Jose Rodeiro | Blue Bacchanalia Amazar | 24″ x 18″
Amnesis: Making the Invisible Visible
(& vice versa)
An artful conversation between Jose Rodeiro and Mike Foldes
On Friday, September 13, 2018, poet and publisher Mike Foldes sat down with visual artist José Rodeiro within Nikolai Buglaj’s Manhattan apartment directly across from Lincoln Center, New York City, to discuss the nature of art in relationship to art history, creativity, and Rodeiro’s Amnesis paintings within the context of Dr. Nicomedes Suárez-Araúz’s Amnesis art theory.
Ragazine: Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Jose. We’ve known each other since 2011; and, as much as any visual artist I’ve known, you seem to be very good at explaining motivations (creative inspirations), and key art theories driving your images, along with exploring the iconology and iconography behind the subject matter inhabiting your work. As a painter, why is art history so important to you?
Jose Rodeiro: Perhaps, the best way to answer your question is to disclose that I thoroughly agree with Georg W. F. Hegel’s assessment that historical study and historical knowledge of any human endeavor instantly provides perceptive insights into the essential nature of specific disciplines. For example, to learn and enjoy everything about food, do not merely practice cooking or eating, instead thoroughly investigate the global history of culinary arts (the universal history of gastronomy). Clearly, the history of poetry nurtured Dante’s, Milton’s, and T. S. Eliot’s approach to poetry. Similarly, music history enveloped Mozart’s and Richard Wagner’s approach to music. The history of baseball aided Ted Williams’s regimented approach to baseball. Literary history runs through James Joyce’s approach to prose. The history of dance permeates Martha Graham’s approach to dance. General George Patton’s military prowess derived from his “historical” approach to war. The history of human sexuality haunts Stendhal’s, Henry Miller’s, or Anais Nin’s approach to sexuality. Thus, I believe that the greatest masters involved in any discipline benefit from being well-versed in the global history of their chosen vocation, starting from its inception to the present. Therefore, the answer to your question is “yes;” art historical study is more valuable than anything else in the study of art. As Leo Steinberg noted, “All art is basically about art,” which codifies Picasso’s adage, “The mediocre artist borrows [from art history]; but, the great artist steals [from art history]!” Or, as Emily Dickinson augments, “There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away.”
Ragazine: But, isn’t art history only half of what propels visual-artistic creativity? Art history might be the crucial element in art education, but, not what art actually conveys, regarding ostensible spirituality (or soulfulness) inherent in “great art.” Keep in mind that only in the last 300 years has art relinquished its previous theological role, universally bolstering faith and belief from prehistory until the Enlightenment.
Rodeiro: Yes, for millennia, by means of imagery, visual art universally conveyed religious beliefs through “inspired” visual vehicles, which inculcate(d) faith. What Lorca called “angelic art.” Hence, despite my over-passionate advocacy of art history as the best source for instilling art education, great art always exists beyond the pale of art history. Because, for art to be truly marvelous, an artist’s immersions in art history must be innately tempered with a sublime, individual, and intuitive cognizance of the enigmatic, the visionary, the imaginative, the “divine:” a radiance (aka James Joyce’s “wings of art” or Ted Williams’s “zone”), manifesting a unique, innovative, and ingenious spiritual quality: a je ne sais quoi connoting an incomprehensible essence that evades all description(s), something beyond explanation(s) (i.e., Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa). Federico Garcia Lorca called this concealed inspirational element “duende,” which I’ve carefully defined in collaboration with the celebrated photographer-printmaker, Sergio Villamizar, in terms of visual art, in this URL: http://www.duendeart.org/.
