Covers for The Open University Course:
'Exploring Psychology'

Work by Guillem Ramos-Poquí
   © The Open University 2001

Please click on images to enlarge

© The Open University 2001.
Book 1:
"Mapping Psychology"



The Open University 2001
"Exploring Psychology" (course logo)

© The Open University 2001
Book 2: "Challenging Psychological Issues"

© The Open University 2001
Book 3: "Applying Psychology"

Images of the Self

In 2001 Ramos-Poquí was commissioned to do four works to be used on the book covers for a new Open University course 'Exploring Psychology'. These images offer us a complex narrative, where each image is built upon various intriguing groups of images which combine to convey the overall meaning. For instance, in one, we see people running away from the sea and carrying their luggage - are they being swamped by their own baggage without realising?(Book 2). In another, sand falls from the palm of a hand - is it the remains of a sandcastle struck by the sea? Above there are sea waves and a compass: which direction should we take? And on the left a girl looks at her face in a mirror, but is she is unable to see her own reflection, or identity? (Book 1). In another, a dove flies to freedom into a forest, escaping from a labyrinth and a motorway - but her body is imprisoned by a cage, and in the middle of the motorway (information highway) people are glued to their computer screens. In another, the outline of a face in profile is used to divide the sea from the desert (Book 2) and below we see a clock. In yet another, a white dove flies away into a large clock and into the sea, embedded in her body, a communication satellite and the moon. On the right is a girl's face, eyes closed, she is thinking, maybe imagining, the possibilities and possible dangers of the new technologies?

These and many other visual metaphors look to today's issues and ecological dilemmas: issues to do with freedom, identity and personal emancipation, and those dealing with the passing of time, with the labyrinth and direction of ideas and language of the electronic global culture in which we are all submerged.

Clearly, some of Ramos-Poquí's works share certain affinities with the ideas of XX c. masters like Magritte and De Chirico. Magritte's work, for example, often deals with philosophical ideas such as questions about the nature of perception and reality, and the relationship between an object and its visual representation. Magritte, in 'The Betrayal of Images' (1929) paints a pipe with underneath the works: "This is not a Pipe". This image demonstrates that, as the study of signs or semiotics reveals, the names we use are arbitrary as opposed to iconic, and vary form language to language. But Magritte had difficulties in articulating complex narratives by the use of several metaphors in one single work.

This weakness in his work was recognised by Su Gablik when she mentions Magritte's unsuccessful results when trying to bring two metaphors together in the same painting: "The fusion of the two ideas in The Domain of Arnheim is an excellent example of the way in which Magritte constantly cross-fertilized themes and superimposed elements, but the realization is not always successful..." (S. Gablik, 1985, Magritte, page 97. Thames and Hudson, World of Art series.). This comment, points to the difficulty of making two or more metaphors, joined together in unusual ways, to form composite metaphors - when a richer and more complex set of metaphorical connections and inferences can be made. In contrast to Magritte, Ramos-Poquí's work uses formal invention, while at the same time surprising us with unexpected juxtapositions of images, changes of scales, perspectives and view points. But when it comes to Magritte's work, he paints in an academic style which lacks formal invention. As thinkers of the Frankfurt School Adorno and Horkheimer stated in their book 'Dialectic of Enlightenment' (1941): a debased and easy means cannot encode a progressive vision: it merely reinforces the status quo, or worse (this is a paraphrase). In other words, form and method are part of, and interdependent with, the message or content of the artwork. That is to say, an innovative content calls also for an innovative use of form.

De Chirico in his early works, creates a metaphysical mood with his distortions of perspective and long shadows, passing trains and clocks, and other compositions where blind puppets hold the monuments of the past (The Archaeologists, 1927), artichokes next to a canon become instruments of war (The Philosopher's Conquest, 1914), a female antique plaster cast is embodied with the qualities of flesh (The Poet's Uncertainty, 1913) ... However, in spite of the distortions of perspective, De Chirico's work ultimately takes the form of single-horizon compositions without developing a non-linear approach to narrative. In contrast, Ramos-Poquí's skilfully combines different viewpoints or perspectives in a single image, changes of scale, horizon, the use of unexpected angles, avoiding merely linear or graphic forms of representation.

