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During my friendship with the painter Pepe España, which has now lasted fifty years, I count myself privileged to have shared the decisive moments of his artistic life, despite the long breaks in our relationship forced on us by distance. Viewed as a whole, the various phases of his career provide a clear picture of his artistic development: from his birth place in Malaga to his present peaceful residence in Switzerland where his work is governed only by his own interests and moods, far from those in Picasso's sun-drenched land who expect the impossible - to follow his creativity from day to day.

I am particularly fond of two pictures, completed in the 1950s and painted in the style of personal realism at the beginning of Pepe España’s artistic career. One depicts an enormous black kitten on a red background; its secretive eyes, looking from an uncertain eternity into an imperfect cosmos, symbolising his suffering caused by long-standing, terrible doubts. This curled up kitten stood on a small glass bedside table for the entire time of my professional youth together with a blue notebook entitled “Libro de sueños” (book of dreams). In it Pepe España would record in the early morning hours – awoken startled or happy - , with surprising clarity, the realities glimpsed in the shadowy dream world.

I remember a further painting from his early period, painted in our shared home town, Malaga: a vast landscape, as wide as Castile, in soft ochre colours, with distant red brushstrokes and poignant black between sparse groups of trees. Various changes of address meant we lost sight of each other. Ever since, I have been acutely aware of a bond lost, a bond not only with the painter but also with the history of his work, permanently reborn. Where in the past he depicted cleverly observed behaviour, expression, motivation and forms he progressively slipped into radical realism in which mankind is the object of liberation from a negative fascination. His pessimistic views brought him to an equally uncompromising expressionism where again mankind is socially trapped in a negative urban reality, and goes to the grave showing no signs of anger or furious protest.

His creations resemble those of Unamuno, García Lorca, Sartre, Camus and later Milan Kundera. They seem to wait for a different reality, a reality so similar to his own failure and subjected to the same laws, suggesting the complicated and brilliant lines of a complex, confusing, and form-dominating painting (“Personajes de la calle”, Bern, 1979; “Carnaval en Basel”, 1981; “El llanto”, 1983). Both in his self-portrait and in the earlier “Nosotros” in which his face is partially obscured by the image of his wife Rosmarie, a certain kind of shame is detectable as if he is afraid we might find out what worries and depresses him.

In spite of everything - or maybe because he shared the suffering and hope for true salvation for too long - the ashamed painter started to experience softer moods, signalling a late spring and unexpected return to paintings with soft lines and glowing colours (i.e. the appealing self-observation of “Flor de Manzano” (1992), the sublimation of “El cuento de la abuela” (1993) or the artistic exploitation of his unsurpassed flowers, completed the same year). I am convinced that this explosion of colour is not accidental but rather a consequence of his inner maturity, like the scent of a blooming magnolia in June permeating his creative fruits.

Without the preceding phases he could not have reached the pinnacle of his creativity. A creativity that struck us as joyous and mysterious in its various abstract presentations, a synthesis of form merely hinted at and suspended in its own atmosphere. In my view, his latest work “Expresión y Color con la Vertical al Espacio”, exhibited from 4th November 2000 to 14th January 2001 at the Hofstatt gallery in Gipf-Oberfrick demonstrates the invaluable sum of his various artistic phases. The exhibition covers the artist's work for 1999. Without the previous phases the aim achieved today would be unthinkable. It seems as if the artist needs a refreshing rest. His work is consequently lighter, more airy. The first appearance of the vertical line dividing his pictures in a north-south direction allows for different interpretations. Each space or area seems to be suspended in a time warp with no tomorrow. Meanwhile horizons near and far, filled with unsettling doubts, create realities similar to dream worlds and optical illusions.

There are merely hinted at seas, into which the artist can mentally immerse himself in search of desired solitude, prepared for emotion. Equally vague forms instigate a joy of new mystical creativity: a half-opened window overlooking a vague landscape admitting light free from shameful reflexes of unmistakeable origin. There are also poetic consequences of a quiet night, its secrecy rooted in purity and untouched by unnecessary probing. The lack of any human forms or poignant urban appendages, seen so often in his earlier work, reaffirms my theory that we are dealing with an excursion into his true infinity, but with the quiet acceptance and complicity found in his earlier work and hoping he will return to the emotional realms we both know so well. Pepe España’s new work contains all that and nothing less.

And, as never before in his long career as a painter, there are clearly recognisable and enchanting references to his undeniably Mediterranean heritage.

All this and nothing less.

Real Academia de Bellas Artes, San Telmo

•  About Pepe España
•  Pepe España on himself (1991)
•  Peter Killer – Pepe España, Expression and Force
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