In this Lorcaean duendesque light, I thoroughly agree with the Symbolist, Odilon Redon’s method of fostering and maintaining contemporary faith and belief through art, asserting that “Art should inspire and not define.” Hence, for Redon as well as his mentor the poet-theorist Stéphane Mallarmé (the Father of Symbolism), the job of the artist is to render the visible invisible and the invisible visible. Prior to Lorca, Mallarmé argued that the sustaining quality in life, love, and art is ‘mystery.’ Without mystery, he contended art, love, and life fall apart. Or, as Paul Klee affirmed, “Art does not reproduce the visible [the known] but rather makes [the unknown] visible” by amplifying the mysterious, because as William Blake acknowledged, “The imagination is not a state: it is human existence itself.” Thus, I agree wholeheartedly with the art historian Aby Warburg’s insight that the proper way to view any visual artistic masterpiece (i.e. Botticelli’s Birth of Venus or a sculpture by Praxiteles, etc.) is to immediately swoon – to pass out in front of it. The person who knows nothing about art is always the one foolishly explaining every detail about Botticelli’s painting or is inanely fixated on the identification tag adjacent to the image, while on the other hand, the knowledgeable connoisseur (the true lover of art) lies supine and speechless on the floor, swooning in ecstasy before the masterpiece. Because great visual art demands an instantaneous climactic hyper-sensory reaction that contracts all time into one moment for “He who does not know the truth at sight is unworthy of her notice” (W. Blake’s Annotations on Sir Joshua Reynold’s Discourses). Thus, great art always induces a contraction of all time into one moment, and mandates viewers:
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”
― William Blake, Auguries of Innocence
Ragazine: Your “Amnesis” series of paintings is one that intrigues me, as the word itself begs explanation. Can you begin by telling us what Amnesis is, and how you came to develop aesthetic connections between particular pieces in your Amnesis series?
Rodeiro: The best way to offer an appropriate response to your question is to discuss my artistic collaboration and friendship with the Bolivian poet and art theorist: Dr. Nicomedes Suárez-Araúz. As you know, history reveals numerous artistic collaborations between visual artists and poets, i.e., Angelo Poliziano and Botticelli, Thomas Eakins and Whitman; Eduoard Manet and Mallarmé; Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire, as well as José Rodeiro and Dr. Nicomedes Suárez-Araúz, who I first met in Florida 1968 at the University of Tampa, while studying poetry with Dr. Duane Locke, the renowned American poet. Remarkably our UT poetry classes included many prominent contemporary poets: Alan Britt, Charles Hayes, Steve Barfield, Silvia Scheibli, Paul Roth, and others poets involved in Locke’s Immanentist Poetry movement.
Rodeiro and Suarez-Arauz on the dock at Cadaques, Spain
By 1973, Suárez-Araúz established his groundbreaking Theory of Amnesis, advocating that artistic creativity owes less to Mnemosyne (goddess of memory) and her daughters, the nine muses, governing nine specific forms of memory. Wordsworth, Proust, Freud, Dewey, Breton and most art theorists (prior to Suarez-Arauz’s aesthetic revolution) credited memory and remembered experience as being the source(s) rousing all creative inspiration. Instead, Suárez-Araúz placed his aesthetic focus (emphasis) on what is not remembered (or unremembered), especially lacunae of irretrievable amnesia, vanished lost objects, and vast a-historical voids, all of which, for him, were/are the ultimate source(s) of all ‘true’ artistic inspiration and creativity.
This unique and revolutionary view directly derives from his early life within Bolivia’s Amazon Basin, where annual floods erase(d) all vestiges of towns, farms, landmarks, people, animals, guideposts, property-lines, and things, turning most everything into lost objects. For him, these lost objects are indelible emblematic representations of absence, refashioning every semblance of the concrete. Thus, human beings dwelling in this Amazonian flood-zone are perpetually remapping, renaming, renegotiating, resurveying and reorienting their lives within a Heraclitean hyperdynamic world of flux, wherein little remains constant, solid, or there. Where, ala Gertrude Stein, there truly is “no there there!” And, this relentless feeling of loss, reorientation, and emptiness (mental voids) prompts what he calls “fabulation(s)” envisioned by fabulists (aka artists) into “fabunirs,” which recreate and retrieve departed memories, juxtaposing false narratives, regarding missing people, vanished places, and lost objects. Long before Pre-Columbian times, and then extending through Spanish colonization, all the way to the present, this world of Amnesis (Aesthetic Amnesia) continues to transpire in the Bolivian Amazon. Suárez-Araúz’s reflections on this infinite and immense world of loss inspired his publication of The Scribes of Loen, 1974 with another edition in 1982, brilliantly emphasizing the Amnesis concept. In effect, his key revolutionary breakthrough was that he applied this strange and startling amnesis-state to all artistic creativity, stating that absence and loss are what actually inspire(s) all creativity in art, attacking Mnemosyne’s memory-muses prized by Wordsworth, Proust, Freud, Dewey, Breton and other advocates of “experience” as inspiration.
