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Isidre Manils (Sabadell, 1948) returns with a new work after his splendid exhibition in 2008, Cine Ateneo: La Seqüència at Abelló Museum, in Mollet del Vallès, and La visió at the Art Museum of Sabadell and in the art critic Jesús Martínez Clarà's care, who made a selection of works which, through an original approach to the exhibition, one could follow the thread of a poetic painting of eighteen years with an impeccable career.

An excellent catalog was published about this retrospective, which includes much of the exhibited work, an interview and a good range of texts in which we can find the grounds of a peculiar pictorial work of an artist with a film loving look. Manils says, in a conversation with Clarà: "Cinema taught me what to paint, but not in the literal sense, it is, however, more profound: 'what to paint' is the topic of my painting, 'how to paint it' is what gives me more hassle (...)".

And this 'how' has turned him into a long-distance runner of the painting, for whom the art of painting is the essence of his language, as if it were a strict grammar that structures everything until it has appealed to that ineffable. With the tools of a painter, Isidre Manils draws its syntax, where everything is subjective to the technique and where his thoughts talk about chances, and which is activated with the verb compose. As a result we have got a pictorial phrase, a composition where the subject verbalizes, with a reliable accuracy in every represented item, generating contrasts between illuminated volumes and other darkened ones.

Now Manils exhibits his latest paintings, entitled Palimpsest, which are the result of a year of laborious, constant and rigorous work. There are only four pieces, one of which is a large mural made of hundreds of small paper formats, each with its own life and independent from the rest.

In the preparation of these works, Manils has continued to play his idiosyncratic work of collecting images of all kinds of film, television and on this occasion, journals. He puts them in order, meticulously, using registers which he is interested in, they are subject to the guillotine cut chance, and on the canvas and papers which he works with, he includes remnants of different images (hair, bodies, necklaces, bright objects, red velvet curtains, etc.) and includes the black and, with rubber and paintbrushes, he makes light reemerge, well manilsly, letting the iconographic and chromatic substrate which characterizes his work appear.

These paintings have been placed in a dark room by the artist, like in films. They are black backgrounds where the light is belligerent and breaks darkness to configure the image. On these manilsian chiaroscuros, conceptual light emanates from black, diaphanous and enveloping, at times directional as the light of a cinema projector, and sometimes as an incandescent fire coming out of darkness, giving it colour, tones and volumes, and thus emphasizing the potential of black, magma from which everything can occur. Manils says: 'I enjoy more and more when chasing the image hidden in canvas. I like this usual reflection about sculpture: marble that already contains the image and the fact it needs to be revealed, found, and freed.

Ester Xargay, Magazine Benzina nº55 (2011)



Hidings and meetings

Nature likes to hide and sciences which study it have some profanity. I am in front of the last works of Isidre Manils with the discomfort of that one who through his speculator ability dares to look into a screened universe. The cryptic side in his work is strong and he avoids giving too many explanations. It is impossible to know the true meaning of these works but sometimes, when someone says things beyond our understanding he simply means the opposite and that is that although we know them deeply we do not reach to communicate them, to put them into words. This is a common feeling that culminates in a noble silent. Anyway, I found in Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus the best advice to overcome this initial difficulty and be fair to the spirit of interpretation that moves me to write these lines. Mann explains that the father Leverkuhn wanted to instil the mystery of nature into young adolescents and wanted it to be contemplated with fervour, with the mysterious fervour with which he considered the indecipherable writing on the shells of certain molluscs, through his large square lens.

