Guillem Ramos-Poquí 'Tangled Lines' drawings 2015
Foreword by Antony Austin
Guillem Ramos-Poquí's 2015 series of drawings, 'Tangled Lines', pulsate with dynamic energy. Each drawing is complex and rich, yet its layers allow the viewer to effortlessly enter the ‘world’ evoked and absorb each level or story.
The juxtapositions of high art/culture, and mythology, with 'low-brow' popular culture (from Mickey Mouse to a lingerie model), alongside allusions to contemporary political events and social issues pack a powerful punch. These palimpsests suggest that we live in a world of chaos and flux, a world devoid of concrete principles and values – only those that are man-made, arbitrary and temporary.
These drawings expose the absurdity of 'civilisation', of man's obsession with control and power, and the dominance of the West, but not in a moralising way – it is done subtly, by presenting familiar symbols of culture in complete anarchy and chaos. Each drawing functions as a visual articulation of the reality of the mind: fragmentary, chaotic, non-linear and ultimately irrational.
Ramos-Poquí's ideas relating to cultural memory and the collective unconscious remind me of Aby Warburg's last project: his 'Mnemosyne Atlas' (1927-1929, at the Warburg Library). Warburg started collecting images across time, from books, magazines, newspapers, and other daily life sources. These pictures were arranged according to different themes, collaged together, to show resonances. Although Warburg was an academic, not an artist, there are fascinating parallels to be made here.
Each one of these works consists of line drawings done in a series of layers as in a palimpsest. The sequence of these layers develops a free flowing poetic visual narrative by means of visual metaphors or cultural signifiers, reflecting the intermingling of cultures and other themes. In this series we can identify three main leitmotifs, which often cross over in a non-systematic way.
The first theme (works 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 14) concerns today's inadequacy of communication and language barriers between different worldviews and cultures. One of the iconographic initial inspirations for this theme came after a visit to the British Museum, where the Egyptian, Assyrian and Greek collections are displayed in adjacent parallel rooms. The clash of cultures is represented by a pattern of interwoven iconographic cultural references where the images defy conventional representations of the laws of gravity and perspective; images often appear floating, sideways or upside-down. Visual references often combine with those belonging to great art from past centuries, and from popular culture and contemporary warfare. As in an underwater archaeological search, the almost 'buried' (and often hardly visible) initial layers 'triggered' the build-up leading to the final layers and are equally important. Layers often appear with the images grouped in clusters; iconographic elements such as furniture are overlapped by sculpture, and goddesses from different ancient cultures are juxtaposed. In other works visual references to 'high-art' mix with those of popular culture such as Mickey Mouse.
In a second theme (works 2, 9, 12, 15) I became interested in using ideas related to 'meta-narratives' (world views and cosmologies, of different cultures and historical periods) and 'micro-narratives' (popular culture or tribal world views) at different points in history. The inspiration for this theme came following a visit to the V&A's recently refurbished display, 'Europe 1600-1815', which brings together, in a visually outstanding and dynamic way, all the visual arts of this period, without the traditional split between painting, sculpture, design, etc. In this set of works the iconographic elements appear in sequences, overlapping in parts. Visual references to the old masters (Rafael, Canova, Titian) and a reference to Pythagoras combine with those of popular culture (King Kong, Little Red Riding Hood; Felix the Cat, a soldier; suburbia furniture and curtains).
A third theme (works 1, 7, 8, 13) explores visual language and culture through the contrast and juxtaposition of images belonging to different periods of history regardless of their 'high-art ' or 'low-art' status, at times referencing films or photographs, as well as modern science, warfare, and letters from various alphabets. Sketches of art works from other centuries are also included (Titian, Cranach, Bernini, Bellini and Watteau, an Islamic design and a Greek vase). These works, depicting myths, are charged with the weight of the memory of cultural history and, in some cases, depict stories of metamorphosis and transformation. Images from an ancient civilization such as Buddhism mix with Quantum Mechanics formulas, an old master, contemporary warfare and current affairs (such as the plight of refugees), adding to the dynamic interaction of the overall formal-conceptual elements. As in the case of the previous two themes, here the images float free in space, unimpeded from the conventional representational laws of gravity and perspective, acting solely as formal-conceptual elements in a poetic and imaginary hermeneutical context, allowing access to creative interpretations.