Hence, encouraged by Suárez-Araúz 1981, I began creating Amnesis paintings. By 1983, I lectured on my Amnesis works at Simon’s Rock of Bard College, which precipitated a host of lectures, art shows, and major reviews, involving myriad venues, events, shows, and publications from 1983-to the present. Providentially, my Amnesis works obtained a Cintas Fellowship in Painting in 1982-1983 from the Oscar B. Cintas Foundation (NYC, NY). In 1984, Suárez-Araúz and his wife Kristine, and their children settled in Barcelona, Spain, and published The Amnesis Manifesto, which can be read in this URL: https://www.smith.edu/calc/amnesia/manifesto.html, which attracted a core-group of international Amnesis artists, who traveled to Barcelona to visit him, including Jean-Jacques Passerá, Hans Klauss, Dzvinia Orlowski, Ann Webb, Jim Klein, Bartolomeo Esteban Safc and his brother Nicolas Horatio Safc, as well as others, who appeared in Suárez-Araúz’s magnum opus Amnesis Art, (Lascaux Publishers, Barcelona, 1988). Significantly, by 1986, for my Amnesis paintings, I was awarded a Visual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. I used my NEA funds to travel to Barcelona from 1986-1988, collaborating with Suárez-Araúz within a shared studio garret in Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, where we developed a new and innovative form of two-dimensional color-application upon an amalgamated-surface; this new technique was named “amazar” by Suárez-Araúz.
Jose Rodeiro | Waiting for Picabia | Oil on linen | 6′ x 4′
Ragazine: What Amnesis work that you created in Spain best expresses your collaboration with Suárez-Araúz?
Rodeiro: Probably, my Amnesis grand-manner painting titled “Waiting for Picabia,” which depicts an Amnesis fabulation wherein Suárez-Araúz and I play imaginary chess with still-life objects in front of the Bar Meliton, as we imbibe refreshments (which also served as our chess pieces), while relaxing on the dock at Cadaques, Costa Brava, Catalunya, surrounded by an atemporal cavalcade of artists, i.e., Salvador Dalí, Federico Garcia-Lorca, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp (playing real chess with the “viewer” of the painting), and other artistic and literary figures, including the Safc brothers, who appear walking away from the dock; Gabriel García Márquez writing A 100 Years of Solitude inside the bar; with Ernest Hemingway standing behind him; while a bearded Joan Ponç (a leading figure in the Catalan “Dau al Set” art movement) walks past Jordi Movid (an imaginary embodiment of the 1980’s Spanish Movida in art and culture), and Nutia Rodeiro (my wife brings drinks in the role of Nusch Éluard, the stunning French Surrealist artiste) and Kristine Suarez (Suárez-Araúz’s wife, who performs the role of Gala Dalí, Dalí’s impresario, muse, and third member of his Paranoiac-critical Method Movement); with her hand over her eyes, gazing off in the distance for the Cuban painter, Francis Picabia. Plus, two children (“Niquito” Suarez & Manuel Rodeiro) surround their fathers, as everyone awaits Picabia, who has not yet arrived; nevertheless, detritus or allusions from the Cuban’s paintings inhabit the composition. Plus, a tribute to Dali’s mid-career Rhinocerical Phase furnishes distinctive rhinoceros’ repetitions, leitmotifs, and push/pull elements. It is important to remember that for a few months each year, Marcel Duchamp lived, with his wife Teeny, above the Bar Meliton. In fact, it was in Cadaques, that Duchamp found the rustic Spanish door for his final work “Étant donnés: 1° la chute d’eau, 2° le gaz d’éclairage.” All that is described above stands as an imaginatively conceived amnesis fabulation, a fiction. As Picasso said, “Art is the lie that helps us realize the truth,” which is precisely how Benedetto Croce defined art as a credible “fiction.”
