.
Santiago Ydáñez, El corazón manda,
curated by Fernando Francés
can be visited in CAC Málaga
until 24th September 2017
Other ongoing exhibitions:
Santiago Ydañez, Painting as archeology
in Whitebox Art Center, Beijing
Curator: Susana Sanz
until 8th August 2017