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  Jose Manuel Ciria

What Have You Seen (Twnety One Weeks) 2011


 José Manuel Ciria was born in Manchester (UK) in 1960 but grew up in Spain. Ciria is one of the most active and internationally successful contemporary Spanish painters. His abstract work is featured in the collections of Spain’s most important museums, such as the Museo de Arte Reina Sofía and the Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno.

 "I venture to say that José Ciria is a great painter, by which I mean that he has complete command of his medium and means: paint and the modernist vocabulary of abstraction [which is] as gestural as geometrical." - Donald Kuspit

 Essay by Carole Newhouse

Ciria-Rorschach Heads

         “The Painter’s Brush consumes his dreams”. Yeats

Life is a Rorschach test; it is all in how you see things and what you experience in life.

 Ciria’s paintings require you to look, to see, to visit and revisit in order to understand his visual language.  His paintings are intelligent, demanding and engaging.  The texture, colors, size and subject matter require your attention.  They, like us, are individual, no two the same, unique and complex.  Ciria presents a narrative and we construct our own story based on our engagement with the painting and what we bring in terms of our own personal psychology.


Ciria’s early work was figurative and although he was experimenting, analyzing and working toward abstraction, it took time. Finally in the late 80’s he broke through and the stains burst forth from his canvases with energy and sensuality, color and eroticism.  They were floating off of the canvas.  Ciria became known for the abstract grids and stains and collectors noticed and began to follow him as an important contemporary artist. 

Ciria made the courageous move to New York in 2005 from Madrid after living for a time in Tel Aviv, Paris, and Manchester. It began an incredible journey, which has been intense and poetic.  It is spiritual both artistically and personally.

It takes time to find your bearings when you move to a new country, and Ciria not knowing the language well or the culture of the people, with few friends to show him the way, began to experience New York. It was a parade of faces with no identities. They are shapes and sizes of heads with no features, no emotion, floating past us.  Ships passing in the night with no connectivity.

Who we are as people are impacted by our environment and experiences that we collect along the way, little memories that we file away and draw upon when they are needed.   That which is around us influences us; people, literature, music, color. Art, sounds, family, friends.

Faces we pass everyday in the subway, in the street, on buses and in markets.  Who are they, who are we?  The chaos of the times, technology, stress, global connectivity, relationships, time or lack thereof. The persistence of time and the everyday demands, affect us daily.  There is little time to dream our dreams.  We feel the isolation of being alone in a world full of people.

Many times in his career Cira returns to the heads, which he started in 90’s as more ethereal. The heads then began to morph into masks. The masks were lacking an identity, almost alien, as one would feel being displaced from all that is familiar and is now in a new and unfamiliar environment.

As with the early heads and masks, they made one uncomfortable without context, there was a mysterious presence one couldn’t quite touch that was palatable and yet elusive. The identities were hidden, as one can see in the earlier paintings, Cabeza de Rorschach, 11 (2000 ) or Cabeza sobre fondo rojo (2004). Disguise, concealment, the ambiguity of putting on a mask to hide one’s face and therefore one’s identity.

Ancient cultures believe the mask is the dwelling place of the spirit.  It represents our soul.  Are we the viewers responsible to release the spirit trapped inside or does the artist, Ciria, by capturing the essence in the painting release the spirit?

Examples of the influence of the masks go back to the Cycladic heads at Easter Island, early rock paintings by indigenous peoples, the Noh Masks of Japanese theater, Masks of ancient tribes, mythological beings, ritualistic, abstract, without emotion, the dwelling place of the spirit it represents.

Ancient, futuristic, almost alien- like, what are the faces saying to us in their primal colors? Black, White and Red. It is said that black in a painting emotes dark, mysterious, unknown forces, red, danger, passion, life force, white positive, peaceful and purity. The more "primitive" tribal peoples in the world usually started out from the beginning with these colors. In linguistic terms anthropologists say every culture has started off in describing colors as, Black and White or Dark and Light. 
 Black and white being the crossing line for something and nothingness combined with red, being the life force. It’s an interesting Primal, and sometimes-Jungian theme about colors.

When Ciria introduces us to a painting, it is not possible to know what personal or emotional associations impact him or conversely might be generated for the viewer.

