The Centro de Arte Contemporáneo of Málaga proudly presents A Four-Handed Partnership, the title of the show curated by Fernando Francés that opens on 19 October. The thirty-six paintings and collages on display, made by Gonzalo Torné and Quico Rivas between 2005 and 2007, reveal the artists’ preferences, interests and thoughts. It is the first time these works have ever been exhibited in public and they are presented as a visual manifesto, highlighting the “appropriationist” tendencies practised by Gonzalo Torné: images of film posters and artworks such as Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) and Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God (2007) are set within the context of a visual dialogue rooted in the present. Hands feature prominently in the works on display, not only as tools that create with paint, but also as subjects to be painted and protagonists in their own right.
As Gonzalo Torné points out, “After so many years painting, there are still aspects of my work whose rationale escapes me completely. It’s the same with certain paintings. In other cases, I have no doubt whatsoever about the profound rationale behind them. My works tend to stem from an intuitive, emotional relationship, in “play” with a rational, scientific knowledge of visual languages. When I conceive a work, my intention is for it to emerge as an inescapable, fluid relationship between content and form. In other words, between the what and the how. Not in a sequential act but a unique one. Thinking the feeling and feeling the thought. ‘Reason and emotion’, my work fluctuates between those words.”
For Fernando Francés, director of the CAC Málaga, “If there was one thing that defined Quico Rivas as a person and as a professional, it was social engagement, one of his most salient identifying traits. He was an art critic first and foremost, but he also published, composed, researched and actively fought for political causes. Additionally, he had a hobby that united him to Gonzalo Torné, painting. Their co-creations came about in the course of ordinary conversations, and the geographical distance that sometimes kept them apart was no impediment to their partnership: they simply adopted a long-distance cadavre exquis or “exquisite cadaver” approach, sending works back and forth by post. This Surrealist method was based on the old parlour game Consequences, in which players take turns writing or drawing a composition in sequence, and each person can only see what the previous player drew or wrote. The end result is a complete story or drawing, the collective product of individual creativity. But the profound connection between Rivas and Torné prompted them to take the process one step further by exchanging their compositions and finally creating a single work.
In A Four-Handed Partnership, more than thirty paintings and collages made by the two artists between 2005 and 2007 reveal their preferences, interests, thoughts and opinions. This will be the first time that these works are made available to the public, as the artists created them as a private collection for their own amusement. Each painting is a visual manifesto, where highly expressive gestures intermingle and coexist with the rest of the work, without lessening the impact of the film posters, photographs and references to art history which they also include. The first works, three pages from a notebook with exuberant frames in different colours, Paleta in red [Palette in Red] (2005), Paleta in blue [Palette in Blue] (2005) and Paleta in gris [Palette in Grey] (2005), prefigured the series of works they went on to produce jointly.
Sometimes, Torné and Rivas would spend a few days together connecting their minds and hands to produce a joint work. They would meet in Grazalema, whose name comes from Ben-salama, “son of Zulema”, and which was occupied by the Arabs in 715 and conquered by the Christians in 1485. The artists dedicated a work to the place, Ben Zulema antes de rendir la plaza [Ben Zulema before Surrendering the Town](2005), on the back of which they wrote, “Before surrendering the town to the Christian hordes, Ben Zulema gazed for the last time upon the street where he lived, now called Mateo Gago, and wept.” In the painting, Ben Zulema is unable to hold back his tears on a night filled with coloured stars. They also painted the geography of Grazalema in El peñón grande visto desde la atalaya de casa Rivas [The Big Rock Seen from the Observation Tower of Rivas's House] (2005), and near Grazalema they visited the Cave of La Pileta in Benaoján, Málaga. On its walls, they saw thick-lined paintings of animals and said they had found a positive handprint. They subsequently captured the animals in the work La cueva de la pileta [The Cave of La Pileta] (2005) as a contemporary representation of the same motif, but it was the hand that left a lasting impression on them and helped them to connect with their counterparts from thousands of years ago; both artists shared the notion of the hand not only as an instrument for expressing ideas or grasping a paintbrush, for example, but also as the means for leaving behind proof of their existence. Torné and Rivas imbue hands with different meanings, such as hands of protest that fight, hands that beat a rhythm, friendly hands extended in welcome, hands that leave their print for ever.
