In a society marked by waning social bonds, a flood of epidemic bad news and a longing for the freedom of the past, a Romantic spirit in art is surging. It entails a vocabulary of yearning for another world, another time and another place. To transcend the present horizon becomes a goal and its achievement is inspired by possible better futures as well as past good times. No wonder the social media is flooded with stories of happier times in the past; the safety of parental shelter; precious personal belongings and experiences. Yet, in its many manifestations in art, literature and music, Romanticism has never really been about the sentimental and the picturesque. Looking at Caspar David Friedrich's Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1817), the picturesque of the scene serves to portray the lonely wanderer's wish to escape the present and explore the unknown.
Friedrich confronts us with a symbolically charged landscape. Many contemporary New Romantic artists do exactly that. The work of Performance artist Francis Alÿs is saturated with a wish for societal change; comment about the cyclical nature of things that don't really change; and a lonely struggling figure on exhausting journeys trying to produce alteration. In a recent exhibition at the Beirut Art Centre, Alÿs presented Knots 'n Dust (2018) in which he deals with the dust circulating in the air between Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Part of this exhibition was also a series of postcards with images of the dust on cars and the city. Becoming symbolic of the residue of war, Alÿs's dust reminds us of the coronavirus we are fighting.
Another New Romantic artist is the Spanish/South African artist, Pascual Tarazona. In his work currently featured by Elfriede Dreyer Gallery Romantic notions of solitude, journey, duality, two worlds and yearning abound. Just like many other 19th century Romantic works and contemporary New Romantic works, Tarazona's art reveals an engagement with the unknown or a void, which links to transcendence; a sense of duality (here and there, different worlds, evident in the Vigil and Desire/Deseos works, for instance); and a lone travelling figure in the unknown, such as forest, a wilderness or a landscape (evident in Tarazona's Don Juan figure).
In a fascinating set of works entitled The Way, the title itself indicates a pathway, road or journey to somewhere (or nowhere). The artist uses mirrors that reflect the viewer when looking at the work, which turns into a reciprocal reflection or dialogue with the self. Through the use of mirror the work becomes confrontational and pulls the viewer and his/her reality into the discourse. Any photograph of the work shows the mirror reflecting a portion of the present reality, but the mirror is broken, thus becoming symbolic of a 'broken' present. In the image below this is clearly illustrated. The work is double-sided having a front and a reverse side, speaking about two worlds: the here and now of the present reality and the 'other' place longed for.
The front side of the work presents a silhouetted, delineated 'place' as a vague unknown with a semblance of a void inside. Nature is represented as a space for transcendence and a dream vision. The space of the work entails a synthesis of past and present. Here - as in his other works - the Romantic spirit intertwines with gushing Spanish expressionism.
Today the Romantic spirit in art is as alive as ever. The themes of the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2018 was Becoming and in 2016 it was Unfinished, both Romantic concepts. https://www.archdaily.com/895218/becoming-spanish-pavilion-at-the-venice-biennale-2018. In our current time of global crisis, The stance taken by these exhibitions, also reflected in the Romantic spirit in the work of Tarazona, is ultra-relevant for our current time since we have entered a phase of maximal self-reflection, questioning old ways of doing and speculating about the future. Gauguin's famous 1897 painting, D'où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous (Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?) also asked these existential questions.
For more information on Pascual Tarazona and to view work for sale, please visit www.elfriededreyer.com/elfriede-dreyer-gallery.
Want to know more about Romanticism? CAP Institute for Contemporary Practice offers a module Art and Land that partly deals with Romanticism. For more information visit https://www.elfriededreyer.com/product-page/cap-module-in-art-land