John Locke, the English philosopher, believed that “humans were autonomous individuals who, although living in a social setting, could not be articulated as a herd or social animal. The ability to reason and reflect, although universal, acts as an explanation for individuality. All reason and reflection is based on personal experience and reference. Personal experience must be completely individual as no one can experience anything quite the same as another.”

Do the faces want us to know them, are they knowingly hiding or are they screaming to be released from their hiding place behind the mask.  Billy Joel made an album called “The Stranger”, one of his first and most profound.  It suggested there are three masks we all wear, one we show to the world, one to friends and family, those close to us and one only we know. Ciria alludes to the iconology in his later paintings. of the Rorschach Heads. As in the painting, What I Am What I believe I Am, What Others See from the Schandenmaske Mask Series 2008.

Ciria’s  Self Portrait  (2010) is a very primitive and spiritual painting and with a palette of primarily red and black, it exudes passion, fury and energy.  Ciria’s Disturbing Noises (2010)  with the eyes and mouth-sewn shut and I Can’t Answer  (2010) bring to mind Goya’s political etchings from Los Caprichos, his comment on human existence, where he draws his subjects from distorted dreams.  In Goya’s Etchings as in Ciria’s paintings, we can’t speak of what we see, our eyes are closed, it’s too painful to speak of it, and we are frightened.  In Goya’s Black Paintings he depicts the mythological Saturn eating his sons.  The painting is bizarre and grotesque. Ciria’s grotesque painting, “Talkative Paranoiac” shows the same emotion and fear and is unsettling and disturbing.  One also references Francis Bacon’s Three Studies For Portrait of Lucian Freud and Freud’s Self Portrait Reflection full of turmoil and revealing something of the psychology of the artist himself.

Sometimes life intrudes when we least expect it.  Ciria’s beloved father became ill in 2009 and Ciria’s release, as always, was through his art. Now the strong and forceful, discomforting, paintings took form.  Work poured forth from him in an unequalled way. Anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, all permeates from the paintings.  The heads are violent, in color and emotion.

Ciria is a painter of voracious appetite for life and he is not afraid through his painting, to reveal his inner realities as in the series Rorschach Heads.

He constantly pushes the envelope and just when you think you have figured out his message there is a twist or turn, you realize you are in a labyrinth and you need to find your own path out.  A journey to your own center and back out into the world. There is always a new concept or dynamic to figure out in his paintings.

 As Ciria states,” many times I have a problem when I’m painting and I don’t know how to resolve it.  I take out my sketchpad and I figure it out in drawing.”  Artists have their own methodology and resolution for what criteria determine a painting’s completion. 

 Ciria spends an enormous amount of time prior to putting a brush to canvas, contemplating the painting, making drawings, preparing the background, drawing the abstract areas on the face.   Ciria works on the floor, pouring over the painting.  He is a force of energy and concentration. The face then begins to take form when the colors are applied, red, black, orange, green, yellow and finally the spatters of drippings, which are his signature.

An analysis of pictorial space delivers deeper messages within the context of the eyes, frightened and intense, the nose, elongated and profound, the mouth, screaming or sewn shut, the face, emoting so much passion, the colors, vivid and shocking, and the size, large and imposing. In standing a distance away from Ciria’s paintings we see a face and all of the features and yet as we go deeper into the painting and get closer to it, the features dissolve into abstraction. . The complexity of the painting is revealed layer by layer like peeling back an onion.

The quality of Ciria’s work is ever evolving as he consistently pushes the envelope and himself to new heights. Through the Masks and Rorschach Heads, Ciria stakes his place in the world of contemporary art as one of the most internationally important artists and one to be watched with anticipation.

In looking back over the series of Heads that preceded this exhibition, “Cira-Rorschach Heads,” Ciria’s creativity and innovativeness in each of the series makes us reach deeper into our psyches to deal with the emotions he evokes in us as we view the work.  He makes us uncomfortable.  He is constantly demanding more of himself and us as viewers. The complexities of the paintings intensify our experience, confronting us, demanding we spend more time exploring their meaning.

Ciria bares his soul to us if we are brave enough to look, to see, to take the time to understand.

The Rorschach test is a psychological test in which subjects' perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation, complex scientifically derived algorithms, or both. Some psychologists use this test to examine a person's personality characteristics and emotional functioning.

Commissions and Prices Upon Request

Broken 2011

Crossed out Liar 2010

Bothering Double Glance 2011

The Hero 2010




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