In Corazones rojos / corazones negros [Red Hearts / Black Hearts] (2005/2006), two black hands outlined in red are accompanied by Quico Rivas’s quintessential symbol: black and red hearts, which he had tattooed on his right arm and which repeat the colours of the flag of anarcho-syndicalism, a movement which Rivas actively supported. Meanwhile, in Mano a mano en la serranía [Hand to Hand in the Hills] (2005), four hands—two with barely any colour and the other two with the colours of the rainbow or the same black and red flag—wear rings, tightly fitted around the fingers. Likewise, Manos en juego [Hands in Play] (2007), conceived as a collage in which an open box is affixed to the support, appears to be touched by the hands that are far away yet close. In Siempre es [Always is] (2005/2007) a black hand is the protagonist of the painting, accompanied by pencilled motifs and the aforementioned red and black, whereas in Siempre ser [Always be] (2005/2007), the hand is more blurred but has doubled: now there are two that appear to be raised in protest. Above them, we see circles in red, yellow and purple, the colours of the Spanish Republican flag. This same idea, although expressed in a different manner and with the work affixed to a rhomboidal support, appears in Apretón de manos manos I [Handshake I] (2005/2007), Apretón de manos manos II [Handshake II] (2005/2007) and Apretón de manos manos III [Handshake III] (2005/2007); or accompanied by other elements, such as a cut-out photo, different colours of eyes or Quivo Rivas himself in Última mirada [Last Look] (2007). We also find eyes in the work A por el todo [Going For It All](2006/2007), along with an invitation to an exhibition.
Gonzalo Torné’s work is rife with appropriations, following in the footsteps of Manet, Picasso and Duchamp, but he appropriates by making collages, altering his own work. For him, “Appropriation is about making works based on those of others, pieces I’ve addressed in different stages. (…) In short, appropriating works from many years ago with a visual dialogue rooted in the present. The alien elements might be images, forms or styles from the history of art or popular culture, or alternatively they might be materials and techniques borrowed from a non-artistic context. One way or another, appropriation has always formed part of the history of humanity. Art history has a long tradition of borrowing and using pre-existing styles and forms.” This unique idiosyncrasy is one of the hallmarks of the works in A Four-Handed Partnership.
Awash in shades of blue, La perla de Grazalema [The Pearl of Grazalema] (2006/2007) consists of irregular drawings while “appropriating” a cutting of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665), a tronie, a demonstration of the artist’s ability to capture a face. In 2007, Damien Hirst entered the annals of contemporary art history when he presented a piece consisting of a platinum skull encrusted with nearly nine thousand flawlessly cut and polished diamonds. For the Love of God celebrates life by covering the ultimate symbol of death (a real skull) with the ultimate symbol of luxury, desire and decadence (gems). The same year, Rivas and Torné created La Macancoja I (2007) with a clipping of that very skull and a dissected butterfly. However, in La Macancoja II (2007), the skull has been digitalised and distorted, a motif repeated in many of their works.
The artists also included legendary photographs like Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, one of the most famous images of the Spanish Civil War, taken by Robert Capa on 5 September 1936. A negative of this photograph, which is considered an iconic 20th-century image, is also included in Sean tus sueños rotos I [May Your Dreams Be Shattered I] (2006) and Sean tus sueños rotos II [May Your Dreams Be Shattered II] (2006), mixed with flowers in the colours of the Spanish Republican flag and clippings with the red and black of anarcho-syndicalism. The accompanying messages reads “whatever your dreams may be”, and we are tempted to add “fight for them”. We find another “appropriated” photograph in Sin más ni menos [Without More or Less] (2005), which could not be more unlike Capa’s image: Kate Moss Descending (2007) by Mike Figgis shows the model in underwear coming down the stairs. This time two hands are juxtaposed in the composition: one is sharply defined, while the other still awaits definition; one is yellow outlined in pink, and the other vice versa.
The artists’ taste for classic cinema, especially Buñuel, is apparent in their use of posters for films like The Milky Way (1977) in La voie lactée [The Milky Way](2006), The Young and the Damned (1950) in Olvidados sin salvación [Forgotten and Damned] (2007), L’Ange exterminateur (1962) in El gran exterminador [The Great Exterminator] (2006) and different stills from Un Chien Andalou (1929) in La perrera andaluza [The Andalusian Kennel] (2006).