Brief iconographical description of the metaphorical layers in the above twenty four works:
1 'The Owl'. Consisting of four layers:
1: Six groups or families of animals (ducks, snakes, giraffes, flies, rhinos, lions) and the head of a very large robot (top, against lightening over mountains). 2: A sketch from an Assyrian relief (a battle) (horizontally, upside-down) and a sketch from an Egyptian mural painting (left). 3: A sketch taken from male and female Greek statues (both sideways, in opposite directions). 4: An owl (bottom left), broken letters (top left), broken clock (top right).
2 'Pandora'. Consisting of eleven layers:
1: A series of five families of animals (snakes, ducks, flies, wolves, elephants).
2 and 3: A sketch from statues of Hermes (upside down) and of Aphrodite (side-ways).
5: A sketch from a detail of an icon depicting Sophia Divine Wisdom (bottom left, side-ways).
6: A sketch from a detail of a Victorian painting depicting Pandora opening the box (top left).
7. The head of a robot (top right). 8: Three parrots (top right). 9: A tank. 10 and 11: An owl (bottom left), broken letters over broken clock (bottom left)
3 'Trouble in Syria'. Consisting of seven layers:
1: A sketch from a statue of Venus. 2: A tank (right). 3: A rose with buds (horizontally, top).
4: A sketch from an Assyrian relief depicting a hunt (left, side-ways). 5: A sketch from the Laocoon group sculpture (bottom right). 6: The head of a large almost invisible robot dominating the composition (top). 7: Letters from a broken alphabet (top left) and numbers from a broken clock (bottom right).
4 'Target'. Consisting of sixteen juxtaposed elements:
1: Man drilling a road (far right). 2: Tank (top left corner) 3: Assyrian king fighting a lion (left, sideways). 2: Classical ruins in Syria (top, upside down). 3: Statue of 'Venus Pudica' (left). 4: Cuneiform text (left, diagonally and upside down) and ancient Greek letters (diagonally across the cuneiform text). 5: Fighter planes booming classical ruins in Syria (upside down). 6: Robin singing. 7: Mickey mouse and bullets (bottom right). 8: Roman numerals and hands of a broken clock (top right). 9: Japanese shadow puppets (top left). 10: Robot's head (bottom right) 11: Lute player (right) 12. Precision bomber target (over robin's body) 13: outline of a bomber plane (top right). 14: Outline of Poussin's Massacre of the Innocents (bottom left, sideways). 15: Men's cut out clothes (bottom left). 16: Diagonal line.
5 'Metamorphosis'. Consisting of four layers:
1: Sketch from Bernini's Apollo and Daphne'
2: Three tanks.
3: Random letters from various alphabets.
6 'The Trap'. Consisting of a sequence of five main elements:
1. Sketch from Venus de Milo 2. Mouse and, over it, a red mullet (sideways and upside down), and a frog 3. Owl behind a cage, and numbers of different sizes 4. Five diagonal lines with random musical notes 5. Mouse trap, with broken clock caught on it 6. dark shadow (top left) with letters, below: a horizontal line with abcd letters, and top: a frame over Venus head.
7 'The Three Graces'. Consisting of a sequence of five main elements:
1: Sketch from Greco Roman Torso of Dancing Faun.
2 and 3: Sketches from a cloth pattern and furniture stickers
4. Sketch from Canova's 'The Three Graces'
5. Sign language
8 'The Cage'. Consisting of seven juxtaposed and interlocking elements:
1. Girl with her shadow 2. Doves in a cage. 3. Black panther. 4. Venus from Lucas Cranach 5. Flock of birds in flight. 6. Letters from the word 'beauty' 7. The word 'love' upside down.
9 'Conversation'. Consisting of four layers:
1. Sketch form 'The Rape of Proserpina', bronze ca. 1565, possible based on a model by Vicenzo de Rossi, V&A Museum London (vertical, top to bottom).
2. Sketch from 'Seated Buddha', 1736-86, gilded copper, Quing dynasty China Tibbet (sideways), V&A.
3. Partial sketch from 'The Descent from the Cross' ca. 1642-45, painted by Charles Le Brun, (upside down), V&A.
4. Partial sketch of a chest of drawers (commode) 1774, oak, marquetry, gilded copper and marble top, by Jean-Henri Riesener (sideways across).
