MUSIC AND ART  1996-1998

 

Edward Lucie-Smith

 

The final image in the preceding section, Cruzando un río (1995), supplies a link to the sequence that follows. Roberto Márquez says that he has always associated water with dreams, and this painting implies some kind of transition from one mood or state to another.

The range of cultural reference to be found in the paintings of the mid-1990s is wider than ever. Diderot Unplugged (1996), for example, makes use of images borrowed from one of the illustrations in the great French eighteenth-century Encyclopédie edited by Denis Diderot (1713-84). One of the fascinations of the Encyclopédie is the huge range of tools and occupations documented in its multitude of engravings. Las bodas de Philidor (1996) celebrates the marriage of another figure of the same epoch, Francois-Andre Philidor (1726-95), a successful composer of comic operas who was also the greatest chess player of his day. It is perhaps characteristic of Márquez that the architectural setting in this painting has nothing to do with the epoch of Philidor himself, but closely resembles Charlemagne's Sainte Chapelle in Aachen, built a thousand years previously.

Music plays an important part in this group of paintings. Two of which bear the title Spem in Alium (1996 and 1997), borrowed from the celebrated 40-part motet by the English Elizabethan composer Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-85). The words, as well as the music itself, seem to have had an appeal for the painter: "I have never put my hope in any other but you." In one of these paintings Márquez sits at a table covered with books and papers and is contemplated by a ferocious Aztec mask; the other appears to show an old- fashioned subway train in a tunnel. And Lachrymae Antiquae, showing a statue of the Madonna and child in a niche, takes its name from another Elizabethan composition, this time one by John Dowland (I' 63-1 2 ). This piece is the first and most famous in Dowland's only collection of instrumental music, Lachrimae or Seven Teares (1603-4).

The music that seems to mean most to Márquez, however, is Franz Schubert's famous song cycle Winterreise, setting poems by Wilhelm Muller (1794-1827). This lends its title to a painting of 1997, which, with its bold use of empty space, marks a new departure in Márquez's art. Márquez has said that the vast romantic landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) were a powerful influence on him at this time.

Márquez's wide-ranging curiosity, in terms of art as well as music, is certified by another choice of model: the strange, eccentric architectural painter Francois de Nome (fl. 1610-20), a Frenchman who worked in Naples. He was the inspiration for Lamentations of Jeremiah (1997), a large canvas that shows the New York skyscrapers illuminated by a fireworks display. De Nome may also be the source for Oficio de tinieblas (1996), an equally large painting, which shows a tiny Márquez figure standing in front of Manuel Tolsa's Hospicio Cabanas in Guadalajara.

One of the striking aspects of Márquez's art is the way in which he reverses our expectations. New York and Guadalajara are alienated, sinister places; while that most banal of subjects, a figure on a beach, becomes an excuse for a religious composition. In EI libro de las horas perdidas (1997) a nude woman is sunbathing, surrounded by books. But the warning inscription, taken from the burial service, gives a serious tone to her self- abandonment: "Eternal rest grant them, 0 Lord/and let perpetual light shine upon them." In Manus Tuas (1997) might be simply a picture of a man taking the sun. But the title instructs us to look at it in another way: this a castaway, a man at the end of his tether: "Into thy hands, 0 Lord, I commend my spirit."

Excerpt from the book "Roberto Marquez" 2002 Art Books International, London 

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