Magazin: Dino Valls. May 2020


"Truth,  in art, doesn't exist. The fact  we have works of art means whatever doesn´t exist can exist".   

Theodor W. Adorno

We´re used to seeing all kinds of images in our daily life: their frequency and constant repetition gradually make us inured to violence… but also to beauty. Hence the increasing difficulty for a painting, which doesn´t even depict reality in the terms we understand, to surprise, move, upset, and discomfort us or, sadly, to be firmly rooted in our memories. Yet Dino Valls' paintings (*1959, Zaragoza) awaken precisely these reactions in viewers: his subjects directly confront them with their unwavering, penetrating gaze which leaves no room for escape. 

Valls is an artist with a strong personality who stands out in contemporary art for his individuality and, logically, his decision to fly solo, working beyond current artistic trends. Using his invented figures, decontextualized objects, symbolism, enigmatic representations, and revisited tropes from history of art, his work tackles doubts, ambiguities, fears, pains and everything relating to one´s psyche and subconscious. This is his personal approach to finding answers to those eternal universal questions. 

He didn´t tread the ´traditional´ path to become an artist. He started experimenting in every waking moment with pens as a child, pushed by his father, a trained engineer and a passionate draughtsman.  Art became a constant in his life, and he practised it alongside his medical studies, so much so that after graduating he worked as a painter and not as a doctor. However, his studies strongly influenced the subjects of his paintings for years to come. Valls has infused his subjects with a certain vulnerability, obtained by his deep knowledge of anatomy, the representation of medical instruments, the cool aesthetics, parts of the story depicted outside the frame, and the passive role of his patients. They´re depicted as helpless, fearful beings, set in peculiar positions, and he allows foreign hands to manipulate their bodies, turning the tableau into artistic normalcy. In short, he employs his medical perspective to reflect man´s frailty.

He picked and mixed his artistic influence by choosing painters who interested him, making them into his masters. They taught him their skills and he revisited and reproduced their compositions and techniques whit no prior instructions: egg tempera, casein tempera, oil glazes and gold coatings as panel painting, methods he adapted during his career through constant experimentation and his own experience.  The ´masters´ are painters from the Middle Ages, from who he occasionally borrowed a way of composing, the structure of altarpieces or the iconography of the often fantastic or monstrous characters, reminiscent of Arthurian legends. However, he went beyond the Middle Ages, and found inspiration in the artist of the Renaissance from the 15th century, the Mannerists of the 16th century, and the Surrealists of the 20th century, without forgetting the conceptual element of his works. The artist´s motivation is the challenge posed by updating those compositions or content, thus creating an interesting statement for the present.

Dino Valls is interested in reflecting the inner life of his characters, expressing their fears and phobias and using their bodies, their looks, and all the props they wear and define them to transmit strong emotions. One of the elements which make his paintings stand out and leave a powerful mark is the gaze of the portrayed subjects. It´s a bridge between the inner world of the characters and the viewers, who are inevitably pursued by the former. It is the first whiplash that often triggers surprise and confrontation with the work. Tearing away from their gaze takes effort, but it´s of the utmost importance if you want to examine and admire the rest of the painting.

Valls doesn´t paint real people; in fact, they´re all fictional characters plucked from his imagination. All of them are painted in line with a canon of beauty pursued and idealized by the artist. They´re mostly female, light of skin with blue eyes and delicate anatomical traits; a stylised body, naked, or featuring richly embroidered fabrics covering the head or other body parts. The sitters often reveal intentional wounds across their skin (in line with the painting´s theme) or are frozen in absurd or painful positions.

Unlike other contemporary artists, Valls doesn´t use photography as a framework or model for the drawing or colours, as he relies solely on his imagination to make use of these huge technical skills. The setting complements the theme by referring to the background or the objects present. It´s a power struggle between elements, a puzzle whose pieces you´ve got to put together. The time Valls invests in his paintings is exemplified by this trait as well as the difficulty of the pictorial techniques used. The narrative of a painting alone could take months!

The works often appear as a reredos. This allows the artist to play with the traditional painting surface, modify its volume and present a repeatedly discontinuous work reinforcing the thematic and compositional result. Take Dies irae (2012), Labor intus (2014), Mare incognito (2015) or Diorama (2016) for example. In all these polyptychs, the central scene is of far greater importance, and the painting is complemented by two to six side doors whose inner surface completes the main scene with additional fragments.  In other examples, when the work is limited to a single surface, it´s not square or rectangular, but often represents a rounded tip, as seen in Aurum (2014). The work´s titles are always Latin.

We can´t delve into details on this occasion, however, I urge you to observe the elements of the paintings closely to discover Dino Valls: paintings that fall between pain and beauty, living in the present.

Carmen González-Borrás

 The article was published in the magazine Milionart Kaleidoscope 2.18

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