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Pedro Pablo Oliva’s Homage to Rembrandt

By David Horta.

When Pedro Pablo Oliva draws on Eros putting aside sarcasm or irony, the erotic streak of his work is powerful indeed. Many of Oliva’s paintings articulate his perception of sex and the erotic, but few can do it with the concentration and self-implication of The artist and his model series. In Homage to Rembrandt, one of the key masterpieces in the series, an aged painter representing the Dutch master and an imposing nude model, their eyes closed, share a wet fantasy. We see them inside a walled-in studio that appears bathed in a green ectoplasm, speckled all around with oily pigments that have been squeezed out of tubes, as if the artist was inspired to the point of having a sudden “ejaculation of colors.” Multiple mirages experienced by the couple are projected all over the room and to an adjacent dimension seen through the window of the canvas: phallus-flowers blossom in the distant trees;ambivalent, vulvae-breasts-phallus-shaped creatures,hybridized animals, fruits and objects swirl all around or lay in ambush in anticipation of some imminent happening, while everyone and everything else lurking in the vicinity of the easel seem to be copulating, masturbating, or peeping in delighted expectation.

Homage to Rembrandt, 2000.
Series The Artist and his Model.
Oil and acrylics on canvas. 200 x 200 cm

The canvas reveals the intensity of the erotic atmosphere and the artist’s ecstasy over the spectacle of his beloved model, himself being prominently aroused, his face reddish with excitement. The model, vortex of all these sensations and emotions, self-gratifyingly eroticized by the artist’s infatuations, leans back coquettishly in the wicker chair, resting her head on her arm, yielding both body and mind to the playing of lustful gazes and cravings settled on her. Another painter, most probably Oliva himself, judging for the likeness between this character and Oliva’s usualmustachioed, palette-carrying alter egos, oversees the scene from underneath the easel, miniaturized, his eyes wide open, totally absorbed.  As in one of the dreamlike, overlappingnarrative layers from a story by Borges or Cortázar, or a parable of the Chuang-Tzu, in this “homage” we witness a dream of the artist in which he is also part of someone else’s dream. We see a painting inside a painting, or more accurately, a passageway of images, like a wormhole through which time and space, but also reality and imagination, may be intimately connected.

The otherworldliness of Homage to Rembrandt resides not only in its bestiary, its dreamlike atmosphere and its weightlessness. The architectural consistency, so to speak, of the pentagonal chamber –a setting used by Oliva to unfold many of his stories- is dislocated here by one recurrentperceptual ruse. The planes intersect, thus constraining and outlining space into a sort of camera obscura, but they also transfuse extrinsic or borderline corporealities to each other, in the form of images that emerge from and flow into adjacent dimensions. This trompe-l’oeil creates the overall impression of a free-flowing, playful and promiscuous space. From the viewer’s viewpoint, we discover that the outer frame and the wooden cross of the stretcher are totally interlocked with the easel (it would be fair to say that easel and stretcher are one and the same piece). Oddly enough, the canvas is also transparent, so we can see the model’s left leg and part of the armchair through it, sharing the space with elements supposedly pertaining to another world, onepainted through rather than on the canvas, a world that could not be contained by the stretcher and has gone “off limits”, leaking images into the room. In a surrealist-like move, the painter’s canvas does not depict the model and the studio as such, but serves as a mirror reflecting some place insideeither his or his model’s imagination, far away from the room. This would be a parallel, residual jurisdiction, a by-product of the intense arousal of the artist, projected in the form of a paradise-like, intensely eroticized landscape. As in many other works dealing with the erotic and the dialogue between reality and imagination, here Oliva subverts the notions of in and out, front and rear, the motif and the setting, notions which are all fragmented and jumbled up. Amplified by art, the artist’s infatuation with the model, and in general love and sex, become ubiquitous, as much as reality and fantasy are simultaneous, interchangeable and mutually enriching.

Homage to Rembrandt, 2000.
Series The Artist and his Model.

In Homage to Rembrandt, as in most of Oliva’s works, the correlation between physicality and spirituality is hazy. Human bodies are largely irregular or disproportionate, sometimes exhibiting elastic, airy and translucent anatomies, like numinous presences embodied in glass armatures trying to find equilibrium. On the other hand, Oliva’s phantoms, angels, and genies are often sexed, and their physiques often conformed to human cravings — corporeal emanations of sadness, joy, or sexual anxiety. By-products of memory, nostalgia, and longing, they seem better equipped to ensnare, torment, or spy on us than to act as protective entities. We can’t help wondering if the uninhibited display of androgyny, genitalia, erections, and copulations in Oliva’s ars erotica come strictly from the painter’s flamboyant sexual fantasies, his recollections of passionate encounters, or his veneration of the nude body — or from all of these sources. Whatever their origins are, these evocations of girlfriends and strange “propositions” cast a light on what the artist calls “the arcana of love,” seen from an angle tangential to the gracious and sublime mannerisms in the representation of the erotic in art”.

This text is an excerpt from the introduction of I am not a pure man, an unpublished book on Pedro Pablo Oliva (work in progress). All rights reserved.

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