Additionally, our joint Amnesis investigation of amazar technique led me to create a series of bodegones (still-lifes), pertaining to the Bar Meliton in Cadaques, as well as the Café Els Quatre Gats in Barcelona, as well as employing the amazar technique in figural compositions.
Jose Rodeiro | Spirit of Cuba Favoring Jose Marti
Ragazine: When you started creating Amnesis works in the USA for the first time, describe the iconology of one of your first attempts? And, then, what type of Amnesis art occurred in Barcelona?
Rodeiro: Probably, one of the first images by me in this Amnesis vein was “The Spirit of Cuba Favoring José Martí,” focusing on the plight of Castro’s Cuba through the lens of Amnesis, utilizing symbols of two distinct chess-games. One is being played by a younger Marcel Duchamp against his older self, which is being contrasted with the neglected (or ignored) game in the background between two great revolutionaries: José Martí (The Cuban Poet) and Vladimir Lenin (The Marxist Bolshevik). In this painting, the following three contrasts are essential: 1). Duchamp the master of indifference generally despised politics and patriotism as silly things. For example, in his biography, he apathetically abandoned his French citizenship, his first marriage, and callously abandoned art-making in favor of playing chess. Hence, he is the complete opposite of the activist agitator Lenin or the committed patriot Martí. Unlike Duchamp, 2). both Martí and Lenin, as revolutionary-leaders, were extremely passionate about politics and patriotism. Hence, 3). the twin-Duchamp’s prominent game signifies global indifference to Cuba’s almost-interminable enormous struggles and problems. Notice that the map of Cuba floats above the scene as an emblem of Duchamp’s “cinematic-blossoming of the bride” (alluding to Duchamp’s masterpiece “The
Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even” (“The Large Glass”) (1924). All of this game-playing occurs as Hesiod’s three graces of the ancient three-season lunar-calendar (Euphrosyne who gives, Thalia who takes, and Aglaia who returns) focus their tri-part attention on the meaningless Duchampian game in the foreground, while completely ignoring the dire intellectual and poetic game between the pro-Thomas Paine revolutionary José Martí and the staunch Bolshevik Lenin, who are both endeavoring philosophically to decide the long-term historical fate of Cuba. Notwithstanding, that in the painting, the spirit of Cuba is clearly favoring Martí.
José Rodeiro | Techumbre | oil-on-linen | 7’ x 8′ | 1988
To answer the second part of your question, regarding my Amnesis painting in Barcelona; I would mention “Techumbre,” oil-on-linen 7’ x 8,’ 1988. This image is a pun on two Spanish words, “techo” meaning roof; and “cumbre:” summit or gathering. In the work, three women (Hesiod’s three Graces) dance la jota on the roof of Antoní Gaudí’s Casa Mila “La Pedrera,” which in Catalan means ‘quarry,’ while the Bolivian poet and art theorist, Dr. Nicomedes Suárez-Araúz levitates (or floats by) above the Barcelona scene, in the guise of Marcel Duchamp’s cinematic-blossoming, (replete with three draft-pistons). In the background loom Gaudi’s enormous mosaic figures (that inspired Star Wars’ villainous robot soldiers) standing as sentinel “malic-molds.” Hence, the whole image alludes to Duchamp’s “Large Glass,” “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even” (although in reverse), the Duchampian male elements are feminine and the Duchampian female elements are masculine. The women loitering like street-walkers in the background echo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, whose prostitutes inhabited a brothel on Carrer d’Avinyó, Barcelona; although in my painting everything occurs on the Passeig de Gràcia, where Hesiod’s three Graces dance.
José Rodeiro | Tapas in Marbella | Oil on canvas | 1998 | 53″ x 48”
Another worthy Amnesis image is “Tapas in Marbella,” oil-on-canvas, 53″ x 48.”
