Essence and possibility in the evolving art of Enrique Azocar

"Spend ten years observing the mountain; become a mountain; then forget everything you learned – and paint” - Zen master

Like the free-form jazz of musicians with classical training, abstract or semi-abstract art can be at its best when it knows exactly what it is departing from. Enrique Azocar’s most recent paintings are now riffing more interestingly than ever in this way, thanks to the accumulation of subtractions as well as additions of ingredients from his illustrious career as artist, teacher and entrepreneur. The thing that’s removed and unseen may often be our key prompt for a leap of imaginative engagement, and the frisson is all the stronger when we feel we know, on some level, what it may previously have been, in that “other world” of more literal explication and representational solidity.

But this is not about giving way to a more abandoned or de-scaffolded view of life. In fact, it’s the opposite. The interplay of substances and surfaces that make for place-evocations in these works may appear as abstracted landscapes; but it is perhaps more accurate to think of them as insightful flashes of the kind of experiences we have in a landscape. This is more true to the way that seeing and remembering works in real life – sampled fragments, selective focus, layers of half-repetition, projected dreamworlds and inexpressible mixed emotions.

These are therefore more authentic forms of sensing and depiction than our conspiracies of fabricated language and “literal” photography would normally be. Objectivity is an illusion; but getting to the subjective truth is hard, because it requires us to subtract, and forget our cognitive preconditionings, language-based narratives and other people’s memories. Herein lies the studied discipline of Azocar’s practice.

Other truths then begin to emerge. As painters like Courbet and Reinhardt have also shown, snow is not white and black is more than black. As synaesthetes and psychologists can attest, colours trigger more than just vision. As particle physics reveals, there is precious little matter in the universe, atoms are mostly empty and the rocks under our feet are slowly decomposing. We may look for truth in solidity, but find instead states of flux, vibrating energy-clouds and the force-fields of the imagination.

This is not to reduce painting to mere phenomenology, since, on Azocar’s mountain, it approaches something more akin to a belief system. As well as playing with layers of lucidity, he is exploring more deeply the essence of integrity and authenticity, in the relationship between the internal and external.

Sometimes this is a long unfolding journey, looking again and again at the same ethereal striations and washes and resolving them each time into different half-known rainy hillsides and distant forests, travelling further into initially unseen zones of depth, or speculating about where the story may be leading outside the field of vision. Sometimes it’s an instantaneous “deep recognition” of distinctive geometries, natural rhythms and respect for the way that materials interact.

An aesthetic response to the external environment can be a very accurate way of revealing some generalised truths of form and function, or universal interconnectedness. Instead of knowledge, based on collected facts and reasoning, this is understanding, based more on intuition. Our sense of how things in nature come to be arranged the way they are, the constraints that operate, and the way that the dynamics of an organism interact with the forces of its environment, gives us an understanding about how wind and water, life and growth all behave. Even with the merest suggestion of forms and patterns we can have a strong sense of what seems right, or “not quite right”; perhaps by resonance with our own internal organs. This is directly relevant to strategies for environmental sustainability - being able to understand whether we are working “with the grain” of the realities of nature or not; and whether we are in tune with its limits to tolerance of change, or not. And sometimes perhaps we cultivate this better with aesthetics than we do with science.

In the painterly tradition, “the sublime” connotes a mystical grandeur that may be both venerated and feared. As such, it frequently features below-horizon points of view, from which to gaze up at unreachable physical or spiritual heights. Enrique Azocar’s homage to this, however, takes cognisance of the way in which our contemporary frame of reference has shifted. As a species, we have now accessed (not to say colonised) god-like aerial views of the Earth, whether through space-travel, ordinary territory-mapping, satellite bomb-targeting or drones that photograph our every backyard. The canvases in which Azocar has suggested cityscapes and aqueducts across the landscape, with their neo-cubist multiple perspectives, are once again eliding the cosmic and sub-atomic, and gently raising difficult questions about the divides between divine and earthly, present and absent, solid and ethereal, beautiful and bestial, tender and dark, surface and depth.

There is therefore a “deep recognition”, but at the same time an acknowledged neutrality, anonymity and ambiguity. We might choose to call it “possibility”. Here lies another moral core of the work, well known to the Zen masters - a profound and all-pervasive respect for the vastness of all that we do not know (which is of course the majority of all that is). In the anthropocentric hubris of our secular “information age”, we are fortunate to have such reminders. Egyptian tombs remaining unopened, cave-paintings re-sealed to protect against exhaling visitors, bubbles of pristine Mesolithic air under the southern polar ice-cap (where incidentally both Chile and the UK claim territory), as with all our latent cultural potentials, are now perhaps more vulnerable than ever. Are we capable of borrowing enough of the kind of imagination and integrity shown by our best artists, to decide (for example) to leave some unexplored corners of the universe free from our colonising eye?

Some painters paint with the aim to communicate; whereas Enrique Azocar’s work is propelled instead by inward reflectiveness. What emerges is a communication nevertheless, helping us to sense a landscape of the soul’s deepest yearnings, and to travel the full length of a line of feeling about the world.

Thus do we […] by indirections find directions out. - Polonius: Hamlet, Act 2.

Dave Pritchard
Chair, Arts & Environment Network