Raul Gabriel: the interaction of “living” matter and reality

Raul Gabriel’s works are pictorial paintings which’s essence is the interaction of matter with the surrounding reality. Bitumen, acrylics, paint, canvas and styrofoams are exposed to corrosive phenomenons that blend with time and weather conditions. 

Born close to Buenos Aires, Raul initially experiments with jazz music. It’s only after returning from his travels in Bogotá that he’ll find in art a home, and the pleasure to re-write its rules.

Raul is a passionate artist whose production struck me due to the complex philosophical implications it arises in the observer. There’s a deep, and enigmatic, processual nature in the mutation of a painting – similarly to the body, where he takes inspiration from – as if driven by the sense of a biological identity of reality.

The language of metaphysics, chemistry, philosophy, symbols, mysticism, nature and method translate into an equation of chromatic saturations, graphites, resins, that leave space to an existential metaphor, between figuration and the absence of material representations. 


Zoo #10 by Raul Gabriel – private collection


X White, resin enamel on canvas

The theme of identity is recurring, as an essential part of us. During our conversation, Raul’s thoughts emerge: “We sometimes live the consequences of an identity conflict because we provide resistance to it, so we try to subdue it, soften it, handle it. Identity is something that we may hide or reveal, accept or deny, but not to ourselves. I am the place, and like a diapason I resonate in my identity.”

In the exhibition Cerchi di Grana (2007 Rome, Galleria Pino Casagrande), geometry, alchemy and metaphysics unite as witnesses of daily routine, and align to the idea that nothing’s ever as it seems. Raul’s idea sparks from a traffic light, as an object to indicate an imposed prohibition, to then transmute it to a reflection of the circle as a shape and symbol. Just like the cyclicity in nature, in our inner states of being, in everyday objects (plazas, mugs, plates, watches, necklaces). At the center of the room lies Gothic Vespa, the spectre of a scooter destroyed by flames, to emphasize the paradox of time and the sense of unity of things.


Photo of Gothic Vespa: oxyhydrogen flame on scooter


Detail of Gothic Vespa and the projection of Traffic Lights, Rome 2007

With Synopies (2014 Milan, MUDI Lucio Fontana room), the dimension of spirituality-image-matter, that has always been part of Raul’s artistic research, becomes more substantial. Drawing inspiration from Via Crucis Bianca by Lucio Fontana, the light (and total obscurity), with its essential value, is observed as the metaphor of an existential process: within it or in the absence of it. 

In Virtual Apraxia – Raul Gabriel’s Incidents (2014 Milan, The Format Contemporary Gallery), are events seen as a synonym of intertwined relations yet to become, through a reflection on conscience. The overview concentrates on the relation between necessity and freedom, and the effective convergence between the two. The difference or similarity between a personal act and a technological process: despite the significant difference, an image and a 3D creation are both manifestations of physicality.

During The Glorious Nothing (2017 Milan, Fondazione RIVOLIDUE, Teatro Pacta Salone), the external wall of the PACTA theatre becomes part of the artwork itself. Indoors, the (above-cited) styrofoams, show glimpses of barely distinguishable forms; the rest seems to be up to our imagination. Here in fact, Raul presents his concept of freedom, or rather its apparent opposite: having nothing. Possessing nothing is the true condition of liberty. 


Glorious, synthetic paint on polysterene

Art that becomes “living matter” with LUCEBUIO (2017), where the dynamism of a mobile process, given by controlled pour painting, is captured in the Black Paintings and White Paintings series. 


Memento #2, artwork exhibited during Lucebuio, ex Cotonifico Dellepiane


Zayin, resin and acrylics on canvas

In the Black Paintings, black is seen in the key of a luminous phenomenon through light refraction on matter. Composed by a dense and corrugated varnish on the surface, its grades of luminosity, opacity and intensity vary depending on where you stand in relation to the canvas. The White Paintings are more lumpy and corpuscular, with a voluminous and opaque mass. Paradoxically, for as how much as the blacks reflect light, the whites’ concept works inversely. The choice of the exhibition space is also emblematic; the former Cotonificio Dellepiane, a now neglected but once productive place, with the hope it may return to being a lively spot for dialogue and happenings. 


