Sunday, November 08, 2009

Jorge Benitez

Castilian Conjugations Recent Paintings by Jorge Miguel Benitez

Artist Statement (In two parts)

Paintings, like grammar, have tenses. Some artists paint in the present and others in the future. Most paint in either the past or the conditional, and egotists tend to paint in the imperative. I prefer to paint in the subjunctive. It addresses the uncertain and the hypothetical. In Castilian it is an essential and difficult tense.

On a technical and conceptual note, I do not use any photographic or digital references. I paint exclusively from hand-generated drawings.

Jorge Miguel Benitez

Part two: Why are the titles in Castilian?

I have no interest in identity politics, and I do not plan to walk in Angela Davis’ revolutionary combat boots. However, even without titles these paintings would still address the nexus of words and images, culture and history. Castilian has been the dominant language of Spain since the expulsion of the Muslims and the founding of the Spanish Empire in 1492. The language has a Latinate directness. Julius Caesar’s famous “veni, vidi, vici,” translates into vine, vi, vencĂ­. The verbs imply a personal pronoun that can be dropped without losing the structure of a complete sentence. Furthermore, the combination of grammatical precision and conciseness with hard consonants and short vowels gives Castilian a staccato rhythm that stresses the speaker’s will. In contrast to Latin Americans, peninsulares, as Spaniards are sometimes called, retain a harsh, clipped sound that echoes the commands of Roman legions and Spanish tercios.

Still, it would be a mistake to think that Castilian lacks subtlety or the capacity for diplomatic assuagement. The subjunctive tense alone allows it to express horrors obliquely. I can say things in my native Castilian that would be unforgivably offensive in English. A simple diminutive modifier can turn a phrase into a mocking insult or a tender endearment. Love, cruelty, reason and irrationality coexist in an exquisite and delicate balance. The most pedestrian empirical observation can be expressed lyrically while remaining boringly factual. Formal and informal pronouns establish social hierarchies yet permit an egalitarian illusion. In short, Castilian defies objective detachment. The speaker can be cool or warm but never uninvolved. Castilian projects a lack of faith in reason even when the thoughts are rational. Lastly, these paintings reflect a linguistic and visual culture that revels in contradictions and accepts life’s unfair and arbitrary nature. Life, like art, can be interesting in spite of its meaninglessness.

Jorge Miguel Benitez

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