The search for knowledge

The search for knowledge

Xabier Sáenz de Gorbea

Art critic

From the catalogue of the exhibitión: 

The Unified Femininity.

Fundación BBK, Bilbao.


A fighter who dreams and an idealist who gets to grips with reality. Tireless, unwavering, ever-focused, Inés Medina
has forged a world of her own and continues to expand it. She has passion and feeling. She probes emotions unceasingly and yet lays enormous emphasis on the rational analysis of plastic media and the way they are perceived. She makes antinomies possible and connect s them up. The human being is nature, but so is the urge to improve, to surmount culture, it s construction.Inés travels towards the innermost soul, she moves towards a spiritual forging; then introduces reason to go beyond and compare experiences. In all things great and small there is the abyss, the bottomless pit. Everything is in everything. A pencil of light and the huge extension of space. The sprinkling of matter and the endless sense of color. From the straight line to the curve. Abstraction and the fi gurative reference.

The artist’s struggle has been played out against the hurly burly of circumstance. Here and inNew York. Although diffi culties have always cropped up, both in this green refuge and in the asphalt jungle, she has overcome them one by one.With the latest one behind her, she brushes off the dust, takes time out, maybe fl ashes a smile or holds back a few unshed tears. She has brought up two daughters and constructed a theory of plastic art; the progress made is laid bare in this allembracing retrospective. She has sought knowledge, which has brought constant self-questioning.

Seeing today how hot vacuity is, how hip the new new thing, how scandal excites, the strength of her convictions surprises. Restless exploration and the deployment of forces marching to the limit s of expression and the secret corners of language. Working in series, she has been grouping together encounters and analysis from the late nineteen seventies to now. The intellectual effort is enormous, as is the forced labor involved in always going one better, not sticking to what comes easiest. She has analyzed and revised to extenuation. Art and life recall each other íntimately; from their voiding comes the stimulus of thought, stock-taking, and it s conveyance into language. The readings are multifarious and the artist herself has taken on the task of analyzing all the steps exhaustively. The result is overwhelming, conscious and sensitive, constant. A building made of words and images. A work in progress.

At the Fine Art s Faculty in Bilbao where she studied in the late seventies, she was one of the few women, among so many men, who wanted to be an artist. Which piled diffi culty on diffi culty. Recognition was quick to come for some of the young colleagues in her year, even before they had fi nished their studies. Well-known artist s like T xomin Badiola, Juan Luis Moraza, Darío Urzay, José Chavete and Jesús Mari Lazkano, who also went on to become leading teachers at the Faculty, as she did too. The whole group exhibited together and made history. A very good year, as they say. Not forgetting of course, Marisa Fernández, Iñaki Zaldumbide or Elena Mendizabal.

By then Inés Medina already had her two daughters. Stubborn and tenacious in the face of adversity, she opened an
academy that let her voice a way of feeling and analyzing art,with principles she inculcated in younger artist s then completing their studies at the Faculty of Fine Art s. Wanting to understand the world and discover her own self more completely, she took the plunge in the studio.

After her beginnings as an expressionist (1978-79), she became involved in abstract investigation. Her growing awareness of plastic language led her into work that needed it s own technique if it was to be tackled properly. She got interested in studying the behavior and meaning of color. For this she was happy to use powdered pigment, something she did at the same time as Anish Kapoor, in parallel. But where Kapoor began to use the material as a fragile vehicle to cover his ceramic shapes and forms, Inés Medina took the actual physical condition of the chromatic tone to it s limit.

With her sensitivity working overtime, she began to write frenetically. It was a time of and for poetry, when bringing together drawings and experiences in book form seemed the natural thing to do. The need was there to go out and encounter things and leave no loose ends; a continuous process of knotting and unknotting, as it were. Sensoriality was unleashed. But spatiality would soon arrive on the scene. The limit s of the canvas were broken. Forms gradually purifi ed to an unprecedented extent, giving the sensation of a fl oating gravity pulsing out into the surrounding area, like a kind of light box.

This subjection to plastic art led her into the terrain of absolute purifi cation. Oteiza’s void and the conquest s of Malevich stimulated her to continue, providing the platform from which to move on to other phases.

Next came tri-dimensionality. To this end, Inés launched into an argument between front and back, cutting the painting support out into some very precise geometric forms. This was her way of stimulating thought about the point of view; she interrogated the painting, and looked into the possibility of thinking about the other side. She might leave the canvas virtually raw and at the same time apply paint to the interior, creating serene dislocations and harmonious transparencies in the process. Everything is expressive, even when less is more. All choice is signifi cant. Not just about what is deposited on the material, how to do it, what procedure to use, but even the use of a particular kind of canvas, what it contributes in terms of granulation, the weave of the threads, the thickness of the canvas, it s wall-like quality. A condition, this, that derives from the various minimalisms of the sixties. It’s a revision to be added to the spatialist drift of the old avant-gardes and the neo-avant-gardes of Basque sculptors.

The partial move into real space was made fuller, more complete when space came to occupy place entirely and she began to create installations avant la lettre. Ambiences in which gold cords are added to the painting of saturated colors and occupy the environment in a subtle, allusive way. In the process she had won a total, extreme awareness, one that led her to think hard about the architecture of her art. Virtual sculptures in real space, she called them (1981-83). Three planes interested her: the discovery interior and exterior space, the de-occupation of interior space and the occupation of exterior spaces for a certain length of time.

