AURORA CAÑERO: CLASSICAL SPIRIT AND ALLEGORICAL REPRESENTATION
When last April, accompanied by Aurora Cañero, I visited for the first time the spacious depot that houses her collection of sculptures, located in an industrial area in Campo Real, Madrid, that rainy afternoon I was taken to an atmosphere of unpredictable lights, to a very special space of representation where the ancient Olympian gods mix with Miami baywatchers and lifeguards from Biarritz. In that place, the biblical nude of the blatant figure of Salome carrying on her head the Baptist’s beheaded one, swaps places with a sort of obese, rude, and contemporary king Midas taking a bath in a tub full of foam and golden coins. There is also a series of couples in love, forever naked, such as those in Navegando juntos (sailing together) on a long, narrow boat leaning on poles, suspended in the air. Or those in No disturb, given over to their kiss, who protect the privacy of their embrace from the hounding voyeurs by a spiral of thorns that dangerously unfolds around their bodies. There is also the Rodinian couple in Persuasion, where the woman takes the initiative in both the action and the effect of seducing. Likewise, the image of the stars spotters of Ur, dressed in their robes, from the series Reflexiones sobre los cuerpos celestes (thoughts about celestial objects) are face to face with the statues of the meditative astrologist in suite Ingravidez (weightlessness). The unexpected columns made of heads placed on top of each other and representing –quite literally– the proportional measures of the human body or classical canons coexist with the masculine head-portraits of the series Tan lejos, tan cerca (so far, so close), with playful apes climbing onto them.
I had travelled to the premises expecting to delve into the sculptor’s professional and human warmth, but I found myself in the middle of a scene, a sort of play where the sculptures show the plots created by Aurora’s imagination. During this visit I confirmed my previous intuitive feeling Cañero’s work doesn’t fall within ‘realism’, but into the new ‘representational art’. The representational role entrusted to these sculptures is that of exploring and rewriting, interpreting and conveying the artist’s quivering subjectivity to the objectivity of metal cast images willing to stay, rendering visible the invisible through a personal quest and by means of conceptions and icons that belong to our tradition, to our culture, to our classicism.
The attitude underlying this work doesn’t derive from ‘copying’ a certain number of academic forms and images, but from assuming the pervasive ‘Greek soul’ and Renaissance spirit. An attitude linked to the one sustained by the new-classicistic theorists, such as Antoine Quatremère de Quincy, who advocated a good use of the ancient, taking allegory as the ultimate classical language, so that sculpture can claim its own truth with a language of an abstract nature and universal value. In that sense, the characteristic imitation of Classicism is defined as the ‘ideal imitation’, that is, an imitation that refuses to reproduce the models given by nature or culture to achieve a real representation of the world of ideas.
So for Aurora Cañero figurative representation is about creating an image from a concept or ‘ideal model’ that will never be found as such in reality, since it solely belongs to the artist’s aesthetic ideology and human feeling. That is why Aurora Cañero’s allegorical compositions are real ideograms, defined by the significant value of the images, and sometimes developed by resorting to narrative values. Consequently this work falls by no means within any kind of realism or naturalism. It does not reproduce specific models of our life or tradition. They are creations inspired at the same time by nature and the ‘fine classical ideal’. They have a personal aesthetic character and make up an unmistakable work, whichever the recent or historical referents.
It is true, for instance, that Aurora’s full-length image of Salome leisurely moving forward vividly reminds of Lucas Cranach the Old’s sensual flirtatious female nudes wearing beautifully disproportionate hats. But then we notice that the hat Salome is wearing is nothing less than the enormous tray on which the decapitated prophet’s head is placed. Another example: the statues of male characters in skirts, their chest barely dressed, with shaven heads and no facial hair, from the series Reflexiones sobre los cuerpos celestes. At first sight they easily reminds of the typical rudimentary Chaldean sculptures. A closer look, however, soon reveals many differences. First, Cañero’s bronzes do not comply with the primitive modelling of the Mesopotamian stones. On the other hand the long fringes of the Asyrian priests’ robes are replaced with poetic representations of the surfaces, physical or relief maps of our planets. Lastly, these wizards, such as Aurora shows them, radically change the praying posture of the Chaldean statuettes and reliefs for the more meditative and conscientious attitude of an observer and investigator of the cosmos.
Aurora Cañero, then, takes well known plastic and iconographic referents as a starting point for her work, but not aiming to insist on them or even renovate them through an “aggiornamiento”, but to invent unprecedented looks and to create new works and new symbols that go beyond them. We therefore find sculptures endowed with a sense of completeness, where everything fits, but in which the artist accepts the challenge to overcome the traditional shapes and systems. In doing so, she culminates in a personal expression that includes both the allegorical narration she wants to represent, and the voice of her inner self and of her own convictions.
All this is a sign not only of the acknowledged maturity of the artist’s sculpture work, but the state of achievement gained by her work, along with her personality. These works prove that Aurora Cañero is capable of giving expression to whatever she sets out to: the vigour of emotion; the harsh confrontation between the individualised man and the relentless, globalising sense of cosmos; the synthesis and the reduction of the mythical, the theoretical, and the ideal to average human dimensions; the reaffirmation of beauty as the aim of artistic creation; the ability to connect the present with various past or contemporaries traditions; the refreshing elimination of the boundaries between nature and artificiality, between the original and the copy; the intuition to reinvent hybrid myths or heroes at the dawn of a new millennium; the sublimating materialisation of self erotic phantoms; the liberating audacity to deal with subjects most present artists avoid, including biblical matters and stories from classical mythology. That is why Aurora Cañero’s sculptures surprise, overwhelm, and seduce the audience. People feel linked to the visual and historical memory of our culture, and at the same time their sensitive process is moved, their flow of feelings touched.
Within this thematic and iconographic peculiarity –which do not avoid criticism nor irony, of course– it is important to notice how throughout her work, in the compositions made of naked figures shifted from the ground, and in the elegant chests, and in the firm and fruity busts, and in the solid bronze heads, Aurora Cañero manages to consolidate the meaning of our traditional sculpture art. That is, the nobility coming from the ‘divine role’ (as expressed by Baudelaire) that the Western world, from the Mediterranean, has given to the art of sculpture in order to come close to realities that are far from being worldly. As Teofilo Gautier asked and said to himself (and still does maintain and ask us today) ‘What kind of power would sculpture have without the gods and heroes of mythology, which provide valid thematic and formal reasons? Every sculpture is necessarily classical. The religion of the Olympians always lies deep in its essence’.
Aurora Cañero reassert this statement and joins the interesting handful of rare sculptors that swim against the tide of our times, when we feel hounded by ephemeral images of everyday life (from the “mass media”, the advertising industry and show business), characterised by their nature of transient icons (photography, television, video, Internet,...). Those sculptors confront these images with an iconography and a technique forged by the passing of centuries, thus making works with a strong sense of continuity. A sense involving a commitment to use the representational art to reinvent life, art itself and the inexorable course of life within the boundaries of our culture.
We leave the premises and the town of Campo Real. Going back to Madrid, Aurora Cañero, Miguel Lario and myself talked about public art and the public art market...Through the consecutive drizzle curtains, that spring evening at dusk, the elastic bodies of the passer-by gods crossing the bridges above the highway shone with an inner light...and women out of great stories quietly waited holding their umbrellas under the metallic vault of the bus stop shelters...and in the give way at roundabouts fresh lolitas y salomes queued surrounded by the clamour of the centaurs...and the first deep shadows of the nights were seen crossing the first streets in the city...and light hoops rolled around the cars with figures climbing onto them as impossible tightrope walkers...