SAN SEBASTIÁN.- The Kubo-kutxa
venue in San Sebastián presents the retrospective exhibition Alejandro Garmendia. Paisajes, enigma y melancolía (Alejandro Garmendia. Landscapes, Enigma and Melancholy), from 2nd March to 27th May 2018. Curated by Fernando Golvano, the show offers an exhaustive review of the varied career of this artist from Donostia / San Sebastián, who died last year. Alejandro Garmendia's multi-faceted talent adheres to a certain modern legacy of the transgressive poetics of the earliest artistic avant-gardes.
The exhibition features over 100 works by this prolific artist, including oils, mixed media, sculptures, sketches, collages, comics, performances and a collection of surprising musical pieces and two films (Berlin and Gilles de Rais).
Alejandro Garmendia's life and work was influenced by the cities in which he lived and worked: Paris, Donostia / San Sebastián, Bilbao, Madrid, Barcelona, Edinburgh, New York and Hendaye.
Most of the works come from private collections, but there are also some important pieces from institutions like Kutxa Fundazioa or the Reina Sofía national gallery.
The catalogue includes texts by Fernando Golvano, Francisco Javier San Martín, Pablo Milicua, Cecilia Andersson and Alejandro Garmendia himself (entitled Licenciado, meaning Graduate).
The exhibition is divided in seven parts:
His skill at drawing and his narrative urge stirred an early interest in comics and graffiti. At the same time, Garmendia's career was always marked by an interest in music in its different forms; from 2005 onwards he created pieces of experimental music. This room offers an introduction to these different facets of the artist.
In this room visitors are confronted with a range of pieces, presenting Alejandro Garmendia's different ways of working. Small and large formats, collage and oils, rub shoulders in a space that immediately reveals this multi-faceted artist's interests and taste for experiment.
Other universes, other aqueous atmospheres, play a leading role in the later paintings, as well as in the installations and videos he was to produce during his stay in New York (1994-2005) and on his return to Hendaye. Paintings like Chinesesoup (2006) and Angeldearth [sic] (2004) are a sample of this strange, enigmatic world. All these works have a compositional structure similar to that of the landscape genre, but they have no connection with real scenes, instead taking us into an imaginary universe.
In the mid-nineties he invented a technique he called Coctailtecnic, through which he created works based on chance. In the exhibition there are several works, like The Stone in the Shoebox (1999), that resulted from this technique.
An interest in landscapes is a key factor in this artist's career. Between the eighties and the mid-nineties he gave form to this interest. A minimal composition is enough for him to suggest a melancholy twilight atmosphere, as in an untitled work from 1989 or in Inundaciones en G (Floods in G, 1989). They are works, mostly in small formats, with a similar aesthetic, which recount his real or imaginary travels in Europe or searches for photos in old books published in France.
This room also includes his sculpture boxes of the early nineties, his sculptural installation Vista de Europa (View of Europe) and a book of notes and sketches from 1990-1992.
A small projection room shows Berlin (2008) and Gilles de Rais II (2006), two videos recorded with a revolving device that he designed in New York; as well as two extracts from the film Faust, directed by Murnau in 1926, which Garmendia altered and completed with a soundtrack.
He found the first image, which led him to create several works entitled Ingenio revolucionario (Revolutionary Ingenuity), by chance in a magazine where an unusual piece of furniture caught his eye. This image remained in his memory. This was why in 2003 he designed this enigmatic sculpture/piece of furniture that includes a sound installation. Under the same title he produced other works in oil or on canvas in different formats. The series was begun during the first years of his stay in New York. This was in the years 1993 and 1994.
Collage was a method Garmendia liked very much, a link to the legacy of the modern avant-gardes, dadaists and surrealists above all. In his photo montages and collages of dislocated or inverted spaces, one has a concrete disorder, a strange catastrophic calm in a blurred, anachronistic world.
Following the large-format work La cinta de Moebius (The Moebius Strip, Kutxa Fundazioa collection), he created a series in which he added colour to digitally-retouched photomontages. It gives shape to the idea of the infinite, of indeterminateness, and represents a window onto a spatial and architectural chaos.
Garmendia never stopped crossing over borders between genres. In fact, he set out to produce new visual or sound fictions that established landscapes between them to expand our experience of reality. They are, in short, imaginary landscapes called into being by a technique that used all his skill at drawing, assembling images or sounds or incorporating unconventional materials and devices.
Alejandro Garmendia (Donostia / San Sebastián, 1959), known to his friends as Sander, is one of the most versatile, ingenious artists to be found in contemporary art in the Basque Country
He roved between the visual arts, primarily in painting and collage, but also graphic art, comics and video, creative music in different genres, from dadaist-style performative action and pop to creating electronically-based sounds, as well as a fleeting foray into narrative.
In all these creative contexts he displayed an urge to experiment which was ironic, satirical and nearly always melancholic.
The connections between these different specific forms were to make up the most substantive aspect of his body of work, which was a multi-disciplinary passion to give shape to his journey through life and the world, to the enigmas and messiness that run through all existence.
Garmendia's journey is associated with the places where he lived and worked: San Sebastián, Paris, Bilbao, Barcelona, Madrid, New York, Edinburgh and Hendaye make up another set of affections and intersections that made their mark on his work.
He lived with his family in exile, first in Bordeaux and then in Paris, until his return to his native San Sebastián in 1975.
From 1980 to 1985 he studied Fine Art in Bilbao, and with Visiu Solares and other friends he formed an informal group that called itself "The Latin Community" and dedicated itself to ephemeral interventions in bars or on walls in Bilbao, and to creating graphic illustrations and graffiti.
He lived in Madrid between 1987 and 1991, working on lithographic techniques with Don Herbert, and in New York from 1994 to 2005, before settling for good in Hendaye.
The career of Sander is substantially marked by his interest in landscape. Over the period from the late eighties to the mid-nineties he gave shape to this interest.
A great experimenter, he used chance in his work, as a way of resisting theory and rules, creating images that can move between different media, scales and formats. He worked comfortably in collage and photomontage, handled mixed media and invented pieces on the boundaries between painting and sculpture, even incorporating sound.
Not for nothing; Garmendia's career was always marked by an interest in music in different forms. In 1991 he formed the group Fat Esteban with his friend Mauro Entrialgo, later being joined by Juanjo Pedregosa. Moreover, from 2000 onwards he was to record more than forty experimental pieces.
Audiovisual work was another field into which he ventured from 2005 onwards, allowing him to establish a dialogue between music and painting.
Sander was beyond any doubt a revolutionary talent.