During a typical afternoon siesta in Marbella (Spain), a group of aristocrats pause to nibble tapas. Yet, underneath the surface, an extraordinary temporal push/pull looms, simultaneously uniting vanished existence with current existence, portending a universe crammed with countless temporal/spatial worm-holes, which merge the known with the unknown, the remembered with the forgotten — inexplicably binding the Jurassic Age, Spanish Golden Age, the 20th Century and the 21st Century together. The painting explores concept of time through Amnesis theory with its push/pull of unconnected entities and events, lost incidents and objects, which originate from profuse lacunae inherent within irretrievable (lost) memory(ies) that ultimately, according to Suarez-Arauz, inspire all artistic-creativity.
Jose Rodeiro | Out on the Town | Oil on linen | 3′ x 4′
Another fine example is “Out on the Town,” Oil on linen, 51” x 31” (Property of Cintas Foundation, MDC Museum of Art & Design (MDC Museum of Art + Design (MOAD), (Freedom Tower), Miami, Florida, which depicts Pablo Neruda’s atemporal Amnesis dinner with Emily Dickinson, which is served by Suárez-Araúz. Or, my painting titled “The Spirits of the Dead Watching,” wherein five women unwind within the Picasso Museum, Barrio Gotico, Barcelona, resting on a green velvet sofa while dinosaur shadows float or subtly push/pull.
Jose Rodeiro | The Spirit of the Dead Watching | Oil on Linen | 6′ x 7′
Ragazine: So, from 1973 until the present Amnesis art and poetry has continued to effect contemporary art and poetry. Why has Amnesis Theory been able to maintain its growing world-wide appeal? Currently, Suarez-Arauz’s underlying term “Amnesia” appears everywhere from “cultural amnesia” to “political amnesia.” Notice America’s current “selective” amnesia about its role in the world, especially since 2016, where suddenly many politicians and their political base tragically long to forget much of America’s glorious struggles, history, and traditions.
Rodeiro: You mean like pretending during the “battle” of Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 that the Allies lost World War II in 1945. Well, William Blake believed that “In the universe, there are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and in between, there are doors.” The value of Amnesis Art theory today is that a philosophical approach to art can sustain an artist’s creative process. A radical and new aesthetic always ignites great art. Evidently, Amnesis continues to fill that role. Yet, an over-emphasis on ideas may distract from creativity; as Blake argued, “I will not reason and compare [because as an artist] my business is to create.” Even though unavoidable cultural issues affect my paintings, it is wise to keep in mind that Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy of Art advances the primacy of painting over all other human endeavors. To that point, perhaps only three thinkers in history ever deemed painting to be mankind’s’ greatest means of determining Truth: Philostratus the Elder of Lemnos, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Jacques Derrida. All three philosophers saw painting as something expressly insightful; capable of exposing the hidden nature of life and universal nature, by uncovering what furtively, poetically, or invisibly supports both. For these three philosophers, painting (more than any other disciple) offers aesthetic insights into “the invisible.” Hence, a true painter’s image is always an invocation of unseen and invisible things conjured (by visual artists, using dabs of chromatic pigment) without any “definite” reliance on verbal-language or linguistics. And, this unique visual artistic ability to express the invisible is for Philostratus the Elder, Merleau-Ponty, and Derrida, humanity’s greatest endeavor. In fact, Merleau-Ponty argues that painting breaks the “skin of things;” thereby disclosing the distinctions between the metaphysical noumenal immanent “within” of invisibility in contrast to the physical material phenomenal transcendental “without” of the visible, where, for him, things attain visibility by being in essence seen (perceived) for what they really are through the mechanism of painting. Thus, painting is an extension of an artist’s perceptive insight(s), free of mere depiction or illustration, thereby enhancing perception by unveiling a painter’s intuitive awareness of noumena disguised as phenomena, as well as phenomena masquerading as noumena, ala Dalí. In this, according to Merleau-Ponty, painters silently and stealthily (without resorting to any verbal language) furnish wider avenues into human Truth. Hence, each painting functions like Aristotle’s prime mobile: an unmoved mover (or prime mover) that moves; and yet, moves not. In an age where everything is moving noisily and rapidly, painting by being completely still or extremely quiet has become the most priceless valuable (aka “collectable”) on Earth. Nothing accrues monetary value as quickly as a painting, e.g., color images 36-inches wide by Van Gogh, Cezanne, Renoir, etc. done in the late-nineteenth century are selling today for circa a half-billion dollars at auction, monetarily out-performing diamonds, and all other collectibles. On every level (spiritual or fiscal), a painting’s quiet stillness is its vast inestimable eternal value.