10 'Idols'. Consisting of two layered clusters and three elements:
1. A cluster (left) with layers depicting fragments of Egyptian sculptures and hieroglyph.
2. A cluster (right) with layers depicting fragments of Greek-Roman sculptures.
3. An element consisting on a small ketch form prehistoric sculpture
4. A small sketch (bottom) taken from an Indian sculpture
5: A diagonal band
11 'Oracle'. In the middle: a cluster consisting of sketches from a Empire Neoclassical chair and commode, statue of the Townley Discobolus, and a polyhedral form; another cluster consisting of a sketch form an Egyptian painting and an Assyrian relief. At the bottom: three elements: Mickey Mouse, DNA spiral, and Quantum Mechanics formula.
12 'Definition'. Overlapping (sideways or upside down): a Quantum Mechanics formula. The word 'beauty' in English, Persian, Hindi and Japanese.
13 'Pieta'. Bottom: A sketch of a pre-historic sculpture, tanks, and a Quantum Mechanics formula. Centre and upside down: a sketch from Michelangelo statue Pieta.
14 'Dispute'. A series of sketches, clockwise from top left:
Articulated lorry rocket launcher. A cluster consisting of six overlapping sketches of goddesses: a) The Venus of Willendorf (prehistoric), b) Elamite (Persia, Mesopotamia, shown horizontal). c) The goddess of fertility, love, war and sex Ishtar (East Semitic, Babylonia, Assyrian, shown diagonally), d). Minoan snake goddess (Knossos in Crete, shown upside down), e) Isis (Egyptian, shown diagonal and upside down) and f) Roman torso of Venus (shown upside down). A sketch from a detail of Raphael's fresco 'The Dispute' (showing Plato and Aristotle, bottom, sideways). Division of cells in a human embryo. Zika mosquito.
15 'Alphabet'. A series of clusters consisting of superimposed sketches taken from mythology and other sources: a) Hindu imagery, 2) Egyptian imagery and hieroglyphics, 3) section of a Raphael drawing, 4) Romanesque fresco 5) Zika mosquito, 6) Walt Disney 7) Warfare, 6) Quantum Mechanics, 6) Alphabet.
16 'The Plight'. Consisting of the following layers/elements:
1,2,3: Juxtaposed sketches of three Tantra figures (from an exhibition of Tibetan Buddhism at the Wellcome Collection), 4. Section of a pattern of Islamic geometry, 5,6: Sketch of a raft of Syrian refugees at sea, sketch form Gericault's painting 'Raft of the Medusa', 7. Nuclear Missile launcher (top, upside down), 8. Sketch of DNA spiral double helix, 9, 10: Quantum Mechanics formula (upside down), black and white leaf, 11. Sketch form Titian's 'Sacred and Profane Love'.
17 'Fragile'. Consisting of seven elements:
1. Outline (a negative) of a hand fan, 2. Outline (a positive) of a hand fan, 3. Soldier 4. Mirror image of soldier (as a cut-out), 5. Sketch form Titian's 'Fete Champetre', 6.Sketch of a wooden mannequin (taken from a photo of Dali carrying one in a Surrealist mannequin exhibition), 7. Sketch from Walt Disney illustration of Felix the Cat.
18 'Impermanent'. Consisting of the following elements:
Four juxtaposed layers: a) Sketch from Watteau's 'Les Charmes de la vie' (Wallace Col.), b) Sketch from Titian's 'Bacchanal of the Adrians, c) Dark Square, d) Bellini's 'Nude with a mirror'. And (sideways bottom left): a sketch of a chess player (Alexandra Botez, Canada).
19 'Wolf'. Consisting of four elements:
1. Sketch from an illustration of 'Little Red Riding Hood' (by Margaret Tarrant); 2. Sketch of a detail from Rafael's 'School of Athens' fresco; 3. Sketch of a chess player (Alexandra Botez, Canada); 4. Sketch from a still of 'King Kong' (1933 movie).
20 'Hunter'. Consisting of the following five elements:
1. White deer, sketch
2. Top, sideways: Sketch of 'Diana (Artemis) of Versailles', a marble Roman copy of a Greek bronze attributed to Leochares. Louvre.