Their “appropriationist” tendencies, though this time not of an artwork per se, also extended to the album cover of Hey Jude by the British band The Beatles. Released in 1970, this album is probably best remembered for its famous front and back covers, with images of the four members posing together before John Lennon’s mansion in the band’s last-ever photo session. The following year, after releasing Imagine, Lennon would move to the United States with Yoko Ono. In the work by Torné and Rivas, Real Beatles (2006), the Hey Jude cover has been altered with musical symbols, colours and even what looks like a submarine with the Spanish pun “subvención”.
The two artists shared many thoughts, beliefs and tastes, and they were also both passionate about bullfighting, flamenco and, by extension, the city of Ronda. Several of the works in A Four-Handed Partnership reflect these characteristics. For example, Toreros en Ronda [Bullfighters in Ronda] (2006/2007) includes the clipping of a shoulder pad from a matador’s costume, the masthead of the 1950s weekly bullfighting magazine TOREROS, and inverted crosses alongside a winking skull, the triumph of the valiant matador over the beast, over death. Meanwhile, the collage Dinastías rondeñas [Ronda Dynasties] (2006/2007) contains the lid of a box of yemas that reads “Dinastías Rondeñas”. The egg yolk delicacies were made by the Ronda confectionery Confitería Harillo, which has since closed. The names of five bullfighters also appear as well as a matador’s rapier that seems to pierce the work. Several other works related to Ronda but in a different manner have their place in the exhibition. For example, there are three versions of the same photograph of the artists next to a statue of the poet Rainer María Rilke: Tres y ella en Ronda [Three and Her in Ronda](2006), Rilke de Ronda [Rilke of Ronda] (2006/2007) and La visita [The Visit] (2006).
Lastly, as already mentioned, the artists were also united by their passion for flamenco. This is reflected in the repeated inclusion of the same photograph of the singer Tío Juane, as a tribute to his life and talent: Tío Juane buscando su fantasma en Benamahoma I [Tío Juane Searching for His Ghost at Benamahoma I] (2006), Tío Juane buscando su fantasma en Benamahoma II [Tío Juane Searching for His Ghost at Benamahoma II] (2006) and Tío Juane buscando su fantasma en Benamahoma III [Tío Juane Searching for His Ghost at Benamahoma III] (2006). The first version, which also included the skull motif, contains the words of a song: Don’t come to meet me / at the forge door / for instead of relieving my sorrows / you come to give me more.
Gonzalo Torné (Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, 1949) was awarded a grant in 1983 from the Centre for the Promotion of Visual Arts and Research into New Forms of Expression (Spanish Ministry of Culture), and in 1986–87 and 1998–99 he won the Artistic Creation with New Technologies grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Inc. in New York. In 2001 the Provincial Council of Cádiz commissioned him to make a piece commemorating the Spanish Constitution of 1812. His pictorial work is the product of a long creative process begun in the 1970s. After progressively honing his initial interests, in which figurative references, especially to painters of the New Madrid Figuration, alternated with references to the abstract art of Spanish heirs to the New York School, he discovered that digital art provided him with a vehicle for creating the same pictorial experience—namely, impulse and narrative, colour and compositional order. His works have been exhibited in museums in New York, Oslo, Marrakech, Texas, Amsterdam, Madrid and Rotterdam, among other places. He has also presented his work at numerous group exhibitions.
Francisco de Rivas Romero-Valdespino (Quico Rivas) (Cuenca, 1953 – Ronda, 2008) is considered to be one of the leading Spanish art critics of recent times. Throughout his life, he cultivated a number of very diverse fields, from the visual arts, music and literature to political activism. As a multifaceted figure, he influenced the cultural revival that took place in Madrid and Seville during the 1970s and 80s. In 1969, still only sixteen years old, he formed Equipo Múltiple with Juan Manuel Bonet, a group that brought together young artists united by their eclectic, culturalist, light-hearted and humorous work. With regard to his political commitment (he defined himself as an anarcho-syndicalist and was a member of the trade union CNT from 1976), in 2003 he supported the dustmen’s strike in Tomares (Seville) and persuaded dozens of painters to donate works to the strike committee, giving rise to the exhibition BasurArte. He edited publications like Refractor and El Plante, published Infiltración and contributed articles to numerous newspapers and magazines (El País, ABC). In 1972 he got a job at the first Galería Juana de Aizpuru and from that point on painted and exhibited his works ceaselessly, usually outside commercial circuits at places like the Nielson Gallery (Grazalema), Cave Canem (Seville) and Galería Cruce (Madrid). He passed away in Ronda (Málaga) on 2 June 2008 at the age of fifty-five.