JOSE LUIS MUÑOZ: ABSTRACTING THE EBB AND FLOW OF ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY
Jose Luis Muñoz paints muted abstracted environmental portraits that explore themes such as climate change, urban development, lost civilizations, urban sprawl and the material hubris humans leave in their wake.
Let’s begin this review with a brutal observation of the current state of affairs of abstract art today and why I think Muñoz’ art points the way to a more fruitful approach to the genre. Now before I go ahead and unpack this, understand dear reader that I staunchly support and enjoy abstract art. I gravitate to it. Indeed, I love it! But that will not stop me from saying that generally speaking (there are exceptions… some of which can be found right here at Art Exhibeo), that which falls under the banner of “abstract art” has degenerated into a vague exercise of art for art’s sake. Worse still: so much of it is purely decorative tripe lacking any context at all.
I am struck by the vast quantity of abstract art residing in a barren and meaningless cultural cul-de-sac where the good, the bad and the ugly converge in a kaleidoscope of non-meaning. Some of it is pretty while a lot of it is not, but beyond obscure observations pertaining to pigment, medium and support surface, abstract art has become an intellectually boring enterprise for the viewer. Once so filled with vitality in its primal pursuit of getting to the heart of spirit and matter, the many subgenres of Abstract add up to a staid, inoffensive and tame art – a sad sight similar to contemplating a neutered cat growing fatter and lazier on the couch by the minute. It is the favored art of dental clinic waiting rooms or suburban bank lobbies. When art cannot be distinguished from wallpaper, the remaining points of discussion are of no particular interest to me.
So these days, I find myself on the constant look out for abstract art that ignites my mind in some way and that’s why I’m writing about Jose’s Luis Muñoz’s work today…
What interests me about Muñoz’s abstract paintings is that while they are pretty to look at, they are titled in such a way that they are refreshingly relevant. They speak of history, the environment and how humans interact with it. They have meaning beyond their muted colors and strong horizontal compositions. I’m referring here to titles that actually correlate with the compositions. The plausible connection between the two pushes you to study the work more closely.
When us art oriented folk think of Málaga Spain we associate this place with Pablo Picasso’s hometown. And when we’ve got Picasso on our mind, if we bracket cubism from our thought process, we think about a hyper sensual art oriented towards human corporeality. Jose Luis Muñoz – also from Málaga, has a quite different approach to his art. His eye veers to the landscape above and beyond the human body. While his paintings are definitely earthy, they view the world and the human activities unfolding therein from a considerable distance – much like a satellite orbiting the earth rather than a man participating in the throng of humanity.
The detached perspective offers its own insights that force us to look at our world with the big picture constantly in view: climate change, or urban development in contra-distinction to the wild places beyond urban sprawl. When Munoz brings us back to Earth to experience humanity first hand, we find ourselves trapped in his head contemplating paintings like “The Labyrinth of Useless Thoughts”.
In terms of connections to iconic art from the annals of art history, Jose’s work seems to me more rooted in J.M.W Turner’s late abstracted landscapes (specifically: Shade and Darkness – The Evening of the Deluge, The Morning After the Deluge, Sunrise with Sea Monsters, and Coast Scene) than contemporary abstract art movements of the 20th century. Like Turner (who was obsessed about painting phenomena pertaining to the weather and the elements), Muñoz’s abstracts are mostly rooted in tangible, temporal things (or at least things that used to be tangible as is the case with “Ancient Underwater Civilization”). In this he is not so different than Picasso who maintained that his abstracts where always rooted in the reality of the physical world.
Jose works with gesso, acrylic and various palette knives to achieve a highly textured palimpsest effect that functions as an analogy of the ebb and flow of geological time and the histories of many civilizations written, scrapped down and rewritten over vast periods of time.
A fair amount of Muñoz’s output evokes the geographical features of the Iberian Peninsula – the colors and textures of land, desert and sea:
" I try to express landscapes, the sea, mountains, small towns and cities of my environment and the mark left behind by different civilizations that made their home on the Iberian Peninsula over the ages while reflecting upon the splendour and decadence of these civilizations ".
The Author: J.E. RADDATZ