In view of Ramos-Poquí's use of complex contemporary narratives it is appropriate to compare his work with that of two contemporary artists: David Salle and Sigmar Polke. However, any similarity between his work and that of these two artists is deceptive because of the very different use of space and content.
When building an image Salle and Polke use a 'graphic approach', whereas Ramos-Poquí uses an optical approach. To illustrate and explain the difference in simple terms: a graphic approach is children's and aboriginal or primitive art, - they represent (like Picasso said once) what the child or the artist "thinks" rather that what he/she sees. In contrast to this 'graphic'approach, there is an 'optical' tradition in painting called 'visual science' (which springs from the Renaissance and culminates in the paintings by Vermeer, Cézanne, R. Delaunay and the post-impressionists). In this tradition images are constructed in a spatially coherent and optical way. They embody the interdependent (ecological) structures which underlie perception and make communication possible.

Secondly, Salle and Polke, when constructing their works, use a mixture of personal mythology or autobiographical sources in a seemingly arbitrary juxtaposition of images and graphics. Their work is in fact anti-narrative and anti-meta-narrative. Consequently its interpretation becomes indeterminate and is in fact anyone's guess.
Their approach is based on post-modern (post-structuralist) theories which are cynical about the possibilities of any form of communication, and disregard the discoveries of hermeneutics (the study and theory of interpretation applied across the whole of the natural and social realm). In the study of critical hermeneutics thinkers such as Jüngen Habermas stress that all perception is intrinsically selective, and that what we see falls within a framework of values - the values that form the base of our understanding of the world. Habermas, critical of the effects of our electronic age - with its systems and mass communications; he is interested in what makes genuine communication possible. The point is, we need to distinguish between a facile approach to narrative - which looks at issues in an isolated way without connecting them to any wider historical or philosophical context, and never questioning its underlying assumptions - and, in contrast, a 'wholistic' or 'ecological' approach to content. This means treating the formal elements in a work (colour, shapes, texture, etc) not in a random but in a coordinated, interdependent way, as in an ecological system.
It is on this basis, that we may better understand Ramos-Poquí's use of devices from the dadaists and surrealists, i) structural and functional analogies or echoes between one shape and another, through the perception of similarities and differences, to build connections; ii) transformation or metamorphosis of forms or their parts to represent other forms or images, building connections, at a figurative level, by echoes, analogies or associations between one shape and another; and iii) movement or motion devices for transforming or enhancing the dynamics of the composition.

Let us look at these practices in the following works. In the embedding of a cage in the flying dove's body (Book 3), and in the juxtaposition of the sea and the dessert cracks though the outline of a face in profile, a gestalt device (Book 2); we have examples of poetic 'oxymoron' or conjunction of opposites: the strategy of contrasting two previously unconnected or disparate ideas or phenomena in order to convey new meanings, also making an ironic link. The term, "Synesthesia" (title of the recurring image in this book series) denotes cross-sensory connection and in this image it embodies the idea of the interaction/ harmony between the senses. The shape of the feathers is echoed by the movement of the hand, both representing touch (with one of the fingers pointing to a small DNA fingerprint over the music), the eye, the nose and the mouth in profile. The fragment of a handwritten music script also echoes the shape of the feathers with functional, formal and conceptual similarities between a cardiograph, the encephalogram, and a musical score.

