Text and notes


To paint is – among many other things – to see, to remember what was seen, to reinvent, finally, what memory had already  distilled. So it was from the very first paintings, produced on cave walls thousands of years ago. Even in those periods when reality is most apparent -consider Velazquez or the Goya of the portraits, - the norm is followed .The problem lies in the very short distance between contemplation and memory: the time the artist takes to effect the transfer of the subject from eye to canvas. Time, too, paints, as Goya reminded us, albeit with a different intention. The Impressionists, who set out to paint the landscape “with their back to the sun” to avoid the sensationalism and  tricks of  theatrical chiaroscuro, painted reality almost without looking at the canvas, thus bypassing the refining function of memory. Even so, in their day the results scandalised those who demanded that painting be a mirror in two dimensions of three-dimensional reality.


Roberto Martín in his Biscayan studio – a man of few words yet many works- does not see the grey skies and waters readily within his visual reach; he paints what he remembers: reality, seen or unseen. He paints –or creates- his lost truth.  “The Truth, also, can be created”, as one of our greatest poets observed. His work is a ship’s log of day-runs containing entries of what is seen and what is not seen, but is embedded in his Arabic-Andalusian genes. He paints from deep within, in a way akin to a medium, from whose mouth spring forth spirits’ prophecies which even the medium cannot comprehend.


And in this way he recreates, from memory and fantasy, those Samarkands, Orients of palm trees, arches, fabrics, weather-beaten pavements and  tiling, ennobled by the merciful ravages of time. A far cry from the picturesqueness and exoticism of the Romantics. These – let us think of the tambourined Spains of the British or the French- reflect, touristically speaking, the superficial, the gaudy and different, the strange and foreign which they were contemplating, bewildered, for the first time. Roberto Martín notes in his diary all that, secretly, magically, he feels to be his, a part of his existence.


 Those who venture only as far as the “What?” – the subject matter, the quaint, the Moorish or Bandit scenes – can go no further (that way lies fan-painting or postcard design). The thoroughbred artist is more concerned with the “How?”. The actual subject is always a pretext. In a still life – Zurbarán, Cézanne, Juan Gris – the importance lies not in the apples, the quinces, the bottles or the earthenware jugs, but in the paint itself (It goes without saying that what is fundamental, nay essential, to painting, is paint.)


 This is what Martín underlines. One of the defining terms of contemporary art is the vindication of material. Pacheco, Velázquez’s father-in-law, summarised the requisites of good painting thus: “Good imagination, good design, good colouring, and beautiful manner.” The manner, the medium – even more so since the upsurge of “new materials” has been taking up more space – sometimes even ousting others to do so. In Roberto Martín’s painting, the refining of material – the necessary savoir faire (not as a mere exercise in audacity) – emerges as the protagonist. Material which does not consist of thickening the background with layer upon layer of colour, but (remember the necessary savoir faire) of varying, according to the calls of the script, areas of diluted colour barely covering the canvas alongside areas of multilayering, blurring, of roughness, dustings of turquoises and emeralds, of altarpiece golds, tesseras of mosaic, of the splendour and antiquity of precious stones aged by time.


 Perhaps because it is time itself which is set in palpitating motion in these works, which, paintings as they are, belong to the tribe of spatial arts. And now I realise how pointless this is, waxing lyrical about art when these works are right in front of our eyes: they speak for themselves. It’s as unnecessary and frustrating as inviting someone along to a vantage point to watch the sun set, and then trying to explain why what they are seeing is beautiful. My apologies.


        José Hierro

                 September 1.998