At one time, prior to that I comment, Manils worked with fragments and anecdotes inspired by film with the same rigor of a Lutheran pastor that Baudelaire used to deal with insignificant themes such as wine, hashish or makeup. About this time, I remember two small-format works in which long nails and also sharp black ones prodded bodies. Two books which a few years ago, at the height postmodern, would have been seen as an exhortation to superfluous ornament, to night or simply as a compliment of appearance. I think nail polish is an action on the body that has the same strength as tattoo or piercing. These two works offer two ways: one on the painting process, as the polish aims to achieve a smooth glossy surface on which the brush should not leave any trace of his speech and another on the concealment of a body part. Isidre commented that one of his objectives is the concealment of the painting. Perfection in the process of painting allows him to get an achievement that he explains with enthusiasm: the disappearance of the brush, removing paint to not notice what it is, until it disappears. It seems that his painting tries to get the glazed surface of a TV or a frame, some untextured surfaces, a technological sense that has even deceived the trained eye of a photographer. I see in the recent work of Isidre Manils one step closer to hiding and hermetic coherence which he began to practice in his previous exhibition, in which he was preparing the scene of the mystery, the meeting or destruction space, in works such as "Es muy difícil que nadie llegue” (It's very difficult for anyone to reach) and others, in which an invisible clock ticked digits to the time of a meeting or destruction, in one of them the stage was surrounded by a curtain -flames. Lights seen on them could be both typical of the founding myths of the Cosmos and the order inception as the feverish toxic lights of Revelation. The greatness of this symbolic complexity is his double tendency, the possibility of going through two different paths, both faced but sometimes needed, like a knot that protects us but at the same time by which we are tied up, or as the very nature of good and evil. Now he wants to show scenes from the third phase of a meeting or a disappearance. As if in the process of approaching the unknown: what was coming, were already here.

On the flame extinction

In the triptych of 1999, Tú (You), we see a few feet crossing a circle of fire, water, ice. That path that takes the flame to the ice and the mineral is in this exhibition. The flame, very difficult to photograph, has been masterfully painted by Isidre in impossible pictures. Fire and its light are presented with the strength of the Eastern demiurges able to create and destroy at the same time. Fudo Myoo in Japan or what is the same: Acala Vidyaraja in India have KAN as sacred letter, the title of one of the best Isidre’s pictures, from my point of view; I emphasize this obviousness, because it is not something I said to him, it represents the immovable thing that is incarnation and messenger of a superior deity, its sacred syllable is engraved on the swords of the warriors and help them to fight the enemy. Its terrible appearance and beauty are due to the fact that it is surrounded by flames and it has the power to prepare us for the end of the latter millennial days. Somewhere I read that the word "Nirvana" literally means: extinguishing the flame. This desire to get the most sublime spiritual achievement is part of our Hellenistic tradition of going beyond the superficial appearance, being above and away from what surrounds us with serenity, impassive and consciousness. This would be what would make us gentle beings, with serene senses, reaching the highest elevation of total calm and without loss of attentive consciousness. A frozen lake, serene and clean where water is hidden.

Density and rarefaction

In my journey through the line of meaning, probably wrong, I considered Manils’s recent work as an example of disappearance. A direct view could understand it in a different way and see these figures as emerging, i.e., from the space to us and not vice versa. A faceless humanoids seem to be painted with its own ashes, with remains of extinction, as anthropomorphic steams, and they achieve density before our eyes, the deliberately faint background does not refer to any concrete world, we do not know its race or gender, they do not reflect sunlight or moonlight, we do not know if they enter or leave the empty space, they are not active, but not lazy, it seems they have already experienced or they are starting to live.

The air we breathe is a subtle element that circulates throughout the body and reminds us that we are alive when we feel it on the face. When in a closed place oxygen becomes scarce, we say that the air becomes rarefied; it is not getting dirty but it disappears, it becomes scarcer and difficult to achieve: it is rare. The rarefaction is the expansion of a gaseous body making it denser. I imagine a figure in the mirror, naked, in the bath hot water starts running, the steam fills the mirror, the image disappears, its body has been beaten by a very light film of mist.

It seems that there was an ancient Roman custom: when someone died, the closest relative would bend over him to inhale the last breath of the deceased: -... "et hanc excipiens animan ore pio", and in Tyrol people believe that when people die the soul of an honest man gets out of the mouth in the form of a white puff. Be a shadow, steam, a cloud, mist, or an image painted by Isidre Manils, the only possible trace of a physical reality is the evanescence, disappearing like smoke in the sky. These celestial bodies, bodies of pure light, are said to have the light that all beings have and that make us look like the rainbow.

Jesús Martínez-Clarà. Barcelona. January 2001