Barcelona artist, E. Prat Paz is very much about paint and the transformative way in which the application of paint can express emotions. Recently seen at Montserrat Contemporary Art Gallery, his paintings consist of female figures dressed in simple two-piece bathing suits or active wear. The figures appear casual as if caught in unguarded moments during a dance or exercise class. His paint is loosely applied, infusing the figures and overall surface with energy and a sense of action indicating the passage of time. When looking at his paintings one might wonder what is going to happen next.
Like many of the Bay Area figurative artists who were an outgrowth of the abstract expressionism of the 1950s and 1960s, E Prat Paz’s figures and background are on the same plane. However, the Bay Area figurative artists were concerned with formal relationships of figures to other abstract areas in the composition whereas Paz’s figures are submerged in paint. Indeed, in some of Paz’s paintings, the background spills over onto the figure creating a tension between the figure and the paint environment.
Paz is concerned with moods and emotional content in his paintings. Through a subtle alchemy of paint handling he creates a pervading feeling reflected in the models’ postures and the emotionally charged atmosphere of the surrounding paint. He applies layers of thick or diluted acrylic paint and sometimes directly applies pigment as well as retouching areas with oil paint. He says, “ I am interested in the appearance of different textures that give quality to the work.” The overall feeling created by his complex layering is of a residual ghostly ambience lingering in the air.
Paz has an astute knowledge of the human body and has worked as a professor of drawing at the University of Barcelona for many years. He works with one model as a prototype for different compositions, some with a single figure, others with several figures. Paz says of his recent exhibition, “I started from a real model and with infographic work I made different compositions in which one or more figures with different poses appear.” The overriding moods stem from the composition as a whole rather than from facial features of an individual figure or figures. He says, “the physiognomy of the figures does not interest me,” but the process of painting rich expressive paint surfaces in subtle evocative colors are the feature qualities of works in his recent exhibition.
In the painting with two figures shown in this review, the surrounding paint is white with layers of colors such as blue, grey, and flesh creating an overall translucent quality—the figures are composed of the same colors. The interplay between the figures and the surrounding paint conveys an emotional state accentuated by the position of the figures and the palpable atmospheric quality conveyed by the surrounding paint. In this respect his surfaces can be compared to gestural abstraction in which the spontaneous application of paint conveys energy.
In another painting composed of four figures, also shown in this review, a somber mood is conveyed by the dark areas of paint converging on the figures like stormy thought clouds. The figures appear to be resting in a semi-circle, as if taking a break from a strenuous sport. The composition focuses on the figures’ upper body while the lower part of the body appears cropped off. However, on further inspection it is clear that the predominate feature of this work is on the reflective gaze of the figures’ lowered heads and it is intensified by the converging darkness of fiery reds and dark layered surrounding paint composed from energetic strokes. The fact that there are no features on the faces adds to the feeling that these figures are locked into their own thoughts.
Moods and feelings appear to be mysteriously held in paint areas as well as in the casual postures of the figures. In his arrangement of figures in “casual anatomical postures,” E. Prat Paz creates a perfectly balanced and inviting compositional space while at the same time infusing the canvas with an ambience that is as strong as the beautifully achieved balance of his figures. Thus, his works create a sense of equilibrium with underlying inner human concerns, giving his paintings both a beauty and depth.
E. Prat Paz can also be seen in the Year-round Salon at Montserrat Contemporary Art Gallery, montserrat.us