Ragazine: From one series to another on your website, your art appears to be done in dissimilar style(s), but the mix within some of the series themselves is often varied…while in others the images are all in the same style. It’s as if the style of the work is itself an expression or interpretation or representative of the title of the series? How do you explain that?
Rodeiro: You are 100% correct, for me the style of the work is itself an expression or interpretation, which as an afterthought inspires the title of each series within my URL? Always, I name the “gallery” (aka series) once the images are done and not before. It is what Paul Klee said about art, “The artist knows a great deal; but, only after he has created it.” This is very important: like Milton Glaser, I tend to work in several styles simultaneously, furnishing audiences set-themes, i.e., cats, people, landscapes, bodegones (still-life images), and wild-horses. Each theme (or subject) requires a specific approach and “some” consistency of style, which may not be instantly apparent, unswerving, or constant in other themes.
In a way, like Whitman in The Song of Myself, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” However, in order to answer your query, I will focus on just my recent wild horse painting series, which (for me) exist as Florida “Beach Improvisations,” arising from innate intuitive visions, concerning animistic perceptions about how nature perceives itself. My horse images are painted in blues. And, they express creative inspirations echoing Henrí Bergson’s concept of primal élan vital with its veritable Primordialism (or Neo-Shamanism). Also, inspiring my horse imagery is a peculiar artistic morphogenesis wherein enigmatic forgotten shapes, springing from what Suárez-Araúz calls “Amnesis artistic lacunae,” a void wherein mental images house a lost immanent labyrinthic Amnesis mental cave, whose ‘cave-walls’ are furtively covered (or decked) with nearly-vanished animistic, shamanic, elemental or atavistic images.
Jose Rodeiro | New Constellations | Red Sky | Starry Night
These Amnesis “lost objects” are artistically transposed from my immanent mind into “the viewer’s” sensate transcendental realm by flatly applying an array of sublime chromatic hues (burnt violets, icy blues, rosy pinks, and burnt orange (what Mark Rothko called, “The colors of the sublime”) as (or into) distinct organic or abstract morphogenic shapes that are painted with pigments on a flat surface. Through this painting-method, I transmit my mind’s innate individual intuitive vision(s) into numerous visible shapes, forms, and spaces ‒ resulting in an enigmatic musical and poetic push/pull medley of metaphors, symbols, signs, and surfaces. This musical visual jumble activates dancing 2-D surface(s) forging a unique visual push/pull, affording subtle visceral, emotive, and synesthetic 3-D, 4-D, and 5-D possibilities evoked by each image’s pictorial continuum, revealing jumbled intersecting hue-filled chromatic zoomorphic shapes consisting of diverse small-colorfield hue shapes, paralleling each image’s rhapsodic life-like chaotic scherzo of disordered patterns, imaginatively presaging twilight or early nightfall along a Florida Gulf Coast shoreline, resulting in an ultra-zoomorphic beach scene. Thereby, expressing the spirit of each subject’s and scene’s essential noumenon (essence of existence) without depicting subjects and scenes as mere materialistic factual objective phenomena. My Primordialist Neo-Shamanic art sublimates and abstracts chromatic immanentist essence(s) that populate each image’s pictorial continuum.
Ragazine: Thank you, Jose, for that lesson about forgetting never too soon to be forgot.
About the interviewer:
Mike Foldes is founder and managing editor of Ragazine.cc. You can read more about him in About Us.
This interview was edited for style, content & references. It is, however, the real thing and not a work of fiction.