Beneath The Surface

Alejandro Guijarro’s exploration of reality

3 MARCH 2017,
57954 ("Saint Pierre Released from Prison") © C2RMF / Alejandro Guijarro, courtesy Tristan Hoare
57954 ("Saint Pierre Released from Prison") © C2RMF / Alejandro Guijarro, courtesy Tristan Hoare

An exhibition by the Madrid-born, London-based artist Alejandro Guijarro is opening on the 10th of March 2017 at Tristan Hoare Gallery in London, UK. LEAD, from the 10 March to the 28 April 2017, is an exhibition of new photographs that delve beneath the surfaces of Old Masters and continues Guijarro’s photographic enquiries into the connection between art and science. The visual remains of this exploration are both intriguing and aesthetically stunning.

These new images are a natural evolution of his previous series of works, Momentum, which saw Guijarro travel to the great quantum mechanics institutions around the world. From Berkeley in California to CERN in Switzerland, Guijarro photographed blackboards as he found them, before reproducing them at a 1:1 scale. But why this scientific exploration? And why does it feed into his art practice? The main concern of his work is the relationship between photography and "reality". Years ago, a mathematician told him that the only rational way to represent "reality" was through mathematics, and that conversation was the trigger for Guijarro’s Momentum series. Therefore, by undermining recognisable modes of perception, Guijarro’s photographic practice aims to question the solidity and authority of the photographic image and its ability to refer to reality and truth.

LEAD is a broadening of Guijarro’s interest into the relationship between the scientific image and the abstract image and how the meaning can change depending on context. It seems only natural that this intensity and necessity for discovery, that is so integral to his work, was then channelled into exploring the Old Masters. Guijarro had discovered through a personal connection that museums often had a scientific in-house lab where they explore and examine the paintings. From that point on there was no holding him back, he became immediately obsessed by the relationships those processes and resulting images created, a paradoxical bridge between art and science. The LEAD series is a result of years spent going through the archives of the Old Masters museums looking at their technical images.

This wasn’t plain sailing though, it took four years of constant letters, emails and pleas to the relevant departments and contacts within the art world before he could access the images and explore the collections. Finally, he began working in collaboration with the conservation and collections departments of The Prado Museum, Madrid, The Louvre, Paris and The National Gallery, London. He scanned X-ray and ultra-violet renditions of Old Masters paintings, including works by, van Dyck, Rubens, Delacroix, Goya and Velazquez amongst others. The resulting monochromatic yet intense images entice the viewer to look past the surface and to explore the shadows for ghostly hints of what would usually be on display.

The title of this new series, LEAD, is a nod to the presence of the metal in 17th and 18th century paint and it is these traces that create the ‘ghosts’. The X-rays bounce back off lead pigments and transform the paintings from recognisable images into abstract and curious scenes. It is as if the viewer is given access to a separate reality below the surface paint. Interestingly in using a scientific process to explore and demystify the paintings Guijarro has in fact confused them further: ‘At the heart of this series of work is a paradox: as X-rays they belong to the realm of scientific images, objective, possessing an unquestionable scientific truth. Yet, by their visual indeterminacy, they also exist in the subjective world of personal interpretation, the intuitional and emotional.’ (Guijarro – January 2017)

This desire for discovering the scientific elements and unseen structures of aesthetic objects and images is an interesting one. Being unwilling to accept things at face value can be empowering and yet confusing. These contradictions are one that Guijarro is obviously personally committed to however they do not feed through to the final imagery he creates. The serene and muted nature of his photography enables the audience to make their own mind up about the story or message the visuals may hold. In that way all of the battle has already been fought by Guijarro and he presents his final images as a conclusive peace offering.