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Last chance to see: José-María Cano's latest series of encaustic paintings at Riflemaker
Love, 52 x 52 cm, Encaustic on Canvas, 2015, Courtesy of José-María Cano and Riflemaker.

By: Marco Livingstone

LONDON.- José-María Cano’s latest series of encaustic paintings take the mysterious surface of our planet’s solitary moon as their subject. All are expressions of longing, spirituality and awe at the ultimate unknowability of the universe and of life itself.

Produced using molten paraffin wax, the paintings have been carved and formed to create a textured, high-contrast, bas-relief. Floating in dense atmospheres of infinite darkness, each one also seems not just to reflect the sun’s rays but to glow with its own inner light. The translucency of the chosen medium, little used today (Jasper Johns apart) but with a glorious precedent in the funerary portraits painted in Egypt nearly two thousand years ago during the Coptic period of Greco-Roman rule, produces an expressive visual and physical equivalent to the imagery.

The moon has exercised a fascination for humanity for as long as we know, and has been an inspiration in every sphere of the human imagination including philosophy, religion, poetry, art, music, science fiction and of course science. In painting alone one thinks in particular of the Romantics, for example Caspar David Friedrich’s Two Men Contemplating the Moon of c. 1825-30 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), in which the diminutive figures are awed by the sublime spectacle of the universe, but also of very different.

Writings of the 16th-century Spanish mystic Saint Teresa of Avila, particularly her treatise on the seven grades of prayer (moradas espirituales) have inspired Cano and he expresses his own sense of wonder at the timeless spectacle of the moon – always displayed to us from the same side – that has captivated people of all persuasions, even the most rational among us. The earth and moon, as he reminds us, are co-dependent, and the orbit and gravitational pull of the smaller sphere not only helps dictate our planet’s atmosphere, the action of the tides and the endlessly repeating cycle of day and night, but also – for many – our moods and our sense of insignificance within the universe at large.

José-María Cano (b. Madrid 1959) is internationally known for a number of important series, including The Wall Street 100 and La Tauromaquia; the former drawing on themes of capitalism, wealth and power, and the latter the art and ritual of bullfighting. Painting and music have always been intertwined in Cano’s life as equivalent means of expression. In 1997, Cano composed Luna: Romanzas, canciones y danzas, performed by Plácido Domingo, Renée Fleming, Teresa Berganza and Ainhoa Arteta, and was dedicated to St. Teresa of Avila, from whose treatise on the seven grades of prayer (moradas espirituales), Cano takes inspiration from in the present works.

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