3. Left, sideways: Sketch of a Greek vase showing Artemis (Diana) slaying Aktaion (Actoeon) who trying to escape is transformed into a stag and torn apart by his dogs (Ovid's Metamorphosis)
4. Sketch of a black wolf-dog hybrid
5. Black background for sketch of Diana marble sculpture.
21 The Four Horsemen, 2016. Consisting of the following eleven sketches:
1. Very top: Bombs and sharks descending. Top left (sideways): a nuclear rocket launcher.
2. Centre : Section of Durer's woodcut 'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' and partly over it, a man carries an injured girl in his arms (in Aleppo, Syria) and, underneath, a balloon with a picture of Mickey Mouse.
3. Bottom right (sideways): anti-terrorist police about to break into a house.
4. Bottom left: a section of planet Earth with hurricanes; a cluster with three elements: the multiplication of cells in a human embryo; spaceship probe about to land, and zika mosquito.
22 Dragon, 2016. Consisting of the following eight sketches:
1. Bottom across: two anti-terrorist police in full armour; thorn branch transforming itself into a barbed wire; three balloons ( with Mickey Mouse, Snow White and Popeye); homeless men: one sleeping in the road, the other sitting next to his trolley.
2. Top: New Work Exchange; bombing of a city in Syria by plain fighters; Saint George slaying the Dragon (form a painting by Carpaccio)
3. Very top: Constellations.
23 Ages of Man, 2016. Consisting of three horizontal bands, with the following elements:
Centre band extreme left and right: sketches from three details of Titian's 'The Three Ages of Man'.
Centre band: Left: Sketches of Elvis Presley, Dracula, and Frankenstein.
Right: Sketches form Goya's 'Saturn Devouring His Children' and Walt Disney's Bambi.
Centre top: Sketches of fighter planes bombing, and three puppets.
Centre bottom: sketch of a lingerie model
Centre bottom (across, right to left):
Sketches of an Egyptian mummy, Isis, and Anubis mummifying a body.
Bottom band: Effigy in the grave of a medieval soldier
Top band: Left and right: Sketches of Angels rolling up the world from Giotto's Last Judgement (Scrovegni Chapel). Centre: The sun, global communications network, astronaut next to international space station, Saturn and stars, galaxy.
24 Nosferatu, 2016. Text in preparation
25 Persuit, 2016. Text in preparation
26 Secred Realms, 2016. Text in preparation
28 Et in Arcadia ego, 2016. Text in preparation
29 Medusa, 2016. Iconographic elements:
1. Top register: Geometric Islamic pattern (detail). Sketch from the painting by Guercino 'Et in Arcadia Ego' 1618-22 (Galleria Nationale d'Arte Antica, Rome) .
2. Middle register: sketch of boxing match (with Mike Tyson). Sketch of Walt Disney Popeye. Sketch from Rodin sculpture 'Eternal Spring Time' (1884).
3. Bottom Register: Outline of a map of Europe (in reverse) and, over it, sketches of a hyena, vulture and a crow. Sketch of a donkey from Goya's Capricho 'Asta su Abuelo' ('Hasta su abuelo' - trans. 'Even his grandfather') 1798, Prado.
4. Diagonally across: Sketch from bronze statue by Benvenuto Cellini 'Perseus with the Head of the Medusa' (1545) in Loggia de Lanzi, Piazza della Signoria, Florence.
30 Sphinx, 2016.
Iconographical elements - A series of overlapping sketches. From left to right:
1. Top register: Head of Zeus (Jupiter) Roman bust Museo Clementino, Rome. Detail from Gypsum Stela of the Assyrian king Ashnrnasirpal II protected by the symbols of his five principal gods: Assur, Shamash, Sin, Adad and Ishtar (British Museum). Egyptian 'Dancing Girls' detail (drawn upside down) from a fragment of a wall-painting at Nebamu's tomb-chapel, Luxor from c. 1350 BC. (British Museum). Head of Dionysus (Bacchus), drawn partly from a marble statue of Antinous as Dionysus c.130-140 AD (British Museum)
2. Middle register: Female Sphinx (drawn sideways) Roman Period 2nd c. AD, from Upper Egypt, limestone (British Museum). Cobra snake. Scorpio.
3. Lower register: Lingerie model (upside down) with head of hyena. Model with lion's paws with claws (as in Sphinx). Caterpillar. Butterfly. Skull with a mouse and common fly (drawn partly from a 'Vanitas' detail of Guercino's painting 'Et in Arcadia Ego').