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Clayton Kirking






Major Influences


Márquez has been influenced by a small but powerful group of external forces. All of these are now fully integrated into both his life and work. Architecture, poetry, literature, music, the work of admired artists and periods have all served as inspirations or fulcrums for Roberto. Sometimes these disciplines are invoked independently and other times amalgamated to create paintings that can be interpreted from various points of view. The artist has studied these throughout his academic and adult life. While he characterizes himself as a self-taught painter he adds, "I truly like to learn things. I am never satisfied with my work ... it is never perfect, I try to integrate [my] knowledge into the work. The work is never perfect, learning and knowledge are what is important." These qualities are seen throughout the existing oeuvre, but one of the most graphic examples can be seen in Balada de los tres Pablos (Ballad of the Three Pablos) from 1989 [cat. 27]. It is an allegorical representation of art, music and poetry in the forms of three of the most important Spanish- speaking artists in history: Pablo Picasso, Pablo Casals and Pablo Neruda. The allegory of this piece can be interpreted as the unification or interrelatedness of the arts. Here they literally support one another. The figures are processing, as if celebrating the feast day of a saint, before the facades of buildings. These structures remind us of early Renaissance frescoes, with graffiti scratched into them. The sky deepens the sacred metaphor in its resemblance to Gothic ceiling decoration. All of Márquez’s essential elements are here: the human figure, narration, enigma and architecture. In addition to Neruda, numerous other writers have remained important within his intellectual and artistic contexts. Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens and Jorge Luis Borges have all contributed profoundly to the intellectual processes with which he observes and interprets the world around him. Examining the production of other painters and sculptors is equally important to Márquez. He has spent many years looking closely at early Renaissance and Renaissance painting and sculpture. Looking at the spaces created by Masaccio and Lorenzo Ghiberti it is difficult not to see the lessons that Roberto has learned from them. Their spaces are filled with figures reacting to and "moving" within architecture. Many similar settings which are defined by architecture are found from Márquez’s early years to the present. In recent years his use of architecture has become more highly refined, as in Las bodas de Philidor (Philidor's Weddings) of 1996 [cat. 69]. Among later artists he holds the work of the seventeenth-century Neapolitan painter Francois de Nome in esteem for his fantastic, highly architecturalized narrative paintings. He has equally great respect for the content of contemporary painter Sigmar Polke's work as well as for his skillful use of paint and transparent glazes.

An early influence which must be acknowledged is that of Balthus. This giant of contemporary figurative and narrative painting strongly attracted Márquez  in his first years as a painter. Like Roberto, Balthus looks very much to Renaissance and mannerist painters. He too has counted authors among his closest friends, including Rainer Maria Rilke and Andre Gide. In a recent interview

Márquez  explained that his attraction to Balthus was deep, adding that “...I seem to draw images from sources similar to those of Balthus." As his work has matured, Roberto has grown away from any "quotation" of Balthus but still shares an interest in depicting action that is neither a beginning nor an end and in narratives, the solutions to which lie outside of the paintings as in EI sueño de Charlotte (Charlotte's Dream) of 1985 [cat. 5].

 Within this context it is important to consider the Mexican artists that most strongly have affected the work at hand. The self- portraits recall the penetrating roots of Frida Kahlo, but in this regard a more direct force may be Nahum B. Zenil, who came to great prominence in Mexico City in the 1980S. During much of that vibrant decade Roberto was living outside of Mexico, but for any young Mexican artist it was virtually impossible not to be aware of Zenil's probing examination of his sexuality and his definition of "self" in contemporary Mexican society. Márquez, on the other hand, uses this means to explore his relationship to the past, to his own condition and, existentially, to the human condition. In the same conversation quoted above, the artist stated that his use of self-portraiture may be his most enduring Mexican characteristic.

Other Mexican influences-an article of popular art or a piece of architecture-occasionally can be seen in the context of a painting. Largely, however, Márquez is not geographically defined. He has maintained friendships primarily with Mexican poets, whose contact seems to offer more to him than painters in qeneral." He looks elsewhere for painterly inspiration, tending to look at others' paintings rather than discuss them. It must be recognized, however, that the work of Jose Clemente Orozco is much admired by Roberto. This admiration is given restrained recognition in certain of his latest works, most recently in Bajo la mirada de Euclides (Under the Gaze of Euclid) of 1996 [cat. 66J in which the treatment of the night sky recalls one of Orozco's last pictures, Pintura metafísica (Metaphysical Painting), of 1948.


I enjoy more imaging the paintings. Making the paintings is work.' Nowhere is Márquez’s architectural training more obvious than in a discussion of his painting technique. He has even said that he has an architectural manner of working, constructing paintings as an architect would approach a building plan. He creates the work from the back to the front-from the background to the foreground-adding each element as it would appear in dimensional layers. "Thinking in three dimensions, I think beyond the surface of the painting ... these dimensions are very important. I am always searching for the illusion of space." He conceptualizes a work as a Renaissance artist might, as a window, looking out into a deep space. In this aspect his working methods vary radically from many artists for whom the surface is the primary concern of the painting.

