ArteEscultura: Expresiones Artísticas

Artículos sobre la obra de Encarnación Contreras Jiménez

La llave del Hombre

Toledo, 1.x.06


Klepsidras y Gnomenes

Waterclocks & Gnomes


I know next to nothing about waterclocks, I know next to nothing about gnomes and I know next to nothing about sculpture. Consequently, I am the least fit to comment on Klepsidras y Gnomenes, an exhibition of sculpture by Encarnación Contreras, held in the showrooms of Caja Rural, Toledo (18-30.ix.06). 

Thus starts up that old dispute between coming to art with knowledge and coming to it as an innocent. What elucidation does the expert bring to any art? What accidental beauty or destructive chaos is spread by the babbling ingénu? It is a debate that will not stop here; I merely state where I am coming from... 

What is to be seen at this exhibition? – Some dozen or so sculptures, two of them apparently apart from the others in that they take no anthropomorphic form: maybe they are full abstractions from the theme. We are left with ten or more of Contreras’s gnomes, recognisably humanoid forms, tending towards various levels of abstraction. They are, on the whole, small and intricately fashioned: they sit and brood, they twist and dance, they are poised to spring. 

One, whose feet have spread out into formidable tree roots, seems to sit in bewilderment at all that passes by.  He sits on a log of dead wood. Thus old, gnarled roots and a dead wood log form the triangular base for this contemplative gnome; skinny, yet seeming strong in the sinews; above all, his exquisitely fashioned head and detailed face, so lost in other worlds, keeps the viewer at a respectful distance, so as not to disturb his reverie. 

A female form gains its life from two crossed verticals that twist the body masses round in a seductive dance. Yet the head is a common house key, planted in the neck; perhaps it unlocks the vitality of the form. The conundrum it sets up is whether to read it from the base up, or from the apex down. 

Read upwardly, the base is a solid rectangular tablet, equally solid legs rising from each corner. We associate four legs with animals. But a third of the way up, two twisting spindly legs grow; one turns into a shoulder and a woman’s breast; the other tilts the masses somewhat and taking the other shoulder higher, forms a semi-enclosed space from which there dangles a heavy testicular globe; or could it be the other breast, grown slack and heavily pendant? - And then the severed neck. And then the key. 

Thus read, this gracefully dancing female figure rises from a solid animal base, takes an abandoned twist through suggestions of sexuality and ends in an enigmatic key. The key is actual; it is not itself sculpted. It is a machine made item stuck in a human form, to make the most crucial part, the human head. Thus the piece takes us up from an animal world, through a human world into the world of the machine. Picabia would have been proud.  

Or do we read it downwards? If we do, then the key, the machine made object, probes the human neck, as if the dancing form below needed to be turned on before the power will flow. For a moment, the figure dances, but then all power goes to ground, heavily to ground: positive and negative go to earth. 

I suspect Contreras does not want us to read her masses from either up or down. I suspect she presents us with something much more “African,” in that the entire piece, in the round, is an exercise in the all round plasticity of the human form. Her sculptures are not conceived in the European tradition of bas-relief; they are not made up of front, back and side bas-reliefs. There is, instead, that same plastic freedom noticed by Roger Fry in 1920, when he famously and bravely wrote: 

...... these African artists really conceive form in three dimensions. Now this is rare in sculpture .......... [they] seem to have no difficulty in getting away from the two-dimensional plane. 

Roger Fry: Vision & Design: Pelican / Penguin, 1961: p. 87. 

Some of Contreras’s forms are more anthropomorphic than humanoid. Limbs become cylindrical, even tubular; bases become some part of a leg, not necessarily a ‘leg’ in itself: abstracions from legs. A thigh-shape will weight a figure for two points of the essential base triangle, leaving freedom for the second limb to touch ground lightly, at point of balance. The effect achieved is a form that can best be described as that of the puff adder in strike position.  

[Imagine any (generic) snake; imagine it stretched out on the ground inert, like a piece of rope; now pick a point one third of the way along and lift from both there and from the head. What you should have, is a distorted ‘S’ shape: the base of the S stretches out behind in a long tail, thuswise -  ?S. Now you have the puff adder in the strike position; two thirds of its body are on the ground; the other third, with the head, is muscled back. The very next action can only be forward movement –deadly striking at that!] 

Such is the effect achieved by some of Contreras’s more dynamic pieces. Her gnomes are varying forms of the duende. Some sit in silent contemplation; others threaten to change shape in the instant. This changing of shape is not quite changing of form: there is no hint of metamorphosis. Instead, they suggest a shape for the form to switch to; the difference between couchant and rampant. We call it movement. 


The lighting for this exhibition was poor; overhead, stark and unrelenting. Maybe it was meant to divorce these forms from all context; maybe pure plastic form in all its glaring isolation was the intended presentation. Yet I see these sculptures in the contexts of subtly lit homes. I see them brooding and moving, guarding and prompting. Human kind rises out of the earth, writhes and dances itself into discovery of the keys to power. But what power? There is malevolent power, certainly: Contreras’s gnomes are no pretty elves. There is also that much more potential power for good – the human head in profound reflection of human ways. 

David Wallace, Toledo, 3.x.06. 

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