Inside view of the exhibitory space ex Cotonifico Dellepiane, Tortona

We schedule an appointment in his studio, where a burnt scooter greets me at the doorstep. Halfway between curious and perplexed, I enter the door. I didn’t know then that that was an art piece representing one of Raul’s favourite techniques. As soon as I sit down, he shows me one of his first videos filmed in Berlin; we immediately start talking about an infinity of interesting subjects and before I even realize, two hours have passed.


.  .  .


why and how did you end up in your career path?
Without a reason. I still ask myself questions I don’t have answers to. I’m determined by the non-reason  that sparks from an interior push. The brain reaches these things later. I began with music, I used to play jazz, then, when I returned from a trip to Bogotá, I was absorbed into painting. I knew it was my home but I didn’t know how yet. I didn’t oppose it, even though I didn’t know exactly where it would lead me… it was an irresistible force. I knew Milan for music, but not for art. I’m the primitive energy in painting, the kind that you don’t choose. You don’t choose where quality will take you, but on the other hand you don’t choose destiny either. If you oppose to this radical, unknown force, you risk living in an apparent certainty, but really – to quote Seneca – you are already dead before being taken away alive out of the number of the living.

how would you describe yourself in a few words?
Energy. Until there’s energy I’m here, when there’s no more energy I’m not here anymore.

what is your source of inspiration?
Energy. By energy I mean a concrete force. Not an ethereal force, but a corporeal force. A tangible, weighable force. Not in the sense of something detached from the body. The body is energy, and energy is the body, but we usually live these as two separate entities. Instead they are two parts of the same corporeality. Energy is part of this body, an expansion of this body. Creating an artwork is like making a Faraday Cage that captures the energy of lightning.
The rigid structure suddenly becomes vibrant. That’s an artwork for me, which ever form it takes.
Without the cage, energy is dispersed, and a cage without energy is a pure formal exercise. I’d define myself an energy cage dowser.

where do you go to when you need a break?
Breaks don’t exist for me. Flow exists. My personal “Philosophy of the 25”. During my permanence in London, I had a studio at Bow Church for years. At 9 am, all hooded up like the many East End hoodies, I’d take bus n. 25 towards White Chapel. A very long, slow and nonsense trip, contemplating the world go by. I’d observe it, breathe it in…without being part of its fatal productive processes. The arrival point was a skanky bar, where builders and dockers would go to. Sitting at a slightly sunlit, lopsided table, listening to Magic London 105.4, I’d observe the city’s banality in its glory and with all its processes. Pure contemplation. Once the eulogy of the useless, so perfect and contaminated, was over, I’d head back to the studio.
Years ago, my first collector told me that I’m like someone who looks at the world from a porthole. I didn’t understand it back then, but now I know exactly what it means. The poet-artist has to be a bit like Indian Pariahs, within reality yet completely out of it at the same time.

when and what will your next steps be?
I don’t know. And I’m not bothered about it. My method is waiting. I wait. When things reveal themselves, they happen. The best things happen when they just happen. A great condemnation and a great liberty.

if you could compare your personality to an artistic technique, which one would it be and why?
Deconstruct a form to identify another. Like with Gothic Vespa, that I half burnt. In nature destruction seems frightening, but it’s only a part of the life cycle. And it always prepares new, surprising rebirths. For example, to make oil you need to put the olives in the grinder, which is a dramatic process really. History is full of tremendous tragedies where the only possible redemption for the persecuted and the enslaved, has been by liberating themselves throughout a vision, an invention, music, writing, art. These have then overturned history.
I have dysgraphia, meaning that I tend to distort letters when writing. To me, the result of their modification follows forces that the hand is aware of, but not the brain. In painting, this has become a sign that transforms and constantly reveals new structures. As such, painting has become a natural extension of my own physicality in the production of writing. There is always a transformative process in these forms. The cycle of destruction-recreation is part of us. We are a living process; cells generate and die every instant. Even memory functions in the same way. Art is like the body. A live process in constant escape.



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