The short text that follows is a critical review of the exhibition by Chema López The Murmurs, carried out at the Tomás March Gallery of Valencia from September to October 2006. It was published in the cultural supplement Posdata of the newspaper Levante-EMV of 29th September 2006.
‘The sound that images set free’
The definition of the word murmur, amplified by the different meanings of the verb to murmur, refers to a specific noise not very intense, not unpleasant and sometimes pleasant; like the noise people make when they speak very quietly or the one made by the water of a stream or by the soft wind when blowing tree leaves. A word, in short, that with the pronunciation of its onomatopoeic syllables generates images; those syllables, when are spoken, seem to go through a vocal path, that goes from the subtle u to the final dry o . A path that finishes suddenly with the word “murmullo” (murmur), while with the verb “murmurar” (to murmur) that path opens itself and gets extended, which shows an intimate quality . Just as some words suggest images, empowered by the idiosyncrasy of a concrete language, also certain images maximize their narrative aspect through the persuasion suggested by certain sounds. Los murmullos (The murmurs) that Chema López (Albacete, 1969) refers to, and which is the title of his first exhibition at the Tomas March gallery, are the embers of an incessant noise, that foments the continuous friction of accumulation. Accumulation of images, texts, cross references, films, and song lyrics… generated as a buzz that would contain the sum of all sounds.
On the walls of the gallery Thomas March the paintings of Chema López look like dark wells, fragments of dark nights, from which whitish forms appear. To exist they need the darkness of the background. It’s the perfect image of the spectre that only exists during the time we are watching it, and, that, in the context of art, paradoxically, eternises its temporary condition. The different scenes of the paintings together in the big room, each of the paintings throwing down its own murmur, reach that peculiar tragic-epic atmosphere that is characteristic to the artist. Paintings like El límite, La otra orilla or El regreso (The Limit, The Other Edge or The Return) show landscapes with no sign of life but dominated by trees that seem to bend their high branches to the rhythm of a biting wind. A whistling intermingles with the vertical lines of the triptych sequence La vergüenza (The Shame) and reminds us not only of the still of the Bergman film The Virgin Spring, but also of the flickering movement of a film projector, which is not there, but which we can hear. On the other side, the double portrait of the film-maker Nicholas Ray, Relámpago sobre el agua (Lightning over Water), with its rounded edges like two melted circles, loses its uneven look in the infinity. Between both mirrored faces, the eyes, that were once lost, acquire a new personality, a serpent face that stares; a Leviathan announcing the last days of the film-maker, those registered by Wim Wenders in 1979.
Nevertheless the artist from Albacete doesn’t want to divert us totally from the true meaning of his work – that is to say, from painting. That’s why the usual black fringes that are together with the images go back to the tough bi-dimensionality of the scenes which had previously managed to catch us and evade us, as in the illusory reality of cinema. That’s a scheme that is clear in other paintings like El cura y la ballena (The Priest and the Whale) (with a hidden reminiscence of Melville behind a thick beard), La piel (The Skin) or the fantastic portrait of the ancient curled hand in Icono, Todo y Nada (Icon, All or Nothing).
To finish off, it would be worth stopping at the painting Los seducidos (The Seduced), where a man bends himself forward, stretching his right hand to feed two little fawns. A dark fringe at the top includes the man’s head and in this case it doesn’t cover nor fragments the scene but it continues it like a strange horizon that seems to swallow everything that it reaches. Because we know that the artist uses antagonist concepts in his works (truth and lies; black and white; justice and sacrifice; punishment and forgiveness), we can only hope that the little fawns learn enough by experience to bite the seducing and feeding hand.