A SUBTLE SPIRIT
In a celebrated passage of his Pensées (Thoughts),Blaise Pascal differentiates between the spirit of geometry and the spirit of subtleness, stating that “For it is to judgment that perception belongs, as science belongs to intellect. Intuition is the part of judgment, mathematics of intellect”.
That distinction of Pascal which, for some, establishes the modern foundation of emotional intelligence, does not divide the human spirit into two categories because it often and most frequently happens that the geometric and the subtle side coexist in the same person. But it is not uncommon for one to prime on the other standing out with force and determination of character.
The latter is what is distilled, like drops of resin of her creativity, from May Herman’s art. Subtlety is, artistically speaking, delicacy, elegance, finenessfinesse (finesse is the term used by Pascal). All these meanings agree with the work of our artist.
A plastic work can be impressive because of its dimension, its expression, its colours or it can also stand as such, from another perspective, because of its reflexive and conceptual containment and its chromatic frugality; we would say that its strength would be in its own lightness, in its ability to evoke silences, long cherished, deepened from a thoughtful not to say; knowing itself to be, in a way, spokesman / harbinger of the ineffable.
And all of this makes me wonder, where does the art of May Herman spring from? Which are her primal sources? Which her “optical provocations”? Leonardo spoke of clouds as evocative shapes for his drawings and so did Tapies himself, to the point of obsession, of stains from walls. It is clear that in our artist’s work there is a root, an echo of organic forms and microscopic realities, being –as it is- of abstract conception. I do not think that there can be a contradiction in that.
Let us move on, for a moment, to the Wittgenstein Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in where it is stated that: “It is clear that however different from the real one, an imagined world must have something—a form—in common with the real world” (2.022).
This means that a plastic reality cannot be built ex novo, but that we have to start from what we know, from what has informed and shaped our look and our formal concepts. Three are the forms from the real world which May Herman’s art evokes in me: the spongy interior of long bones, the tinted microscopic views of fields and the superposition of veils in movement. The English sculptor and printmaker Henry Moore was a studious of animal bones and he focused on them to create a multitude of sculptures, the internal structure of them being, very often, the source of inspiration for his engravings.
That is however not usual, rather, most often than not, the creator himself is unaware, as he has every right to be, of why he does what he does, since those seminal images are hosted in a place that goes beyond reason. Using the computer language we could say something along the lines of the folder that contains our epistemological set of shapes being inside of us and us not even knowing how it has been filled, or when it is going to appear in front of our eyes. For our creative part all we can humbly do is to remain vigilant to capture, almost “hunt”, that shape we vaguely sense and that, once manifested, we must patiently develop.
I would also like to refer to -and this may seem obvious, but it is not- an aspect of our artist’s work that I consciously approach from a perhaps unusual perspective. I am referring to the use of transparencies. This technical artifice began to be used with the arrival of oil, since the previous means rendered its usage impossible or very rudimentary; is the oily base that allows the superposition of layers and the possibility of generating the effect of transparency. Later on, acrylic paint also allowed it to be done, but never with the subtlety that oil grants.
But I want to emphasize at this point that when I talk about the use that May Herman makes of transparencies in her plastic images, I do not do it in the closest sense of a traditional discourse that evokes the vaporous, the ethereal, what escapes from the self-look as smoke; quite the opposite. I would like to stress that the lightness that emerges from her images, the ability of being floating, is achieved by the accumulation of diverse tempos in the same work as I will now explain.
A number of superimposed veils give us a more or less evanescent image (the more veils the less transparency, obviously), but with loose liquid painting layers, , we add our way, our hand and performance time and it all comes together in the painting , eventually surfacing at the end of our work. I do not know why, but I do know that the dim white colour that appears after many hands of white, grey, attenuated Naples yellows and once again whites or much thinned sands, ends up being another type of white in which, in some ways, our hand is revealed, our touch, our time and the whole being of the creator. In painting, the technical means conform not only the how but the what and thus the object becomes a piece of art.
It adds nothing to the goodness of the work upon which we reflect, but perhaps it could help us to look at it, to record that I find in it echoes of the American painters Georgia O'Keeffe and the most recent, Pat Steir. In one way or another, their poetics run parallel. Power from lightness, strength in weakness. It is indeed, in all of them, that the spirit of subtlety that Pascal spoke of beats.
JOSÉ MANUEL CABRA DE LUNA
Málaga, October 2013.