Article Nadia Revaz (1997) - English

PEDRO PESCHIERA - Paintings and Etchings: In Search of a Paradigm

“The meaning of the world must be found outside the world”, wrote philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. It is this notion of outside the world, and the closely related one of absence that are at the core of Pedro Peschiera’s work and that nourish its development. He does not allow the anecdotal to interfere with the creation of images and strives to render visible the inexpressible by adopting an idiosyncratic language of analogies and metaphors, while trying, paradoxically, to convey a universal sense. In this search for content, one image may stand out, evoking other images, and gradually his personal theory of correspondences falls into place. The symbolic character of Peschiera’s paintings is an invitation to meditate on our uncertain condition. A link could be established with the XVIth and XVIIth centuries’ genre of the vanitas. However, the subject matter in his work is reduced to a minimal expression: a well, a table, a shell.

Families of Paintings

Pedro Peschiera’s paintings are grouped in what he calls families: the families of ”Mantles”, ”Wells”, ”Holes”, ”Conchs”, ”Tables”, etc. With each new family the artist’s pictorial vocabulary broadens. Nevertheless, none of the allusions conveyed by these symbolic types is powerful enough to be definitive or univocal. All ambiguities are welcome as they enrich every reading. Ideally, his paintings should be viewed together, as an ensemble, so that they echo and complement each other. Perhaps this is why the painter de-emphasises the chronology of his works.

The ”Mantles” allude to the Virgin Mary’s vast protective mantle in mediaeval and Renaissance iconography, as in Piero della Francesca’s Madonna della Misericordia or as in the tent that envelops the expectant Virgin in his Madonna del Parto. The architectural motif of the mantle is a frontal and monumental façade with no entrance. A small oculus – a round window, perhaps alluding to the viewer’s eye – is the only opening toward some extraordinary secret or content that lies beyond but that we will never access.

The group of ”Wells” suggests a reflection on the theme of the abyss as well as implying the apparent contradictory notions of source and sepulchre. The ”Holes”, closely related to the wells, confront us with a sense of unfathomable void; the opening is in view, but the bottom remains beyond our grasp.

The ”Conchs” are the only representation of a living organism in Peschiera’s work, the only allusion to nature, at least for the time being. Here again, we see that the shell purposely refers to the imagery of the Renaissance and the Baroque periods. However, in contrast to the wells and holes, which deal with aspects of mortality, the conchs bring forth concepts of vitality, associated with the notions of origin and cradle. In one of the paintings, a shell has been turned over to suggest a mound. By changing the position of the object, the painter expands the associated meanings and connotations. As for the family of ”Tables”, they evoke sacrificial offerings as well as sharing and conviviality. When conceived as an altar, the table represents, by extension and in a reduced scale, the home or the temple itself.

Geometry governs all of Peschiera’s paintings, which are rigorously organised according to a grid that divides and subdivides the surface. There is a manifest intention to create a strong tension between format and representational content. The format matches the shape of the object as tightly as possible, providing a sheath that envelops the object. The background occupies the space between the format and the object, creating an atmosphere that either extends it or contrasts with it. This background is an essential characteristic that serves to isolate that which is depicted from the real world. The perspective representation of space is another device that renders the painting autonomous, which is far removed from the idea of the tableau objet. The artist conceives of his paintings as an alternative reality; they are linked to the real, but do not have the same status as other objects. In Peschiera’s work, the format of the paintings, the painted surface and the objects he represents, are all receptacles containing each other. His etching, an urn within an urn, stresses ultimately the theoretical notion of a painting as an object which would ‘contain’ an indefinite number of worlds – an unending chain of worlds embedded within other worlds – as in a Russian doll. The viewer falls, as it were, into an abyss.

The use of egg tempera and pigment does not by any means imply a nostalgia for earlier art. This medium has its advantages: it dries quickly without leaving threads of paint, as with acrylic, thus allowing immediate re-working. Moreover, when applied on canvas, it has a matte, satiny quality that is akin to the austere nature of the paintings. The surface is first treated with a thick coat of paint and then built up by endless layers and washes of transparent colour. The working and re-working of the surface by the accumulation of small brush strokes gives an impression of density. It is this pictorial treatment and the static nature of the objects that gives the work its body and aura, confirming its iconic intensity.

Etchings that associate the pictorial and the verbal

In his etchings, Pedro Peschiera brings together the aesthetics of words with that of form. Verbal language complements pictorial language, but does not replace it. 
A series of seven etchings deals with opposite and complementary aspects of words, with the relationship between figure and background, or with notions of presence and absence. In six of the etchings, the outline of a house is formed by differences in the intensity of the typography; in the seventh, the words have vanished and we are left with a white on white relief resulting from the multiple indentation of the word ‘void’. This work could underline the fragility of discourse. The fourth etching of this series juxtaposes two phrases. The first one is in French and is a quotation from an XIth century Sufi: ”En ne sortant jamais du commencement, l’on parvient à l’achèvement” – ”In never departing from the beginning, one reaches completion”. The second phrase, in Spanish, is taken from an operetta:”Ay, que trabajo nos manda el Señor, levantarse y volverse a acostar” – ”Oh, what labour the Lord bestows upon us, we rise only to lie again.” The phrases are repeated like a never-ending litany. Although one is considered to be loaded with meaning, the other appears to be light-hearted. They both allude to the absurd side of living.
In a recent series of etchings, the artist combines the outline of a well or hole with a collection of hundreds of words. The words, taken from French, English and Spanish, and sequenced in strict alphabetical order, are all associated with the notions of recipient, receptacle, hollow, void or abyss. These synonyms, analogies and extrapolations around a common theme create the image of a well or a hole by the gradual change in the intensity of the typography.

Pedro Peschiera’s propositions go far beyond mere artistic quotation or reference to some particular attribute of previous works of art. Nor are they of an exclusively religious or mythological intent. Yet, they definitely reveal a will to bridge past and present, the tangible and the transcendent. All of his works are characterised explicitly by multiple interpretative readings, which may indicate that he is struggling to produce compelling paradigms that would collect, generate and conserve pools of meaning. Uncompromising with some of the propositions of contemporary art, his work shows a desire to create analogies that may allude to, if not enclose the notion of quintessence.

Nadia Revaz Sierre,
October 1997