Working basically in a self-contained environment, Roberto spends many solitary hours in his studio which occupies the ground floor of his home. He has constructed a framework around himself that is filled with nearly everything he needs to carry out his work. Most of two rooms of this house are filled by a library, another library collection is comprised of recorded music, a third of hundreds of films on videotape. In this situation he conceives the paintings and works surrounded by music, literature, poetry and film. He does very few preparatory sketches. Instead he envisions the painting, sketching it directly onto the canvas, and begins to paint. In this way he lets the painting itself guide him, with the result that the finished work is nearly always different from its original conception.

When preparing an exhibition Márquez similarly conceives of the show as a single project, like a book, with all of the paintings contributing to a whole idea. It is a bittersweet fact for him that the exhibition makes sense while it is all together, but after the show is over the book is destroyed and gone. Its chapters are spread in every direction. The paintings in this exhibition are chapters from many of these past "books" gathered up and displayed as a new whole. In this context and by way of better understanding the seeds of some of Roberto's work, it will be illuminating to discuss several of the pictures in greater detail.

EI guante perdido de Max Klinger (Max Klinger's Lost Glove) of 1985 [cat. 3 J has its origins in a cycle of prints which was published in its first edition in 1881 by Max Klinger. Klinger, a German painter and sculptor (1857·1920), was trained as both a genre painter and a symbolist. In the late 1870S he began a series of prints that anticipate surrealism in their combination of the real and fantastic as well as in their Freudian content.' The Glove, in a series of ten prints, presents images that refer to the constant themes in art of love, sex and death. The strongly psychological content and evocative aura of these prints clearly appeal to Márquez. Before EI guante perdido de Max Klinger, the viewer is forced to ask questions such as "What significance does the syringe have?" and "Where is the other glove?" Is this a fragment of a larger and more sinister scene or simply a stylized still life?

As noted earlier, Márquez consistently turns to poetry for inspiration and subject matter. He reads widely, crossing barriers of language, style and time. In the case of Debilidad de la noche (Weakness of the Night) of 1986 [cat. 11 J it was a poem by Michelangelo that provided the spark. This sonnet, written about 1545, contrasts the power of the day, personified in classical mythology by Phoebus (Apollo) with that of night which is associated with Artemis.

          And the night is so weak that anyone who lights a little torch takes

          life from it at that spot;

          and it is so feeble that flint on tinder tears

          and rends it.

The painting features a mounted rider holding a small torch with which he tears open the darkness to reveal a fantasy landscape with two figures. One figure appears to be sleeping, having given into the darkness, and another, peaking from behind a tree, seems to be waiting for the night to return.

In the Jewish folktale of the Golem, Roberto found an allegory for the creative process. In its most famous telling, the sixteenth- century rabbi Judah Low ben Bezulel of Prague brings a figure to life by placing on its forehead a secret name for God. Vivified, the creature becomes a dangerous and horrifying monster. The power of words, as in this myth of creation, and their relationship to art moved Márquez to portray himself in a double self-portrait El Golem II, 1990 [cat. 32]' One of the figures is printing "magic" words on the forehead of the other. In this manner he sees the act of painting as an act of creation, in fact … an act of creating oneself."

Many of the paintings in this exhibition have foundations similar to those described above. It is clear from this brief examination that the artist builds upon those foundations with great thoughtfulness and care.

Recent Work

In 1995 Márquez returned to sculpture. He had worked in sculpture throughout his career, having originally studied the subject in 1976 while still living in Mexico, but this time he began working in a larger scale. In these pieces he is very interested in a close relationship between the modeled forms and his paintings. Thinking again in three dimensions, he has approached this problem by sculpting figures which are attached to painted panels. The figures appear to be emerging from the background-as though the flat images had been given full dimension. The effect of these is an illusion that the paintings are becoming real, not unlike the Golem.

The recent paintings also ~re taking a different direction. Both Las bodas de Philidor [cat. 69 J and El sueño de Salomé (Salome's Dream) of 1996 [cat. 68J are placed in refined interior spaces.

Comparing these works to Después del diluvio of 1984 [cat. 1], it is apparent that while these paintings share a great deal in concept, the later paintings testify to a marked progression and maturity. Finally, the greatest change is represented here by Bajo la mirada de Euclides [cat. 66]. In this picture, a loosely robed figure flies from a moody night sky to hover over a group of geometric, architectural shapes. The treatment of the drapery, contorted by the wind, recalls baroque painting and sculpture. The rich, freely painted night sky again might remind one of Orozco or the nineteenth-century American painter Albert Pinkham Ryder. More importantly, this picture and other late works seem to be taking a path leading toward the incorporation of more exterior spaces and greater use of landscape.


This exhibition demonstrates that Roberto Márquez is not only a thoroughly contemporary artist who is well acquainted and conversant with art in the late years of the twentieth century, but one who looks to the past for motivation and insight. Much of his production can be seen as a discourse with history which ranges from the early Renaissance to the nineteenth century. His ability to absorb and discern the content of these earlier sources and to transform them into completely contemporary works is one of his greatest strengths. By means of his own artistic vocabulary and style he creates a bridge to the past which visually documents its inseparability from the present and future. As the course that his future paintings will follow reveals itself to him, we-as observers- will be able to follow its progress through the window that the work provides. Whether subsequent works are built around landscapes, architecture, interior and exterior space or still life, it is certain that he will continue to create paintings that engage us in a dialogue between the past and the present as mediated by an artist that lives in both.


Clayton Kirking


Published in the catalog for the exhibition “Fragmentos del Tiempo”  1997 Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey

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