From 1982 her determination to go beyond appearances led her to begin psychoanalysis. Gradually, new notions and new plastic operators enhanced and enriched her work. They were hard times, times of renunciations and new
aspirations. Like the phoenix, she re-emerged to do drawing after drawing, day in day out, without stopping. A way of channeling 208 fl uidly states of mind and sensitivity. More challenges. Many implications, and the adventure of what was still to come, shed light on an oeuvre that folded back on it self, took refuge even as it opened up and grew. Her own physical needs brought her into contact with the material she used, the usual media, temperas and oils. A period of achievement and maturity. She began to talk about notions like “pure energy” and the “concept of plastic division”. Now she took her fi rst steps on the computer in her plastic works, an issue she decided to deal with in a doctoral thesis, beginning twelve years of sustained, painstaking effort. She divided her work into series, giving them names like “Potential image”, “Dynamic tension in painting”, “Of limit s and their product s”, “Breakaway, or Feminine Emotional Liberation”, with sections called: “Airport” “Entities”, “Guilt”, “Double Orthogonality” and “Multi-dimensionality”.

In “The Potential Image” (1983-91) she resorted to neo-plastic structural approaches and, on the basis of the economy of media, tried to spark diverse interior dimensions. This is a process in which she was looking to give meaning to the reductionism of geometry.

“Of limit s and their product s” (1991-1992), a series also known as “The forge of the soul”, was influenced by her fi rst visit to New York. The painting in black and white affect s the work of the electronic machine and vice versa. The construction of pure tri-dimensionality gradually became less of a pipedream and more something that shared both rigor and feeling. With “The lens” she found a pattern that would enable her to make an enormous number of variants.

The series kept coming in the nineties: “From pure measure to emotion” (1992-1993), “Breakaway or Feminine emotional liberation” (1992-1995), “Belonging, Difference and Pure Energy” (1996-1999), “The Dot s” (1996-1999),“Analyzing the limit s between two point s. Heart, Mind and Brain” (1998-2000). This was a period of exhaustive analysis into creation and the beginning of the re-affi rmation of woman. She’s been located in New York since 1995; there the computer has proved an effi cient tool for atomizing the plane and discharging energy into the plane.

In the new century, Inés Medina reaffi rmed her work and felt the need to become more personally involved in it. The smoothly executed works, replete with subtle touches, in “The world of subtlety” (2000-2001) are dual. Images show
anatomical fragment s and allude to the world of women. There are transparencies and sensitive brushstrokes on paper and canvas. She creates gaps, vulvas, fl owers, traces of lips and a range of oval shapes. Pure energy and seeping, spreading color came later. A way of working that brings Esteban Vicente and Mark Rothko to mind. The chromatic fusion creates visual stimuli that charge the paintings with transcendence and emotivity.

“The world of forms” (2001) is more unitary. Here she used the computer to develop a single, preliminary composition, creating a spatial cosmogony around a central form. It’s like an element surrounded by a number of chromatic transitions. A blaze of blinding light creates contrast s between fi gure and background, enabling her to provoke the backlight of something incandescent. A small, dazzling isle that changes colors and forms.

Between 2000 and 2004 she produced a series of pieces given the poetic title of “The fl owers of evil”, an allusion to the work of Charles Baudelaire, one of the godfathers of modernity. The works facilitate a changing imaginary world.
Some are highly enigmatic, others more direct and fi gurative. The palette darkens and the echoes become more dramatic. Tooth-shaped forms, deep gorges, can be made out against the backgrounds. Concave and convex masses. The drawing profi les precise limit s that contain the colors and give the image a more constructive feel. She resolves limit s, creates edges, sketching excisions and anatomical surprises.

The works get larger in “The transcendence of the ego (2000-2004). The notion of ‘the feminine’ imposes relations, presences and revisions. Sexuality and aggressiveness. A symbolic abstraction. Going beyond the perceptual to plunge into demands and defenses of atavistic score-settling.

Memory and emotion form a nucleus of crystallization in the series “Who I Also Am” (2004). One is also what one has been. People recover sensations in contact with the places they fi nd empathetic and have resonance for them. The return to the humid nature of the Basque region connect s her back up to childhood. In a very special sensitive state she uses digital images of places she has loved and convert s them into pure sensorial exudation. Although the place is still recognizable in the fi rst few images, it soon begins to yield to the emotions. The colors change and the greensward transforms into a polychrome carpet of multicolored dot s. A comforting blanket. But Inés Medina doesn’t stop there; she keeps exploring and begins to decompose the recognizable without losing the relation of warm, soft proximity. The end of the process entails achievement of the sublime, pure explosions of light s that fuse into each other. All solidity, all thickness gone, we come to the non-material. The woods of Aranzazu were her platform in the search for splendor, the intimate vibration, timeless wellbeing. An isomorphic identification between nature and consciousness, between the exterior and the interior. The continuity of a relation.

“The dot transcending dimensions” (2004) consists of a single painting. Here, her intention was to use the dot to facilitate development s that would raise grammatical specifi city to a new condition. An exploration that would enable her to build an expansive world, like a bricklayer laying brick by brick.

“The Joy of Self” (2004-2006) is a window onto the world of women. It’s not a question of strident strategies, but one of a permeable analysis of self. There is drama, pathos, certainly, but also other, more poetic, deliquescent exercises. Her latest works are peopled by uncertainties. The molds of figuration and abstraction have no meaning and are broken over and over. The artist moves with complete freedom and determination. It is a fervent, involved moment. A summation of her travels. The process of fl ows. The challenge of obsessions. The breakout of expression. The light of affections and the limits of challenge. An unceasing whole. The fl ame of what does not die out, the object of the chase. Fusion with the painting. The most permeable contact with one’s own self. The embrace of nature and the exploration of the deepest wells. A thirst. The breath of fl ight and the vital mix, the kneading, the hodgepodge. An acceptance. The iris that multiplies. The refuge of breath. The confl uence between painting and anatomy. Awareness of a personal creative path. Energy on the move.

Xabier Sáenz de Gorbea
Art critic