From its outset the evolution of Ramos-Poquí's work challenges the view that an artist needs to develop a definite style or formula instantly recognizable by a consumer-led art market. The idea of always repeating the same image or formula probably was based on Giacometti, Morandi or Matisse who were taken by the art galleries as models of three artists producing the same type of picture all their lives, in spite of having lived through radical changes in both cultural and political world events. Against this view, and in searching for art as a form of knowledge, Ramos-Poquí's work has evolved according to the changes in society and culture, and the development of his own interests and new insights of personal experience.
The fashionable assumption now, that art as a category defies conceptualisation or definition because there are no necessary conditions of perception and creativity, is not one he accepts. Nor has he given up the idea that art and aesthetics can be a cite of resistance against oppressive, authoritarian social forces.

Nevertheless he still recognises the fact that art and the 'aesthetic' are as vulnerable to manipulation, indoctrination and false consciousness as any other field or activity.
For Ramos-Poquí the life-blood of art is not formal experimentation by itself or for its own sake. It is experimentation which involves a perceptual and critical evaluation of that experimentation. Artistic quality depends on the interdependence and interrelation of form and content, and form and content depend on perceptual and imaginative skills.

The belief that art and art criticism can rely on personal intuition and have no need for theory, philosophy, and knowledge of perception, is possibly the strongest obstacle to any progress in art practice. This view ignores the fact that intuition can easily be misled or deceived by fashion and false belief, and that by itself, and without a framework of judgement, it is empty. All intuition can only be a product of our social, cultural, experiential milieu. Just producing art, therefore should not be confused with knowing how to think about it, and the concepts, reasoning and perceptual skills needed to do so. This means a new type of radicalism is needed: one requiring theory and practice to be interdependent because one without the other is blind. Unless artists start to examine their assumptions on an informed and critical basis, they will continue to be a part of the world's ills and not their solution.

The' Magic Forest (Self Portrait 1) ' is Ramos-Poquí's most autobiographical and personal work. It portrays his reflections on his life-world and persona as a child. Layers of reference and symbol interweave as metaphors of his memory of that period; his dreams (the vision of a forest); his childhood toys and games: the wooden pony on wheels, the origami, the stamp collection, the loving authority figures of father and mother. Here, the mind's eye defies the camera and clock, and the lyrical innocence of the child's vision and drawing counterposes the dark undertones of the "momento mori" (the anonymous hospital corridor, the leering skull waiting to mock). There is a sensuous and tactile fluidity about this image - its subtle interplay of visual and verbal signs (as in the traces from a diary) echoing time's elusive compass and changing fragilities.

If we look back at Ramos-Poquí's work since his first show in Paris in 1965, we will see on the one hand, visionary and poetic lyrical qualities, submerged in a world where ordinary things take on magical or metaphysical significance (clocks, broken toys, shadows, the sky, the body, words, nature...), and on the other, a critique which points to the potential dangers of living in a closed circle of perception and alienation in our culture and society. Are these seemingly opposite worlds reconcilable? Is it possible to bring these apparently disparate and diverse concerns to a synthesis? Guillem Ramos-Poquí finds the answer in his works. He gives priority to his inner poetic vision, as if it were a landscape which today is the main drive or centre stage of the composition. Time and memory, which shape our perceptions of life, become for him the horizons within which nature and the man made world are artfully explored and acquire their meanings.

David Rodway London 2001

Guillem Ramos-Poquí  LINKS

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Digital Works >

  "The Magic Forest" / "Images of the Self (The Open University Commission)" /

  2000: "Recollections" / "Another Country" / 1999: "Philosophers"
Assemblages > 1998-99:  "The Sleep of Reason" 
Digital Works > 1998:  "Invaders" /  1997: "Recording the Environment" / 1996: "Portfolio"
Retrospective > 1968: London: found objects  / 1967: Barcelona: spray paintings /

1965: Paris: collages

Recent publication:
A book is now available on G. Ramos-Poquí's work 1965-2001, with 48 pages size A4, containing 84 colour reproductions, and 4 in black and white. Preface by J. Corredor-Matheos. Main text by D. Rodway (the English text has a Spanish translation at the back). If you are interested in obtaining a copy, please contact the artist by e-mail.