Art of Domestic Scenes
By Andy de Calzadilla, Yamil Hevia
What is art? This seems an absurd question not because of the childishness of the discussion, or because of the imprecision of a definition, but because of the alienation of the questioner in the construction of the enigma, as if art were itself and the possibility of asking. Indeed, once the question is made, we must assume that “art is”. The question, then, becomes more interesting and productive in the following way: What art? Thus, we are left with one decision, or multiple ones depending on the determinations: what art to produce?, what art to exhibit?, what art to consume?, what art to purchase? or what art to sell? As an answer to the first question: what art to produce?, Ronald Vill proposes the art of realism or vital art, following an idea of the North American realist painter Edward Hopper: “Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world. No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination. One of the weaknesses of much abstract painting is the attempt to substitute the inventions of the human intellect for a private imaginative conception.The inner life of a human being is a vast and varied realm and does not concern itself alone with stimulating arrangements of color, form and design. The term life used in art is something not to be held in contempt, for it implies all of existence and the province of art is to react to it and not to shun it”.
Ronald Vill’s most recent series is titled Domestic Scenes, which has been the crucible in which the artist has conceived and developed this vital or realist photography. The words that give the series its name remind us of the genre and everyday-life art, perhaps in the sense that Courbet understood it with his works-manifesto of realism, which were interpreted predominantly from the political-social dimension of art, in detriment of the psychic change in the artist’s gaze. The impact of the latter in the works is appreciable in the new compositions in which the point of view begins to be that of ordinary people.
The works in this series, Domestic Scenes, even though they are of great social projection, compositional expertise is not alien to them. In the structural simplicity of this scenes, divided into two planes by well-defined borders, illusory displacements of the symmetry axes are perceived that generate imbalances, which are compensated by the use of the interstices and empty spaces.
Such is the case of The Birthday, where the movement from the rice cake to the right of the table produces an apparent overload in that area of the piece. This is weighed at the extreme left by the character of “the black woman” who appears, always from a more withdrawn position, at the last moment of the visual exploration. She presents herself in a strange way, as if placed in that place because there is simply a space to fill. And it is that this last gap that supposes a compositional conflict, the artist transforms it into an opportunity to generate even more displacements, but this time at a discursive level: from satire to the annual over- compliance of rice production, to the much more veiled formulation, of the racial problem within the peasant sector.
But if we think about subtlety as a measure for the effective use of empty spaces, it is never inappropriate to refer to Piñata. The work is resolved with two inverted pyramids, where the vertical and horizontal axes are drawn. In the complementation of both is precisely where the balance of the piece is restored, since one corrects the imbalance that the other generates. The difference in size, as well as the overcrowding in the lower pyramid, is leveled at the upper one, by means of an oscillatory movement across the space, which is suggested through that slight slip of the house to the left of the vertical axis. The light, in a more expressive vocation, participates in this spatial integration in the projection of large shadows, which reinforce the drama and anxiety generated by the hand that holds the strings.
Uncertainty is a recurring element in Ronald Vill’s production, there are no strong statements, what is necessary is revealed to raise suspicions but not enough to confirm them. This show-hide dynamics is structured in Atlas from the arrangement of planes of light and shadows perfectly articulated by the diagonal traced by the character’s left arm. Satisfying the doubt that arises in this axis, due to the tension between the force required to support the fruit and the nail polish, will serve as an incentive for incisive exploration. Even when it moves in the register of indeterminacy, the work is presented with total frankness in that kind of frontal image produced by the incorporation into the foreground, and as a frame a rectangular motif in the background, with the character’s face, among shadows, in the center. The distinction of some facial feature or a certain feminine garment is not enough to calm the anxiety, which directs the gaze towards the unbuttoned shirt, which does not throw conclusive evidence beyond the recognition, in the form of one of the interstices, of the ghost of a vagina. The balance left by the piece is the discomfort due to the frustration of the almost compulsive claims of identification and classification, which makes it impossible to exercise our human condition to generate orderly and highly stratified systems that propose specific forms of interaction.
One of the criteria that has assisted Ronald Vill in the creation and development of this series is verisimilitude. The works are conceived as if they were a continuation of reality. For the artist, it is not enough to photograph people, for example, with graceful and natural poses, but rather seeks to capture, through photographic language and visual composition, the sensation of attention, as if it were a sweep of the eyes, and that our gaze stops at the scene in representation. Photography has the disadvantage of “freezing” reality, as opposed to the natural process of seeing a reality in motion and the lack of this in the works affects its verisimilitude. In this sense, the movement represented has, necessarily, to be related to the journey of our eyes over the surface of the photograph, and this movement is a repetition of our gaze in reality. This repetition creates the illusion of reality and life in the work.
The vital or realist art is achieved when all the technical resources used by the artist are in function of representing the way we see the world, seeking to reveal the process of gaze. Vital or realistic photography is one that explores the visual aspect of the human condition. To make this living art, however, it is necessary to penetrate into the whole phenomenon of human life, into the psychological process of living.